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Photo Phantasy

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Imagine the surprise of those cowboys back in the 1800s who, while rounding up cattle on
Utah’s High Colorado Plateau, came across a hidden valley filled with what appeared to be
an army of goblins. Of course these men knew right away what they were seeing, for stories
of goblins have held a prominent part of ancient folklore in nearly every country on earth,
including our own. They were generally thought to be mischievous folk, sometimes cruel,
with short, grotesque little bodies and bizarre hats. Parents, over the ages, have reminded
children of what these goblins might do to them if they didn’t behave. While traveling
through Southern Utah’s awe-inspiring red-rock country, be sure to include a trip to Goblin
Valley State Park. You’ll have to agree with the name as you come to this little park
filled with fantastic hoodoos and spires colored in hues ranging from cream to tan to red
to deep chocolate. Thousands of small mushroom-shaped boulders composed of Navajo sandstone
balance on bases of weaker Entrada sandstone, creating the dramatic appearance of a host of
goblins filling the canyon floor. Shapes and faces with rounded hats can plainly be seen
everywhere you look. Carved by wind and water, Goblin Valley has been forming since the
Jurassic period 150 million years ago. Not many people visit Goblin Valley, but those who
do find it completely entrancing. Located off State Highway 24 at Milepost 137, a good
paved road leads to the park entrance. With just a little more than 3,000 acres, Goblin
Valley is a small park and not visible from any distance. Except for the signs, you would
never even know it was there until reaching the valley rim. It is well-signed, though, and
you won’t have any trouble finding it. Stock up on any necessary supplies before venturing
into this region, as it is very remote and there are limited services in the small entrance
station. Self-registering envelopes are provided for the nominal daily fee. The 24-site
campground accommodates vehicles up to 30 feet in length, though we’ve seen much larger
rigs parked there. However, the campground is crowded, so many visitors find they would
rather stay at one of the commercial campgrounds in Hanksville, about 24 miles to the
south. The 2004 Trailer Life Campgrounds, RV Parks & Services Directory lists several
options. We arrived at Goblin Valley in the late afternoon, and as the sun moved low on the
horizon, the shadows made the formations even more striking and mysterious. The contrast
between shadow and light created interesting, but challenging, effects for photography.
There are no designated trails through the valley floor because the sand shifts
moment-by-moment, changing the landscape and erasing the pathways. The walking was easy,
and for hours we wandered among the whimsical rocks seeing only glimpses of each other as
we explored the shapes and textures around us through the lenses of our cameras. This, we
decided, was a photographer’s paradise. The sun had dropped below the horizon before we
left the valley and the wind began to whistle and whine a bit as it nudged its way around
the rocky little goblins. It wasn’t hard to imagine a legion of voices whispering in an
ancient tongue that spoke just outside the edges of our comprehension. When we returned the
next morning, a whole new population of goblins occupied the valley as the shadows had
moved to the other side of the hoodoos, creating different shapes and a whole new set of
faces. We’d planned to spend the day hiking in Little Wild Horse Canyon, but the hours got
away from us as we delighted in the changing views around us and sought to capture the
evolving sights on film. With an elevation of 5,200 feet, Goblin Valley gets pretty cold in
the winter, with daytime highs in the 50s and nighttime temps below freezing. Conversely,
the summers are quite warm, with days in the 90s and the sun beating harshly on the rocky
slopes and valleys. Spring is just about the perfect time to visit, with pleasant
temperatures and desert wildflowers springing up around the goblins. Fall, too, is a nice
time to come when daytime temperatures are still mild but nippy nights turn the sparse
vegetation to gold. The valley of goblins, while being the most popular place in the park,
only takes up an area about a mile wide and two miles long. There is much more to see and
do here. You will want to find the pictographs located at the north end of the park and
also spend some time exploring the beautiful slot canyons that lie in the vast rocky
wilderness surrounding the valley. Stark but colorful stone buttes punctuate the landscape,
displaying visible layers of different soils and rock that tell the story of the geological
formation of Goblin Valley. Hundreds of miles of dirt roads in the adjoining BLM lands
provide great four-wheeling. Traces of ancient Native American habitation can be found
throughout the region, as can those of early prospectors and ranchers. There are still many
unexplored places in this part of Utah, and recent disclosures of previously unknown sites
of occupation by the early Freemont Culture will surely bring a new influx of curious
visitors. If you decide to travel into the outback, either by foot or four-wheel drive, be
sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to get back. Remember that
any artifacts you encounter must be left undisturbed. Now grab your camera and your hiking
boots. Great adventure awaits you at Goblin Valley State Park.

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