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(Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune) Goblin Valley's two yurts are popular additions to the iconic state park.
Utah’s Goblin Valley ‘a natural playground’ for adventuring

Goblin Valley incident has brought even more attention to the already-popular park.

First Published May 28 2014 11:55 am • Last Updated May 28 2014 09:59 pm

Goblin Valley State Park • This iconic park and its hundreds of aptly-named rock formations probably didn’t need the kind of worldwide publicity it received after Glenn Tuck Taylor toppled one of its goblins last October.

It was already well-known.

At a glance

Goblin Valley basics

Park hours » 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Day use fee » $8 ($4 for seniors 62 and older).

Camping fees » $20 March through June and September through November, $18 otherwise. Extra vehicle is $8. Group camping fees: $3 per person. Yurts available to rent.

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Despite being 30 miles away from the nearest town, some 80,000 visitors a year manage to find what many Utah families feel is one of the most exciting natural areas anywhere.

Park assistant manager Nathan Martinez said visitors ask quite often about the goblin-toppling incident. He said visitation seems to be up this year and rangers are considering offering a guided Leave No Trace hike to the place where Taylor knocked over the loose goblin formation. Because visitors often ask, an interpretive panel may be placed near the spot.

Rangers and researchers from Weber State University are also studying the impact of visitors climbing on the goblins, a popular activity that isn’t prohibited and makes visiting a place with few trails a natural playground.

"We want people to hike and get up close and personal," said Martinez, who has worked at the park for eight years. "It’s not an issue of destruction. They can go in and play. That’s the fun of it."

That said, interpretation signs take more of an educational approach about rock climbing. They more or less ask the question about what effects hundreds of people climbing the formations might have, leaving the decision up to visitors themselves.

The elements that formed these goblins continue to be in play. Anyone who has ever been caught in the middle of a summer thunderstorm while hiking the valley and has seen rivers of water appear and then disappear almost magically know that the place can be transformed.

According to the Division of Parks and Recreation, which has managed Goblin Valley since it was designated as a state park in 1964, the uneven hardness of the sandstone allows some patches to resist erosion much better than others.

"The softer material is removed by wind and water, leaving thousands of unique, geologic goblins," according to information from State Parks. "Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown dust work together to shape the goblins. Bedrock is exposed because of the thin soil and lack of vegetation. When rain does fall, there are few plant roots and little soil to capture and hold the water, which quickly disappears in muddy streams without penetrating the bedrock."

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The result is a place with few trails where the shouts of children can be heard everywhere.

"This is a dream vacation for my kids," said Liz Kriser of Provo. "It’s a natural playground. There is no computer, no cell phones. They can climb and stay up until 1 a.m. That’s a treat."

Kirsi Price of Pleasant Grove said she has been coming to this place since she was a child.

"We make it a point to come here on family vacation," she said. "There are so many places to climb or where you can choose your own adventure."

Sitting at the covered picnic area that overlooks Goblin Valley, it is possible to here the joyous voices of children running in a place where there are few trails. Goblin Valley makes even older folks turn into children. Some like looking at formations and imagining them as creatures such as a parrot, three sisters or even Godzilla.

Martinez, who spends more time here than perhaps anyone, loves the summer storm season.

"I love the thunderstorms out here," he said. "They are always impressive. We get powerful lightning and thunder."

Surrounding hikes in the Bureau of Land Management-managed San Rafael Swell to narrow canyons such as Ding and Dang, Little Wild Horse, Bells, Chute and Crack and Wild Horse makes basing a trip at Goblin Valley a good idea.

Until about mid-June, when hot weather begins to drive visitors away, getting a camping spot at the small 24-unit campground (with two yurts and a group area) can be a challenge. The park fills almost every night and reservations are strongly suggested. The yurts — which include a bunk bed, futon, solar-powered swamp cooler, deck with barbecue and heat in the winter — have been a particularly popular attraction.

The campground underwent a major renovation project about five years ago and is much-improved with flat tent pads, covered picnic tables, nice pullouts for recreation vehicles, and restrooms with running water and showers.

A visitor center offers interpretative displays, including a relief map of the San Rafael Swell and panels on geology, mining, human history and prehistoric people. Workers there sell ice, basic camp items, souvenirs and firewood.

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