Fantasy Canyon - Vernal Utah
Fantasy Canyon is the official designation of an area composed of unique erosional features located about 25 miles south of Vernal, in northeastern Utah. Even though the area is somewhat small (it is not really a canyon) it contains some of the most unique geologic features in the world.
The site adjoins Coyote Wash and is locally called "Hades Pit" or "Devil's Rockhouse" and is a part of "The Devils Playground" (a term coined by Earl Douglas) area which is designated on topographic maps of the area. Earl Douglas presented some of the first photographs of this area in a 1909 publication called "The Columbian Magazine".
The rocks of Fantasy Canyon were deposited during a geologic time period known as the Eocene Epoch. The age of the rocks date from about 38 to 50 million years ago. During this period in the geologic past, the Uinta Basin area was occupied by a very large lake, called Lake Uinta. At one point being over one mile deep and 120 miles wide, the lake began to fill with sediments eroding from the surrounding high lands which rose about the same time the Rocky Mountains were being uplifted. Eventually more and more sediment was deposited and the once-loose sands, silts and clays were forged into rocks of sandstone, siltstone and shale. Eventually, through enormous earthen uplifts, the sedimentary rocks were elevated and the long process of erosion, which has yielded much of the spectacular scenery in the West, began. Because of different rates of weathering, the more durable sandstone rises above the more easily weathered siltstone and shale. Many years from now some of the outstanding features will give way to weathering, and will topple and erode into the sand on which the visitors at Fantasy Canyon stand today.
One interesting mineral present in the area is "Gilsonite" (copyright name of the American Gilsonite Company). In Fantasy Canyon it occurs in a vertical vein which is about an inch wide. It is a black, very light weight, solid hydrocarbon. It takes on a glassy, obsidian look when it is freshly broken, but dulls when exposed to long periods of sunlight. This is the only place in the world that commercially mines Gilsonite from veins up to 20 feet wide and over 1000 feet deep.
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 reptiles and mammals, which roamed the Basin during the Eocene. The cross section of a suspended turtle shell is visible along the rock trail.
Directions to Fantasy Canyon:
25 miles southeast of Vernal south on UT 45 & south on an oil company service road. Follow the signs to the area.
Vernal Field Office
170 South 500 East
Vernal, UT 84078
Phone: (435) 781-4400
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