Goosenecks State Park, Utah
As you head north from Monument Valley, perhaps to Moab and its popular national parks (Arches and Canyonlands National Parks), you are treated to an unending display of Utah's surreal and colorful canyon country.
About thirty minutes from Monument Valley colorful cliffs loom ahead as you approach the San Juan River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, which now feeds Lake Powell. After a steep descent you cross the bridge over the San Juan and enter the tiny hamlet of Mexican Hat, Utah.
The buildings to your left at the base of the cliffs, seemingly perched precariously above the San Juan River are actually part of the San Juan Inn, a funky motel with a very interesting and scenic locale. It's a good place to stay and avoid the tourist crowds over at Monument Valley.
Just north of town, look for a signed pullout offering a good view of the Mexican hat for which the town is named. (See, photo right.) A short distance further north turn off on Utah-261 and head west a couple miles. Then take the signed left at Utah-316. You'll reach Goosenecks State Park in two more miles.
Goosenecks State Park consists of a large parking (and/or primitive camping) area with one terrific vista point. Nearly one thousand feet below, the San Juan River has carved three distinct goosenecks in the sandstone through which it passes.
The overlook's interpretive sign describes it as follows:
Approximately 1,000 feet below the spot you now stand winds the San Juan River. Originating in Colorado, this river eventually joins Lake Powell.
The silt-laden San Juan has been instrumental in cutting the deep bending chasm directly below. This section is called the Great Goosenecks of the San Juan River.
Geologists consider this part of the river to be one of the finest examples of "entrenched meanders" anywhere in the world.
The meandering pattern originated several million years ago when the river was flowing on a relatively flat plain, much as the present-day Mississippi River.
The San Juan became entrenched when the entire Colorado Plateau was uplifted. Cutting downward, the river followed its initial pattern and thus created the canyon you now view.
The process continues to this day as the San Juan River cuts ever deeper into prehistoric geological formations.
The present canyon consists of the Honaker Trail Formation on top and the Paradox Formation at the bottom. They date 270-310 million years ago.
The colorful Valley of the Gods is a few miles north and may be accessed from the main highway (US-163) or Utah-261. An unpaved road, usable by all vehicles in dry weather, accesses both highways.
For more information, check out the
Goosenecks - Utah State Park web site.