Goblin Valley State Park and Capitol Reef National Park


by Thomas Best

I am now up to my third installment of exploring the awe-inspiring state and national parks of the American southwest.  Today, let’s explore Goblin Valley State Park and Capitol Reef National Park in south central Utah.

People on their way to Capitol Reef Park will miss a real gem of a park they don’t stop first at Goblin Valley.  A natural playground for all who marvel at odd-looking sandstone formations, Goblin Valley was created by sea-bed deposits laid-down some 170 million years ago. The eroded rocks left behind are called “hoodoos.”  Technically, the creation of “spheroidal weathering,” these “hoodoos” pop out of a valley of reddish sandstone which can resemble anything from a mushroom to a man with a fat face and huge nose.  You can also hike out to a formation known as the “Three Sisters.”  Within an arid and stark landscape stand three tall hoodoos, some people thought resembled three ladies standing next to one another.  For a similar rock formation next to these iconic hoodoos, my wife gave this formation the name—”the little brother.”

Venturing further west you arrive at Capitol Reef.  While the least visited of the “Mighty Five” national parks, many people regard this as their favorite park.  This natural wonder features a geologic “wrinkle in the earth” or “waterpocket,” which displays a “vibrant palette of color” “spilling across the landscape.”  Here visitors are inspired to “ooh” and “ahh” as they crank their necks backward gazing at the towering peaks.  One prominence was thought to resemble the U.S. Capitol building (thus the park’s name).  Inside Capitol Reef’s 33 ecological zones are fleet-footed bighorn sheep, soaring Peregrine falcons, curious Utah juniper trees rising out of barren rock, and brilliant flowers growing amidst cacti.  The ancient Native Americans who once lived here also left mysterious looking petroglyphs amidst the canyon walls.  A remnant of Mormon settlers, a small town “Fruita” is still present. The remaining Gifford House sells hundreds of homemade fruit pies each day.  Pam and I ate some of the best cherry and strawberry-rhubarb pies we have ever tasted. 

We loved Capitol Reef.  This included a rugged hike to the 133 foot long and 125 feet high arch known as “Hickman Bridge.”  In Capitol Gorge, hikers can see both petroglyphs and the names of early Mormon settlers carved on a precariously high wall.  Cassidy Arch, which we skipped due to its strenuous climb, is one of the rumored hideouts of Butch Cassidy and his “Wild Bunch.”  Finally, staying just outside the park at night, I drove back into the park after dark and had the experience of a life-time lying back and observing more stars and planets than one can possibly imagine.   I loved it.


Thanks for your interest.   

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