Are you planning a Utah road trip and contemplating which parks to visit? Of course there are the famous ones, like Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. You should definitely visit those. They are as enchanting as National Geographic portrays them to be; and they offer plenty of opportunities for adventure.
Make sure to also take time for Natural Bridges National Monument and Goblin Valley State Park. You will find the same color rocks with more solitude.
Natural Bridges was established in 1908, making it Utah’s first National Monument. It has a ruin site and three sandstone bridges; Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo. A nine mile scenic drive loops around to overlooks and trailheads.
I didn’t spend as much time hiking around Natural Bridges as I would have liked to, though I did the trail to Sipapu Bridge. It is only 1.2 miles long, but it has three wooden ladders and a staircase to navigate.
Sipapu is a Hopi word. Depending on who you ask, it is either a “gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world” or “a hole in the floor of a dirt room”. Both are technically correct.
In Hopi culture, kivas (rooms where ceremonies are conducted) have a small hole in the floor called a sipapu, which is a religious symbol.
Hopi mythology says that Earth as we know it is the fourth world to be inhabited by people created by the Sun Spirit, Tawa. A grandmotherly figure referred to as the Spider Woman granted access to this world through the sipapu, and that is how their ancestors came into the world.
The trail leads down to a grove of trees beneath the bridge. Rumor has it that water flows here when the snow is melting in spring, but there was only a small puddle of stagnant algae/mud when I visited in August 2015.
Goblin Valley State Park is about 125 miles northwest of Natural Bridges National Monument.
Since the park is located 12 miles from the small town of Hanksville and far away from any major cities, it hardly has any light pollution. If you choose to stay the night in the campground, be sure to peek outside your tent when it’s dark, or just open the door and fall asleep while staring at the Milky Way. Goblin Valley is definitely a great destination to go to watch a meteor shower. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera that would document such things.
You can walk along the ridge above the campground, or check out the park’s 9-hole disc golf course. The Visitor Center rents discs for $1 each.
The valley is about a mile wide and two miles long. There aren’t many hiking trails in the familiar sense of the word in the valley itself. You can roam around the ‘goblins’ to your heart’s content… or at least until your family or friends drag you out.
It kind of feels like you are wandering around another planet… a dry stony one filled with giant looming brownish-orange mushrooms… and creatures that might come alive when the sun sets… until you realize that there is a rational geological explanation for this place.
I’ll try to keep the rock talk to a minimum. Here goes.
The ‘goblins’ have been forming as the Entrada Sandstone gets weathered by wind and rain. This is the same formation that many of the arches at Arches National Park are found in. Here, the softer layer underneath erodes faster than the more durable layer on top, creating the mushroom shape. The Entrada Sandstone was deposited in the Jurassic Period (about 170 million years ago) when there was a sea in Utah. Tides ebbed and flowed. As time passed, cracks formed in the rocks. More cracks equals more surface area, which means faster weathering. It is estimated that the sandstone is now eroding quickly, up to two to four feet every 100 years in some areas.
Scrambling up the canyon across the valley gives views like these: