PRICE, Utah — This year, Santa can’t wait for Christmas. A small, but dedicated group of rock art preservationists in Utah – the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition and their allies – are fighting to preserve what may be the original Santa Claus. Nine Mile Canyon: Located high on the side of a sheer cliff in a rugged place in central Utah is an ancient petroglyph that dates back over 1,000 years; it has an uncanny resemblance to the modern day Santa, an elf, and his nine reindeer.

A petroglyph is a work of prehistoric Indian rock art that is chiseled or “pecked” into rock, usually into a dark patina surface; the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition and their preservationist friends are seeking to save this ancient petroglyph from destruction.

ancient Santa petroglyph An industrial gas and oil development in the area is slowly destroying this and thousands of other petroglyphs that call this canyon home.

According to Pam Miller, a trained archaeologist and Chair of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, “‘Santa’ is one of more than 10,000 unique petroglyphs and pictographs (prehistoric Indian art painted on rock) found in the canyon that are being obliterated by dust and destroyed by dust-suppressant chemicals (magnesium chloride) that is being sprayed on roads. Additionally, the vibrations of huge trucks, drill rigs, bulldozers, and industrial traffic are also affecting these ancient works of art.”

Bill Bryant, the photographer who managed to photograph “Santa” using a super-telephoto lens said that, “The destruction going on here is tragic. This entire canyon is a national treasure that should be made into a national monument or park.”

Additional photos of “Santa” and other petroglyphs can be viewed at:

So, why is this happening? The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has sold mineral leases in Nine Mile Canyon and on plateaus north and south of it. BLM has not ordered industrial traffic to be re-routed to preserve countless prehistoric and historic sites in the canyon.

“BLM has decided to do the bidding of the gas and oil industry and the Bush Administration while sacrificing cultural and historic values, air and water quality,” Miller said. “It’s time to restore balance to BLM’s public land policies and decisions.”

What can be done? Fortunately, there is time to stop further destruction. A public comment period ends May 1 on the BLM West Tavaputs Plateau Natural Gas Full Field Development Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The proponent prepared DEIS is a proposal from the Bill Barrett Corporation to drill over 800 wells over the next eight years using the historic and scenic National Back Country By-Way Nine Mile Canyon road as its industrial thoroughfare and staging area.

Petro-Canada Resources (USA) is also drilling in the area. Public comments can be submitted electronically and all information can be found on the Nine Mile Coalition web site at:

“While the intentions and beliefs of the original artist(s) will never be known, the beauty of rock art is that future generations will continue to be inspired by it,” Miller explained. “Of course this ‘Santa’ interpretation must clearly be seen as ethnocentric by later observers; it is not likely that Santa, the elf, and reindeer were in the mind of the original people making the markings.”

According to Miller, “The only way to save ‘Santa’ and the world-renown rock art of Nine Mile Canyon from destruction is for people to get involved and make their voices heard to BLM and their elected officials across the country. This place needs to be saved for future generations.”

[tags]rock art preservationists in Utah, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, Santa Claus petroglyphs, archaeologist Pam Miller[/tags]