Dinosaur National Monument and Fantasy Canyon, Utah
I first became aware of Fantasy Canyon a few years ago. Marie and I were staying at a hotel in Page, Arizona, where a photograph hanging in the lobby stopped me in my tracks. It showed a crescent moon framed by a rock formation so bizarre, intricate and delicate that it was difficult to believe it hadn’t been shaped by human hands. The photographer wasn’t identified and the hotel’s front desk people didn’t know much about it. In the days before the Internet I would have been stumped, but I was eventually able to identify it as “Back of Beyond,” taken by Michael Fatali at a place called Fantasy Canyon in Utah.
Disappointment quickly followed when I also learned that “the Teapot” – the 50-million-year-old rock formation featured in Fatali’s photo – had been destroyed in 2006, likely by vandals. Still, I wanted to see Fantasy Canyon myself. And I figured I’d better hurry before more of it was knocked down.
Tucked into a relatively remote part of northeastern Utah, the canyon had been too far out of the way for me to visit on previous roadtrips. But it’s only about five hours from Denver, and it would be pretty easy to stop by on my way to Yellowstone. If I took that route I’d also pass by Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Colorado-Utah border just north of Fantasy Canyon.
As a kid I dreamed about being a paleontologist. Dinosaurs fascinated me. I read and re-read dinosaur books and played with plastic dinosaur toys. In a time before Jurassic Park I could identify and describe all the heavy hitters: Brontosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Iguanodon, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, Pterodactyl, Tyrannosaurus Rex.
My childhood obsession gradually faded, but enough of the flame still burns that I was excited to check out Dinosaur National Monument. The primary attraction is the Quarry Exhibit Hall, where a building has been constructed around an excavated rock face that contains over 1,500 dinosaur bones. I didn’t spend much time there, but it was cool to see the quarry and be able to touch some of the ancient bones.
The road to Fantasy Canyon isn’t particularly well marked, and after a convoluted series of turns the paved highway deteriorates into rocks, dirt, and potholes. Small oil and gas operations are everywhere. My car was a good sport about the rough going and I rolled into the parking area in the late afternoon. I shared the place with just one other person, a photographer who appeared to be waiting for sunset.
My expectations were low. I knew the Teapot was gone. I knew the canyon was relatively small and that the uniform color of the rocks made it tough to photograph. But I was disappointed to see that another of the most interesting rock formations – the Flying Witch – had also been damaged. Older photos show a thin horizontal extension that must have been broken off recently.
Disheartened by the incomprehensible vandalism and lacking clouds to make the sky more interesting, I didn’t even stay long enough for sunset. I was happy to have visited the canyon, but I doubt I’ll make the effort to see it again.