goblin valley state park

Whether you have an spare hour or a half day, this an unmissable trip to view a bizarre landscape that's been compared to Mars.


12 miles from Hanksville of UT24, and within the San Rafael desert, Goblin Valley features literally thousands of sandstone hoodoos or ‘goblins’ that were 20 million years in the making. When you get up close to them many are mushroom-shaped (it was originally called Mushroom Valley) though some do resemble weird faces. It was extensively used as a location in the 1999 movie ‘Galaxy Quest’ as well as The Killers’ ‘Human’ music video.


Though there are marked trails you can pretty much wander at will amongst this labyrinth of geologic fantasies. Your kids will love it and their imaginations will run riot. The parking lot may look busy but the area is so large it doesn’t feel like that. Turn up at sunset for the best light or even stay until it’s dark (the park closes at 10pm) and wander around by flashlight for a more spooky experience.


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little wild horse & bell canyons

A superlative short-day hike in canyons that slot up to the width of your body.


You can combine this 8 mile hike with a trip to nearby Goblin Valley. There’s a signed turn off from the Goblin Valley access road and you follow a good sandy dirt road for around 5 miles to the trailhead.


This is a loop hike that you can do in either direction, though most people start out in Little Wild Horse first. Canyon ‘narrows’ are uncommon and long sections of narrows even more rare, but you’ll find them here. Little Wild Horse is the better of the two so if you have limited time choose that option, hiking as far as you wish and returning the way you came.


Generally the trail follows the canyon floor but occasionally you may need to clamber over rocks or pouroffs. Some sections, after rain, may be flooded but normally this will be only a few inches deep – you can always shed your boots for a few yards.

The hike starts nice and level but a pouroff soon after means you’ll need to scramble up to your left to avoid the obstruction. The canyon soon slots up and in some sections you’ll need to turn sideways and carry your pack in your hand. Here the canyon isn’t very deep but very little light can get in so it’s cool on a hot summer’s day. After exiting Little Wildhorse you’re back into the sunlight and this is a good place for lunch. You now follow a hiker-made trail to a section of 4WD dirt road that which rises and finally descends into the head of Bell Canyon. Bell canyon is shorter than Little Wild Horse and the narrows less tight but it’s still impressive.


As in all slot canyon locations, please be aware of the weather conditions before you hike out. This is one of the last places you want to be in the event of a flash flood as there are some sections from which there is no escape. I have a 50% success rate of being able to hike this trail due to nearby thunderheads that appeared by the time I arrived at the trailhead. If in any doubt ask the rangers at Goblin Valley.


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head of sinbad, the lone warrior and swazey's cabin
An easy stroll around some of Utah’s best, and oldest, pictographs plus a trip to an historic cabin.


Getting here is the most difficult part as there is limited access to the site and there are many unsigned roads crisscrossing this area. Although your destination is just north of I-70, you have to approach it in a very roundabout way. However, the reward at the end is worth it: two panels of Barrier Canyon style rock art that are at least 3000 years old.


From Green River, take I-70 west to Exit 131, Temple Mountain Road. This graded dirt road then immediately turns south under I-70 and continues for nearly 4 miles to a fork. Take the right fork and turn right in one mile at a T junction onto a sandy road. Continue for 1.7 miles to another fork and turn right again for 2.3 miles to an underpass beneath I-70. The underpass is dark and could be flooded. The last time I was there it was dry but with deep sand, so keep those wheels turning. On the north side of the underpass, the road forks. Take the right fork towards a long butte in front of you in the distance. This is Locomotive Butte and where the rock art panels re situated. (Another road connects from the west after a short distance that would take you to Dutchmen’s Arch.) The narrow road(s) in this section is very sandy, deeply rutted with a high center. If in doubt, take what looks like the best road towards the butte. To drive right up to the panels requires a high-clearance vehicle at the very least and 4WD is recommended. If not, park in a sensible place and walk the rest of the way.


To spot the rock art look out for a BLM log fence near the walls of the butte. Some of the images are huge and the quality equal to those in Horseshoe Canyon, though fewer. Some are heavily stained but others look as fresh as if they were painted in the not too distant past. There are a number of interesting anthromorph figures.


Close by, south of I-70, and on a sandy track off Temple Mountain Road is the Lone Warrior pictograph. Though nowhere near as intricate as the images at the Head of Sinbad it’s a fascinating piece of art, and unusual in that it’s on its own. I don’t remember the directions from Head of Sinbad for this but there are useful waypoints available on the web.


Not far south of this is Swasey’s Cabin, built in 1921. To access this take Exit 129 from I-70 and drive 4 miles before turning right for 1.1 miles. At this junction turn right again for around 6 miles, then turn right again and drive 0.6 miles to the cabin. It’s very scenic here with far reaching views.


You can do all three locations in an afternoon and, as it’s so remote here, you’re unlikely to see anyone else.


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buckhorn wash

I may be quite a drive from I-70 but the road is good and this panel of mainly Barrier Canyon style pictographs is stunning. The rock art is right beside the road on a 130 feet wide panel. Highly recommended if you're in the area. You could combine this with the trip above to make a full day of it.


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© 2016 Bob Palmer