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The Wasatch Behind: a Sign Of the Times

Staff Collumnist

Much has been said about the Nine Mile road the past couple of weeks and I would like to add a few thoughts of my own. Few people know that road better than me. For the past three years I've operated a tour company and I've taken people there from all over the country. I've known the canyon since the early 1950s and I've witnessed a lot of changes there over the years. I'm also very familiar with tourists and their expectations.

I'm very distressed by what is happening in the canyon today, and it's not the oil companies that bother me. The energy people have a lot of trucks in the canyon but it's a temporary condition and we need the oil and gas. The oil companies are doing their best to mitigate the impact and be good neighbors. My heartburn is caused by Carbon County.

Tourism is a major industry in southeastern Utah and we have some of the best places to visit in our own backyard. But to make it work for us we've got to help tourists have an enjoyable experience. Sadly, we are not doing that with Nine Mile Canyon. The canyon is a mess and the reason is the road. If we expect people to visit our area, stay a few days and spend some of their money here, we've got to offer them something better.

So after years of talking about it but getting nothing of substance done, maybe it's time to try a different approach. If the county can't fix or properly maintain the canyon road, for whatever reason, maybe we should try to convince people the bad road is something we've planned and developed. Let's promote the bad road as something positive.

Let's tell people that washboards and dust are an important part of the Nine Mile experience. In fact, I think we should erect a sign at the end of the asphalt near the old Soldier Canyon mine. If it were up to me, this is what the sign would say:

This primitive road is brought to you compliments of Carbon County. It is left rough and rugged to honor our pioneer heritage.

The ruts and bumps are left in place to commemorate the old freight wagon road between Price and Vernal at the turn of the 20th century. Imagine your new car to be a covered wagon with iron wheels as you travel through the canyon. This road helps to duplicate that experience as much as possible, no matter how good your springs and shock absorbers might be. And in reality, iron wheels would be an advantage with so many sharp rocks in the road. You will notice that the world-famous pictograph panels are being covered with dust from the road. This seals them with a protective layer of dirt that helps protect them from vandals because no one can see them anymore.

The clouds of dust also serve to remind you that you should expect to eat a little dirt if you stop to visit our area. It is good bottomland dirt, the same stuff the Fremont Indians grew corn, beans, and squash in. The dust is free so be sure to take some home in your shoes, hair, eyes, camera, and your new car as a souvenir of your visit.

The narrow, dusty, and blind curves help to keep you alert and on your toes as you drive through the canyon. You wouldn't want to relax and miss anything.

Pray that it doesn't rain while you are in the canyon. The ankle-deep dust will turn to mud and places where the road crosses the mouths of tributary canyons might become impassable due to floods, just like in the 1880s. Like true pioneers, be prepared to stay overnight if necessary.

And for those hardy souls who persevere and make it all the way to the Duchesne County line, the road isn't nearly as interesting there. Duchesne County uses magnesium chloride to hold down the dust and they do way too much maintenance on the road. The road loses its pioneer character and becomes ordinary and boring.

Enjoy your stay in the canyon. Local people are friendly and someone will surely pull you out, call a wrecker, or give you a ride back to town where you can get your flat tires fixed.

We hope you enjoy your journey down our road to the past.

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