After leaving Mule Canyon, we had a last-minute change of plan about the route we would follow. We decided to take the road up to Hanksville, and on to Goblin Valley State Park. The map indicated that this is a scenic route, but that means little, because in southern Utah you would struggle to find a route that was not scenic! However, if there was a prize for the most scenic road in the whole USA, this would definitely be a strong contender. We stopped several times at official or unofficial viewpoints. We had lunch at a picnic site where there was a short trail into the very picturesque Hog Canyon. Words cannot describe… pictures are better, but the problem for us is selecting just a few photos from the hundreds we could not resist taking.
There were no cliff dwellings in the next places we visited. Instead, the focus was on landscape, and particularly on hoodoos (rock pinnacles created by erosion). Sadly, there was a change in the weather – it had been consistently sunny, but now rain and thunderstorms became common.
Goblin Valley State Park
Although we mainly visited national rather than state parks, we’d seen pictures of Goblin Valley and felt we had to go there. And we were very glad we did! Although we’d been to this part of the world before, we’d never seen anything quite like Goblin Valley. There are literally hundreds of hoodoos, here known as goblins: boulders which have been exposed and perched on top of one another, creating all kinds of fantastical shapes. Unlike many parks, where you have to stay on designated trails, you can wander freely among the goblins, and we had great fun doing that, deciding what they looked like and giving them names. We camped in the park, and the campground was set among (you’ve guessed it) more goblins.
The road to Bryce
After leaving Goblin Valley, we headed for Bryce Canyon. The road took us through Capitol Reef National Park. We did not stop there very long, partly because we’d visited twice before, and partly because the park was very crowded – finding parking spots was difficult. But we did stop for coffee at the Historic Gifford Homestead, and we took pictures of the wonderful rocks gleaming golden in the sun.
In the afternoon the weather changed for the worse. There was some rain, and thunderstorms were threatened, so we decide against camping and checked into a motel. But then the weather improved, and it seemed a shame to stay indoors. So we visited the nearby Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, where we did a short walk and saw some of the petrified wood. While we were there, the weather changed yet again, and we had rain on our way back.
Next morning we drove to Bryce. We stopped to do some shopping in the small town of Tropic, and the cashier told us there was a parade about to start – it was July 4th! We stayed to watch, but it did not last very long. There were no floats, just vehicles of various kinds, and teenagers throwing sweets and other small toys for the children present – some of whom had obviously brought bags to collect their goodies!
Bryce Canyon revisited
We’d visited Bryce Canyon twice before: in 1983 (accompanied by two small boys) and again in 1996 (accompanied by three teenagers). But it is our favourite of all the marvellous national parks in the south-west, so we just had to visit again. There were a lot more services outside the park than we remembered from previous visits, and we have no memory of the shuttle bus that circulates viewpoints, so maybe the park is now much busier. Or maybe our memories have failed.
We were delighted to find a vacant campsite just steps from the canyon rim. The hoodoos in Bryce are quite different from any others we’ve ever seen. There are red rocks and golden rocks – both beautiful, of course – but the rock formations in Bryce are unique in colour as well as shape. On our first visit Sandie likened the colour to peaches and cream, and that still seems an apt description.
We decided to do two trails. The first took us down into the most popular part of the canyon floor, the Queen’s Garden, where there are many varied hoodoos, including one likened to Queen Victoria. It was bright sunshine when we set off, but after an hour the clouds came and the rain started. Stupidly, we’d left our new raincapes in the car, so we just got wet. We didn’t mind that too much, but the photos were not so good without the sun.
By the afternoon, the rain had stopped and the weather looked promising. So we set off on the Hat Shop Trail. As those who have done the trail (including our children) may remember, this takes you down to a different part of the canyon floor, and then out along a ridge to the ‘hat shop’, an area where there are several grey boulders perched on eroded pink columns, looking like hats at jaunty angles. When almost there, Ian who was ahead shouted to Sandie not to come further: he’d seen (and heard) a rattlesnake very close to the path. So most of the Hat Shop photos were taken with a telephoto lens.
Ian managed to circumvent the snake, and we set off on the return journey. Then we heard thunder! Thunderstorms at Bryce are common at this time of year, and lightning can be dangerous (potentially fatal) if you are down in the canyon. So you are advised to seek shelter immediately you hear thunder – not so easy when you are an hour’s walk from your car! Luckily we got back safely, and did not even get wet (although we’d carefully taken our raincapes this time).
We did think of abandoning our camping plans, but were glad we did not. Although we had no more bright sun that day, we got some wonderful sunset views after having dinner at our campsite. And although there was some rain that night, our tent stayed dry. Next morning we did the scenic drive, stopping at every viewpoint along the way. And then it was time to say farewell to Bryce for the third time.
And after Bryce…
We continued our journey west through the Red Canyon. There are some wonderful rock formations here, and if you approach Bryce from the west it acts as a great curtain raiser for the big show. However, if you are heading in the opposite direction, it is a bit of an anti-climax, although still well worth a stop.
Our next destination was Cedar Breaks National Monument. We’d never visited this before, but knew from pictures we’d seen that it was similar to Bryce. It is smaller, with fewer hoodoos, and fewer trails; it is also even higher up, so colder, and while we were there it rained heavily, so our options were limited. When the rain stopped we drove to the four overlooks, and took photos. We also spotted a bride posing for pre-wedding photos among the wildflowers – she looked lovely, but must have been cold!
Our final encounter with hoodoos was when we did the Toadstool Trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Created only in 1996, the monument covers a vast area. We’d read that there were plenty of hiking opportunities, but discovered that most of these required a 4WD car to get to the trailhead, or walking through rivers. So we did the one trail that seemed feasible for us. There are relatively few hoodoos in this area, but they really do look like toadstools. And the rocks are yet another colour: brown and pale green – chocolate cake with peppermint icing, perhaps.