This archived article was written by: Melissa Spencer
A photographic exhibit of Nine-Mile Canyon opens Friday at 7 p.m. in the CEU Prehistoric Museum. The exhibit features photography by Diane Orr and a video by storyteller Larry Cesspooch.
The history of the canyon started over 4,000 years ago when a group of hunters and gatherers now known as the Fremont Indians inhabited a nearby canyon. They eventually disappeared, whether they were killed off or simply absorbed into other native cultures, no one knows for sure. But they left a legacy in their wall art in what is now known as Nine-Mile Canyon.
The historical value of this canyon doesn’t end there. Years later the United States Ninth Calvary, Buffalo Soldiers, traveled through Erie canyon creating the road that still exists today. Over the next few decades the road was used to transport Gilsonite between Carbon and Duchesne counties.
For years this area has been a very important historical landmark in Carbon County as well as one of the foremost tourist sites, but its days of economic development have been questioned when the gas industry bought the federal mineral lease for the area intending to drill for natural gas.
The original proposal included wells being drilled in the canyon and one in the middle of an archeological site. This proposal generated over 100 letters of protest, so it was discontinued and a new plan is in the works.
Some of the concerns that canyon visitors have about this development, according to Pam Miller, are increased traffic in the canyon. A second concern is the impact the development could have on tourism to the area. Miller said, “My fear is that without the gas company communicating with the tourism industry and without the community working together we will be sacrificing a long-term resource for the short-term development of gas. I know we need to develop the gas reserves … but we need to understand what it is we’re giving up to access those resources.”
People working to protect Nine-Mile Canyon have ideas that would be beneficial to the county. First, they asked that there be no drilling in the bottom of the canyon. They recommend that most of the industrial traffic come through East Carbon to help reduce traffic and keep tourists safe.
Last of all they have asked the gas industry to work with the county to improve the road through the canyon. Miller stated, “I think the gas company could look like real heroes here if they worked with Carbon County to leave a lasting legacy that would benefit generations.”
To help educate the public about this project the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum is hosting The Nine Mile Canyon Gallery featuring the panoramic photos of Orr. In conjunction with the exhibit the Nine-Mile Coalition and the museum will host a symposium on Saturday, Sept. 13th at 9:30 a.m. Speakers will include BYU archeologist Dr. Ray Matheny and State Historic Preservation Officer Wilson Martin. Afterward the museum will offer a guided tour through the canyon.