By Cheyenne Rouse
Outdoor adventure photographer

I have never had such an audience as I did when I was photographing Goblin Valley State Park in southeastern Utah. I had little goblins all around me, and I swear I heard them talking. I wonder what they were saying? Little sandstone friends, yes that is what they were. I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz with all of the little Munchkins gathering around me as if I were Dorothy.

I made a pilgrimage down to Goblin Valley a few days after Christmas. What a wonderful time to be there! Not only did I have the entire campground to myself but I had all of the goblins to myself as well. I am told that the park gets some 80,000 visitors in summer so I would recommend the “off season.” It was a bit chilly at night but worth it for the peace and solitude. It seems that the true personality of the desert comes out when you find a quiet spot, just you and the desert, face to face. It can be a very humbling and spiritual experience.

Goblin Valley is a very photogenic place. The name Goblin Valley comes from the many rounded and dimpled formations caused by erosion. Many believe that these formations look like goblins.

The entire valley seems ready to come alive. All it would need is the wave of a wand (I left mine at home), and an army of marching creatures would appear. If you have a vivid imagination, which I do, you can actually see them moving. I kept turning around to see if something was following me, because I know I heard footsteps. Maybe they were my own.

Sunset is “show time” for the goblins as they light up to a fiery red. Imagine, each and every day these little goblins have to stop what they are doing and put on a show, whether anyone is watching or not. I thought that this was very commendable. But then again, what else do they have to do? I am assuming that a goblin’s job is just to sit there, look pretty for the camera, and erode. What a life!

The most interesting viewpoint for photos simply consists of descending into the valley and walking among the goblins, where you can let your imagination run wild. There is really no official trail to follow, so wandering aimlessly seems to work just fine. I just kept the viewing platform at the parking lot in sight so I would know which way to head when I wanted out. I wandered and wandered and stopped every now and then to set up my tripod and shoot a picture. I climbed up the south end of the valley and then shot back into the valley, a lovely family portrait of the goblins. I jumped into a few pictures of mine, thank goodness for those automatic self-timers. Adding a human element to an image can add interest and scale, especially in a unique place like this.

Well, show time was over and it was now dinnertime, so I made my way out of the valley and bid the goblins a goodnight. I drove back to camp and felt so fortunate that I was the only one there. What a nice night it will be. I was thrilled that the campground faced east. I would get some great camping shots at sunrise, and with the sun hitting the tent, it would make it much easier to chisel myself out my cozy sleeping bag, since the nighttime temperature would probably dip below freezing.

I had a cute little visitor after dark, a small fox was insistent on seeing what I was having for dinner. He got a little too close for comfort and I had to have a chat with him and let him know that this was my campsite for the night and he would just have to go away. He seemed to obey until I got into my tent and then he scratched on one of the tent stakes. I guess he just wanted the last word. He got it.

Sunrise proved to be as amazing as it always is. I peeked out of my tent and gasped at the beauty surrounding me. I jumped out of my tent and went to pour water into a pot to boil for my coffee, and the entire jug of water was frozen solid, yes…it did get cold last night. Behind my tent was an array of red sandstone formations that just lit up and with my tent in the foreground it would make a great shot. I grabbed my camera and tripod and set it up, once again jumping into the picture for added interest and variety. Actually it was kind of fun running back and forth tripping the auto-timer; it helped wake me up since my coffee water (ice) had yet to come to a boil. I am sure the fox was watching every move that I made and he probably thought I was nuts.

After I finished my photo session I packed everything away and did a final wander among the formations to take in the beauty and tell my little friends good-bye. I had been to this state treasure several years ago and enjoyed it then but my photo and camping experience on this trip was much richer. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because I made so many new friends. I will not soon forget my little goblin pals and that pesky little fox…they added to my experience. I hope that they add to your experience too.

10 tips for photographing Goblin Valley

  1. Avoid shooting at mid-day. Shooting at sunrise and sunset will make for much more appealing images.
  2. Try using a polarizing filter to punch up the colors and cut any glare.
  3. A sturdy tripod is a must for tack-sharp images.
  4. For maximum depth-of-field make sure you use that tripod and a small aperture (f/16).
  5. Experiment with lens of various focal lengths.
  6. Shoot horizontal and vertical images.
  7. Scan your viewfinder for any distractions and make sure that your horizon is straight.
  8. Put a person into some of your images for added interest.
  9. Be aware of lens flare; shade the lens if you can.
  10. Don’t rush your photos. Spend time in your location and get to know it.

About the author: Cheyenne Rouse is a Park City based freelance photographer and her specialties include Adventure Sports, Outdoor Recreation and Lifestyles. She has a large inventory of stock photos available for use and accepts assignments. Cheyenne will also be the instructor for our Photo Workshop series. Visit her website: or contact her at 435-665-2896