Otherworldly Fantasy Canyon, a roadside geological wonderland

A small, relatively untraveled, roadside attraction, miniature Fantasy Canyon contains some of the most unusual geologic features in the world. Here, 3 types of rocks (mudstone, claystone, and sandstone) eroded at different paces, creating wild formations that rise from the barren badland topography like a sci-fi city.

A short 0.6-mile loop trail will transport you into a bizarre world. You’ll walk by dragons, intricate gates, and alcoves. It’s a stone Rorschach experience—a place to let your imagination run free.

Speaking of running free, if you’re lucky, you might see some of Utah’s wild horses and pronghorn frolicking around this remote area. It’s quite a treat!

(What’s not a treat, is seeing all the oil drilling on BLM land.)

Getting there:
From Vernal take UT 45 for 25 miles southeast, then go south on the oil company service road. Follow the signs for Fantasy Canyon.

Happy road tripping!

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch, Nature’s Cathedral

Distance: You choose: 1.7 to Buckskin Gulch, 6 miles to Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, 13 miles to Paria Canyon

Difficulty: Easy

At over 13 miles long, Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwestern United States. It’s speculated that it may be the longest slot canyon in the world.

The first section from the parking lot at Wire Pass is 1.7 miles through a sandy, exposed wash to entrance of Buckskin Gulch. Entering the Gulch is like entering a cathedral, you’ll be engulfed and awed by its massive scale. You may find yourself whispering in reverence as you would in a church or a library. Experiencing this amazing slot canyon in silent solitude is superb. (Unfortunately, only possible for the earliest of birds.) Petroglyph and hand print panels are a highlight as well.

I explored 5.5 miles out. You’ll lose the crowds a couple of miles in, but there’s no avoiding them on the way back.

Notes: Go early to avoid the crowds and the heat. Be weather aware- this is a flash flood area. Permit and $6 fee per adult required. Click here to obtain your required permit. Dogs are allowed, but not encouraged. There is a ladder inside the gulch that dogs must be carried up and down. Slot canyon passageways are narrow, close quarters—not the place for pets or people to relieve themselves or dogs to encounter each other. If you’re claustrophobic there are a couple spots that may trigger you.

Soapbox: So very disappointing to see petroglyph areas defaced and to see children in the act of it under the approving gaze of their parents. I reprimanded both sets of parents and children that I saw. I don’t understand it. Also, and always, disappointing, people not picking up after their pets. There should be fines for them as well. If fines were enforced, we could solve two problems–end the defacing (and the remains of defecating) and fund our park and wilderness areas. There need to be more signs up so that people can’t plead ignorance. Perhaps setting aside an “artificial” area for children to create their own petroglyphs would be an idea, but how likely is it that they will stay within those boundaries?

Getting there: Take UT-59S, AZ-389 E and US-89 S to House Rock Valley Road for 8.4 off road, rocky miles to the Wire Pass parking lot and trailhead

To Happier Trails!

To Happier Trails!

Enthralling Elephant Arch, Washington, UT

Distance:~3.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy with the following disclaimer: ~ 2 miles of THICK sand walking

Part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, this short hike delivers the reward of one of the coolest rock / arch formations that I’ve seen. (In my opinion, the Elephant rock in Valley of Fire doesn’t even compare.)  See it for yourself and let me know what you’ve seen that tops it.

Getting there: I-15N from St. George, Exit 10 to Washington. Left onto Green Springs Drive, immediate right onto Buena Vista Blvd. Follow. In about 1 mile, turn left onto the dirt road immediately after the fire station. Follow it for about 1.2 miles to the intersection of another dirt road and turn left onto this dirt road. In about a half mile you’ll see the parking area, gate and trailhead. (Directions are a bit tricky & terrain is variable–high clearance / 4-wheel drive vehicle helpful.) Took me 3x until I finally found it.

Trailhead GPS: 37.161671, -113.512897 Arch GPS: 37.177333, -113.494083

Notes: Full sun exposure, bring your water, hats, and sunscreen. (Spring, Fall & Winter are the best time of year for this one.) Leashed dogs allowed. Parking is free.

Happy trails!

Zion Narrows, Widely Populated, and Dare I Say, Overhyped

Distance: ~10 miles RT

Difficulty: First and last 1.7 miles is on flat pavement–easy. After that–hard, due to icy water immersion (from ankle deep to hip deep) and treacherous footing over slippery rocks. Water is so murky that you must use your hiking stick / poles every step of the way.

Fortunately, my friend and I were of the first few to step our feet into the icy waters of the Narrows that morning so we were able to soak in its beauty in solitude. Unfortunately, on the way back, the multitudes had arrived—unruly mobs descending on a magnificent citadel destroying all vestiges of a nature’s magnificence.

The waterfall in the feature picture above is the official turning around point for the Narrows. If you wish to add on a nice side trip on the way there, on the way back, or as an alternative, check out Orderville Canyon. It’s the right fork at about the 2.5 mile mark. It’s much greener, and in my opinion, prettier than the Narrows itself. Unfortunately, my bettery dies so I wasn’t able to take any pictures there. Guess, I’ll have to return. Orderville Canyon is also a bit less traveled, which in my book, is always a win

Yes, the Narrows is cool, but in my opinion, over-hyped. I’m so fortunate to be discovering so many equally or more beautiful, less-populated spots all over Utah. Zion National Park’s inability and/ or unwillingness to minimize crowds is discouraging and certainly offputting.

There is a 17-mile top-down challenging route that requires canyoneering and some swimming, likely it rules out the masses, but there’s no avoiding them for your final 5 miles when you’re most likely to be a bit hangry anyway… I’ll let you know if and when

Soapbox: In my opinion, ZNP needs to permit this hike ASAP to preserve the area from the irreversible impact of the HORDS of HUMANS and enhance visitor experience. They do it for the Subway and it works well. Never felt overwhelmed there, but the Narrows felt like being in a city subway. Perhaps they should flip the names.

Notes: Water temperature ranges from 40 to 60 degrees. In the fall, winter and spring, dry gear is recommended. (My first time was inMarch and I froze. Came back in July and was fine in shorts.) Rent info: https://www.zionguru.com/narrows-rental-equipment  Hiking sticks/poles are a necessity. Go early to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

Caves, Caverns, and Catacombs—Oh My! Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, NV

While there’s not much hiking to be done here (a grand total of 5.5 miles if you hit all 5 trails), what you will find is an otherworldly playground of caves, caverns, and catacombs. Between the spires and bluff-colored cliffs, you can follow one slot canyon into the next in aMAZEment.

One of Nevada’s first four state parks, Cathedral Gorge was established in 1935 as a geologic preserve. It features dramatic, other-wordly landscape of eroded soft bentonite clay that covers close to 2k acres. The amazing spires, cliffs, and slot canyons are the result of millions of years of geologic activity sparked by volcanic eruptions that dispersed layers of ash hundreds of feet deep to the region. Faulting formed a valley over time, which eventually filled with water and became a freshwater lake. Over the centuries, this prehistoric lake began to gradually drain, and erosion began to expose and form the ash and pumice.

Enjoy the incredible views from the Miller Point Overlook gazebo (originally constructed by the CCC) and then create your own adventure in the abundant caves, slot canyons, catacombs, and slot canyons. 

The formations at Cathedral Gorge remind me of the sand castles that my brother and I used to create by squeezing wet sand through our hands and letting the drips accumulate into peaks of various heights and girths. Indeed, the firmness and stability of the formations in Cathedral Gorge vary substantially so you must be alert at all times, taking care that you don’t break through the surface or fall into a chasm. (The trail guide included stats on trail firmness and stability.) Yes, it’s a bit sketchy, but totally cool. Kids would be amazed by this place and entertained for hours. For safety’s sake, I’d suggest that you keep them and pets on a tight leash!

Address: 111 Cathedral Gorge State Park Road, Panaca, NV 89042, a must-do, easy day trip from my base camp, St. George, UT, and about 2.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93,

Notes: $5 day use fee, camp at one of the 22 camp sites for $15 per night (first-come, first served), each with a table, grill and shade. Electrical hookups are available for an additional $10. Water and flushing restrooms with coin-operated showers are open year-round, with handicap-accessible sites available. Pets must be kept on a leash of < six feet.

Hiking Guide:

Happy trails!