Goblin Valley sentinel hoodoos

Photo: kavram/Shutterstock

Named for its thousands of bizarre, goblin-like rock formations, Utah's Goblin Valley State Park is a hidden gem in the San Rafael Desert. The goblins, known scientifically as "hoodoos," were formed through the gradual erosion of Entrada sandstone, which was deposited about 170 millions years ago when the area was situated next to an ancient sea.

After millions of years, the sandstone was eroded to form vaguely anthropomorphic figures that stand stoically in the middle of the desert like sentinels (above) and adorable mushrooms (below). These odd shapes were created as a result of varying erosional patterns of the Entrada sandstone, which contains alternating layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale. Because these different kinds of sedimentary rocks have different levels of hardness, the softer rock material erodes more quickly, leaving the harder rock behind.

Goblin Valley hoodoo faces

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While Goblin Valley is a great place to hike around and ogle at the goblins, take care to leave no trace and respect the space! Sadly, not everyone follows these rules. In October 2013, a group of careless visitors recorded (and uploaded to YouTube) a video of themselves illegally toppling one of the goblins. Predictably, this didn't sit well with park rangers and government officials, and the three faced felony charges for "intentionally damaging, defacing and destroying property."

If you ever plan to visit Goblin Valley yourself, the park offers a short naturalist-guided hike called "The Fallen Goblin," which is inspired by the incident. Don't worry — no re-enactments involved!

Robot-looking hoodoo in Goblin Valley

Photo: Mark Herreid/Shutterstock

Hoodoo creatures of Goblin Valley

Photo: kavram/Shutterstock

Mushroom-like hoodoos

Photo: kojihirano/Shutterstock

Goblin Valley rock hoodoo formations

Photo: Aneta Waberska/Shutterstock

Hoodoo tower in Goblin Valley

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Snowy hoodoos in Goblin Valley

Photo: Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Goblin Valley panorama

Photo: Stas Moroz/Shutterstock

Goblin Valley hoodoos in a line

Photo: Malgorzata Litkowska/Shutterstock

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.