Rock goblins: Play among mysterious hoodoos of Utah’s Goblin Valley
GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK, UTAH — Driving 2 1/2 hours might seem like kind of a long trip to get lost in a maze of rocks, but it’s not that far considering that it feels like entirely another planet.
There’s a reason Hollywood movie producers have used this place to depict other worlds — the middle of nowhere, Utah, it looks like no other place on Earth.
Goblin Valley is the kind of destination you visit and never forget. It’s just that bizarre and breathtaking in its own barren way. Maybe it’s the stark beauty of the red rocks framing the brilliant Utah sky. Perhaps it’s the disorienting feeling of hiking amongst the hoodoos, left behind by the magic of geologic time and erosion. Or maybe it’s the thrill of being alive in a harsh environment where little else thrives, knowing that you’re only a few gallons of water away from shriveling up and blowing away like the rust-hued dust.
This ethereal place seems to come from some long-lost dream world. But it’s real, and it’s nestled in a long valley running on the eastern edge of the San Rafael Reef, referred to as the Swell for the geologic formation created by an upheaval, which left ridges that make it look like waves on the ocean. In Goblin Valley, softer shale and siltstone eroded away, leaving the harder Entrada sandstone capping the hoodoos on their pedestals — sentinels of the desert, crowding this long valley.
The 2,000-square-mile reef area isn’t visited by as many tourists as nearby Arches National Park. It’s harder to reach and many parts are still very isolated today. If you’re looking for rugged Utah country, this is a good place to start.
The San Rafael Swell area teems with history and mystery. Rock art, dinosaurs, pioneers and stories of outlaw ruffians abound. And Goblin Valley is the kind of place that oozes mystery, with all the eerie rock formations creating a sense of déjà vu as they seemingly stare down at passersby.
All the mushrooms and turtle-rocks start to look the same, but from different angles they morph into dogs, squirrels or even Shrek. Is that someone mooning me, or is it a gluteus maximus-shaped rock? Who knows anymore? I’ll just keep walking and see what’s past those mushrooms up there.
There’s no real trail there, but it sure is fun to wander aimlessly and forget where we are. It’s the ultimate place to play an echoing game of Marco Polo or hide-and-seek, among these rock goblins. And at the end of the day, we’ll head back home ... to planet Earth.