Two sides of Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley isn't a huge park, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in uniqueness and incredible variety.
Our first visit there was in the middle of the day, a hot time to hike in south-central Utah even in the spring, and we focused on the Valley of the Goblins and its otherworldly collection of terra-cotta-colored rock.
It was discovered, I read in the brochure, by a couple of cowboys looking for cattle. Can you imagine being that guy, just riding along in the desert when all of a sudden you ride onto the surface of Mars?
The valley could be an incredible place for kids. Visitors can crawl up and over all the rocks and into at least one secluded secret cave. There's no trail to speak of, little vegetation and nothing is off limits. It's like a natural Disney World.
We took a break for a few hours, then came back to the park around sunset and looped around the other side to do the Carmel Canyon Trail, which led us down to the desert floor. It was like a different park: cooler, sandy and greener, even boasting a mini slot canyon.
At 1.5 miles with some up and downs, including a fairly narrow ridge, it was the perfect short hike to do before a campfire dinner.