updated 11/21/2005 8:19:49 PM ET 2005-11-22T01:19:49

A remote Utah canyon that long concealed a string of ancient Indian settlements holds another surprise: The rancher who sold it kept the mineral rights and says he may use them.

Waldo Wilcox, who for nearly 50 years kept the ancient Fremont Indian sites remarkably well preserved, said he kept the mineral rights because Utah wouldn’t pay what he thought his 4,200-acre ranch was worth.

Wilcox wanted $4 million but got $2.5 million for the ranch in remote Range Creek Canyon.

The 75-year-old rancher said that before he opens the canyon to any oil-and-gas development, he would offer the mineral rights to the state — for a price. In the documentary “Secrets of the Lost Canyon,” which airs locally Monday, Wilcox bitterly recalled negotiating with the state.

“If Range Creek don’t mean that much to them, I’m going to get every dime I can,” he said.

Competing interests have fought over Wilcox’s family ranch since word got out that he planned to sell.

Hunters want Utah to unlock the gates of Range Creek Canyon to unrestricted public access, opening an area described as controlling access to 75,000 acres of prime hunting ground on government land.

University of Utah archaeologists worry about looting in a pristine canyon that holds everything from arrow shafts to half-buried village sites. Scientific American magazine described it as one of the most important discoveries of 2004.

Fremont Indians lived in the region as hunters and farmers until about 800 years ago, when they largely disappeared from the area. But they left signs of their lives there, including detailed art and symbols on the canyon walls and stores of grains high in the cliffs. Tribes including the Utes, the Skull Valley band of Goshute and the Pauite have claimed to be descended from the Fremont.

Archeologists at the University of Utah have been surveying some 2,000 sites in the canyon area and want them protected.

Wilcox also fears public access would ruin Range Creek Canyon. But he says he’s not above letting an oil company set up a drill rig in the canyon, in compensation for the state’s lowball offer.

State officials, meanwhile, are keeping Range Creek patrolled while the debate over broader public access goes on. Visitors are currently allowed in by government permit, but snowbound mountain passes keep the ranch inaccessible for up to seven months each year.

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