NASA mission inspires a Utah Desert road trip

The region isn't only known for its beautiful natural landscapes but also for its links to NASA and outer space, which makes for a great road trip!
Published: Sep. 24, 2023 at 11:39 AM MST

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — As part of a historic mission, a NASA crew picked up samples of an asteroid from the Utah Desert early Sunday morning. The region has several other links to outer space, which makes for a great road trip!

The small town of Hanksville in southern Utah is about two hours from Moab — a three-plus hour drive from Salt Lake City. North of town, you’ll find Goblin Valley State Park, which is full of oddly shaped sandstone rock formations known as “hoodoos.” You can hike to the cave known as Goblin’s Lair or camp in the park surrounded by terrain, which has been used as a backdrop for “Galaxy Quest” and other movies.

West of Hanksville, you can drive down a dirt road in the desert called “Cow Dung Road.” Along the way, you’ll come across a sign warning that you’re in a restricted area. This is government land leased by the MARS Desert Research Station, which hosts training missions for scientists and students. The Mars Society says the remote area is perfect to run simulations and train for humans to eventually visit the red planet. Along the same road, you’ll come across an area nicknamed “Mars, Utah.” The rolling hills — with rings of red, blue, purple and green colored soil — are known as the Bentonite Hills. The earth here is a mixture of sand, ancient volcanic ash, and clay. Nearby, the terrain changes yet again at a cliffside viewpoint known as the Moonscape Overlook. Some people camp here, while others just go for the stunning, other-worldly views.

When you’ve seen enough of the Utah desert, your road trip can continue to nearby Capitol Reef National Park. There’s no entry fee, as the highway runs right through the park! While the national park is well-known, the other spots are hidden gems, which make for an adventurous Utah road trip. They’re well off the beaten path and likely to be uncrowded or tourist-free.

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