Goblin Valley, Utah 2007


In the Spring of 1999 and 2007, and after trekking the San Rafael Swell, by way of “The Chute”; I took my students and advisors into the “Goblin Valley State Park to explore. To get there, you go 39 km south of I-70 on Highway 24, then turn at Temple Mountain junction, and follow signs 19 km to Goblin Valley State Park.

Area map of the Goblin Valley State Park, Utah; (public domain image).

Goblin Valley State Park features thousands of hoodoos, referred to locally as goblins, which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock-pinnacles, some as tall as several meters.

Becky, (my wife), sitting on one of the “Goblins” in 1999. (It was then legal to climb on the Goblins).

The unusual stone shapes in Goblin Valley result from the weathering of Entrada Sandstone. The Entrada consists of debris eroded from former highlands and redeposited on a former tidal flat of alternating layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale.

Image provided by Utah Geological Survey; M. Milligan; 1999 Publ. Inf. #65

The rocks show evidence of being near the margins of an ancient sea with the ebb and flow of tides, tidal channels that directed currents back to the sea and coastal sand dunes, (imaged below).

Image provided by Utah Geological Survey; M. Milligan; 1999 Publ. Inf. #65

Imaged above, the Entrada sandstone from which the hoodoos developed was deposited in the Jurassic period around 170 million years ago. Much of eastern Utah was a dry Sahara-like desert, but shallow seas intermittently covered what is now the area of Goblin Valley State Park. Northwestern Utah consisted of granitic highlands. The silts, sands, and clays that comprise the rocks now exposed in Goblin Valley State Park were formed primarily from erosional debris shed from these highlands and redeposited in seas, on shorelines, in river channels, and on playas.

Stratigraphic Geological-Section provided by A. Lynn Jackson of the BLM; Taken from M.R. Kelsey; Hiking and Exploring Utah’s “San Rafael Swell”.

Fracture patterns within the Entrada sandstone beds created initial zones of weakness. The unweathered joints intersected to form sharp edges and corners with greater surface-area-to-volume ratios than the faces. As a result, the edges and corners weathered more quickly, producing the spherical-shaped ‘goblins’.

My students posing on the ‘Goblins’ at Goblin Valley State Park in 1999

Above the Entrada lies the Curtis Formation, which is overlain by the Summerville and Morrison Formations, respectively.

“Wild Horse Butte” Image provided by Utah Geological Survey; M. Milligan; 1999 Publ. Inf. #65: (Note, the Summerville Formation is found in between Curtis and Morrison Formations)
Public Domain Geologic Map of Goblin Valley State Park

Pictured below, the interbedded and underlying shale and siltstone beds of the Entrada Formation are less resistant to weathering and erosion than the sandstone beds that form the goblin bodies. Combined with spheroidal weathering of the sandstone beds, these softer shale and siltstone beds give the goblins their often elongated shapes, flat bottoms, stacked appearance, and the pedestals upon which they are displayed.

Becky posing at the “Coffee Table” in 1999 at the Goblin Valley State Park

While we were there, Goblin Valley was prominently filming the movie “Galaxy Quest” (1999) as an alien planet. The eroded sandstone dunes in the valley inspired the design of the fictional planet’s rock monsters. We hung-out and watched the film-crew do their work.

My students running through the Goblins, playing tag, at the Goblin Valley State Park in 1999.

My students and advisors wandered through the labyrinth of rock creatures, and felt the bizarre, ominous vibes of the goblins.

My students posing at Goblin Valley State Park in 1999

Animals and plants are scarce in Goblin Valley because of the lack of water and food. The valley floor was comprised of bedrock. Because of a deficiency of soil and vegetation, water is not absorbed into the ground and rainfall results in flash flooding.

Goblin Valley State Park map from M.R. Kelsey; “Hiking and Exploring Utah’s San Rafael Swell” 3rd ed. 1999

The goblin valley was first discovered by cowboys but its significant discovery was in the 1920s by Arthur Chaffin. In 1949, Chaffin returned to explore the spectacular location and named it Mushroom Valley. The area was claimed by the state of Utah, and officially named a state park on August 24, 1964.

One of the Goblin’s within the Entrada Formation in 2007

Goblin Valley State Park has three valleys to walk through simply named Valley 1, Valley 2 and Valley 3. Visitors are free to roam the area as they want. Valley 1, closest to where one enters, contains a small sampling of modest sized goblins. Valley 2 boasts taller examples and a much more narrow canyon giving a completely different perspective. Finally, Valley 3 is the furthest valley often making it the least visited and perfect for those seeking seclusion.

Some of my students, relaxing on the skyline of Goblin Valley in 2007

Pictured below, there was a very nice campground less than a kilometer from the main observation area that consisted of a group site that could accommodate 35 people.

The group site at the Goblin Valley State Park in 1999
Our camp site at Goblin Valley State Park in 2007

Because it is just 8 km from the popular Goblin Valley State Park, is easily explored, and has narrow passages as fine as any other Southwest slot, Little Wild Horse Canyon is an absolute must for a side trip. It only took 2 hours of our time to thoroughly explore it, (pictured below).

Becky is bringing up the rear through the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon in 1999

The usual plan in 1999 and 2007 was to combine a trek with neighboring “Bell Canyon – this is an 13 km loop that in addition to the two narrow gorges also passes high, colorful cliffs and much interesting exposed, eroded rock.

Becky is bringing up the rear through the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon in 1999

The surrounding landscape has seemingly endless layered, eroded rocks of every color – mainly shades of green, grey, purple, green and white.

My group of 1999, posing at the entrance of “The Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon”.
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