Could the Goblin Valley State Park Incident Have Been Prevented?

Goblin Valley State Park
After hearing the news that a small stupid group of men not only toppled an ancient rock formation at Utah's Goblin Valley State Park, but also videotaped their actions and posted the incident to YouTube (and by the way the two adults in the group are Boy Scout leaders for a church-based group), I felt compelled to write a letter to Fred Hayes, Utah State Parks director.

Dear Mr. Hayes,

What a month you're having! First you're dealing with capacity crowds due to the masses of people rerouting from national parks and now these guys, toppling a goblin at Goblin Valley State Park. Sheesh. I hope you catch a break in November.

My husband and I were among the rerouted tourists and I want to compliment you on your fabulous state parks. Although Kodachrome Basin was always part of our itinerary, we count our detours to Goblin Valley, Pink Coral Sands, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Snow Canyon as the silver lining of the dark cloud of the national parks closure. (You can read the highlights here.)

Each one of these parks offered something (often many things) that amazed or delighted us including wide open spaces, stunning views, and a new appreciation for geology and the forces of nature.

Capitol Reef National Park on 10/1. We we up earlier than the ranger.
We'd read about the otherworldly rock formations of Goblin Valley and since we'd been kicked out of Capitol Reef National Park, we decided to make the drive out there (with a little nudge from the owner of Luna Mesa Cafe, who makes a mighty fine BLT sandwich, by the way).

As noted on the Goblin Valley website:
Goblin Valley State Park is a showcase of geologic history. Exposed cliffs reveal parallel layers of rock bared by erosion. Because of the uneven hardness of sandstone, some patches resist erosion much better than others. The softer material is removed by wind and water, leaving thousands of unique, geologic goblins. 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.
Precariously balanced boulder at Goblin Valley State Park

As we walked by formations like the one pictured above, my husband and I discussed how long it would take for the top piece to fall off; it appears to be so precariously perched! And yet, I'd give another 10,000 years or so. Or who knows, maybe the winds and rains will shape that top bit into sometime more delicate and spire-like?

I certainly didn't feel like it was in danger of falling on me. And I can't believe that someone as familiar with the outdoors as a Boy Scout leader would think otherwise about a similar looking stone.

What those men did was wrong and I hope they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

They say they knew the rock was loose because the boys in the Scout group had been playing lava, "You see who can get the farthest in the park leaping from top of rock to top of rock without touching the ground..."

Apparently he didn't read the same signs I did requesting that visitors not touch or climb on the rocks.

In fact, I'd think a Scout leader would encourage his group to stick to the trail. In a nature preserve, the trail area is sacrificed, trod and beaten upon to provide the visitors with a path to access the wonders of that piece of land. When people go off the trail, additional flora and fauna are damaged or killed. A "leave no trace" Scout leader should know this without having to read a warning sign. For the record, there are warning signs at the park, but not in in the actual Valley of Goblins, from what I saw.

I can't help but wonder if their actions would have been prevented if there had been tighter controls. In many of the desert parks we visited, at some point during a hike we had trouble differentiating the actual trail from so-called social trails that are created when people head off the main trail, leaving sets of sandy footprints behind that lead others to believe the new side path is the actual trail.

According to my guidebook, we'd be taking a short hike through the Valley of the Goblins. In reality, there was no clear trail and people wandered about as they pleased. That made it a bit more interesting in some respects, but I was all, "What about that microscopic life on the desert floor that we're constantly being told is disrupted by humans tromping over the delicate ground? A single footstep can kill 10,000 years of growth that's barely visible to our eyes. How can they allow this?"

Think of the microbes!

My husband reminded me of how un-fun I can be at times.

Goblin Valley State Park Does lack of a clear path lead to vandalism?

I have to think that freewheeling visitors are just that. Without the confines of a trail, folks might be more inclined to touch the rocks, scratch their names into the sandstone (vandals are a huge problem in state and national parks), or, as in the case of these Boy Scouts, hop from rock to rock, despite warnings against doing so.

If those troop leaders were concerned about the safety of their boys, perhaps jumping on sandstone rock formations is ill-advised. I have two sons. I know their energy and understand that they like to flirt with danger as much as they do with girls (sometimes even more), but if the adults sensed a danger in the area, why not call off the rock-jumping that shouldn't have been going on in the first place?

And again, trouncing over delicate formations hardly fits into BOA's Leave No Trace philosophy.

Mr. Hayes, your own park literature noted that you are examining the long-term effect of visitors on these natural wonders. I feel like you have your answer now and it's an unfortunate one.

I sense that you'll be reigning in the crowds at Goblin Valley now. Hopefully they won't be confined to viewing the crazy hoodoos from the parking lot with a pair of binoculars, but maybe the valley needs to be set up more like an art museum than a school playground. It stinks when the whole class loses recess privileges because a student or two can't play nicely. The well behaved among us want to play in the state parks.

Thanks again for an amazing park system. Utah is full of natural wonders, plenty of which can be experienced outside the national parksl.

I wish you patience and wisdom in your quest to preserve and protect some truly special areas of your state.


Kim Moldofsky
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