“HEY! Don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air? You don’t know!”
–Guy Fleegman, expendable starship crewman
Even in the southeastern Utah town where I grew up, the San Rafael Swell was terra incognita. This was back before I-70 cut an asphalt swath across the erstwhile trackless Sindbad, at a time when there were no paved access roads and the only four-wheel-drive vehicles around were Army surplus jeeps. I didn’t have a jeep—just a 1956 Mercury Medalist—and more curiosity than common sense. I’d overheard some old-time uranium prospectors talking about a place called Goblin Valley, so I decided to go have a look.
I stayed two days and was the only person there. I didn’t see a single footprint. No sign of human habitation whatsoever save a weather beaten-chest of drawers parked atop a sand dune. I climbed up and pulled out the top drawer. Inside was a note:
PLEASE KEEP THIS DRAWER CLOSED!
I closed it. Then I wandered for hours across an alien landscape of minarets, gnomish outcroppings, petrified toadstools and anthropomorphic hoodoos—until the sun went down and the moon came up, whereupon I beat a hasty retreat to my car. I slept fitfully in a fetal position on the back seat, doors locked and windows rolled up. I was damn glad to greet the dawn!
I’ve been back many times since, but never again have I had the place all to myself. That’s because so many people have now heard about Goblin Valley. Thanks to writers like me who just can’t keep their mouths shut, the Utah Travel Council, and Tim Allen, who did battle with Goblin Valley rock monsters in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, it has come to pass that every which way I point my camera there are humanoids wandering across the landscape. At the park entrance there’s a pay booth, a visitor center and gift shop. The parking lot is full and there’s a perpetual queue in front of the public toilet.
Used to be there was a viewing platform with picnic tables, but now all that is being replaced by something bigger—I don’t know what. All I know is that it was noisy, dusty, crowded, and downwind from the public potty the air didn’t smell so good. So this time around I didn’t even step out of the car. I just flipped a yooey and drove away.
I’m thinking: Maybe I should have never opened that drawer.