A Road Trip to Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
By Del Albright
The red canyon walls were speaking to him as the Native American sun-browned boy moved cautiously along the cliffs, an arrow nocked in his bow. Big horn sheep were coming into a nearby spring at daybreak and he planned to be there, expecting to bring dinner back to his camp. As he hid near the water source, he reflected on the many hunts his family had in this amazing canyon that stretched so far…and he knew in his heart he would need to add to the “stories” being told in stone, right about his head.
Today we call this place, 9-Mile Canyon — the “world’s longest art gallery.” Full of petroglyphs etched into stone walls of this incredible canyon, just outside Price, Utah, this is a drive to be on your bucket list.
This off highway road trip is for any model Jeep owner who loves history, artwork, and majestic scenery, combined with a little four-wheeling. “Nine Mile Canyon” is actually a misnomer because this rugged rock-walled canyon outside of Price, Utah is more like 40 miles long, and every bit of it a head turning, eyeball popping experience.
Native American artwork lines the rocks along the road nearly all the way like no place else on earth. Pictographs and petroglyphs are everywhere. Pictographs are painted onto rocks while petroglyphs are pecked into the rocks. There are even ancient structures like rock granaries high up on the canyon walls.
In all my road trips and off road adventures (nearly 40 years worth), I have never seen so much historical rock art in one place. After a couple visits there, I now clearly understand why the locals call it the world’s longest art gallery.
Timing is everything with this road trip. Utah weather is unpredictable, so one must be prepared for all possibilities. I’ve done the canyon in the spring and never put my Jeep in four-wheel drive. I did the canyon one Fall and faced huge mud puddles that required careful four-wheeling to avoid getting stuck. On another late spring trip, it rained the entire time and muddy conditions were prevalent. So the bottom line is just take your chances but be prepared.
I suggest spring or fall for the best times to visit this treasure of prehistoric culture and wondrous scenery. In the spring you are likely to see deer, elk and other wildlife in abundance. In the fall you will be treated to leaves turning gold in tall cottonwood trees along the river’s edge. But you really can’t go wrong. And it’s an easy trip to combine with Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, UT, if that is on your travel list.
From the south (Moab, Grand Junction, Price), the principal access route is eight miles east of Price, on Highway 6/191, turning north on 2200 East (Soldier Creek Road, at Walkers Food and Fuel Chevron Station). From the north (Vernal, Duchesne), access is via Highway 40/191, one mile west of Myton.
The Whole Loop:
You can actually make this a very long loop road trip. At least one full day should be devoted to touring the 78 mile Nine Mile Canyon Back Country Byway. This includes four driving hours, and time for short walks and frequent stops. The scenic loop can be driven in either direction. From Highway 6, travel east through Nine Mile Canyon, north up Gate Canyon, west on Highway 40 to Duchesne and southwest down Indian Canyon returning to Highway 6.
Or you can just do a day trip, in and out from the Price area. But don’t rush this adventure. Take along a guide book from the local book stores or even consider going on a guided tour. You can learn more in the town of Price at the Visitor’s Center or Dinosaur Museum (which is also worth touring). NOTE: you must keep your “eyes peeled” the whole time as the artwork is not only close to the road, but way up on the mountain side. You should plan on frequent stops with your binoculars and keen eyesight. You will not be disappointed.
If your road trips take you any where near Salt Lake City, you are only a couple hours from this wonderful road trip into our past – don’t miss the opportunity.
Sidebar: I recommend these books:
BLM Know Before You Go: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/price/recreation/9mile.html
“The Pioneer Saga of the NINE MILE ROAD” by H. Bert Jenson, a historic guide linked to numbered posts along the Byway.
“Backcountry Adventures, Utah” by P. Massey and J. Wilson, Swagman Publishing.
“Canyon Country Prehistoric Rock Art,” by F.A. Barnes, Arch Hunter Books.