Television and newspaper photographers flank archaeologist Jerry Spangler during the tour.
Nine Mile Canyon, with it's majestic views and centuries old rock art, is about to reap the benefits of a multimillion dollar grant program as part of Bill Barrett Corporation's efforts to preserve and protect the archaeological heritage.
The Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance and Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) hosted a media event allowing reporters and photographers to see the ongoing efforts to preserve the rich prehistoric record of Nine Mile Canyon.
"This is unprecedented in state history," said Jerry Spangler, an archaeologist with the CPAA, about the work leading up to this point.
The BBC unveiled a multimillion dollar grant program which is geared towards getting preservationists and archaeologists in a long term effort to foster research, public education and preservation of the canyon's legacy. The BBC is endowing the fund with an initial $250,000, and would add on $5,000 for each new well drilled over the next few years.
Over the past few years groups including BBC, CPAA and others have worked on hammering out an agreement that would help benefit the area and its history. The BBC's original draft of the environment impact statement included things such as operations of around 53,250 acres, 807 well bores and 3,390 acres of initial disturbance with 1,705 acres of long term disturbance. The BBC's condensed development plan brought operations of about 18,076 acres, 596 well bores and 1,323 acres of initial disturbance with 711 acres of long term disturbance. In total the condensed plan brought a reduction of 66 percent of the total operations area, 26 percent fewer wells and 57 percent reduction in long term disturbance.
What the entire project could mean for BBC includes the production of 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or one-third of Utah's total production and one-half of Utah's consumption for 20 years.
In total, the 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could turn out to be a $6.5 billion project, according to Jim Felton, communications manager with BBC.
The "programmatic agreement" for archaeological resources includes work on dust suppression, archeological surveying, monitoring, conservation and enhancement and the grant program which could be upwards of $5 million.
Seven signatories to the programmatic agreement included the Bureau of Land Management, Utah State Historic Preservation Officer, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, SITLA, Carbon and Duchesne Counties and the BBC. The BLM will have enforcement authority.
The agreement also included 14 concurring parties including Native American tribes, state officials and non-governmental organizations.
While the agreement was the work of all groups coming to the table and finding compromise, not everyone will be pleased with the outcome, Spangler said.
"Not everybody is happy about everything, but some people are not happy with anything," he said.
Also the BBC has agreed to fund all of the cultural resources fieldwork, analysis, monitoring, data recovery, reporting, curation, rock art conservation and other mitigating required under the agreement.
One major topic with the work in Nine Mile Canyon includes the 36 miles of canyon road improvements including 3" to 4" of gravel surfacing, double chip sealing and dust suppression of unchipped road sections.
The dust suppression work is aided by lignin sulfonate, a tree sap and pine resin used on the roads. Water trucks and a tree sap and pine resonant used on the roads. Water trucks and other large pickups passing on the roads kicked up dust as they passed by, but the suppressant has worked to keep the dust at lower levels, Felton said.
Even with the rainfall over the past week, the roadway was clear of water. Only in areas off the road was water formed in puddles and miniature streams.
"We want to make sure dust doesn't become a bigger issue," Spangler said. Panels in certain points near roads can become caked with dust making it harder for people to see the art clearly, he said.
Fixing the canyon road has allowed many who didn't have access, originally passable only by four wheel drive vehicles, a chance to visit the area. While this can be a good thing to help bring more tourists out to the canyon, it can also present problems with people visiting the sites and possibly causing mischief, Spangler said.
Spangler and Felton took journalists and photographers to three different sites along the Canyon where intricate depictions laid craved into the rocks dating back hundreds of years. Some art sites are still very visible and provide an opportunity to determine what they represent while others, through weather, dust and instances of vandalism, were so faded on their rock canvas that it's easy to miss them along the canyon, Spangler said.
Next to art work of an owl, a long snake, deer, rams and human figures dating back centuries, were the carved out initials of people, bullet holes and other evidence of vandalism that have occurred over the years. In recent years instances of vandalism in sites which have been inventoried have dropped, Spangler said. Photo studies and other research allowed for a comparison of how much the area has changed over the years.
"People have used this as a canvas for over 100 years," Spangler said. He is hoping the message will get out to the public and tourists not to do anything to harm the art in the area.
The art sites, some of which are located on private property, sit high above the road. To reach them, one must hike up narrow paths, climbing over rocks and carefully navigating alongside high ledges overlooking the road below.
Many pieces of the art visited on Tuesday are currently undergoing scientific analysis including the Owl Panel, Sand Hill Crane Site and the Gate Canyon Site. The rock art dates back between 900 to 1200 AD. Spangler said there were about 10,000 sites within the canyon, some areas with only three or four images of art to others with over 300 images.
On a narrow trail leading to the top of a ridge where the Crane Panel is located, Jochen "Flint" Lahmann, from Bergdorf, Germany, stopped by to admire the art work. A fan of American Indian history, he first visited the canyon 25 years ago and has noticed the changes made since he first experienced the area.
"The road is a big difference. It's much better," said Lahmann, remembering the old trail he traveled on years ago. "There are more tourists here now and that's not good."
Much like the archaeologists working in the area currently, Lahmann is looking beyond the rock art to study and find the reasons why people created the petroglyphs and pictographs.
"It's like a diary," said Lahmann of the rock art. "I want to know what the people who painted these see with their eyes, when they painted them and why."
With all of the art sites throughout the area, Spangler thinks that Nine Mile Canyon will be the most researched site over the next 10 years in Utah.
"Nine Mile Canyon is a cultural resource for people and it's unprecedented anywhere else in the state," Spangler said.