New skills quest

The crew secures a replacement Beryllium sphere.

In April we reached the sought-after landmark of two weeks past our COVID-19 vaccinations, but we were not ready to go out and mingle with hundreds of people, given the likelihood that not all of them would be vaccinated themselves.

Luckily, there’s a lot of great outdoors in Utah. For years we have wanted to explore the east central area of the state around the San Rafael Swell, so that is where we headed.

Perhaps you recall a movie called Galaxy Quest, a spoof of Star Trek, etc. At one point in the story the crew lands on a desert planet in need of a replacement for their ship’s failed energy source. While searching for the necessary Beryllium sphere, the crew members wend there way among bulbous, mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. The set of that desert planet was not created through CGI; the scene was filmed in Goblin Valley, a Utah state park.*

Now that we’ve got you in the right geographical and geological area, I will confess that we didn’t actually hike in Goblin Valley—even with all those wide open spaces, a lot of people have been responding to the stir-crazy of the pandemic shutdown recently by heading to the San Rafael Swell. Because of COVID the park had capacity limits in place, which meant that there was a very long line of cars just parked on the approach to the entrance as we drove by on our way to our actual destination.

On this particular trip, we were on a quest to experience some of the hikes in the vicinity that we had heard so much about. Our first stop was a couple of slot canyons known as Ding and Dang.

I did not grow up as a hiker, but in recent years I’ve been doing more, and getting better. For the last several years I’ve also been going to the gym regularly, and during our many six-month stays in Spain, I have done all my traveling either on foot or by bicycle, so I’ve been in reasonable physical shape.

But as so many people have experienced, the pandemic drastically downgraded my exercise routine, and I knew going into these hikes that they were going to be a bit of a challenge. Still, the promise of some amazing scenery, coupled with El Guapo’s eagerness to explore the landscape, got us into gear.

Here is a map of the area where we started:

As the map indicates, it’s not quite six miles to do the Ding Dang loop. The first mile is essentially a slog through gravel, and then the scrambling begins, as well as the interesting scenery. Note the comment about Dang Canyon: “Several short hard spots. 5.6?” The rating refers to difficulty. I’m not familiar with the scale, but I can attest that there were, in fact, several hard spots. While we were in them they didn’t always feel short. I had some scabs on my elbows and bruises on my back as souvenirs, in addition to the pictures that follow.

I can’t recall exactly which canyon each of these photos came from, but it’s all interesting country:


Ninja making his way past an obstacle



Spring floods create hollows in the rock.




Ninja does love a dramatic pose.



This little maneuver is called stemming, when some of you is pushing against one wall of the slot canyon while some of you is pushing against the other side. It occupies the top spot on the list of skills I added during this quest. You may recall something like it from The Emperor’s New Groove, though we didn’t ever try a two-person approach.



While I was doing it myself, it did feel like the stakes were rather high.


Generally, you resort to stemming when there’s a reason to avoid walking along the canyon floor:


We later talked to the group of hikers that followed us, and learned that a few of them had opted not to stem, but walk through the water. We learned that the water had been about hip deep.


We camped nearby that night. In other places we have sometimes found ourselves uncomfortably close to other campers. Not so on this trip. Here’s our view of our nearest neighbor:


Sunset as we prepared for bed

The next day we headed for Little Wild Horse Canyon, whose parking lot had been very full on the previous day. Though we had been vaccinated, we didn’t want to find ourselves doing a tight do-si-do with anyone in a very narrow slot canyon, so started early, and didn’t go more than two-thirds of the way up before turning around. We made it out without meeting anyone in tight quarters, and headed off toward Crack Canyon.

Some of the petroglyphs in the area date from more than 6000 BCE.


El Guapo can go for a dramatic pose himself, when the setting calls for it.


There was a certain amount of crawling under many tons of rock.


Taking a breather, also under many tons of rock.

All in all, it was a great trip. We figured that a cold nighttime temperature was a reasonable price to pay for cool daytime temperatures. The area around Goblin Valley gets blisteringly hot in the summer, something we wanted to avoid. We learned a few skills, saw some amazing sights, and determined to return in the future.

Do you have a favorite hike in your area that you recommend? Let me know in the comments.



*If you’re interested in another location we’ve spent time in that was used as a movie set, try this post on Tomorrowland.

[Images:,,,,, and one or the other of us hikers. ]

4 thoughts on “New skills quest

  1. A few years ago we did a circular tour to visit/hike in Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Arches. All amazing scenery, and we did it in March which meant sub-zero overnight and mid-high twenties during the day! Pleasant hiking temperatures with the heavy scent of sage following us everywhere. Weird to drive past pockets of snow in the shadows along the highway with the air-con on full blast and wearing T-shirts though. Such very different scenery to the deep greens and lush scenery of the PNW here in BC.

  2. I definitely felt those exertions more than I would have in younger years, but was very glad I could still move in the ways I needed to!

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