• Josh ZapinJosh Zapin
  • Date:  May 14, 2016
  • Life

Memorial Day Trip 2016 – Goblin Valley/San Rafael Swell

Memorial Day Trip 2016 – Goblin Valley/San Rafael Swell

What We’re Doing

This Memorial Day (Friday May 27- Monday May 30), a bunch of us are heading west to Goblin Valley State Park and the San Rafael Swell in Utah. As with other trips in the area, the point of the trip is to explore the Colorado Plateau: amazing region of Southeast Utah that has canyons, valleys and other cool high-desert features.  Now that our kids are a bit bigger, we can do some bigger hikes with great slots and features. The rough itinerary is as follows:
  • Friday, May 27 – Leave early in the AM, find a campsite, set up camp, hang out and prep for Saturday.  See the Where We Are staying for more details.
  • Saturday, May 28 – Goblin Valley State Park (AM) and  Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon (PM) Goblin Valley State Park is an awesome kid-friendly park where the vast landscape of sandstone goblins have people wondering if they’re on Mars or in Utah. In fact, GalaxyQuest was filmed there. We’ll hike among these rock formations. There is also a cool side trip within the area to the Chamber of the Basilisk.   We will try to spend most of the AM here (think 10 AM – 1 PM) including Lunch. Little Wild Horse and Bell are two easy canyons are great, and very kid-friendly that will give our kids a taste of the slot canyon experience. They can be made into a loop but we’ll likely do each separately.
  • Sunday, May 29 – More San Rafael Swell non-technical canyons!  There are lots of great good choices here are some possibilities:
    • Ding and Dang Canyons –  The Ding & Dang Canyon loop hike is located in the San Rafael Swell near Goblin Valley. Some guidebooks refer to the canyons as 1st and 2nd Canyon. The hike travels through two slot canyons and is a fun romp for experienced hikers. Since we enjoyed hiking the Little Wild Horse/Bell Canyon loop this is a good for a little more adventure than this is for you.
    • Chute Canyon – Chute Canyon is one of the many canyons that cut through the face of the San Rafael Reef and is one of the easiest hikes in the area. While not as challenging or physically demanding as some of the other canyons in the area, Chute Canyon does offer a good taste of the scenery the San Rafael Swell has to offer. This hike follows a flat wash bottom as it twists and turns through the reef.
    • Crack Canyon – Crack Canyon is one of the more popular canyons in the San Rafael Swell. The canyon contains three wonderful sections of narrows and a chance to visit the little known Cracked Window Arch.
  • Monday, May 30 – Lazy AM/Schlep back to Front Range.
The maps and trail descriptions I compiled last time we were in the area still apply.  Download and print out. (Both are ZIP files.) There are many more than we will actually do. Still, it’ll give us some options.

Where We Are Staying

This year, we will be primitive car camping near Goblin Valley State park.   This means we’ll be in a spectacular setting that costs nothing, but there won’t be any toilets or water on the premises.   All of that does exist 24/7 at  Goblin Valley State park, but we will likely be a 10-15 drive away from it.

How to find our Camp

Since we don’t know where we’re actually camping yet, we can’t tell you exactly how to get there.  Plus, it’s Memorial Day weekend, so we’ll need to be creative in finding a site.  Here is how it will work:
  1. Our family (the Zapins) will leave super-early (~6 AM) on Friday.  We’ll expect to get to Goblin Valley around 1:30/2:00 PM.
  2. We will go to the primitive camping area, most likely (hopefully) near the Little Wild Horse Trailhead area and grab a site.  We will mark the site with a stick with some “special” marker (e.g. balloon, sign, TBD) two San Francisco Giants hats (what Elijah/I wore this past Little League season) and, hopefully, a balloon so that you can find it from the road.  We’ll also put a bunch of glow sticks in case folks are trying to find us at night
  3. We will also post a note at a billboard at the junction of Temple Mountain Road and Goblin Valley Road (GPS Coordinates: 38.653340, -110.654250) labeled Crazy Camping Bouldering Boulderites (aka CCBBs) with some direction.
While this plan will (should) work, ideally, we’d all convoy together or, at least know when everyone will arrive.  It can be a bit gnarly, but it will work.

Extra Things We Need to Do with Primitive Car Camping

Primitive car camping is awesome, it’s quiet, serene and in the most spectacular scenery you’ll ever see. The downside is that there are no amenities (although if we can camp near the Little Wild Horse Trailhead, we’ll be spitting distance from a toilet).  So, some extra things we need to do are as follows:
  • Extra Water Storage – Since we will not have water on the premises, we will need to store our water.  Bring extra things to store water.  Here is one that we use.
  • Extra lights – Headlamps are a must but lanterns will be really useful too.
  • Camp trowel – If you gotta go, you gotta go.  Make sure we have a way to bury the poop.
  • Chairs/tables – We all bring chairs, but we’ll also need a place to prep stuff.  Bring a collapsible table if you can.
  • Full tank of gas – Our plan isn’t to veer too far outside Goblin Valley area so we won’t be driving too far. There is a gas station/convenience store  in Hanksville, but it is a good 20-30 minutes away.  Still, fill up your tank before getting off of I-70.
  • Bring as much ice as possible – We’re not that far away from getting ice, but you should bring as much as possible.  Block ice is an even better idea.
  • Battery backups for a devices/Car chargers – There will be no outlets near us.

How to Get There/Maps

Again, we don’t have exact directions because we don’t know where we’ll be. Still, here is a link to the billboard where we will post directions to get to the site. And here is a map of the major sites: Click here to see a bigger map.

What to Bring

It’s Car Camping, so the usual (tents/sleeping bags/chairs/etc.) is required. See my handy checklist if you’d like to spark some ideas on what you should bring. Important for Canyon hiking: good sneakers/closed-toed shoes that can get wet. The canyons are made out of sandstone and has numerous rocks, sand features, and water holes. Good, sturdy shoes that can get wet is recommended. Please bring one batch of wood per car. We will definitely do camp fires at night (and roast marshmallows, apples, or whatever else you want.) Bring sports equipment, kites (there may be a good wind in the area), frisbees, etc.

Meals: Breakfasts and Dinners

We’ll do our meal potluck style. Because some folks are leaving early, the math isn’t working. Just plan for 3 meals for your family. We can coordinate in real time if we want to share some of the responsibilities. We’ll do Breakfasts around 7 AM and Dinners around 6 PM. Lunches/snacks should be done on your own.
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1 Comment

  • Scott Neilson
    1:19 pm May 19, 2016


    Thanks for organizing the trip. I’ve spoken to some people who have been to Goblin Valley in the past and they said it is incredible. We are really looking forward to getting away. Our plan is to head out on Friday. I’m not sure how early we will get out the door, but we will get there none-the-less.

    The Neilson’s

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