Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley


Aug 9, 2007
February 2011

In December of last year I planned a trip to a formation along the Utah-Arizona border known as White Pocket. The information I found told me that it was an endeavor not to be taken lightly. It's a long drive on remote sand tracks through the desert. Without the proper equipment getting stranded is a high probability due to soft deep sand and holes where others have been stuck. Back in December we made it all the way there just as the sun went down. I saw the formation from the parking lot but decided to head back to camp and return in the morning. During the night Adam became extremely ill and in the morning we were forced to retreat back to civilization. White Pocket was right there in front of me and I missed it.

I was determined to get back as soon as possible so I planned a new trip a few weeks later over New Years Eve. The plan was coming together well but then a cold front moved in the day before the trip dropping temperatures to below zero and once again, no White Pocket. After that I decided I would give it a while longer before making another attempt. So a plan was made to meet some friends and make the drive out as a group. There were 10 people involved and permits were obtained for other nearby attractions. It seemed this time I would finally make it to White Pocket. So with 4 days off work, Nate, Adam and I started packing the truck for the big trip. The weather forecast was looking bad but we had no intentions of changing plans. I've been turned away two times already, I wasn't going to let it be a third. But the morning of the trip came, everything was loaded and we were ready to hit the road. One last check of the weather... and... suck. I can handle cold weather, no problem. I can even handle some precipitation with my cold weather. Snow, rain, okay. But toss in consistent 20+ mph winds with gusts up to 50mph AND cold and wet? No thanks. Sounds like we'll miss White Pocket once again. I had been thinking about a trip to the desert outside of Mesquite, Nevada for some time. Whitney Pocket, Little Finland and Valley of Fire are all places on the bucket list. So we decided to head a bit further south where the forecast was largely the same but with temps 15-20 degrees warmer than what were forecasted in the vicinity of White Pocket.

So southbound we went. About an hour and a half out of Salt Lake City I started wondering if the hood on my Tacoma was latched properly. It was moving like I had never seen it before. We decided to stop in Scipio to check the hood and stretch the legs. When we got out of the truck we were greeted with freezing wind, I'd guess in the 30mph range. It was awful and the thought of spending the next 4 days in it had us all thinking twice. We spent the next half hour thinking through our options. Eventually we decided there was no where to go. The weather would be awful anywhere and if we were only going to spend one night camping, why drive 7 hours? We were almost ready to turn around and drive home when I decided we should suck it up and go spend a windy night in the San Rafael Swell. I figured we could probably find a camp site with reasonable wind shelter and if not, how bad could one really night be?

So we headed east, Nate had never really been to the Swell and Adam had never been to the area I had in mind. As we drove further, the amount of blue sky kept growing, making us think we had made the right decision. We stopped at a rest area a little bit before our planned exit and were stoked to find calm wind, sunshine and reasonably warm temperatures. It was a far cry from what it was like an hour earlier in Scipio.

Nate might have been a little too excited. Don't ask about the shirt...

We continued on to exit 131 with the intention of seeing some of the attractions in the Head of Sinbad area. When we first exited the roads were mostly dry, a few miles later it was a different story. I was sliding all over the place and eventually decided it was best to turn around rather than risk getting stuck. The main road heading towards Temple Mountain was in better shape so we decided to cut through the swell that way instead of taking the highway around. In retrospect, we should have gone around. Most of the road was a white knuckle, sloppy, muddy mess.

There was no one around so we decided to spend a bit of time in the Temple Mountain area checking out the sights. It's usually so busy around here that I would want to keep driving.

We found this old uranium mine that had 5 or 6 entrances that were sealed off by concrete or steel bars.

One of the entrances had been broken open, it looked pretty big in there.

A lot sturdier than it looks.

I even walked out to the end of it.


I've never passed by the rock art in Temple Wash and not seen someone camped there until this day so it only made sense to stop and check it out.


After Temple Wash we explored some nearby canyons and then headed south towards Goblin Valley. We saw several Antelope on the way.

And then we found this guy who was kind enough to let me pull over, get out of my truck and take pictures for about 5 minutes from about 30 feet away.

It was beautiful out despite the wind being pretty strong.

Wild Horse Butte

We scouted out a good wind-sheltered campsite and then headed over to Goblin Valley to do a bit of exploring. Amazingly, Nate and Adam had never been there. Much like the rest of The Swell, we had Goblin Valley all to ourselves. The weren't even manning the pay station. Nate and Adam carefully observing the view from on top of the mesa.


Descending into second valley.

Second valley is much more intricate than the main area at Goblin Valley.


We had some awesome clouds but the sunset wasn't anything to write home about.

Back at camp

Star trails from camp. The rock is lit by the glow from our campfire.

This is a time lapse of the night sky from our camp. This video consists of 260 exposures, ISO 2000, f/3.5, 30 seconds.

That night the wind died down to a slight breeze and the sky almost completely cleared out. Despite the horrendous weather forecast, I didn't even put my rain fly up. In the morning the clouds had moved back in but it was strangely warm and totally tolerable. I was starting to think we would get at least another night out of this trip.

We packed up camp and headed to Little Wild Horse Canyon. I had just been here in January with Bill but Adam and Nate had never hiked it.

Little Wild Horse is great, it's such a short hike and then you're already into good narrows that just go on and on.


The trickiest part of Little Wild Horse Canyon. Easy for humans, not so easy for dogs but still pretty easy.


Group shot in Little Wild Horse

Nikita and I

There were a few pools of water that weren't here last month.

Here's a little clip of the biggest pool we encountered.


While we were hiking up Little Wild Horse I was thinking we would definitely be camping another night. But for the last 2 hours of the hike we were hammered by constant wind followed by a big drop in temperatures. We made it back to the trailhead (which we still had to ourselves) and decided that we were going to call it and head back to Salt Lake. I felt sun burned just from being blown by so much sand and wind.

We made it back to Salt Lake around 6:30pm with plenty of time to unload the truck and have a nice evening at home. The next morning I woke up to 6+ inches of fresh snow in my front yard and knew that we made the right decision to leave when we did. I can only hope that the next time I plan a trip to White Pocket that I will actually make it but for now I'm happy that we were able to salvage something out of this trip, even if it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. Sometimes it's good enough to just spend a night out with good friends.
just reading that I can feel the wind chill. :cold:
Cold in general is okay, but with wind it's almost unbearable. We have it a lot here in Western NY and it's so awesome.
But nice shots of the Goblins and Little Wild Horse, I really like both places a lot.
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