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