UT – Nine Mile Canyon, Geocaching for Petroglyphs and Pictographs

After my time in Colorado National Monument (link) and McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area (link), I found myself just a few hours away from must-see destination Nine Mile Canyon.

Why it’s called Nine Mile when it’s really nearly 50 miles, I don’t know. I couldn’t find any reference as to the history except in one brochure that indicates an expedition cartographer used a nine-mile transect for mapping the canyon.

I used the Climb Utah Guide (link) to find the rock art and other sites of interest. Some of the references are dated and I’ll provide updates in my tips section. This might be a better option from Castle Country (link); however, it includes far fewer sites. There are several other resources online worthy of a look if you have time to plan and prepare prior to your trip. First tip: don’t bother entering the GPS waypoints in your device as they are inaccurate. The road has mileage markers. Those were the most helpful as well as obvious paved and unpaved pullovers, signs about pedestrians, and occasionally a sign such as this.

It’s 26.6 miles from Wellington to the first panel. By the way, what’s the difference between petroglyphs and pictographs? Petroglyphs are carved or pecked into an exposed rock surface, while pictographs are painted onto those surfaces. 99% of my findings in this canyon were petroglyphs.

Here are a couple of the pictographs I found.

Access to the rock art is varied. Some is at ground or eye level like this one, most can be seen from the road with binoculars or high powered zoom lens; however, climbing up to the sites is the only way to see the full panel and get the detail frequently.

Way too inaccessible for me.

This is what you might find when the helpful hints lead you astray. I wandered a canyon finding this amazing horse only to figure out the major attraction was a bit further up the road. I’d call this a lucky accident and a reminder there are many more panels if you’re willing to hike and wander beyond the beaten path.

Besides rock art, there is history such as the buildings left behind in the ghost town of Harper.

And the signatures of those whom traveled through the canyons. It seems the pull to leave your mark is hard to resist especially on sandstone.

The hike up to Fremont Village shows a little remodeling going on.

The real reward is climbing higher and getting a view down into the valley and at the buildings across the way in the tiny crack. You know I wanted to climb up there . . . but alas access is limited by private property. Speaking of which, the road along the pasture once was called Lower Nine Mile Canyon. It’s now called Frank’s Canyon. There’s a sign indicating private property and road blockage due to changing river channel. My reference page included directions going out 4.7 miles.

The benefit of doing some research is finding treasures like those shown above.

There are several areas referenced for viewing ancient sites but the remains of this tower were the only one I could find with my naked eye as I didn’t have binoculars (and don’t have great distant vision).

If your goal is to make it to the Great Hunt Panel, I suggest you budget your time. There are so many places to stop enroute it’s easy to get distracted and feel rushed by the time you realize you need to make it to mile 45.9 to see the most famous panel. Tip: if you’re using a GPS app, such as Gaia, I recommend marking spots you see along the way to explore further on your way back or on a future trip. Lighting makes such a difference in what you’re able to find, and traveling the opposite direction may add more to your list.

Nine Mile Canyon is known as the world’s longest art gallery. I took hundreds of photos but I’ll share just a few of my favorites.

You can’t take for granted that these images will always be here forever due to nature’s erosion, human vandalism, and pollutant damage. There is evidence the increased traffic on the dusty roads is already eroding the images. Furthermore much of this area is not protected and therefore has become private property, limiting access.

It’s really challenging to enjoy this canyon in one day. I took two and know I could easily spend a week. I’ll be back! Don’t short change yourself by only giving yourself a few hours.

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 1-2, 2019


  • Keep your eye out for these signs. They’ll help you locate some of the POI’s.
  • Postpone your trip if there has been recent hard rains. There are lots of these dips and they go through the washes.
  • You might also want to postpone if there have been recent snows. I hadn’t noticed I’d be going over a pass between Wellington and Nine Mile Ranch.
    • I was camped nearby and watched the snow (blue) on the radar as a few big thunderstorms passed through.
  • The road between Wellington and the Great Hunt Panel is a paved Back Country Byway.
  • Lower Nine Mile Canyon Road no longer exists.
  • My resource had me driving Dry Canyon for about 2 miles. I walked down it a bit and it looks to be more of a hiking or ATV trail now. I didn’t walk far enough to see if you’d have to cross the creek which was running quite high during my visit.
  • Enjoy but don’t destroy.
  • There are a lot of distractions while driving this road. Not only are cows wandering about, but I found tons of deer, and of course cars and people, plus watching the rocks for petroglyphs. It would have been helpful having a co-pilot and navigator on this trip.
  • When I saw the Nine Mile Canyon sign, I got confused and initially headed toward Myton. Stay on Cottonwood if the Great Hunt Panel is your destination!
  • Showers are available at Miller’s Travel Center in Wellington.
  • The library in Price has lightning fast internet.
  • Dispersed camping within Nine Mile Canyon is limited as much of the area is privatized, and other public lands are closed to camping.
  • To learn more, stop in at the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum in Price (link).





2 thoughts on “UT – Nine Mile Canyon, Geocaching for Petroglyphs and Pictographs

    • This is from Wikipedia:

      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

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