A Utah road trip is a great way to discover quirky sights and truly unusual landmarks that are hidden throughout the open desert. For one, Utah is home to the Uinta Basin, which many ufologists claim to be a hotbed for unusual sightings and aerial phenomena.

    You don’t need to be an interdimensional traveller to make out most of the cool yet bizarre sights that Utah has to offer. Simply set out on a road trip along Utah’s wide-open freeways while taking note of these unusual natural and manmade landmarks in Utah we’ve compiled below.

    1

    Spiral Jetty

    A cool way to admire the largest saltwater lake in the United States

    • Unusual
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Spiral Jetty is a massive piece of Earth art that was created in 1970 on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. American sculptor and Land Art movement proponent Robert Smithson created his magnum opus using tons of mud and black basalt rock to form this lasting image that emerges and fades with the lake’s water levels.

    Looking southwest from the edge of the spiral on the shore of Rozel Bay treats you to a truly magical – if bizarre – landscape, especially at sunset with the sun’s golden reflections on the lake surface and the thin mountain range of the Newfoundland Mountains across. The site is about 2.5 hours’ drive from Salt Lake City.

    Location: Great Salt Lake, UT, USA

    Phone: +1 212-989-5566

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    2

    Fantasy Canyon

    Some of the most unusual geological features in the world

    Fantasy Canyon is a 10-acre geological park in Uintah County that’s filled with naturally formed, dramatically coloured sandstone sculptures. The highly weathered rock formations come in various forms and sizes – some look like ruined castles or arches while others evoke images of ghostly lifesize figures.

    The small ‘canyon’ is about 27 miles south of Vernal and about 3.5 hours’ drive east of Salt Lake City. Don’t let the sights of oil derricks surrounding the site put you off – the sight is a wonderland for Instagram and quite an experience for the little ones if you’re on a family road trip.

    Location: Vernal, UT 84078, USA

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    3

    Devil’s Slide

    An odd limestone chute fit for a giant

    • Unusual
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Devil's Slide is a unique rock formation in the Quarry Hollow valley near Croydon, Utah. It comprises 2 massive parallel limestone slabs, each about 200 ft long, over the face of a small hill. The Weber River flows along its base below Interstate 84.

    The feature formed about 75 million years ago as a result of sedimentation between huge layers of sandstone and limestone, which then faulted to form the playground slide-like landmark seen today. It’s befuddled passersby since pioneering times and is now a cool photo op either from the roadside or on kayaking adventures along the Weber.

    Location: I-84, Morgan, UT 84050, USA

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    photo by Jeremybrooks (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    4

    Sun Tunnels

    Massive tubular artworks in the Great Basin Desert

    • Unusual
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    Sun Tunnels is a peculiar art installation comprising 4 large concrete tubes placed in Utah’s end of the Great Basin Desert. It forms one of the main icons in the Land Art movement of Utah, created by artist Nancy Holt back in 1973.

    The hollow structures are tall enough for a person to walk through while upright. Small holes modelled after the constellations on top of the tubes scatter sunlight inside. At a summer or winter solstice, stand at the end of the tube as the sun enters the horizon for a magical sensation – your whole body is immersed in rays cast through the giant lens.

    Location: Wendover, UT 84083, USA

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    5

    Hole N” The Rock

    A cool and quirky stop in the Moab desert

    • Shoppers
    • Unusual
    • Families
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    Hole N” The Rock is a house that’s carved out of a massive boulder in Kane Springs. It’s quite a feat considering it was achieved using only dynamite and hand drills back in the 1950s. Today, it’s a must-see and cool roadside resting spot on road trips through Utah’s Canyonland Country.

    You can’t miss the huge rock bearing the site’s quirky name – painted white and in all capitals – as you drive south along Highway 191. It was a trading post back in the days and retains its past charms with all sorts of period memorabilia and Native American art pieces you can buy. You can opt for a guided tour of the amazing house – there’s even a private exotic zoo on-site with zebras, bison and other animals.

    Location: 11037 US-191, Moab, UT 84532, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 435-686-2250

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    6

    Thistle ghost town

    What’s left of the mining bust and a victim of natural disaster

    • Unusual
    • History
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    A visit to Thistle, a ghost town in the Spanish Fork canyon, takes you back to the time of steam trains and the mining boom in Utah. What remains of it today, though, is also a stark reminder of the sheer force of Mother Nature. Some parts of the town are submerged in swampy water, a direct result from the notorious Thistle Landslide that both severed the railroad service between Denver and Salt Lake City and brought the town its destruction.

    There are a few structures still standing around the town, which make cool backdrops to selfies. Some people tend to stay away from the town, especially at twilight, due to the rumours of faint voices and footsteps heard around the crumbling buildings.

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    photo by An Errant Knight (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    7

    Mars Desert Research Station

    A taste of the Red Planet, here on Earth

    • Unusual
    • Photo

    The Mars Desert Research Station is a facility in the southern Utah desert that simulates conditions on the Red Planet for research purposes. It’s owned by the NASA-funded space-advocacy group Mars Society, which promotes humankind’s eventual colonisation of the 4th planet from the sun.

    The otherworldly desert landscape features tiny white habitat facilities where teams of volunteering ‘astronauts’ in spacesuits occasionally come and go, making for a scene that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. You can observe the simulations from September to May from the main road. It’s best not to approach the simulation-isolation habitats to avoid interfering with the volunteers’ important research.

    Location: 2200 Cow Dung Road, Hanksville, UT 84734, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 303-984-9346

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    8

    Delta Solar Ruins

    The magnificent skeletal remains of an ambitious sham

    • Unusual
    • Photo

    The Delta Solar Ruins are a peculiar sight in the Utah desert and are interestingly what remains of a massive solar energy fraud. The alternative energy project developer claimed to have come up with a way to harness the sun’s energy through patented lens technology that used cheap materials.

    The laid-out structures in Hinckley that look like satellite dishes couldn’t stand the sheer power of desert winds or even the power it was supposed to be harnessing – that of the sun itself. They crumbled, leaving behind eerie mangled frames, and the developer got fined for fraud. Now you can admire the unlikely artwork that cost them $50 million or so.

    Location: Hinckley, UT 84635, USA

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    9

    Skinwalker Ranch

    An infamous hotbed of unexplained mysteries

    • Unusual

    Skinwalker Ranch is a remote 500-acre site right on the border of Fort Duchesne near Ballard, Utah that’s synonymous with unexplained mysteries linked to paranormal activity. Originally known as Sherman Ranch, its nickname was inspired by the shapeshifting witches known in Navajo culture. It was once known by ‘UFO Ranch’ during the height of such frequently reported sightings.

    The first reported cases of strange noises date back to 1906 with other phenomena reported by homesteaders over time. What sets it apart from other infamous sites is that it’s the most scientifically studied. Weirder aspects ranged from discoveries of bloodless mutilated cattle to it becoming a Pentagon ‘black budget’-funded research site. It’s off-limits but you can camp in surrounding areas if you dare.

    Location: 5998 E 3000 S, Fort Duchesne, UT 84026, USA

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    10

    The real UP house in Herriman

    A true-to-life sight for Pixar fans

    • Unusual
    • Families
    • Photo

    The real UP house is the replica of the iconic little house that flew away tied to thousands of balloons in Pixar Animation Studios’ beloved 2009 family flick. Well, it is grounded and won’t float away anytime soon, but it will catch your eye on your drive down S Herriman Rose Boulevard.

    The cute little house sets itself apart from the other houses in the charming neighbourhood with its pastel yellow-green-violet-blue walls. It's actually occupied by the Hamblin family, who receive bookings for die-hard fans of the movie wanting to visit for photoshoots inside.

    Location: 13218 S Herriman Rose Blvd, Herriman, UT 84096, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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