All posts by Dennis

Nine Mile Canyon XX: Middle, Gate, and Lower

I wanted a change of pace from my usual Nine Mile Canyon outings, so I planned an overnighter with the intention of exploring in the lower portion of the canyon. However, during the drive into the area I stopped to “scratch a couple of itches” in the middle portion of Nine Mile and in Gate Canyon. I didn’t leave home until around noon on Sunday, and it was gloomy with low clouds and a bit of rain. I stopped at the First Site and walked along an old road that I noticed in Google Earth, trying to figure out its purpose. I had assumed it was a more modern bulldozed road based on the satellite imagery, but on the ground it looked like a very old, hand-built road. I reached what appeared to be the end of the road and found nothing to indicate why it was built. I hiked around near the end of the road, but since I’d left my hat and jacket in the Jeep, I soon got cold and my glasses were covered with rain, so I retreated. I’ll return another time to explore further.

Low clouds and rain in Whitmore Park
Low clouds and rain in Whitmore Park

Yellow aspen near Pole Canyon
Yellow aspen near Pole Canyon

An old road near the First Site
An old road near the First Site

Section marker in the road
Section marker in the road

BLM section marker from 1990
BLM section marker from 1990

My next stop was at a very large petroglyph panel that I’ve been aware of for years but had never taken the time to climb up to. As I began my climb, some deer in a nearby field were staring at me intently. I spooked another small group of deer while hiking and scrambling up to the rock art, and the deer down in the field divided their attention between me and the other deer. The rock art panel was both typical of other Fremont panels in the area and also unusual in its own way. The individual elements of the rock art were what one would expect in Nine Mile Canyon, but most of them were connected by a single petroglyph line that spanned hundreds of feet, going around corners in the cliffs and eventually ending in a manner that suggested something unfinished. I climbed to the next cliff band above the large panel and found a couple of inscriptions dating to 1909, along with a small natural arch that framed the Jeep below nicely.

A happy little 1×2 buck eating alfalfa
A happy little 1x2 buck eating alfalfa

Deer whose attention is split between me and another small group of deer behind me
Deer whose attention is split between me and another small group of deer behind me

Diamonds and other petroglyph figures
Diamonds and other petroglyph figures

Bighorn sheep and Fremont decoration
Bighorn sheep and Fremont decoration

Very large petroglyph panel
Very large petroglyph panel

Arc over a quadruped
Arc over a quadruped

Long line/tail that continues around the corner
Long line/tail that continues around the corner

Continuation of the long line
Continuation of the long line

Continuation of the long line
Continuation of the long line

Line passing through another panel
Line passing through another panel

End of the line
End of the line

Thos Coddington, Am. Fork, Feb/09
Thos Coddington, Am. Fork, Feb/09

View through a small natural arch
View through a small natural arch

I continued on toward Gate Canyon where I’d hoped to find a stock trail that I’d read about online. I had no idea where to look for it, but in the very first spot where I trained my binoculars, I spotted the remains of a very precarious sheep trail leading up a series of cliff bands. While climbing up for a closer look, I found a couple of petroglyphs just below the trail. The “trail” itself consisted of a one section of rocks stacked to gain access to an area above one cliff band, and another section with steel spikes driven into the sandstone which supported a single wooden beam with rock fill above it. This upper section showed signs of blasting to ease the passing through a cliff band. These two sections of trail were the only visible remains of a route that must have led to higher grazing lands, but I couldn’t locate any other trail sections above them. Once again, it’s another spot where I’d like to return for further enlightenment.

Steep, rocky chute with a stock trail up the middle
Steep, rocky chute with a stock trail up the middle

Petroglyph panel near the stock trail
Petroglyph panel near the stock trail

Weathered petroglyph
Weathered petroglyph

Rock wall supporting the trail
Rock wall supporting the trail

Steel spike and wooden pole supporting a section of trail
Steel spike and wooden pole supporting a section of trail

Telltale signs of blasting
Telltale signs of blasting

A little farther up Gate Canyon I stopped to check out a natural arch I’d noticed on my very first visit to the canyon back in 2002. I was shocked, however, to find that the arch had collapsed! According to a Facebook friend, the arch was still there four months ago.

2007 photo showing Gate Canyon arch intact
2007 photo showing Gate Canyon arch intact

2017 photo of collapsed Gate Canyon arch
2017 photo of collapsed Gate Canyon arch

Daylight was waning and I hurried the remaining distance toward where I wanted to camp for the night. Despite a wrong turn and some muddy roads, I got to my planned camp spot just before sunset. The setting sun cast an unnatural orange glow on the normally drab, gray mesas above lower Nine Mile Canyon. I spent a few hours reading before turning in to bed. It felt as though I was awake more than not all night, and when the eastern sky began to light up I was fully awake and ready to move. I made coffee and ate breakfast, then drove a short distance to where I wanted to begin hiking.

Sand Wash sign
Sand Wash sign

Badland Cliffs
Badland Cliffs

Lion Oil Co., Maverick #1
Lion Oil Co., Maverick #1

Sunset lighting on the mesa above Nine Mile Canyon
Sunset lighting on the mesa above Nine Mile Canyon

Sunset on the Badland Cliffs
Sunset on the Badland Cliffs

Sunset reflected on the Jeep’s hood
Sunset reflected on the Jeep's hood

Making coffee in the morning
Making coffee in the morning

It was cold that morning. Frost covered the windshield on the Jeep and the ground and plants in places. The hiking was easy with the exception of a dryfall that I had to downclimb. I ran into an unexpected fence across the canyon that foiled my plans for the day. I’d done enough research to know that I would have to trespass on private property to reach my destinations that were on public lands, but I hadn’t expected to see fences or No Trespassing signs, even though they were a full half-mile from the actual private property boundary. I confidently bypassed the fence since it was on public land, but when I reached the actual private property boundary I hesitated. I’d have to hike nearly half a mile on private property to reach the rock art and structures that were my goal. I pondered it for a few minutes and, ultimately, I wimped out.

Frost on an anthill
Frost on an anthill

Into the canyon
Into the canyon

Broken elk antler
Broken elk antler

Small waterfall
Small waterfall

Butte
Butte

Gnarly rock fold
Gnarly rock fold

Small alcove (center) that I would investigate later in the day
Small alcove (center) that I would investigate later in the day

Fence across the canyon
Fence across the canyon

Scary signs
Scary signs

Spot the granary?
Spot the granary?

Three small granaries built high up a cliff
Three small granaries built high up a cliff

View from the private property boundary into Nine Mile
View from the private property boundary into Nine Mile

"Wilford B" inscription, which must surely have been made by the actor Wilford Brimley, who is from Utah ;)
"Wilford B" inscription, which must surely have been made by the actor Wilford Brimley, who is from Utah ;)

Instead, I backtracked and climbed to a nice vantage point on public land from which to view the lower end of Nine Mile Canyon. Then I retreated back up the canyon I’d descended. I made a steep climb up to an alcove that showed very little signs of habitation, though a pit suggested that somebody had done some digging in the alcove. I passed up a butte that I’d seen earlier in the morning and realized there was some sort of lookout tower on one side that I’d missed before. Nearby was an alcove with some old cowboy junk inside, including a Shasta root beer can that must be at least 50 years old.

A steep, rocky hillside; I climbed to the base of the cliff in the upper-left
A steep, rocky hillside; I climbed to the base of the cliff in the upper-left

Lower Nine Mile Canyon
Lower Nine Mile Canyon

Volkswagen Bus, with “Marysville, KS” stenciled on the side
Volkswagen Bus, with

View upstream toward fields and ranch buildings
View upstream toward fields and ranch buildings

Small pit in an alcove
Small pit in an alcove

Shasta soda can from the 1960s
Shasta soda can from the 1960s

Drylaid stone ruin on the back of the butte
Drylaid stone ruin on the back of the butte

Close-up of the ruin
Close-up of the ruin

On the way back to the Jeep I spotted what appeared to be a cairn, though upon closer examination I noticed the rocks had mud/dirt between the layers. I still can’t fathom what it was supposed to be, but I’d guess it was historic rather than prehistoric. During the drive home I saw a dead golden eagle on the Nine Mile Canyon road that hadn’t been there the previous day. I also saw deer and an elk crossing the road in front of me near the head of Nine Mile and Soldier creeks.

An unusual stack of stones
An unusual stack of stones

Frank’s Canyon sign
Frank's Canyon sign

Dead golden eagle on the Nine Mile road
Dead golden eagle on the Nine Mile road

Deer crossing
Deer crossing


Photo Gallery: Nine Mile Canyon XX: Middle, Gate, and Lower