Goblins and Horses


We don’t usually make reservations in advance, but after stopping on a whim at Goblin Valley State Park on Halloween a year ago, we suspected that if we ever wanted to stay at this small and quirky campground, we’d better plan ahead and book some dates (October 25 – 27, 2016). A year ago, there were so many cars lining the access roads and parking areas (plus screaming kids) that we turned around, returned to the visitor center and got a refund for the $13 park entrance fee.

We got settled in late on a warm Tuesday afternoon and were surprised at how loudly the rock walls surrounding the campground amplified our neighbors’ conversations. Gritting our teeth, we ate dinner, rolled down the shades and turned in early.

Just before sunrise the next morning, with cups of hot coffee in hand, we strolled outside to watch the colors change on the surreal landscape. Since it had rained the day before, Goblin’s rock formations actually felt more like firm clay mounds underfoot, so walking was easy, even in my slippers. We kept going, and going, past the hoodoos and out to see Molly’s Castle, then even further around the bend and up a narrow, boulder strewn valley to Goblin’s Lair. We opted not to enter the gloomy pit in our PJs so we turned around, more than ready for breakfast after our five mile stroll.

In the afternoon, we drove out Temple Mountain Road to where the pavement ends, and found ourselves at the base of the abandoned Temple Mountain Uranium Mine. We spent the next couple of hours checking out the blocked off mine shafts, counting the petrified tree trunks protruding from the cliff walls and marveling at the range of hues incorporated in the rock layers.

Returning to the van, we met a couple searching for the Little Wild Horse slot canyon on their map. It sounded intriguing so we set off to find it, too. It was just a few miles away, tucked down the dirt Wild Horse Canyon Road, off the north end of Goblin Valley State Park. We struck up a conversation with a guy at the trailhead who gave us enough tips and encouragement for us to give it a try in the morning.

The Little Wild Horse Canyon to Bell Canyon loop hike is a 9 mile loop that’s best taken in a counter-clockwise direction because of the height of some of the drop offs and pour overs. When we started at 10 a.m. it was 50 degrees and overcast,  three days after it had last rained. The first half mile is through a wide sandy wash where the two canyons converge. Taking the trail to the right led us to the first stretch of water in Little Wild Horse. The guy we got pointers from said he expected the water level to drop another foot overnight, and it did, coming up to my waist as I gingerly waded in.

While the water was 50 degrees and opaque, intellectually I knew we wouldn’t encounter any swimming rattlesnakes. Yay! The trekking poles were key to being able to feel the location and size of the submerged rocks through this one-mile section. After four miles, we stopped to change clothes and put on dry socks and shoes to tackle the Horse Valley section, which is also used as a very challenging 4wd Jeep road. The final two miles descends through Bell Canyon which was mostly dry and featured equally dramatic colors and textures. Some of the transitions from one ledge or section to the next had high drop offs but the feeling of accomplishment was well worth the risk. I think we were too distracted to notice that we had managed to climb over 1650 feet through the canyons over the course of 9 miles.

Even though we had vacated our site at the campground that morning, we were able to return for a much needed hot shower before relocating for the night to the parking area opposite the Little Wild Horse Canyon trailhead. We had the place to ourselves.

On Friday, October 28, we decided to check out a few more places in the San Rafael Swell region, before beginning the journey home to Oregon. Black Dragon Wash is just a few miles north of Interstate 70, down a gated dirt road. The rock art there is very different in that it appeared to be recording time, quantities or a calendar. Someone has defaced the largest red pieces by tracing the outlines in white. Even with the addition of modern graffiti, it’s exciting to view these panels which are a testament to the artistic and communication abilities of an earlier civilization.

In the afternoon, we drove north through Price, Utah to grab some lunch and visit the Prehistoric Museum. While it’s emphasis is on paleontology and dinosaurs it also has a good collection of artifacts from ancient cultures which complements what we learned at Blanding’s Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum. It’s been really interesting to develop context for what we’ve seen in the wild. On our next visit to the area, we’ll hunt down some dinosaur tracks and keep our eye out for bones!

To wrap up this series of posts, we spent a homeward-bound Friday night at Diamond in the Unita-Wasatch National Forest about 20 miles shy of Spanish Fork, Utah. By Saturday noon we were in Idaho at one of our favorite locations, the stunning City of Rocks National Reserve. We took advantage of the marvelous weather, and hiked the 5.2 mile Tea Kettle Trail up to 6843 feet.

With rain threatening on Sunday, we departed early for an eight hour push to meet up with a friend at her cabin in Spray, Oregon. We arrived home in Sandy late Monday afternoon, the last day of October.

Trip Length: 40 Days, Mileage: 4, 404.

City of Rocks National Reserve panorama

Gear and supplies

His Gear

  • Brooks True Grit trail runners
  • Easton CTR 60 Trekking Poles
  • Stoic merino t-shirt

Her Gear

  • Darn Tough hiking socks
  • Easton ATR-75 Ion Trekking Poles
  • Gregory Miwok 22 day pack
  • Montrail Baja II Trail Running Shoe
  • Platypus Big Zip SL 3L
  • Royal Robbins hiking pants

Other Gear

  • 2015 Ford Transit Van

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