Deep in the Utah desert, about 125 miles from Salt Lake City, Nine Mile Canyon is filled with tens of thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs, some over a thousand years old. The earliest images have been traced to the ancient native peoples known as the Fremont, who carved their culture out of – and into – the canyons of Utah.
The canyon runs for 40 miles, so it’s not exactly clear why it’s called Nine Mile Canyon. One theory is that the explorer and surveyor John Wesley Powell may have used a nine-mile transect (a method used by cartographers) to map the area. However, that’s just a guess by the Bureau of Land Management, who oversee the site. It’s been called “the world’s longest art gallery”, with extensive and intricate images from the Fremont era (generally about 400 CE to about 1400 CE), but also from later Native Americans (mostly Ute) and western settlers and explorers during the 19th century. Many of the images depict hunting scenes and animal life (bison, lizards, birds), but some defy easy identification. So of course it’s been proposed that some of these, say, less-decipherable images depict so called “ancient astronauts”. (Of course they do!)
About half way through the Canyon are the remains of an old town called Harper, once a stagecoach stop and now a ghost town. The area and images of Nine Mile Canyon are protected under the Antiquities Act, although they are threatened by both natural and man-made erosion. Defacement, though not extensive, is visible – but isn’t as much of a problem as dust and particulates from large-scale trucking in the area. Road paving projects have done a lot to cut down on road dust, but the hunt scenes, bison, birds and ancient astronauts alike all need preservation help – so they don’t disappear like the stagecoaches rumbling through Harper.