(I meant to use my own images, but my sister’s were so much better. Most of the photos are hers. Click on the photo to enlarge if you need a bigger version.)

This past summer Outdoor Enthusiast and I loaded up the kids in the minivan and headed for Southern Utah. Outdoor Enthusiast was meeting up with his brother for an intense hike in an epic slot canyon. The kids and I were meeting up with my sister for some final (milder) adventuring in Utah before she moved to California.

That first afternoon we hiked in Little Wildhorse Canyon near Goblin Valley State Park. The canyon was beautiful and strange. Almost alien.

Cathryn makes everything a million times more fun.

Cathryn makes everything a million times more fun.

Little Wildhorse loops around and exits the same way you enter. The kids and I have been down there a few times, but we’ve never done the entire loop. (A fact Outdoor Enthusiast reminds us of every time we turn around.) So it was a little funny when the dark clouds kept getting darker and we called it quits. Again. Outdoor Enthusiast was soooo disappointed.

I felt pretty justified in the decision when the clouds opened up and dumped everything they had on us. We made it back to the car completely drenched. Perk: Nobody washed away in a flash flood.

A little taste of Little Wildhorse Canyon. It's beautiful!

A small taste of Little Wildhorse Canyon. It’s beautiful!

After our hike we cranked up the heat to dry off and proceeded to head for our hotel. Along the way we took pictures of Factory Butte, scoped out the oyster fossils on the side of the road (Outdoor Enthusiast is a geologist and can spot fossils even at highway speeds), and poked around the entrance to the ghost town of Giles.

The road leading to Giles was made of sticky blue clay that was too wet to travel on. Not by foot, and certainly not by my van. So we had to satisfy ourselves with the  remains of wagons, farm equipment, and an unexpected character.

This is Blue Jack. He is an outlaw. (And his name is actually Blue John.)

Outdoor Enthusiast and Blue Jack.

Outdoor Enthusiast and Blue Jack.

He guards the headstones of other fake outlaws.

Not messing around in the Blue Valley.

The Blue Valley takes their outlaws pretty seriously.

The whole place had an odd vibe. Mysterious with a comedic flair. Strange and a little epic.

The following day Outdoor Enthusiast set out with his brother and friend in the early morning hours. When I asked him how long he thought they were going to be the reply was, “I’m not really sure. I’ve never done this slot canyon before. Maybe ten hours?”

The rest of us were happy to sleep in.

After breakfast Cathryn and I  set out with all five kids for Goblin Valley. As we passed the turn to Little Wildhorse Canyon my sister said, “Wouldn’t it be so funny if we wound up doing that hike today instead?”

I was tempted when I imagined Outdoor Enthusiast’s reaction that evening if we finished the hike without him.

We proceeded to have an amazing day exploring among the hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park. I loved that Cathryn knew that a scene from Galaxy Quest had been filmed there. And I loved that my kids were into everything because Cathryn was into everything. I’m telling you, she makes everything a million times more fun.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

After a late lunch we loaded up to head back when a trailhead at the end of the parking lot caught my eye. We’d already done the main attraction. What else was out there?

The sign at the trailhead offered two options. A trail to Carmel Canyon. And a trail to something called Goblin’s Lair. With a name like that we couldn’t resist. We set off to find the goblins.

It was a little like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade where he has to take a step of faith onto the invisible bridge. We had to manuever down the rocks before we hit the valley floor. The trail looked like it would run out of places to go and at the last possible step more rock would appear. We could have used more cairns. Or some flashing signs. Or maybe our own guide. Anything to give a better indication of where the trail was. But I channeled my inner Harrison Ford and we made it down to the valley floor. (And I only thought of calling it quits once!)

The trail followed the valley floor until we came to a fork in a dry river bed. Carmel Canyon forked left and we went right for Goblin’s Lair. The trail wrapped around until we were walking along the backside of the hoodoos.

The trail leading to Goblin's Lair. Seriously the most incredible thing!

The trail leading to Goblin’s Lair. Seriously the most incredible thing!

Even the 9-year old perked up at this point and quit complaining about the heat and all of the walking we were making him do. The trail dropped into a cove of sorts, with boulders littering the ground. We figured we’d found the Goblin’s Lair. The round boulders certainly looked like goblins.

We all have great imaginations. We thought this must be the goblins in their lair.

Is this Goblin’s Lair? Sure, if you use your imagination.

The kids climbed around. Cathryn climbed after them. So of course I climbed after her. We were poking around in the big boulders at the top when I realized something.

“Cathryn, there’s something back there! Look. A hole!”

She scrambled around and found the opening to a well-lit cave. The sun filtered through three natural skylights at the top of the cave, lighting the interior.

THIS was the Goblin’s Lair.

The true Goblin's Lair.

The true Goblin’s Lair.

I was content to look down from the top marveling over the discovery.

Like a good big sister I was waiting to see if anything ate her before I got too close.

Like a good big sister I waited to see if anything ate her before I got too close.

But Cathryn ventured down into the cave.

The night before she'd just been telling Outdoor Enthusiast, "Oh no, I don't do caves. Too many bats. Too many bugs. Ew."

The night before she’d just been telling Outdoor Enthusiast, “Oh no, I don’t do caves. Too many bats. Too many bugs. Ew.”

There was a drop that she knew she could jump safely down to. But our genetics did not code for long legs. Getting back up was less certain. While she poked around, the 7-year old pestered me.

“Please let me go down. Please! Mom Pleeeeease.”

Outdoor Enthusiast Jr.

Cathryn took the plunge and hopped to the floor below. The 7-year old nearly exploded while he watched her explore around.

I wanted to make sure she could get back up before I went down. I mean, what if she needed my help? That’s what I said outloud anyway. No way was I getting stuck at the bottom of a cave without an exit plan.

Cathryn scrambled back up the rocks and I was suddenly excited to get down there too. The 7-year old was hot on my heels.

The 7-year old and I. He was so happy to get down to the bottom!

The 7-year old and I.


Looking up through the skylights from the bottom of the lair. My favorite part!

Looking up through the skylights from the bottom of the lair. It looked a little like a goblin looking down on us!

We hiked back to the van feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for our discovery. I had to feed and change the baby one last time before we took off. So Cathryn took the kids back down into the hoodoos for an epic game of hide-n-seek.

Cathryn and the 5-year old crushing it at hide-n-seek.

Cathryn and the 5-year old crushing it at hide-n-seek.

After a full day of hiking and exploring we were dirty, tired, and hungry. We pulled into the parking lot of a local diner in the small town of Hanksville and waited for Outdoor Enthusiast and his posse. We chatted while our throbbing feet enjoyed the rest. The sun was setting, blinding in our eyes, and we watched for my brother-in-law’s blue Hyundai to pull in.

Cell reception was spotty so I knew the Outdoor Enthusiast wasn’t getting my phone calls or texts. I made the choice to believe he was NOT dead in the bottom of the canyon. (No matter how many times the thought crossed my mind as it does every time he leaves the house.)

Dead or not there was no sense in the rest of us starving. So we went into Blondies to get some food and shakes. As we finished ordering the menfolk showed up. They ordered and as we settled in to eat my brother-in-law told a hilarious story about their hike. The kind of story I’m sure Outdoor Enthusiast would have told me eventually. In the calm and quiet of the hotel room. When nobody else was listening.

Their hike was intense. They carried ropes and supplies with them, scaling large walls of rock as they went. It was physically and mentally demanding and required a great deal of strength and skill.

Several sections required that they scale the rock with their backs on one wall of the canyon and their feet on the opposite wall.

“I guess Riley didn’t know to use his lower back,” my brother-in-law told me.

Sandstone + Outdoor Enthusiast’s method + friction = a huge hole in the seat of Outdoor Enthusiast’s pants. And underwear. All at the beginning of the hike.

Feeling responsible for the group he insisted on leading the way.

A picture of the pants before they went into the trash.

A picture of the pants before they went into the trash.

We laughed over tales of our adventures and shared pictures. It was a fulfilling way to end an exhausting day. We said goodbye to my brother-in-law and his friend and loaded up in the van, each of us anticipating a soft bed.

We drove through to the other end of Hanksville, a small town with a spattering of buildings, most of which were dark and closed this time of night. I watched the highway for glowing eyes on the shoulder. Two sets of eyes looking for deer in the dark were better than one.

A couple of cars in the parking lot of the local bar suggested it was still open. We were nearly to the town limits when Outdoor Enthusiast pulled on the steering wheel and whipped the car around into a u-turn. He didn’t stop until he was in the parking lot of the bar.

“What are you doing?”

He pointed.

It was dark. His pointing meant nothing to me.

“I’m gonna help those guys.”

I scanned the dark, thoroughly confused and a little alarmed. “What guys?”

“Garrett and his friend.” He leaned over the steering wheel as if that would offer a clearer view of the parking lot. Still just two cars. “I think they broke down. I thought their car would be here.”

“What are you talking about?”

He pulled back onto the highway and continued on slowly. “I saw them. Two guys on the side of the highway waving me down.” He made a motion with his hand.

Chills ran down my spine.

There had been noone.

My sister had the guts to say it first. “I told you not to touch Blue Jack. You brought on bad juju.”

He pointed to the place where he thought he’d seen his brother. The headlights hit an empty field, recently plowed under.

“Riley, I swear there was nothing there.” I was both impressed and a little jealous that he’d been the one to see something supernatural.

We continued down the highway, following another car. As the taillights in front of us grew closer it proved to be a blue Hyundai with New Mexico plates. My brother-in-law.

The final confirmation that Outdoor Enthusiast had not seen his brother on the side of the road, but something else entirely.

 Blue John

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