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Nine Mile Canyon

Nine-mile Canyon is an easy ride on dirt road. It's a good family educational ride, as you view rock art from the Fremont Indian culture, plus the ruins of pioneer cabins. Above the road tower banded cliffs of sandstone. The canyon tilts very slightly downhill, losing 1300 feet over 23 miles (a bit more than 50 feet per mile -- hardly noticeable). Riding options include hammerhead out-and-back, a one-way downhill cruise of any length, and a park-and-explore option.

View down the canyon shows banded brown cliffs of sandstone from the Green River Formation. Photos by Bruce, September 17, 2002.

Hammerheads can do the whole thing as a 46-mile out-and-back. (Allow about 6 hours for riding, plus lunch, gawking, and repair time.) It's not that tough. Really.

Closeup of one of the first art panels, near Argyle Canyon.

For families with older children, I'd recommend that Mom and Dad trade off "SUV-duty." Ride from the Cottonwood Glen picnic area down to the rest rooms just past Dry Creek, while the SUV follows or scouts for petroglyphs and interesting ruins. From here, make an exploration ride up Cottonwood Canyon, where the best rock art is found.

Bad weather note: I rode Nine Mile Canyon the day after the season's biggest storm. There were several washouts (most on the lower half of the ride) where the typical SUV would not be able to get through, but on the way back, a road-grader already had about half of the washes repaired smooth. There was standing water completely covering the road in multiple spots, up to 12 inches deep and 100 feet long. I found that the puddles were easily rideable by aiming the bike right into the deepest part (the wheel-ruts), where the bottom was packed hard. (Wet feet and butt, but hey, life's an adventure.) Trying to go around puddles resulted in a fight to get through sticky deep mud.

Pioneer homestead. The dugout building kept the family cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter.

Family safety note: At the Cottonwood Glen picnic area, there's a deep rock well. It's north of the picnic pavilion, about 12 feet from the freestanding rock chimney. The day I visited, a decrepit wood safety covering had been pulled aside. Before letting young children roam this area, I'd suggest you stroll over there and make sure the hazard is safely covered.

Ripples in a beach, frozen in time, cover this slab that's fallen from the cliffs. During the Cretacous Period, the shoreline moved back and forth across this area. Coal deposits were formed in heavy wooded flood plains or lagoons, and lie between the layers of sandstone. The cliffs of the Tertiary Period were formed from sediments in a large lake that covered much of eastern Utah.

For families who don't want to grind out major mileage, drive straight to the rest-room and parking area near Dry Creek, 37.7 miles after leaving US-6 in Wellington. From here, ride downhill a mile to Cottonwood Canyon, then turn right and head up Cottonwood Canyon to the best rock art, 1.15 and 1.35 miles uphill. This is the Park-and-Explore ride option.

View into the window of an old cabin, as nature again takes charge.

The cliffs are banded sandstone from the late Cretaceous Period (starting144 and ending 65 million years ago) and from the early Tertiary Period (the age of mammals). The bands indicate rapid cycling of environments during this time -- from seashore to wooded floodplain to dunes and back. This area was on the edge of massive mountains that occupied the western half of Utah. Sediments washed into this area from these western mountains, and from Uinta Mountains in the north.

Photo above:  A particularly scenic side canyon shows spires, cliffs, and multiple ledges formed by bands of sandstone of varying hardness. 
In this narrow valley hundreds of years ago, the Fremont culture planted squash and corn, irrigating with water from the creek. The rock art, grain storage facilities in the cliffs, and pit homes (dug into the ground) are remants of this civilization.

The bottomland of the valley is private property. Stay on the roadway. And remember, it's a federal offense to disturb rock art or dig for indian artifacts!

Rock art in Cottonwood Canyon, showing a hunting scene.

Long Ride notes, starting at Cottonwood Glen
0.0   Turn R (east) as you exit the parking area
        N 39 47.294' W 110 25.342'   Alt 6530 ft
2.7   Sheep Canyon road joins from R
4.0   Argyle Canyon road joins from L
5.9   Harmon Canyon road joins from R
11.0 Gate Canyon road joins from L
15.0 Prickly Pear Canyon on R
16.2 Dry Creek Canyon road joins from R
16.7 Parking and rest rooms on R
17.7 Cottonwood Canyon road joins from R
        (Option: turn R 1.15 miles to petroglyphs)
23.0 Turnaround at gate, Franks Canyon road on L
        N 39 48.292' W 110 04.676'   Alt 5250 ft
46    Back at your car.
Sample Petroglyph Locations:
0.8 miles past Sheep Canyon, on L
0.7 miles past Argyle Canyon, after balanced rock
0.55 miles past Dry Creek, just beyond wash, on L
2.3 miles past Cottonwood Creek, on L
1.15 miles up Cottonwood Creek Canyon road, on R
1.35 miles up Cottonwood Creek Canyon road, on R

Short Ride recommendation:
Park at Gate Canyon, ride up to the Cottonwood Canyon petroglyphs, and/or down to the gate at Franks Canyon.
Park-and-Explore Ride option:
Park at the rest rooms 0.5 mile past Dry Canyon. Head downhill. Turn R at Cottonwood Canyon, ride to the petroglyphs, and return. (4.7 miles)

Getting There, "Long Ride:"  From the Wasatch Front, head over Spanish Fork canyon on US-6 and drive past Price to the town of Wellington. Just east of Wellington, turn north on the Soldier Creek Road. Zero your odometer. When the road forks at mile 5.6, keep left. The pavement ends just past the coal mine at mile 12.5. Continue over the pass, keeping right at the fork at 14.6. Drive past the "dude ranch" commercial camping area around mile 24. At mile 26.8, turn right into the Cottonwood Glen picnic area. GPS N 39 47.294' W 110 25.342'.

Shorter rides:  Continue along the Nine Mile Canyon road until you find a spot you like. Some of the best scenery and petroglyphs are in the Cottonwood Canyon area. Park at the rest rooms, on the main road just past the Dry Canyon fork. Cottonwood Canyon will be about a mile downhill, on the right.

Why not?


Bookstore!

Riding resources:
One-page riding guide
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Price area resources

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