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Explorer Corps Marker: Carbon County

Find the Marker

The Carbon County marker is located at the start of the Nine Mile Canyon Trail near the Nine Mile Ranch, northeast of Price on 9 Mile Canyon Road.

GPS 39°47’9.06”N 110°24’41.832”W

Dig Deeper

If you want to see the largest concentration of rock art in North America, Carbon County’s Nine Mile Canyon is the place to go. Don’t be fooled by the name, though. This path along the West Tavaputs Plateau isn’t just nine miles, but 45 miles of winding road along archaeological sites that still fascinate researchers.

To date, nearly 500 archaeological sites in Nine Mile Canyon have been documented and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are storage granaries, pit houses, fortresses, and defensive towers, all made by different groups of Native Americans from people of the Archaic and Fremont cultures to the ancestors of the Ute Tribe that still calls Utah home today. Most of all, Nine Mile Canyon is famous for its rock art featuring animals, human figures, and abstract designs chipped into the rock by people of different cultures. The natural stain on the desert rock – caused by oxidation that creates a dark color – is a veneer that people could remove to reveal the brighter color beneath, creating amazing artwork.

As far as archaeologists have been able to reconstruct, some of the earliest people in Nine Mile Canyon belonged to the Fremont culture. They hunted and gathered what they needed from the surrounding area. By 1,000 years ago, though, Native peoples here were also farming corn and other crops. And that has made archaeologists wonder about the function of the fortresses and defensive towers in this area. These are unusual compared to other archaeological accumulations in the state. Were the people who built these structures trying to protect their crops from other people? Or was there something else at play that remains unknown?

Part of what complicates studies of Nine Mile Canyon is that many of the artifacts from this place left Utah. In the 1890s, archaeologist Don Maguire and Henry Montgomery scoured Nine Mile Canyon for artifacts to be put on display at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution. They even collected objects for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, but these were never returned and were lost, never to be seen again.

Even now, Nine Mile Canyon needs protection. Even though the glorious rock art panels along the canyon are protected by the Antiquities Act, they’re still eroding. Some of the damage is natural, but some of it is vandalism, and archaeologists are comparing historic photos with images of the canyon as it is today in order to assess what’s changed and how to best preserve this critical part of Utah’s history.

Want to Go Farther?

Nine Mile Canyon offers miles of geologic and archaeological wonders along the canyon drive.

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