“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
Now that we are firmly locked in the grips of winter, it might be a good time to branch out to Southern Utah and explore some of the most amazing country you will find in the world.
One of my favorite and most isolated spots is Goblin Valley in Emery County. To get there takes planning and the better part of a day. But you will never forget the two or three hours you spend there.
Goblin Valley is comprised of thousands of hoodoos or “Goblins” that are actually eroded entrada sandstone from the Jurassic period. A great deal of Southern Utah’s “Color Country” is made of the same geologic “Red Rock” formation.
The difference between places like Arches and Goblin Valley is that the area around Arches was formed by ancient sand dunes compressed and eroded over millions of years. The area that Goblin Valley sits in was a large tidal mud flat over 170 million years ago. As silt was deposited and compressed over millions of years, the landscape eroded, leaving behind the strange figures you see by the thousands.
This area is incredible. It is almost impossible to describe in words. You drive 254 miles from Salt Lake City and, while Spanish Fork Canyon and the San Rafael Swell are beautiful and interesting, nothing can prepare you for the otherworldly scene you will see when you round the final bend prior to the awning at the Hoodoo overlook. A large valley filled with ridiculously shaped, eroded and balanced rock figures stands before you with an imposing backdrop of piled red or white sandstone cliffs.
You can scarcely get out of your vehicle fast enough to begin your explorations among the hoodoos. Take a moment and consider a few things before you do. You are more than 60 miles from medical attention and at least 40 miles from a gas station in Hanksville, so make sure that you are careful during your activities.
Temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, so you need several liters of water per hour per person if you go there when it’s hot. Once you have pondered these things, take a moment to read the interpretive panels, from which much of the information in this article comes from, and then charge off into the valley of goblins.
There are incredible shapes of red sandstone, some of which have nicknames that are well known like “Molly’s Castle” or “The Three Sisters.” My family and I have given many other goblins names as well such as the “Duck” or the “Egg.” If you saw these things for yourself the names would make perfect sense.
I usually walk straight through the hoodoos to the back wall of cliffs and climb them to the top. Along this route you will encounter strange goblins shaped like the mushrooms from Super Mario Brothers. There are also winding paths between balanced rocks and towering spires of the tiny canyon walls. Some areas are eroded out into actual caves or clevities that you can walk back into.
Getting on top of the back wall is no easy thing and you must take extreme care to find a reasonably safe route. Once on top you have stunning views to the south of the 11,500 foot-high Henry Mountains — one of the last ranges in the Continental United States to be explored by a government survey party in the late 1800s. The snowcapped pointed peak is Mount Ellen and this compact lofty range creates its own climate and oasis in the desert complete with thick ponderosa, aspen and fir forests and a few tiny cold, clear streams.
As you admire the Henry Mountains, you will confront with yet another valley completely filled with goblins to the south. These goblins are three times the size of the ones in the previous valley, however, and they make for an incredible scene.
To the east you will look straight down the imposing cliffs of a plateau to a sea of sand with a few lone red buttes floating like Spanish galleons on the horizon. To the north along your back trail, you have a fine view of the main valley of the goblins and the tortured slick rock canyon country of the mysterious San Rafael Swell rising behind it.
The Swell is full of slot canyons, rock towers, incredible vistas and more slick rock than you have ever seen in your life. There are ancient petroglyph panels that bear evidence of the area’s occupation by archaic peoples. The Swell also supports the largest population of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the state. It is truly a magical wilderness but like the Henry Mountains, those are both topics for another article.
Goblin Valley is a Utah State Park with campgrounds, a nice visitor’s center and other amenities. Come prepared however because the nearest groceries and gas are miles away. Park Hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and there is an $8 a day use fee per vehicle. As always, call ahead and check with the park to ensure this information has not changed and to verify what is currently available for camping/RV hookups, etc.
When you get to Goblin Valley and experience it for yourself, you will understand the outrage that people felt when a couple of idiots decided to topple one of the rock formations that had existed for millions of years. Erosion is a natural process, and these monuments, like everything else on earth, will one day fall. That being said, please be respectful of the wilderness if you visit and help to minimize your impact so that future generations can also enjoy the wonder and magic that is Goblin Valley.
For more information contact:
Goblin Valley State Park
P.O. Box 637
Green River, Utah, 84525