At the end of last year, a limited liability corporation belonging to the family trust of Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chairman and CEO of the Fox Corporation, acquired six parcels of land along Mill Creek at the county line between Grand and San Juan. The parcels he acquired total 156 acres in size.
The properties are islands of private property in a sea of public lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management and Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The valley — including the properties Murdoch acquired — contains extensive rock art, as documented by local resident Rory Tyler.
The Murdoch properties, which were already partially developed prior to the purchase, according to property tax rolls, sit along the creek between Johnson’s Up on Top and Ken’s Lake, down a private road that runs along the creek. The area is thick with cultural artifacts.
Indigenous people once used the Mill Creek canyon for hunting bighorn sheep, according to Tyler. He has dubbed the area the Mill Creek Game Drive Corridor and has documented it with thousands of photos and has written about various ancient artworks in the canyon.
Tyler’s lengthy presentation on the subject explains his theories on the meaning behind the art found in the valley, which he says depict the exercise native peoples would engage of corralling sheep into the canyon through a break in the wall and directing them northward where hunters awaited the kill with atlatl.
Some of the petroglyphs appear high above the canyon floor, and according to Tyler, their complexity and precarity suggest they were of great importance to the locally Indigenous people and required extra effort to create.
The Times-Independent reached out to Murdoch through the Fox Corporation and Cogency Global, the company registered with Utah as the agent for the Murdoch LLC that owns the properties. Noah Bigwood, a friend of Murdoch, responded to say that the purchases were “for conservation,” which he said “absolutely includes the native rock art.”
Bigwood, who co-founded professional guide service Moab Desert Adventures, said Murdoch “loves Moab” and for “most of his life” has visited the area for climbing and biking. When asked about the petroglyphs and Tyler’s research, Bigwood said that he was interested to contact Tyler to learn more.
Local zoning ordinances provide leeway for little more than redeveloping the buildings already existing on the properties Murdoch acquired. Single-family housing is the primary use permitted on the properties by Grand and San Juan ordinances, which designate the areas as rural and agricultural zones.
However, the petroglyphs that are on the Murdoch properties are not regulated by zoning. Regulatory protections exist at the state level for discoveries of culturally significant artifacts, at least in some situations, but it is not immediately clear whether known artifacts like the Mill Creek canyon petroglyphs are protected by state or federal preservation rules.