Nine Mile Canyon, Utah (36)
Nine Mile Canyon is a canyon, approximately 40 miles (60 km) long, located in the counties of Carbon and Duchesne in eastern Utah, in the Western United States. Promoted as "the world’s longest art gallery", the canyon is known for its extensive rock art, most of it created by the Fremont culture and the Ute people. The rock art, shelters, and granaries left behind by the Fremont make Nine Mile Canyon a destination for archaeologists and tourists alike.
There are at least an estimated 1,000 rock art sites in the canyon, with more than 10,000 individual images. The true figures may be ten times as high, but there is no question that rock art is more concentrated here than anywhere else in North America. Much is in the form of pecked petroglyphs, and there are many painted pictographs as well. Researchers have also identified hundreds of pit-houses, rock shelters, and granaries, although only a limited amount of excavation has been carried out. Many of these structures are located high above the canyon floor on cliff ledges, pinnacles, and mesas. They were built by the Fremont, whose presence in Nine Mile has been dated at AD 950–1250. Indeed, Nine Mile Canyon was one of the locations most heavily occupied by the Fremont. In contrast to the purely hunter-gatherer cultures that surrounded them, the Fremont practiced agriculture, growing corn and squash along the canyon bottom. Compared to other Fremont areas, relatively little pottery is found in Nine Mile, suggesting that beans, which must be boiled for hours to become edible, were not an important part of the local diet. The Fremont left irrigation ditches and earthen lodges on the canyon floor that could be seen as late as the 1930s, but are no longer visible after generations of modern cultivation.
By the 16th century the ancestral Utes were in the canyon. They added to the rock art already on the walls, but in styles of their own. Many scenes, for example, depict Ute hunters on horseback and date to the 1800s. Despite the number of Ute artifacts found in Nine Mile, there is no archaeological evidence of any Ute camps or residences.
In 2009, 63 archaeological sites in the canyon were listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, 36 in Carbon County and 27 in Duchesne County. Most are named in the National Register listing only by their archaeological site codes, but there were three named sites in Carbon County: Cottonwood Village, Drop-Dead Ruin, and First Canyon Site. The named ones in Duchesne County are Centennial House, Fool's Pinnacle, Karen's Cist, Maxies Pad, Nordell's Fort, Redman Village, Sunstone Village, and Taylor's City. The locations and details of these sites are not disclosed by the National Register. The 63 sites include 40 Fremont constructions, 19 rock art sites, and 4 sets of historical-era dwellings. A further 165 sites were added on September 12, 2012, all of them designated by codes only. Of these listings, 158 are in Carbon County and 7 in Duchesne County.
The canyon became a main transport corridor in the region during the 1880s. Settlers established a number of ranches in Nine Mile, and even a short-lived town named Harper. No longer heavily traveled, the rugged canyon road was used mostly for recreation and tourism through the end of the 20th century. The discovery of rich deposits of natural gas deep beneath the Tavaputs Plateau has brought an influx of industrial truck traffic since 2002. The large amounts of fugitive dust produced by the trucks' passage may be damaging the rock art. Public debate is ongoing about how best to balance energy development in the canyon against the preservation of its cultural resources.