Nine Mile Canyon
Driving around remote, rural eastern Utah you’re likely to see plenty of farmland, pronghorn and oil pumps. It’s an area with a wealth of diverse natural resources, including a striking high desert landscape of canyons, buttes and rock formations. One of the region’s most inspirational drives is through Nine Mile Canyon. The exact reason for its name is unknown but the canyon is actually about 40 miles long, an important consideration when making plans and filling the gas tank. The highway running through Nine Mile is a backroad connecting Vernal and Price, the two largest towns in the area. On a sunny day, the golden color of the sheer rock walls makes the drive stunning enough. But it's Nine Mile’s geology along with its humanity that make the canyon particularly significant. Nicknamed the “World’s Longest Art Gallery,” there are literally thousands of petroglyphs gracing the canyon’s walls. Most were carved by the Fremont people who lived in the area 700 to 1500 years ago. There are petroglyphs of bison, lizards and creatures that look like they traveled to Nine Mile from outer space. But the most striking panel is called The Great Hunt, considered one of the finest examples of Fremont rock art. And while the depictions might seem obvious, no one knows their exact meaning. Now don’t expect the masterpieces from this Louvre of Utah to fall into your lap. Much of the art—and Fremont ruins like granaries perched on cliff walls – are actually hard to spot. You’ll need a handy guide (see the Keep in Mind and Links sections for more info) and an accurate GPS. And as you drive the road, consider another amazing historical fact: the route was carved through the canyon in the late 1800s by the all black 9th Cavalry, one of the U.S. Army's segregated African American regiments.
Keep in Mind
From inspiring geology to ancient artwork and the grueling construction efforts of the 9th Cavalry, Nine Mile Canyon is a remarkable record of the past. But it won’t mean as much unless you know where to look. This writeup from Climb Utah is invaluable. It follows Nine Mile Canyon from west-to-east, Wellington to Myton. I drove the route in reverse and while it took some recalculating, the mileage markers and landmarks were spot on. It’s a really fun treasure hunt.
Routes & Maps
Nine Mile Canyon Road basically runs 75 miles between the towns of Wellington and Myton. The route is almost entirely paved but even the gravel sections are in good shape, when the weather is dry. This video essay follows the road from northeast-to-southwest, Myton to Wellington. Both towns are about two hours from Salt Lake City: Myton is 135 miles east and Wellington is 125 miles southeast.
Length & Time
Plan on at least half a day with stops and another half day if driving to and from Salt Lake City.
Best Time to Visit
The road is passable year-round but check local conditions in winter and during wet weather.
Depending on where you start and finish, Nine Mile Canyon is bookended by Price to the west and Vernal to the east. Both are large towns with all services.
The Carbon County Office of Tourism in Price has helpful info including a page on Nine Mile Canyon. Located next door to Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal has a more developed tourism industry and a website to match. And here again is the link to Climb Utah’s must-have guide to Nine Mile Canyon.