ESCAPE FROM FANTASY CANYON

Local man narrowly avoids becoming a gargoyle

My most recent exotic fantasy involved a yawning lady, a camel and Hades (the Greek lord of the underworld). Pretty kinky, right? But before you dismiss this article as simply more (outdoor) porn from a Vamoose Utah contributor, please read on.

In early February, I paid a visit to Fantasy Canyon. It’s a bit south of Vernal—about a 3½-hour drive from Salt Lake City. While located in a very remote area filled with all sorts of oil activity, using the Waze navigation app, it wasn’t particularly hard to find. However, the final 20 minutes of the journey were on an unpaved road. So, be prepared for a bumpy ride, not to mention horses staring at you and wondering if you’re lost.

A BLM official in Vernal told me Fantasy Canyon is “unique.” He wasn’t kidding. The canyon is filled with all kinds of otherworldly rock formations. They reminded me of the wrinkled sorting hat in Harry Potter novels. Or, for non-Potterites, they were like sci-fi sculptures made of melted wax.

Many are said to resemble living things. Hence, the names like Yawning Lady, Camel and Flying Porpoise. Now, I’m no geologist, but here’s my layman’s understanding of how these figures came to be: Millions of years ago, a massive lake existed in this area, Lake Uinta. But eventually, the water receded, leaving rock formations exposed. Then came erosion, weathering, the mating of clay, mud and sandstone—yada, yada, yada—and Fantasy Canyon was created. But there’s another explanation, a darker one that I found myself immediately drawn to.

Near its entrance, one can read a sign bearing the Native American legend of how Fantasy Canyon was born. It says, “One day … the evil creatures of the nether regions, tired of the dark and the dank decided to dig up to the surface … the ground trembled and rumbled.” This, apparently, didn’t sit well with nearby council leaders. So, they summoned the God of the North. This cold deity then turned the newly emerged underworld folks into ice. Sometime later, the West Wind got involved and blew the ice away. Once defrosted, only sand-colored resemblances of these evil creatures remain.

But before you dash out to see this enchanted land, here are a couple of quick caveats. First, Fantasy Canyon really isn’t a canyon. It sits on only about 10 acres. It’s more of a quick excursion than a full-day expedition. Next, while there is a short trail, I found the canyon’s path a bit hard to follow. But remember, I’m directionally challenged—no one will ever mistake me for John Muir.

Once you get your bearings, however, it’s truly a bewitching place. There is no shortage of exotic shapes and images. It becomes kind of a game trying to figure out what each formation looks like. It reminded me of a sandstone Rorschach test. You look at the rocky figures and, perhaps, see what you want to see.

But as you wander, be careful. The formations are very fragile, and a wrong or clumsy misstep could make the rocks tremble and rumble.

In the heart of Fantasy Canyon is an octagon-shaped bench, a nice place for hikers to sit for a minute and take in the surrounding wonders. It’s also here that something just a little bit creepy took place. It was mid-to-late afternoon when I took a seat on the bench, the only one in the canyon. It was getting a bit cold and as I stared at the “gargoyles, witches, aliens and screaming men” around me, I began to get a little jittery.

Maybe the Native Americans were right. Maybe these were the remains of Hades’ henchman. If this had been a scary movie, the ominous formations would then have started howling and moving toward me. Surely, I would have been a goner. The last scene would be a close-up of my newly sandstone-covered face, now sentenced to purgatory alongside my heathen underworld brothers. After all, one of the nicknames for Fantasy Canyon is “the devil’s playground.”

But before the eery formations could capture me, I nervously grabbed my backpack and made haste to the end of the trail. There, I was rewarded with a nice vista of the entire canyon. This eased my fears considerably. I even found myself admiring and appreciating this offbeat, one-of-a-kind sliver of Utah.


I would recommend a visit to Fantasy Canyon, but maybe not the way I did it. I left early one morning, spent a few hours there, and then drove back to Salt Lake. This made for a long and exhausting day. A more rewarding, less taxing way of doing it would be to take a detour to the canyon if you’re in the Vernal area. The BLM office told me it gets a fair number of local visitors when things warm up, but that it still remains a bit of a secret for many Utahns. So, if you’re braver than I—and who isn’t?—head to the canyon and enjoy a fantastic, family-friendly fantasy.

Tell the Yawning Lady I sent you.

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