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!

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!

Exploring Enchanting Water Canyon—a Multifaceted Gem, Hildale, UT

Length: ~3 Miles roundtrip to the mini waterfall or as long as you’d like to take it, up and over and across the rim.

Difficulty: Moderate+ (To the waterfall is easy, after that, the hike becomes more difficult with elevation gain and a mix of route finding, scrambling, and bouldering. Route finding can be perplexing, if not impossible at the top where it becomes a choose your own adventure experience.)

Elevation gain: 2,208 ft (This only comes into play if you hike beyond the waterfall.)

In the spring, the reward of a short hike (~1.5 miles ea way) is a beguiling, mini waterfall tucked into a slot canyon grotto. Beyond the waterfall, you’ll encounter an interesting, often difficult-to-follow trail that involves some scrambling, bouldering, some exposure, and heights. Not surprisingly, this picturesque canyon is a popular spot for canyoneering. Supposedly you can get to “White Domes” from here, but it’s difficult to ascertain how. I’ll update this post if / when I find a good route to them in the future – cross-country, over the top, or traversing up the rocks from the bottom.

Notes: If you’re in it for the waterfall, early spring is your best bet. The waterfall disappears as the months get hotter and drier. Watch the weather for flash floods. Avoid weekend crowds by going early on a weekday. If you’re going to wander on the rim, I suggest you use GPS or Alltrails, as finding the route back down the canyon can be tricky (understatement). Parking is free.

Getting there: I-15 N to UT-9 E/W State St and UT-59 S to Utah Ave in Hildale. Take Utah Ave to Water Canyon Rd. Follow the dirt road to the parking lot.  

Happy 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!