The label “one-of-a-kind” has never been more appropriately used than when applied to Goblin Valley State Park. Its main feature is the unusual rock formations called goblins. Over millions of years, wind and water eroded the Entrada sandstone to form rounded spires. A typical goblin has a cap rock that’s wider than its base, giving it a mushroom-shaped look. Some of the stone structures are no taller than you or me; others are a couple of hundred feet tall.
Some are clustered in small groups, like a family of goblins, while in other areas hundreds are amassed like an army of mushrooms. That may be why Mushroom Valley was the original name proposed by Arthur Chaffin, who was the first westerner to explore the valley. In 1964, the state of Utah officially designated the area a state park and named it Goblin Valley.
About hallway between Hanksville and Green River, the park sits adjacent to the San Rafael Swell. Only a few miles away from the park’s entrance are several hikes through the slot canyons that form as the swell descends to the desert floor to the east. We’ve hiked the nearby 11-mile Little Wild Horse Canyon trail and highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a moderately difficult hike through a beautiful slot canyon. We hiked it as a loop, taking Little Wild Horse Canyon out and returning to the trailhead through Bell Canyon. A couple of other favorite trails close to Goblin Valley are Ding and Dang Canyons (Ding and Dang are separate canyons, but the trail is a loop through both) and Crack Canyon. Both are moderate in difficulty, and with all of these trails, you can expect to encounter pools of water if the canyons have flooded recently.
We’ve visited Goblin Valley a couple of times, and hiked through the goblins. There are a few designated trails in the park, but none in the valley where most of the goblins live. When we’re there, we aimlessly wander like we’re in an over-sized corn maze made of stone. If we lose our bearings, we climb the nearest dirt mound and look for the parking lot, which is high enough above the valley to easily locate; it’s nearly impossible to get lost in the goblins.
The park is a bundle of contradictions: it can be at the same time both eerie and peaceful, windy in the parking lot and calm in the valley, and in mid-November, sunny and cold. And even though it’s practically in the middle of nowhere, there are always a few cars in the parking lot and a handful of visitors wandering through the valley, looking at the goblins from every angle, and snapping pictures. If the odd-shaped hoodoos are not bizarre enough, drive through the campground, and just behind every other pink mound of dirt, you’ll notice Frisbee golf cages. That is until you reach the end of the road where the yurts are. Yep, the park has a couple of yurts you can rent for overnights stays.
In addiction to the yurts, visitors who want to make more than a day-trip out of their visit can take advantage of the park’s campground, which consists of one group site, twelve standard sites, and seven tent-only sites. During our most recent visit, we were fortunate to find a couple of DNR workers doing maintenance and repairs on the yurts. They showed us the inside of one of them and told us that they’d recently replaced the old plastic film windows with new, insulated glass windows. It was surprisingly spacious inside the circular, canvas-walled structures. The one we looked in has a set of bunk beds; the lower is a double and the top a single; there is also a futon, small table with four chairs, a wood-burning stove, and plenty of space to move around. It’s a sweet setup. Staying in a Goblin Valley yurt is now in Karen’s wish bucket. We were ready to get on the ReserveAmerica website to book a couple of nights for next summer, but they only take reservations for dates four months or less in advance. We now have a sticky note on the fridge reminding us to log in as soon as our target dates are available.
If we do plan a yurt outing, we’ll look at the moon phases when deciding on dates. Ever since we fell asleep under the Milky Way each night on our dory trip through the Grand Canyon, Karen has a thing for seeing the stars. And Goblin Valley is one of the best places to see them. In 2015, the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team visited the park and determined it to be one of the darkest places on earth. What could be better than a couple of days of walking through a valley of goblins, hiking slot canyons, playing folf, sleeping in a yurt, and world-class stargazing?