The sheer variety of landscapes around Vernal is pretty incredible. Over the course of three days, I saw huge river canyons, crystal-clear trout streams, rainbow-colored desert mountains, and ... Fantasy Canyon. This has got to be one of the most bizarre, spooky places in Utah. It looks like a gray, filigreed Goblin Valley.
Even the drive there was bizarre. Fantasy Canyon is about 37 miles south of Vernal, and I drove through an industrial desert landscape of oil rigs and natural gas pipelines. The dirt was gray, the sky was gray, and the air smelled like a weird combination of natural gas, poo, and tuna. I drove through the Uintah/Ouray Indian Reservation and saw a rotting horse carcass on the side of the road. Lovely. A constant stream of huge diesel trucks whizzed past me -- I'm sure there wasn't another Chevy Aveo for 100 miles. It was all very weird and ominous, which definitely set the right tone.
I finally reached the parking area for Fantasy Canyon, which was totally unexpected. The desert was gray and featureless for miles, then suddenly this gargoyle garden popped up. The area was really small, but it was packed with layers of fragile rock formations. Fantasy Canyon's rocks were deposited during the Eocene Epoch, 38 to 50 million years ago. At that time, the Uinta Basin was covered by an enormous lake. The sand and dirt at the lake bottom eventually compacted into rocks. As the stones weathered at different rates, these weird rocks formations emerged from the landscape. (Sound familiar? It's pretty much exactly what happened at Goblin Valley.) I spent an hour poking around, then drove back to civilization.