Green River

  • Black Dragon Canyon is located in the San Rafael Swell.

    Somewhere around the New Year, I had a chance to make a quick trip down to the San Rafael Swell and to take my toddling daughter along for the ride. This would be her first hiking trip—she is only 14 months old—and I was excited to see how she would handle the uneven, rocky trails, and the separation from a warm, comfortable home, with toys, sippy cups, and most importantly, mom.

    We were tagging along with my father, little sister, and the family dog. Our goal was to find Black Dragon Canyon and Petroglyph Canyon near the junction of Highway 6 and Interstate 70. We wanted to get some pictures of the artwork, and of the surrounding rock formations. Beyond that, it was simply an excuse to get away and enjoy the marvelous outdoors that Utah offers.

    Along with Katie’s first time hiking, this was my first time in a while (I’m not going to count military marches), and I was more than a little excited to be scrambling through the redrock again as I had as a youth.

    The drive from Utah County to the San Rafael Swell was relatively quick, only three hours—I am used to 18 hour trips where 12 of them are spent on the road, just to nab some photos of an arch or a set of dinosaur tracks. But three hours is still long for a girl who is has just barely seen her first Halloween. So I was delighted when my little girl was pleasant almost the entire way. I owe my sister, Xanthe, for that one. She is great with kids, and Katie has taken an instant liking to her. We spent a little more time at each fuel stop in order to let her run around and explore the snow. That seemed to keep her happy. You can never appreciate too much having a baby that is easily amused and well-behaved on a long car trip.

    The temperature had dropped as we reached Soldier Summit, but now continued to steadily rise as we neared our sanctuary: the vast reaches of the magical Utah desert. I ought to let you know now that I grew up in Salt Lake, among other places, but almost all of my remaining childhood memories take place within the slot canyons, evergreen forests, and hoodoos of southern Utah.

    By the time we reached the San Rafael Swell, the temperature had finally started flirting with a warm 32 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Perfect for us seasoned wasteland-dwellers. Katie on the other hand was not so thrilled. She has been hesitant in her acceptance of snow, something I had not expected. When we moved here from North Carolina, I had fully expected her to delight in the wondrous Christmas snow. Instead, she—the daughter of a Floridian girl, mind you—had tentatively touched it once, and then signaled that she wanted mommy to pick her back up.

    And now she was staring dubiously at the frozen ground as we got out of the truck and started preparations for the short hike to Black Dragon Canyon. I mentioned that it was warmer now. Sure, warmer than the negative temperatures that we had been watching tick across the display of our vehicle on the way up Soldier Summit. But a temperature of a few degrees short of freezing is darn cold if you’re brand-spanking-new to it.

    Katie did remarkably well. At first, starting away from the truck, I was holding her. I would put her down in the dry wash, trying to urge her to hike with us, to explore. She would take a few steps, get uncomfortably mired in a patch of sand or half-way atop a teetering rock, and she would start to whine for help. Then I would pick her up and catch up with my dad, sister, and our border collie.

    It only took twenty minutes for her to become comfortable with the concept of hiking. She still struggled and fell every here and there, but she adamantly refused my hand from there on out. By the time we reached the black dragon, she was ignoring my attempts to help her climb, preferring to find her own way up the rocks. I just climbed beside her, ready to catch her when she fell.

    The rock art panels in Black Dragon Canyon are marvelous. There are ornate human figures, a dog, and of course, the dragon. They are located just over half a mile up the canyon, at the base of the looming north wall—though it requires a bit of a scramble up the mounds of fallen stone and deposited sediment in order to reach the base of the rock face. The rock art is surrounded by a log barrier that makes them hard to miss. The barrier has an opening at the trailhead that leads up the loose rock.

    Unfortunately, the dragon and its cohorts have been vandalized—someone outlined the drawings with white chalk. For some reason, past visitors have felt the need to add their own artistic signature to those of the ancient Indians; they scrawl or gouge their graffiti with complete disregard for the history and preservation of our dwindling examples of ancient southwest art. Just as bad, but somehow excusable to such people, they outline ancient rock art in chalk to better photograph them and make it easier to notice the figures from the trail. These practices destroy petroglyphs and pictographs and ruin the exciting experience of searching for and finding such sites for future generations.

    Finding rock art is a spiritual experience for me. There is something profound about the sincere representation of a person’s life, culture, and religious beliefs left scribed onto the side of a cliff for me, hundreds or thousands of years later to come along and ponder. The earliest forms of writing and recorded history were conceived on the walls of ancient caves and canyons, giving us a link to those who passed on so long before our modern world.

    I sat under the eaves of the north wall, Katie playing in the rocks at my feet, and I gazed up at the massive canyon that rose about me. The subdued red, brown, and gray of the sandstone contrasted sharply against the crisp blue sky. As I sat there I realized that I have not seen a sky so crystal blue in a long time; it almost seemed electric. I have been back east, and in the Middle East for quite a while now, surrounded by the haze and the humid gray of development and smog. Even Iraq lacked the color of the San Rafael desert around me. This was a therapy session for me.

    All too soon it was time to move on. We backtracked toward the truck, walking slow so that Katie could keep up with us. She would stop every thirty seconds or so and examine the pebbles on the trail. She likes to take rocks home for her mommy. We got back to the truck eventually and drove to the trailhead for Arch Canyon and the route to Petroglyph Canyon. I took twenty minutes to run up Box Spring Canyon located at the trailhead, taking pictures of the frozen creek, while the others ate.

    Then we were following a ravine that ran perpendicular to the reef, into Arch Canyon. The hike up the westward canyon is short, though steeper than Black Dragon, which is relatively flat up to the dragon itself. Arch Canyon splits a little ways in, going to the right while the tiny Petroglyph Canyon heads left. We went to the end of Arch first, eager to explore. The canyon ends at what could be a decent swimming hole dependent on the temperature of the water—in the cold of winter it served better as a skating rink as we ran and slid across its frozen surface in our hiking boots and running shoes. Katie daintily started out across the ice, and promptly did the splits as her feet flew out from under her. Bewildered but undaunted, she finally accepted my help as she stood and started out across the slippery surface again.

    Above the ice rink the canyon walls close in and create a dead end that would require climbing gear to mount. At the top of the canyon wall is a set of three small arches, two of them very close, the third farther down and to the right. These arches give the canyon its name. Arch canyon is labeled as possessing a triple arch, which is a misnomer as the arches are not connected to each other.

    We explored the end of Arch Canyon for a bit longer and then turned back to where Petroglyph Canyon branches off of Arch Canyon and heads in a southwesterly direction. Petroglyph is an extremely short, blunted canyon with its rock art along the black-varnished west wall, very close to the end. The walls of Petroglyph were darker than Arch, and very angular. There are two sections of rock art here, petroglyphs of herd animals and their tracks etched into the dark varnished area of wall, and then, harder to find, a faded panel only a stone’s down canyon of that. Sadly, this smaller panel had been vandalized in the past, gouged with a blade. Visitors who witness the vandalism of a rock art site should report it immediately.

    Katie was starting to fuss now as we entered the canyon in search of the rock art panels. It was later in the afternoon and she was getting cold and hungry. The early evening wind was becoming frigid, and though she was bundled up, my little girl was starting to feel the clinging cold on the ends of her fingers and nose. That cut our exploration short slightly; we took enough time to find the petroglyphs and take some photos of them, and then we took off, emerging back into the gulch beside the great San Rafael reef.

    I carried Katie back to the truck, anxious to get the little kid out of the cold, and to get some food in her belly. I hate hurrying through the sandstone deserts of southern Utah. I enjoy taking my time and soaking in the scenery. Like the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs and their timelessness and mystery, I have always felt that the desert hides great wonders that I will discover if I only stay long enough to watch and listen. I feel different after a weekend of bouldering or canyoneering. It is rejuvenating and awakening. I certainly enjoy the climbing itself. I enjoy the feel of the single-track racing by under my tires. I crave the adrenaline boost that fuels my last pull up a rock face. But there is something underneath it all when I stop and relax. Something subtle and quiet, almost religious.

    For Katie, I doubt that the experience was so humbling. Instead, I think that she concentrated on the rock-scrambling. That is all right with me. Culture increases as awareness grows. I am not worried that she will long remain blind to the history and ecology of her home. Until then, it is neat to see her develop a taste for the outdoors, to see her focus on one stone and the path that she will have to take in order to climb around or atop it. I am eager to see in two or three years how much her love for hiking and climbing has grown.

    Until then, I am going to continue to share the experience with her. I am going to continue to let her explore the vast deserts and sub-alpine forests of Utah. If she is as much of a sandstone junkie as I am when she grows up, I will know that I have done my job.

    Brainwashing at its finest.


  • DSC 0006 DSC 0008 DSC 0013 ferrin canyon rock art

    There is a small but interesting panel of ancient Native American Rock art in the mouth of Ferron Canyon. As you drive from town west toward the canyon, just past Millsite reservoir, look for the rock art to your left at the spot where the canyon starts to narrow and cliffs come down near the road. 

    39°06'28.4"N 111°14'00.8"W
  • Beautiful and interesting Native American rock art can be found on Jones Hole Creek, which is a tributary to the Green River in extreme NE Utah.

    There is also a beautiful small waterfall on Ely Creek, a tributary to Jones Hole Creek. See more on the waterfall here.

    From Jones Hole Federal Fish Hatchery a well-marked trail follows the stream all of the way to its confluence with the Green River. The stream's water is clear and cold and supports a thriving population of brown trout.

    The rock art is found along the trail a ways below the hatchery. It is not hard to spot if you are observant.

    This scenic area is far off the beaten path. You don't stumble upon this place. You get there only if you make it a destination. It is a beautiful area well worth the trip.

    Jones Hole Fish Hatchery: Lat: 40.587087, Long: -109.057511

  • rock art nine mile2See our Nine Mile Canyon Photo Gallery.

    Nine Mile Canyon is a phenomenal outdoor museum of ancient Fremont Indian rock art and structures, sprinkled with fascinating relics from Utah's pioneer era. The canyon boasts hundred of panels of rock art, many containing dozens of individual figures. The canyon is perhaps the best place on earth to view Fremont Indian petroglyphs and pictographs. (Petroglyphs are designs cut into the rock; pictographs are painted onto the rock. Both are represented in the canyon. In some places the ancient artists cut designs into the rock, then painted the designs — pictographs on top of petroglyphs.)

    Much of the rock art can be viewed from the gravel road, which is graded and suitable for family car. Many others can be viewed from the road using binoculars. The canyon makes a great destination faor people who just want an enjoyable drive. But it is much more fun and rewarding to tour the canyon on a mountain bike.

    Some enthusiasts think you are not really mountain biking unless you charge headlong down a steep trail, dodging boulders and trees. I certainly understand the appeal of such a ride. But on this trip I enjoyed the easy, downhill glide.

    I think a bike is the ideal means of transportation in the canyon. You can see more of the canyon, more easily, from a bike than you can from a car. You can travel slowly, giving yourself plenty of time to look around. There are no windows or frames to obstruct your view. And, if you want to head off onto a trail or side road, you just shift into low and start peddling.

    Nine Mile allows visitors to enjoy the canyon and its treasures at their own pace. Stay in the car and peer out the window, park the car and hike to key spots, bike the canyon and its side roads and trails, or backpack. There is plenty of opportunity to get off the beaten path and see things which few others ever see, if you are so inclined. (Some of the trails and old roads in the area do offer exciting mountain biking opportunities, if you are looking for thrills.)

    rock art nine mile7The name Nine Mile Canyon is deceptive. The canyon is actually about 40 miles long. Apparently the name originated when John Wesley Powell was leading a government expedition through the area in 1869. His topographer did a nine-mile triangulation drawing at a place he called Nine Mile Creek. The canyon was subsequently named after the creek.

    Most of the ancient sites in the canyon are on BLM land, with open access. You can walk right up — no rangers or marked walkways or chains to control the movement of visitors. Please respect these ancient sites so they can be enjoyed for years into the future. Don't touch the artwork — don't even run your fingers over them. Many have been vandalized — modern names and dates have been carved over some of the most impressive panels. Most of the vandalize occurred years ago, before the significance and of the sites was generally recognized, and before people recognized their fragile nature. But, sadly, more vandalism occurs every year. If we are not careful, if we don't respect the sites, they will be locked up and the public will not be allowed to enjoy them.

    A considerable amount of land in the canyon is private property and some is posted "No Trespassing." Respect the private land, or more will be lost to public access.

    The Fremont culture blossomed in the canyon beginning in about 300 A.D. The culture overlapped that of the Anasazi, located a bit further south, and apparently there was considerable contact between the two cultures. The Fremont culture is distinct, yet some aspects of the artwork, stone structures, pottery and basket work created by the Fremont people resembles that of the more famous Anasazi culture. To learn more about these people, visit Fremont Indian State Park, located SW of Richfield, in Clear Creek Canyon, along I-70.

    The Fremont were a hardy people who built dwellings of stone, wood and mud, some in the form of pit houses, along with stone granaries. Some well preserved examples of these structures can be viewed in Nine Mile Canyon.

    The rock art provides clues as to the daily lives of these people. Human-like figures are depicted in many panels, sometimes with horns, necklaces, earrings, shields and headdresses. The animals that were an important part of their world are often depicted. It is easy to recognize mountain goats, deer and snakes. Other figures are more difficult to identify.

    rock art nine mile6Scientists are making strides in deciphering what the art work might have meant to the artists of the day, but in many cases it is still unclear what the figures represent. Perhaps some were decorative, others seem to depict religious symbols and still others may tell stories which were significant to the people. Whatever the meaning, modern man finds them fascinating and beautiful.

    It takes about 2.5 hours to drive from Salt Lake City to the top of Nine Mile Canyon. Most people who causally tour the canyon spend about six hours there. It's possible to make it a day outing from Salt Lake, but much more enjoyable to do it as an overnighter, staying in a motel in Price (or an outlying town), or camping out. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and supplies; there is nothing available after you leave Wellington. There are no designated camping areas in the canyon, but there are a few places that are suitable for primitive camping. Don't camp next to a major site because that would inhabit others from viewing the site. Don't build fire rings or do other things which will deface the land. If you camp, leave no trace!

    Some of the prominent sites in the canyon are described below. The mileage reference describes the distance to the site from the end of the pavement, at Soldier Creek Mine. Odometer measurements vary from vehicle to vehicle, and so will not be exact. Some of the mileage measurements and descriptions are my own, others are based on a brochure published by the Castle Country Travel Region (P.O. Box 1037, Price, UT 84501). My measurements differed from those in the brochure for a few sites, and I checked carefully to make them as accurate as possible. Still, I did not have time to confirm measurements for every site, so don't bet you life on them. Some sites are easy to locate, some are quite difficult. There are countless sites which are not described anywhere. Part of the fun of such a canyon is exploring. . . searching. . . perhaps finding something that hasn't been seen for 1,000 years. Have fun!

    To get into the canyon, travel east from Price on Highway 6, through Wellington, then look for the Soldier Creek Road, located on the east side of Wellington, adjacent to the Walker's Chevron station. A sign along the highway identifies the road as providing access to Nine Mile Canyon.

    Drive north on the Soldier Creek Road for 12.9 miles to the Soldier Creek mine, and the end of the pavement. Start counting miles here, if you intend to use my mileage references.

    Site #1: From the end of the pavement it is 13.7 miles to the first major rock art panels, which are on a rocky ridge which extends almost right up to the road. The ridge is easy to identify because someone has chipped large letters "SSC" into the rock adjacent to the road. Look for ancient figures on several of the smooth, dark, vertical rock panels along the ridge, near the road. People who are not use to seeing rock art may have a difficult time recognizing them at first, but many are quite obvious if you study the panels. In most cases the dark patina has been chipped away, creating the design by exposing the lighter rock. Some of the artwork is faded and harder to see; some of the figures have modern names and dates carved over them.

    Site #2: 17 miles from the pavement. If you look hard (and you're lucky) using binoculars you can see the remains of a rounded Fremont structure. It is located on a sagebrush-covered hill to the left of the road. On top the hill is a flat-topped rock. Below the rock and to the left is a cliff with several long cracks. The structure is near the base of the cracks. Several pit houses are located on the lower ridge to the right.

    Site #3: At 18 miles you will come to the ghost town of Harper. It was once a stage coach stop and sheep ranch.

    Site #4: 19.55 miles from the pavement you will come to a large panel with a variety of petroglyphs that are well preserved. The rocks on both sides of the main panel also have carvings. The site is located on the left side of the road, just past a balanced rock near the left edge of the road. The balanced rock somewhat resembles Porky Pig.

    Site #5: 20.9 miles. There are many figures all along this section of canyon, in the black patina halfway up the cliff face to the left of the road. One large panel includes several human shapes, some with Readdresses, toes and fingers. Also look for deer. Notice the square designs created by chiseling dots into the rock.

    Site #6: 22.3 miles. A large panel here includes some unique and interesting figures. The panel is easy to locate because it features a large snake which stands out distinctly. Look for trees, birds and human figures with hands and feet. The panel is located to the left of the road, halfway up the hillside. Park alongside a clump of cottonwood trees, located in the field on the right side of the road.

    Site #7: 25.8 miles. The remains of a granary are located on the hillside here. The front has been washed away, but the floor, ceiling and walls are visible.

    Site #8: 26.8 miles. A well-preserved granary is located above a ledge on the left side of the road.

    Site #9: 30.8 miles: Rassmussuen's Cave. There are many excellent pictographs in this area.

    Site #10: 31.8 miles: Cottonwood Canyon Road forks to the right. It leads to some interesting sites. The Nine Mile Canyon Road continues to the left, also leading to many more sites.

    Site #11: 1.2 miles up the Cottonwood Canyon Road you will find a panel which shows a splendid hunting scene. It is located to the right of the road.

    There's plenty more in the canyon, if you hunt it out.

  • See our article on Nine Mile Canyon.

  • (This is a news release provided by BLM.)

    Release Date: 07/28/14

    Nine Mile Canyon Rock Art Vandalism Case Resolved

    Price, Utah—In May 2014, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah Price Field Office law enforcement officers and archaeological staff investigated citizen-reported damage to the Nine Mile Canyon Pregnant Buffalo rock art panel in Carbon County.  The investigation revealed that two juveniles from the Salt Lake City area had carved their initials and the date into the rock face near the panel over Memorial Day weekend.  
    After careful examination and analysis, the BLM assessed the damage and identified specific mitigation measures.  BLM archaeologists estimated that restoration and repair efforts would cost approximately $1,500.  A BLM law enforcement officer met with the youths and their family to discuss the seriousness of the incident.  The family agreed to pay $1,500, which will be used to mitigate the damage caused by the juveniles' thoughtless vandalism.
    One of the youths stated that he was sorry for his thoughtless actions and hoped that others would learn from his mistake.  "I hope people try to think about the consequences and the effect their actions have on history," he said.
    Cultural resources like rock art are protected under various federal laws and regulations, including the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).  In ARPA, Congress affirmed that cultural and archaeological resources are an irreplaceable part of America's heritage and must be protected.  As a result, ARPA prohibits the unauthorized damage to, or excavation and removal, of archaeological resources on federal lands.  ARPA also prohibits the unlawful sale, purchase, or exchange of archaeological resources.  ARPA violations may result in criminal prosecution or civil penalties based on the cost of restoration and repair.   
    The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency.  This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska.  The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation.  The BLM’s mission is to manage and conserve the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations under our mandate of multiple-use and sustained yield.  In Fiscal Year 2013, the BLM generated $4.7 billion in receipts from public lands. 
  • Sego Canyon is located just north of I-70 east of Green River, Utah. The freeway exit is marked for "Thompson," which is a tiny community. Just drive north up the canyon. The rock art here is impressive.