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 > Trick or Treat - A Swell Trip To See The Goblins!

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 10/09/11 09:42am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

O.K., it's not a trick - just one last TR before the snow flies and I get too busy to do it.

First of all, I recently took a trip around the Four Corners. In 15 days, I managed to visit Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, the Blue (Abajo) Mountains, Goblin Valley, the San Rafael Swell, the southern end of Capitol Reef, Box - Death Hollow, and the North Rim of Grand Canyon. There was almost zero down time between destinations, and I did as much as was humanly possible in each place. Honestly, I needed to get back to work just so I could rest up.

In all those incredible places I experienced much of the best the southwest has to offer, from high desert canyons to lofty mountain peaks. The weather was amazing, with one day of rain at the very last. Of course within a few days of my return the weather turned beastly (yes, it snowed). What I'm saying is that it was a great trip, and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. For now though, I'll just share a small section so you can think about including it on your next trip out west. Here goes:

The San Rafael Swell (southern section)

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By now most folks have heard of the San Rafael Swell, one of Utah's many geological playgrounds. This amazing monocline forms a 75 mile long barrier or "reef" that straddles I-70 in the south-central part of the state. Containing many canyons, valleys, buttes, mesas, and backroads, there are so many place to explore a week long vacation could easily be based around it.

It remains one of my favorite places to visit, although I am also still exploring the region. I have spent more time in the area north of I-70 and know it fairly well, but the southern end is actually more diverse and offers many opportunities for recreation.

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On this trip I decided to do some canyon hiking, which is of course a favorite activity for me. The Swell itself is penetrated in several location by normally dry watercourses, which offer a way through the aggressively uplifted terrain. The canyons I chose for this outing form a convenient loop of about 8 miles around, and it is easily accessed from a spur road leading southwest from Goblin Valley, another place I spent time in.

And speaking of spur roads and time spent near Goblin Valley, who could ask for a better boondock site?

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The names of these canyons you ask? Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons. Now these are fairly well known features of the Swell, and since they are close to Goblin Valley and require no technical ability to travel, they can see a few folks out and about to experience the wonders of nature. But many visitors don't complete the full circuit, choosing instead to visit the lower end of Little Wild Horse where the best narrows are. But if solitude is what you are seeking, then fear not - there's plenty of room for everybody here.

The trail begins at a parking area just off the road with a lovely pit toilet and trail register. Hiking westward towards the Swell, the mouth of the canyon appears after a short walk in the dry, sandy wash. Standard canyon disclaimer and warning: DO NOT attempt to hike in any slot canyons when rain is in the forecast! The watershed for the San Rafael is larger than that of Delaware, and if rain is falling in any part of that territory you are at risk of being caught in a flash flood. ***End of disclaimer

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The canyon walls immediately rise high overhead, and the wash bottom quickly constricts to a bottleneck, with a pouroff that is not easily negotiated. In fact, I could see no way to climb it at all.

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To get past this obstacle, you must backtrack and climb high on the southern side of the canyon before the trail once again deposits you back in the wash bottom, directly opposite the junction of the Little Wild Horse and Bell canyons.

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It makes no difference which direction one chooses to travel the loop, and in this case I elect a counterclockwise route heading up Little Wild Horse first. Within a matter of minutes the canyon walls begin to narrow down, giving a foretaste of what is to come. I guess I should also mention that if claustrophobia is an issue with anyone in your party, this might be a good time to choose another activity.

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I've hiked in lots of canyons, many of which are considered "slot" canyons due to their narrow constrictions. But there are slots, and then there are SLOTS. Little Wild Horse offers some the best narrows to be found anywhere, and unlike some slots that require ropes and other technical experience to negotiate, this place only requires to the ability to walk into dark crevices with tight walls. Well, there is a little bit of scrambling, but most folks will have few issues.

There are several sections where the canyon is wide enough to just touch the sides with outstretched arms, and other sections where barely enough room exists to walk through without turning sideways.
Here is a sampling of what you'll see if you visit.

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It's not all slot canyon through the lower end, but the few breaks in between are short lived, and much of the time is spent slipping through skinny passages between smooth rock.

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In this area, the sky is revealed as a narrow ribbon several hundred feet above you.

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I read where someone compared walking through Little Wild Horse with traveling through a piece of modern art sculpture. Fluted, sinuous walls alternate from side to side, with ribbons of frozen rock inviting you to touch their cool, smooth surfaces.

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Every twist and turn leads to another moment of appreciation for what water has wrought here.

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Hiking through this intricately shaped passageway is how I would imagine it would look as if you were swallowed whole, and began traveling through the gullet of some enormous beast.

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After an extended walk through some surreal yet beautiful topography, the canyon walls recede enough to reveal a wide expanse of blue.

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In fact, the area of narrows is past, and from here to the western mouth of the canyon is merely beautiful.

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This is one spot that is a little tricky - you've got to climb up this minor pouroff, but it was very slippery from the barest trickle of water, and no good handholds either. I think the hardest part was getting my leg to go that high. Guess I need more (any) yoga in my life.

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Emerging from the confines of the upper end of Little Wild Horse, the trail now follows another dry wash southwest to connect with the upper end of Bell Canyon. The walking is easy, and the open country behind the reef is a welcome change from the confined spaces of the slot.

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After about a mile and a half, the trail begins a gradual approach to Bell Canyon.

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Bell Canyon is shorter than Little Wild Horse, and is more open. Although some narrow sections exist, they are minor in comparison. But even without significant slot canyons, there is much to appreciate here.

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The folks in these images are a couple from Salt Lake whose acquaintance I was very glad to make. They were excellent company on the hike, and agreed good-naturedly to appear in my pictures.

Of course I had to capture the socks on Jeff, the gentleman shown here. His wife told me that he never buys anything new. I believe her - those socks MIGHT have been fashionable in the 70's, but I doubt it.

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Although narrows were "wider" in Bell Canyon, there was actually a little bit more scrambling, but not enough to slow anyone down appreciably.

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Here Mary Jo negotiates one of the few constricted sections of the canyon.

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Before you know it you're through Bell Canyon and have arrived back at the junction. A final 1/2 mile or so in the wash returns you to the trailhead.

This is a trip that can be enjoyed by most anyone, as it's easy to get to, not too difficult to negotiate, and some of the best narrows are found within the first few miles of Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Goblin Valley

There are unusual geological formations aplenty in Utah, and some pretty remarkable ones to boot - Bryce Canyon is one that stands out in my mind. Then there is a place like Goblin Valley, which pretty much defies easy descriptions.

Here is how I see it: If you happened to be wandering amongst the weirdness that is Goblin Valley and the sky were red, you'd have to believe you were on Mars. It's that different from just about any other landscape on this planet. Apparently movie producers think so too, as a number of extraterrestrial based films have been shot here.

Goblin Valley is a Utah State Park, and you gotta pay the man if you want to see it. Not much really - just $7.00 bucks for a day pass, $16.00 if you want to spend the night in the small but tidy campground.

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If you do stay overnight, instead of driving the couple of miles to see the Valley, consider taking the very cool and relatively short (1.5 miles each way) Entrada Trail to get there. It's a unique area and there are some interesting sights along the way.

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The only plant growing in the bentonitic clays around the trail is Russian Thistle, more commonly known as the tumbleweed. Really a nasty plant in so many ways, but until now I never realized it produced a small, inconspicuous flower. I guess there are redeeming qualities to just about everything.

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Reaching Goblin Valley, there is a site with covered tables and interpretive information. Most folks just take a stroll down amongst the goblins - there is no established trail, just lots of meandering.

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My experience has taught me that the farther south and east you go, the more there is to see.

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I'm not sure exactly how large the "valley" is, but there are so many nooks and crannies it could easily take half a day to explore the nearest ones.

This view across to the west intrigued me - the cliff face looks like something out Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

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I overheard a group of people who apparently visit the area frequently tell their friends they named many of the features based on resemblances to famous people or characters. To me these look like chess pieces.

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The formation on the left looks like a Gloucester fisherman's hat.

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I kept wandering south, and soon there was nary a soul around. Just me and the goblins.

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Of course the setting sun makes the place even more magical.

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The dark silhouette of the Henry Mountains to the south look over Goblin Valley as the light fades.

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As I said in the beginning of this report, I visited lots of places in a relatively short period of time. The good news is that Little Wild Horse/Bell Canyons and Goblin Valley offer a great deal of scenery and recreation in a compact geographical area.

If you want to get a lot out of your valuable vacation/travel time, I definitely recommend a visit to this area.

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Happy Trails!


The Road Goes Ever On



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67avion

Carbondale, Illinois

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Posted: 10/09/11 10:13am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

seldomseen wrote:

I read where someone compared walking through Little Wild Horse with traveling through a piece of modern art sculpture. Fluted, sinuous walls alternate from side to side, with ribbons of frozen rock inviting you to touch their cool, smooth surfaces......

Hiking through this intricately shaped passageway is how I would imagine it would look as if you were swallowed whole, and began traveling through the gullet of some enormous beast......



Wonderful images accompanied by wonderful descriptions. Thanks for the report.





sabconsulting

High Wycombe, UK

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Posted: 10/09/11 10:16am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks Seldom, fantastic scenery.

Now that really is a slot canyon! As I was looking at the pictures I suddenly became aware there was another slot canyon in my field of vision - if I look up over the laptop I can see a picture of Antelope Canyon hanging on the wall behind - I forgot it was there until I read your post despite seeing it every day.

That whole valley of round topped 'goblins' looks like a scene from Alien. Beautiful location for a camp ground too.

Many thanks,

Steve.


'07 Ford Ranger XLT Supercab diesel + '91 Shadow Cruiser - Sky Cruiser 1
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coolmom42

Middle Tennessee

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Posted: 10/09/11 11:01am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Those are amazing, beautiful pics!!

I'm really glad you posted the pics of the slot canyons, cuz no way on earth I would ever summon the nerve to go in there!!!


Single empty-nester in Middle TN, sometimes with a friend or grandchild on board

DonCurley

La Sal, Utah

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Posted: 10/09/11 11:31am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great write up and pics as always Eric for one of our favorite places.

We're also getting ready for winter (it has been lightly snowing here for the last couple of days), so we may only be able to get one more camping trip in before things close down here for the season.


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PapPappy

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Posted: 10/09/11 11:35am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Fan-friggin-tastic!!!
What a great report, and wonderful photos! I will definitely put these places on my bucket list, if we ever get to the southwest.[emoticon]

This is one of my favorite photos that you took.....my first thought, was that I was about to go into "Hyper-speed" like in Star Wars[emoticon]
Awesome pictures...
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I know this report took quite a bit of time, but it was worth it to those of us interested in it....GREAT job!

Happy Camping & Hiking[emoticon]


Bill & Claudia / DD Jenn / DS Chris / GS MJ
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Clarryhill

Midcoast Maine

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Posted: 10/09/11 12:17pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Seldom, you started off your commentary with "OK it's not a trick", I would further add that It is though, certainly a TREAT! Absolutely beautiful, sir, and I would add many many thanks for sharing such fantastic country. You have me adding so much to our "gotta do" list, that I'm not sure we'll ever have the time.


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Nemo667

Louisiana

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Posted: 10/09/11 01:11pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Eric...The Goblins have been added to the bucket list. We are going to need a second house in that area before long. Proboably take a few years to see it all. Thanks for putting this report and pictures together for everybody.


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dadwolf2

Henderson,NV

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Posted: 10/09/11 01:18pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

AWESOME trip report & photos. You don't mind if I follow your trip some day soon?


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cewillis

Tucson, az, usa

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Posted: 10/09/11 04:07pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Fantastic pictures is a major understatement. A geology lesson masquerading as a TR. Not get back to work.


Cal


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