Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Amazing Spectacle of the Valley of the Goblins: Our Holiday to Utah, Part 1

Beth and I took a weekend holiday to the red rock country of southeastern Utah this past weekend and filled our senses with some amazing scenery, not the least of which was the Valley of the Goblins and its amazing collection of hoodoos, or pinnacles eroded out of the Entrada Sandstone of the San Rafael Swell.  There stands one of the eeriest, most interesting sights I've witnessed, a realm populated by goblins and trolls and gargantuan gnomes everything else one's imagination can conjure and a testament to the true beauty and wonder of Nature.

The photos I'd seen and the articles I'd read about Goblin Valley State Park simply do not do the place justice at all; I can only hope that the photos I took and will share might inspire you, constant reader, to plan a trip there to experience the Valley of the Goblins in person.  Our own holiday was only a day and a half in length all said and done, taken not in the American tradition of a week-long vacation but a simple weekend which we packed solid with activities, the first of which was a trip to Goblin Valley State Park.

Walking down into the basin itself, the true scale of the "amphitheater" and its goblin inhabitants quickly becomes evident.  Mushroom-shaped hoodoo rocks typically stand 10-15 feet high, with many reaching 30-40 feet or more above the sandstone floor.  And that's where the imagination really takes over: faces emerge, shifting and morphing out of the red sandstone with the change in perspective of only a few feet of hiking.  Huddled, gnarled figures stand silent sentinel duty, while a goblin king sits atop a throne carved by natural erosion from the escarpments along the edge of the basin.  It's not hard to imagine Goombas come to life from the classic video game Super Mario Bros, or David Bowie's army of twisted muppet trolls in Labyrinth.

Let me step back a moment for context.  Our trip began early Friday morning with a 6:00 am flight to Denver, then a connection to Grand Junction, near the Utah border and about a two and a half hour drive from Goblin Valley.  The weather forecast for Friday didn't look good, with rain and cloudy skies forecast--and in Denver, after a long wait in the bowels of the regional jet extension to the B concourse (why do all such terminals look like demilitarized Greyhound depots?), we watched with dismay as rain driven sideways by the wind turned to sleet and then snow.  A check of the detailed, hour-by-hour forecast on for the area showed cloudy skies and a high chance of rain pretty much all day, and I almost opted to skip Goblin Valley altogether and just drive to Moab and Arches National Park--but I really wanted to see the goblins.  The optimist in me wanted to believe the dense clouds would cut back on the high contrast of an overhead sun in the early afternoon, that the storm skies would open enough to render a few dramatic shots.

As you might be able to tell from the lead-in photo on this entry, my optimism did indeed pay off.  And even had the skies not yielded such fantastic photographic opportunities, I'd have been grateful simply to have seen the Valley of the Goblins itself.  I've always loved Nature in all her guises--but this is something beyond description.  (And though Goblin Valley isn't itself presently at risk, after having seen it and the overall landscapes in this arid, silent, and beautiful land, reading about Utah's governor trying to exercise eminent domain to claim lands held in the public trust by Uncle Sam--to turn over for commercial mining exploitation--simply wrenches the heart.)

Okay, let me step back a bit more.  What originally kindled my desire to visit the red rock country of Utah was the fantastic documentary film Winged Migration and its scenes shot in Monument Valley (a well-known locale to western film fans).  I mentioned this to family friend Joy Colbert during a visit to her house late last fall--along with the first nebulous plans for Beth and I to visit Michael and Sam in Italy--and Joy mentioned Goblin Valley.  She and Beth's mom P.A.T. had visited Colorado and Utah just a couple years ago, before their Ireland vacation, and Joy shared several photos from their trip, including the off-the-beaten-path state park.  After a bit of reading, I was hooked, and then it was simply a matter of finding a weekend when Beth wasn't booked solid with petsitting and finding affordable flights (risking too much of a tangent, I ended up redeeming miles for Beth's ticket and using a $300-off voucher to pay for most of mine).

I'm actually a bit surprised to have talked Beth so quickly and readily into the holiday, but Goblin Valley turned out to be her favorite part of the entire trip.  Yes, I'll say it again: the grotesque caricatures in sandstone, spun by one's imagination and the processes of Nature at work over timespans which make our lives pale in comparison, are really an incomparable sight.  Still, Beth's trip into the valley wasn't without perils, as this medieval plague-physician mask goblin showed.

And to think this was but the first part of our trip!  I'll write more later on the time we spent in Arches National Park, the 12 miles or more I hiked over unforgiving high desert slickrock fins, and the pre-dawn rising and moonlight hike back out all to see the fabled sights of Delicate Arch, Double-O Arch, Landscape Arch, Balanced Rock, Turret Arch, and more.  (I'll leave out for now the flaming muscle car tearing down the streets of Moab--in the midst of a classic car show and apparent drag race bonanza--the proposal and its acceptance in the spectacle of Delicate Arch at sunset, and many more stories from our brief 42 hour holiday in the west, tales for another day.)

Until then, I leave you with another fabulous vista, photographed as we drove out of the Valley of the Goblins to retrace our way to Interstate 70 and onward to Moab and the lands of canyons and arches.

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