The Goosenecks

Equipment Info
Nearest Area
Goosenecks State Park
Mexican Hat
Brief Directions

The park is reached from Monument Valley by driving north on US 163 across the San Juan and past the town of Mexican Hat. Turn left just north of the town onto SR 261 and almost immediately, just past the “Mexican Hat” rock formation, which gives the town its name, is the entrance to SR 316 which leads directly into the park, and ends there. Unlike most national parks and monuments there is no park office building, and outside of a couple of pit toilets and a stone railing, the park is just about empty. Without any other facilities and rangers, visitors are left to their own devices. While picnicking, camping, and photography are allowed, there are no hiking or bike trails in the park.


While the views here are spectacular, the ideal time of day for photography is in the early morning, the late afternoon and about sundown. Photographing in the early evening is my favorite because of the soft evening light, but care must be taken to ensure against gross underexposure which can lead to excessive noise. Perhaps this is the time and place to develop oneʼs experience working with HDR technique. Also, because of the immensity of the view here I would recommend bringing and using the widest lenses possible, including fisheye lenses, but even with this equipment it is next to impossible to include the whole park unless one has access to an airplane, helicopter or hang-glider. Using a tripod and level in order to produce a photographic triptych might just might do the trick, but thatʼs something that Iʼve not tried yet. Generally speaking, all photography should be engaged in from behind the parkʼs railings and walls as the ground beyond is made up primarily of “caliche” rock which is very loosely packed and a careless photographer could find himself (or herself) on a rapid descent to the river 1000 feet below. While the weather here is fine in the spring and the fall, during the summer months it is often intensely hot and there is little or no shade in the park so plenty of water and common sense are the rules of the day for visitors.


Many travelers, both Americans and foreign visitors come to visit Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the home of many of John Wayneʼs western adventures, but while enjoying its majesty fail to realize that no more than 20 to 30 miles to the north lies another scenic treasure. Goosenecks State Park is little known outside of Utah, and although miniscule in size compared to Monument Valley it is a virtual gem of a park. The San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado flows westward for about 360 miles from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and joins the Colorado river in Glen Canyon at Lake Powell. According to the state web site, “Millions of years ago the land here was relatively flat and the river meandered on its course. Then a period of uplift occurred. As the land rose, the river flowed faster while still following its meandering course. The river cut into the land, eventually creating the impressive entrenched meanders that we see at Goosenecks State Park today.ʼ” These entrenched meanders, in the words of Laurent Martres, the author of ʻPhotographing the Southwest,ʼ “cut out four successive bends over 1000 feet in depth.....twisting and turning for almost 7 miles in a space of less than 2 miles.ʼ” To say the view is spectacular, is an understatement, and this portion of the river also marks the northern boundary of the Navajo Reservation.

Date Added
October 14, 2012
Date Taken
October 14, 2012

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