Anthropologist Pam Miller has been exploring the rock art of central Utah for more than 20 years. In an area called 9 Mile Canyon she’s the de-facto curator of what’s often described as the world’s longest art gallery. With her husband, also an archeologist, Miller has recorded more than a thousand sites along a corridor that runs for more than 50 miles. But there are tens of thousands of images etched or pecked into the rock, some more than a thousand years ago.
Nine-Mile Canyon a stunning showcase right next to the road and affords easy access for visitor eager to view the ancient artwork. But there’s a downside. Oil and gas drilling is picking up on the plateau above this canyon making this a busy access route.
All the traffic kicks up dust that covers the art. Miller says the dust may contain corrosive particulates with unknown consequences.
Fortunately a compromise has been negotiated. Denver-based Bill Barrett Corporation has signed an agreement with government agencies and historic preservation groups. The agreement allows the company to drill on public lands above the canyon. But protections are put in place to control dust, monitor rock art integrity and to train workers about cultural resources. The company has also started a new fund to grant money for projects ranging from archeological research to preventing vandalism. The company will donate $5,000 for each new well it drills, up to $5 million. And Miller says the hope now is that by working together allowing access to one resource won’t compromise another.