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Heart of Utah: Archery, Bigfoot, Dinosaurs and Yurts — Utah State Parks becoming crown jewels

A bison grazes at Antelope Island State Park, March 3, 2021 (Photo: Colby Walker)

SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know that out of all 40+ Utah State Parks, there’s one where you can spot Big Foot? Or try archery? Or sleep in a yurt?

Millions of people visit Utah State Parks every year, but it’s a good bet that there are some really cool things in those parks that visitors may not know about. At least not yet!

From Bison to Bigfoot?

It’s hard not to know about the bison you can see at Antelope Island State Park. They’re famous, possibly because the herd has been a part of the landscape there since 1893.

But do you know about Bigfoot at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab? (The name comes from the erosion of Navajo sandstone.) The park bought a giant metal Bigfoot statue that stands 7 feet tall. Their plan was to move it around the park every so often.

And that’s what they do.

“If you find the Bigfoot in the sand dunes or in the trees, or wherever they … decide to put it, you take a selfie and post it on social media,” explained State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez.

And yes, there’s a shirt at the front entrance gate that you can buy that reads “I found Bigfoot at Coral Pink Sand Dunes.”

 

Yes, there are yurts in Utah State Parks

Goblin Valley State Park
(Utah State Parks)

Chavez said he grew up like a lot of other Utahns out camping in the traditional manner, with nights in a tent or an RV.  said there are plenty of opportunities to camp that way in Utah state parks. But if you’re up for an adventure, he suggests a yurt, hammock, and/or contessa wagon.

“One of the things that state parks has continued to do is to take that camping vision and craft it into new and exciting ways to experience it,” Chavez said. Enter the yurt, which he said is a more glamorous way to spend time in the great outdoors.

“They’re fantastic. I have some family members that aren’t big fans of, you know, sleeping outside in a tent or things like that.”

So he recommends something like a yurt to people who are experiencing outdoor living for the first time.

“I think that things like yurts offer options that the whole family can enjoy and offer a great first step into that outdoor world.”

It’s almost like, you’re not outdoors –  some have air conditioning and electricity. Check out these yurts, near Bear Lake State Park. 

Hammocks and wagons

The hammock. Imagine eight or ten of them, hanging together (or however large your family or group is). If that sounds like fun, take a look at what you can do at East Canyon and Red Fleet State Parks.

“It’s a cool hexagon metal structure that you can hang, you know, up to 8 hammocks on and that’s where you stay the night,” Chavez told KSL Newsradio. 

Hammocks hang at East Canyon State Park
Utah State Parks

A family looks into a wagon camper at East Canyon State Park
Utah State Parks

“They’re popular with Boy Boy Scout groups, young women groups, and  families looking to try something new.”

And talk about new, what about a Conestoga-style wagon

“They have a full-size king bed and bunk beds in there and there’s even a microwave,” Chavez said. “That’s just an awesome new way to get out and experience these areas.” You’ll also find these at East Canyon State Park.

We can thank visitor input for all of the various fun things to do at Utah State Parks these days. Chavez said they got a lot of ideas from people who came to the parks, and gave their input.

“We’re constantly always out there looking for new and exciting opportunities to bring these to people,” Chavez said.

And don’t be discouraged if you want the traditional type of camping experience.  “There’s nothing wrong with good old fashion, you know, tent and RV camping. In my opinion, that’s my still favorite way to go out and do it.”

Utah State Parks and archery ranges

Along with hiking, biking, fishing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, more Utah State Parks are offering archery ranges.

And these aren’t at all like the archery lanes you might remember. Rockport State Park has an outdoor 3-D archery range with lifesize targets and opportunities to practice before you try “the real thing.”

You’ll find 3-D archery at Fred Hayes State Park at Starvation too. 

Utah State Parks and Dark Skies

Utah has an astounding number of dark sky areas across the state. And out of the 45+ state parks, 10 of them have been Dark Sky designated by the International Dark-Sky Association which is the most of any state park system anywhere.

An area is certified as an International Dark Sky Park and Community if:

It is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment, and that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, and/or cultural heritage resources, and/or for public enjoyment,” according to the IDA International Dark Sky Park Designation Guidelines.

“That’s what’s so interesting is that these dark sky parks vary so much but they’re beautiful in their own unique way,” Chavez said. 

You can go to Fremont Indian State Park and Museum and learn how to throw an atlatl and then maybe jump on the ATV trail system, take a hike to the Cave of 100 hands and learn about our history and end the day and be a part of these amazing dark skies.

Another option could be Gooseneck state park for a more primitive option he said. “I mean there’s no light for miles and miles and miles, and if you’re looking for that primitive, you know that primal feeling … like a caveman almost while you’re out there gazing out at this dark sky. That’s a perfect place to do it.”

You’ll find these opportunities to view the dark sky in Utah without much man-made interference at:

  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Antelope Island State Park
  • Steinaker State Park
  • East Canyon State Park
  • Jordanelle State Park
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park
  • Rockport State Park
  • Fremont Indian State Park
  • Gooseneck State Park

Double the fun

People have been out in force to Utah’s Big Five National Parks which has seen a massive uptick in visitors over the last year. But the good news is that just a short drive away are Utah’s State Parks with views that match and exceed those of our National Parks.  And you may even recognize some of those views from movies and from television.

“Thelma and Louise was filmed there (Dead Horse Point State Park). Westworld has often been there. East Canyon State Park was in Yellowstone. There’s a good number of Goblin Valley State Park You know Galaxy Quest? you can’t forget Galaxy Quest!”

After the pandemic, the outdoors is new again

It started in 2020 — a lot more people were getting outside. It was one of the only things we could do!

“I think that what COVID did is that open people’s eyes,” Chavez said. “They got to find all these hidden jewels right in their backyard that are becoming crown jewels. They’re just it’s blowing up.”

Chavez says they counted 2.6 million more visitors between 2019 and 2020. That’s a 33% increase in visitation to Utah’s 44, soon to be 46 state parks and state park museums. This year, Utah Raptor State Park near Moab, and Lost Creek State Park near Morgan, will join the long list of Utah state parks.

“We love people getting out and enjoying these areas,” Chavez said. “But one thing we really want to push on all these new recreators is to practice responsible recreation.”

He said that means understanding things like helmet and life jacket laws, making sure that people have taken off road vehicle and boater safety courses and making sure we take care and preserve the natural wonders Utah has been spoiled with. 

“These are essential in having a good time out there,” Chavez continued.  “It’s not just government saying you have to, you know do XYZ or else you’re going to get a ticket. No, these are to help ensure that you come away having a good time and to help make sure that tragedy doesn’t strike.

Venturing outside and doing so in a safe manner that respects the land but also respects yourself because your safety is paramount for us too. No one likes being having a search and rescue called out for them.”

Chavez also said if you’re headed out to explore in Utah’s State Parks, it’s always a good idea to check on the conditions before you go. That information can be found on the state parks website, as well as the social media accounts run by each park. 

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