Saturday, November 12, 2011

Goblin Valley - Weird and Wonderful

You may have heard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where abstract forms and images created by human hands inspire others to think "outside the box" in terms of ideas and imagination.

I have never been there myself, but I am reasonably sure that what I have seen displayed in nature trumps just about anything found in the city. For instance, consider the utterly unusual and otherworldly landscape found in Goblin Valley State Park, located in southcentral Utah. In this remote and somewhat compact area exist some of the oddest and most intriguing formations in a region known around the world for outstanding geological scenery.

This unique attraction contains a maze of eroded sandstone hoodoos that carpet the floor of a high desert valley ringed by a series of buttes to the east and sheer cliffs to the west. The surrounding area is a relatively barren landscape of shifting dunes, naked rock, and no water. Although early anglo settlers may have known of the formations, it was not until the middle part of the last century that the area gained any notoriety.

Despite the isolation early accounts of strange and alien scenery led to increased visitation, and in 1954 the first proposals were made calling for protection of the features found here. Not long after Utah obtained the land and established Goblin Valley State Reserve. In August 1964 the area was declared a State Park, assuring the preservation of this visually valuable resource for the future.

Access to the Park is straightforward. The turnoff is located on the west side of Utah Highway 24 between I-70 and the town of Hanksville. The spur road to the Valley is paved, as is the access road to the overlook. The Park has a modest but well maintained campground which fills quickly on weekends and holidays, but dispersed camping opportunities exist on BLM land nearby. Day use fees apply - at the time of this post the cost was $7.00 per vehicle to enter the Park, or $16.00 for both the access fee and a site in the campground.

There is no "best" way to experience Goblin Valley. The Park road ends at a ramada and information kiosk overlooking the north end of the Valley. Some visitors may be content to view the hoodoos from this slightly elevated point. More ambitious travelers will take the time to walk down a short hill amongst the goblins, where a network of unofficial trails weave in and out between the rock pinnacles.

For the truly adventurous nothing beats an extended stroll along the valley floor, as what is seen from the overlook is merely a fraction of what exists. In fact, the farther south and east you go, the better it gets.

Wandering amidst the fantastically eroded sandstone I found myself imagining that this is what walking on another planet would look like. Had the sky been red, pink, or orange it would be easy to believe you were traversing the surface of Mars, since much of the terrain resembles images sent back to Earth from the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The absence of plant life of any kind definitely reinforced the notion. And apparently Hollywood agrees with that idea, as the Valley has been featured as an extraterrestrial backdrop for a number of science fiction movies.

Although no established trail exists through the Valley, major landmarks on the horizon allow visitors to find their way around without becoming lost. Wild Horse Butte rises to the northwest, while the Henry Mountains dominate the southern skyline.

There are many twists and turns to this natural labyrinth, and exploring the area thoroughly could easily fill a full day. The best part is that it's easy to find solitude even when the Park is busy, as crowds thin dramatically once you move away from the vicinity of the overlook.

Like many spectacular western landscapes, the appeal of Goblin Valley increases significantly when the last rays of daylight bathe the already surreal setting with golden light.

My encounter with Goblin Valley was at once enchanting and fulfilling. I could easily return and spend another day exploring a very unusual and intriguing environment.

There are so many truly amazing sights to be seen in the American Southwest that it makes choosing which ones to visit very challenging. But if you happen to be passing this way you owe it to yourself to spend at least part of the day experiencing a place that is probably the closest any of us will get to visiting another world - and you can leave the spacesuits at home.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, amazing pics, Eric. Utah is an amazing state when it comes to natural wonders. I'll have to add this place to my camping and travel bucket list.