Goblin Valley & Cathedral Valley: Uniquely Utah

I’ve mentioned several times before how Utah is home to such diverse landscapes. You can be in high alpine forest one hour and a vast red-rock desert the next. In south-central Utah are two places I think are quite unique, Goblin Valley and Cathedral Valley.

Goblin Valley State Park

Desert Highway at Night

Desert Highway at Night

What is probably one of my top three favorite Utah State Parks, Goblin Valley looks like it is right out of a sci-fi movie. In fact, there have been sci-fi movies filmed here because of its appearance. About a three and a half hour drive from Salt Lake City, Goblin Valley sits in the remote San Rafael Swell area. It is hot in the summer and can get quite cold in the winter.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley gets its name from the hoodoo rock formations which were given the nickname of “goblins”. These rocks vary in shapes and sizes. They are made up of sandstone deposited from a pre-historic sea in the Jurassic Period. Millions of years of erosion and weathering later and voila, State Park. It’s a great place to explore for a few hours or for an overnight trip. Camping is permitted at the park’s campground. No backcountry camping is allowed within the boundaries of the park.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

I spent the better part of one night hiking around and taking pictures of this cool place. I felt like I was walking around in a kid’s sandbox as a little shrunken man. It was going to be a nearly full moon that night but I managed to get some shots of the Milky Way in the clear dark skies before the moon rose and cast its light. I used a flashlight to “paint light” on some of the rocks in the foreground below the starry night above.

Night under a full moon at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

The moonlight is what I was after though as I love shooting landscapes using the moon as a light source. Using the right amount of exposure, photographs taken at night give the appearance of being taken with sunlight.

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park

Temples of the Sun and Moon

Temples of the Sun and Moon

Southwest of Goblin Valley is Capitol Reef National Park, one of five national parks in Utah. This park is very large however there are only two paved roads through it, leaving most visitors thinking it is quite small. To really see this park in all its glory, you are going to have to venture on back roads or spend some time hiking long distances. But that is what gives this park something else I love about it, solitude. Here, overnight backcountry trips are allowed so long as you obtain a permit from the National Parks Service and follow all the no-trace rules.

Monoliths at Night

Monoliths at Night

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain

The area known as Cathedral Valley encompass much of the north end of the park. If you are a little adventurous, you can take a well equipped vehicle (4WD highly recommended) and find some amazing monolith rock formations and vistas. Once you are in the backcountry you will likely only see a few other people if any at all. Oh, and there is no cell phone reception either. If you venture out into the remote areas you will want to have plenty of gas and a lot of water in case you get stranded as you may not find help for days.

Big Dipper over Capitol Reef National Park

Big Dipper over Capitol Reef National Park

Much like Goblin Valley, I chose to take adavantage of the moonlit night to get some photos of the beautiful towering monoliths made of sandstone. Needless to say, most of the night was spent hiking around and taking photos rather than sleeping.

Moonlit Night in Cathedral Valley

Moonlit Night in Cathedral Valley

Leave No Trace

Great places are out there to explore and enjoy. You may have to do some extra leg work to get there but the end result is worth it. Please remember to be safe and responsible and be sure to follow leave-no-trace principles for all your outdoor adventures!

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