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!

Canal Trail & Santa Clara River Trail, Pine Valley, UT

Distance: ~6 miles- if you car shuttle, ~12 roundtrip

Elevation gain: ~700-1k

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level

Terrain: Mostly a sweet, smooth single track trail, which is why mountain bikers are taking to it too

What can I say? Pine Valley never disappoints. These two trails are a lovely way to spend a couple hours immersed in nature and the fresh, delightfully cooler air.

You can pick up the Canal Trail in 3 spots:

The Cemetery Trail on the left before town will take you up and merge you with the Canal Trail on the rim, where you make a right. (Car shuttle opportunity–1 car here, the other at Mitt Moody Campground.)

You can take the Gardner Peak Trail to where it merges with the Canal Trail and make a right or left – it’s about the midway point if you only want to do part of the trail.

You can start / finish at the Mitt Moody Campground behind site 5. (A car shuttle is handy if you don’t want to walk the same path twice.)

Any route you choose will be pleasant – the Cemetery Trail and Gardner Peak Trail pack the elevation in the first mile and it’s gravy after that. The most gentle approach is the Mitt Moody start. Under the cover of Ponderosa Pine you’ll enjoy wonderful views of Pine Valley and the surrounding mountains.

If you prefer a a short, paved trail, the Santa Clara River Trail is a wonderful alternative or add on. This family-friendly, 2.6 mile out and back trail runs through the forest along a stream and to the reservoir. It can be accessed at Mitt Moody Campground or across from the Gardner Peak parking lot.

Getting there: Take 18N to Pine Valley

Lovely Lower Calf Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante, Bolder, UT

Lovely Lower Calf Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante, UT

Distance: 6 miles to the lower tier of the waterfall (~8+ to the upper tier)

Elevation: ~500 ft

Difficulty: Easy (with a fair amount of thick sand walking)

Highlight: 126-foot cascade into a pool, giant petroglyphs

Only had time for the lower tier of perennial Calf Falls – it did not disappoint, but the people did. Unfortunately, my itinerary landed me here midday on a Sunday. Not the time to visit–far too many humans for my liking…

As you can see, this amazing gem is definitely worth a visit. Lower Calf Falls cascades over a nearly vertical cliff face into a large pool several feet deep and is enclosed on three sides by sheer Navajo sandstone walls. Pick up an interpretive pamphlet at the trailhead to learn about the flora along the trail and giant petroglyphs in the distance (too far to get a good pic).

Without question, Grand Staircase Escalante is National Park caliber and deserves to be preserved and protected. Stay tuned for more posts on this area!

Soapbox: If you bring pets, please pick up after them! This trail and falls area is small and quickly becoming overrun and overused. One fellow watched me watching him get a bag out to pick up his big Labrador’s poop, and then when I turned away, he walked away from it. ARRRGH! No respect for fellow hikers or nature. They should permit this hike, at least on weekends, and fine those who litter/leave dog poop. Don’t get me started about the imbeciles who bag poop and then leave it. I can’t get my head around people who go somewhere to appreciate nature and then defile it.

Getting there: Take highway 12 to the BLM-managed Calf Creek Recreation Area. Parking lot has limited parking. Go early or you may have to park along the highway.

Gardner Peak Trail Is Quite Grand, Pine Valley UT

Distance: ~7.7

Elevation: ~2,100 ft

Difficulty: Moderate to hard, depending on your fitness level and route-finding skills

Highlights: Forest, meadow, wildflowers, rock gardens, peaks with panoramic views

Terrain: At times sandy, rocky, sooty, and scrambly

I found the Gardner Peak Trail in Pine Valley quite grand. Indeed, it may be my new favorite Pine Valley hike. The Gardner Peak Trail delivers on several levels—it’s varied and interesting all the way to the top. It’s a steady, but fairly gentle climb (2k) through forest, through nature’s rock gardens, through a meadow, (and a recent burn area), and on up to a couple of peaks—2 rocky and the one, eponymous, taller tree-lined Gardner. Pick a peak, any peak, and play. Plenty of grippy, rock scrambling opportunities. The panoramic views are a delightful reward as well. The trail is easy to follow until you get to mile 3, then it becomes a route-finding exercise, or a create your own route. The trail is runnable if you’re up for it.

At about .75 the trail connects with the Canal Trail, which is both runnable and mountain bike-able. (Stay tuned: I will be coming back on 2 wheels for the Canal Trail and will report then.)

Notes: If you’re going to the top, I suggest using a GPS or the AllTrails app.  Also, your feet and ankles might be happier in hiking boots. If you have tender knees, a pole or 2 might come in handy on the descent. Dogs & horses are allowed.

Check out these other Pine Valley hikes:

Forsyth Trail

Brown’s Point

Whipple Valley

Happy Trails!

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!