Fantasy Canyon

Fantasy Canyon is an area composed of unique erosional features located about 27 miles south of Vernal, in northeastern Utah. Even though the area is only about 10 acres in size, it contains some of the most unique geologic features in the world. The site was officially documented by early explorer and paleontologist Earl Douglass, who recorded the area by other names such as “The Devil’s Playground” and “Hades Pit.” He published photographs of this area in a 1909 publication called “The Columbian Magazine.”

Fantasy Canyon teapot formationGeology:
The rocks of Fantasy Canyon were deposited during the Eocene Epoch. The age of the rocks date around 38 to 50 million years ago. During the geologic period, the Uinta Basin was occupied by a large lake called Lake Uinta. The lake extended 120 miles west to Heber City, 30 miles east to Rangely, south to the Book Cliff Divide, north to the Unita Mountains, and was about a half mile deep.

Fantasy Canyon is along the east shore of what was once Lake Uinta, where the sediments eroded from the surrounding high lands. Sediments were deposited and the once loose sands, silts, and clays were forged into sandstone and shale. Because of different rates of weathering, the more durable sandstone remained while the more easily weathered siltstone and shale washed away, yielding this spectacular scenery. Today’s geologic formations of Fantasy Canyon will eventually give way to weather and then topple and erode into sand, but new formations will appear as the topsoil washes away. Because the delicate formations are so fragile the area is referred to as “Nature’s China Shop.”

There are black ribbons of coal-like material along the small washes on the trail or as horizontal stripes in the rocks. This magnetic material is called magnetite (iron oxide). It is the only mineral which shows strong magnetism. Magnetite was named for Magnes, a Greek shepherd, who discovered the mineral on Mount Ida, Australia. He noted the nails of his shoes and the iron ferrule of his staff clung to a rock.

There are inch-wide black vertical northwest – southeast running veins in the formations. This material is called "Gilsonite" (hydrocarbon), named after U.S. Marshall Samuel H. Gilson. Gilsonite was discovered in the early 1860’s, but it was not until the mid-1880’s that Gilson began to promote the mineral as a waterproof coating for wooden pilings, as an insulation for wire cable, and as a unique varnish.

The Uinta formation is an important keeper of a portion of the fossil record for this area. It contains the widely scattered bones of creatures, mostly mammals, which roamed the Basin during the Eocene. Fossilized turtle shells are visible in the area.

Click here to download a map showing where Fantasy Canyon is located. 

Click here to download a map showing where the Fantasy Canyon formations are located.

Fantasy Canyon main chamber



Fantasy Canyon Screaming Man formationFantasy Canyon King's Thrown formation

Fantasy Canyon PhotographyFantasy Canyon Moose

Fantasy Canyon Witch formationIndian Legend:
Images of Fantasy Canyon have inspired the following Indian Legend – Written by George E. Stewart over an interview with Muse Harris, Indian Chief (know to the Indians as Chief Red Moose)… “ONE DAY, the story goes, the evil creatures of the nether regions, tired of living in the dark and dank, decided to dig up to the surface and take over everything above and below the earth. They dug and the ground trembled and rumbled in their work.

Two coyotes heard the rumble, and curious, as all coyotes are, couldn’t resist the urge to investigate. The pair discovered the plot of the creatures from down under and in a trice howled the alarm to all their fellow mortals round-about.

A great council was held to decide what to do; it would take more than mortal power to stop the invasion of these supernatural beings, this they understood. Finally, they determined to send for the greatest medicine man they knew.

TWO EAGLES flew with the summons, and on the very first day, they found the great one in his mountain fastness.

The wild horses set up a relay of the fleetest stallions on earth; they bore the mighty one with the speed of the wind over mountains, rivers, valleys and plains. And it was none too soon, for as he came up White River the Sachem could see the red light in the sky where the underworld denizens had broken through.

Without sleep or rest or food the Medicine Chief went to work. First, he called on the Wind of the West and a great hurricane blew, carrying dust, dirt, rocks and trees to fill in the awful hole. But all this went for naught, it fell through to be burned in first down below.

Then the Rain God was asked for help and he sent water in clouds and torrents, but it vanished away in steam and mist, while the Devil Chief laughed loud and long and his minions screamed with glee.

THE SACHEM called to the God of the North, “Help us, help us,” he chanted and drummed, “Oh, Great Lord of Ice and Snow.”

Help came as swift as an arrow; intense, deep, bitter cold. The North God caught the denizens of the deep as they gathered to spread over the world. In the wink of an eye he turned them all to ice. The Devil Chief, the Great Mother Witch, the magician and all the rest stand there just as they stood at the instant the cold struck long ago.

When the warmth came back, again the West Wind blew and as the ice melted, the dust took its place and now the monsters stand in the pit they dug all of them turned to stone. It is a warning to the evil ones down in hell to leave the good green earth alone.” (Salt Lake Tribune July 16, 1972)