On Monday, August 6, 2018, we had one more stop in Utah before crossing into the State of Colorado. We couldn’t have been happier when we pulled into our space at Wonderland RV Park in Torrey, Utah. Under large shade trees and backed up against a fence, our view each morning out of our rear window featured cows and horses grazing. The apple and peach trees strategically placed around the park showed signs that harvest was soon near. The only drawback was smoke in the sky. Again.
We ventured out to the information center across the street and then drove into Capitol Reef National Park for maps and pamphlets to help plan our stay.
Capitol Reef National Park
The known history of Capitol Reef and surrounding area dates back to the Fremont Culture. Settling in the area around 500 CE, the Fremont grew corn, beans, and squash. Petroglyphs and pictographs on nearby rock walls tell the story of these ancient people. If only there was a translation of each panel, we could read and understand the meaning of the stories. Instead, we must use our imaginations to figure out what the art depicts. Is the picture below a family portrait, or does it represent an encounter with alien beings?
Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1800s settling in the Fruita Rural Historic District of the national park. They planted apple, pear, and peach orchards, fruit trees that still produce fruit, which is available to pick free when in season.
Ephraim Portman Pectol, a Mormon Bishop in Torrey, Utah, and his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Hickman campaigned to have the geologically sensitive area protected from development. President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef as a national monument in 1937 and in December 1972, the monument became a national park.
The main attraction at Capitol Reef is the varied layered cliffs that rise from the valley floor and the different rock formations. Geological events occurring between 50 and 70 million years ago created the warp in the Earth’s crust. The warp, referred to as the Waterpocket Fold, or monocline, runs approximately 100 miles from Boulder Mountain to Lake Powell.
Slickrock Divide is a hill that separates Grand Wash to the north and Capitol Gorge to the south. Streambeds channel rain runoff and debris to the respective drainages.
The Waterpocket Fold is the result of the rock layers on the west side of the fold lifting more than 7,000 feet higher than the layers on the east side. Within the last 15 to 20 million years, erosion has exposed the fold at the surface.
Erosion gets the credit for creating the colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches that are present today. These formations reveal the geological history from 65 to 290 million years ago. [source: nps.gov/care/learn/nature/geology.htm]
Only the 7-mile drive requires a fee in Capitol Reef National Park: $15.00 per vehicle, $10.00 for motorcycles, and $7.00 for bicyclists and pedestrians, with the typical passes accepted. Fees for commercial tours depend on seating capacity.
Developed campsites run $20.00 per night or $10 for senior and access pass holders. During the summer the majority of the 71 sites are offered through reservations, however, a few are offered on a first come, first served, basis. A few primitive campsites, which are first come, first served, no fee sites, are also available.
Having seen the sign for pies at the Gifford Homestead while driving the 7-mile road, we started the next day with a small pie each and a cup of coffee. Then we drove out to the petroglyph panel. Some of the petroglyphs were so faint we would have missed them if it hadn’t been for a woman who pointed them out to us.
Next up was a hike to the Hickman Bridge. Rated moderate, .9 mile one way, and an elevation gain of 400 ft. A piece of cake, we naively thought. The heat, thin layer of smoke, and a 6,000-foot elevation conspired to hold us back as we trudged up the hill. Good thing we had the handy trail guide with us. It gave us an excuse to stop, catch our breath, and learn about what we saw on the trail.
Capitol Dome is made of Navajo sandstone, which consists of ancient sand dunes. The boulders in the foreground of the photo below are composed of andesite lava. Debris flows from melting glaciers deposited the boulders here from the west side of the park.
I’m always on the lookout for General Land Office spikes. Jon pointed out this one from 1947. Check out the hefty penalty of $250. That would be $2,867 in 2018.
Shown in the photo below the small bumps on this hard surface are erosion resistant accumulations of iron.
The rock wall in the photo below is composed of sandstone grains cemented by calcite. Acidic groundwater dissolved the calcite and created the holes called solution cavities.
Our respite was spoiled, when twenty to thirty college students descended on the slick rock near the bridge, chasing other hikers away, and taking up all the space. While they waited for the rest of their group to arrive, they took turns climbing on a boulder and having their photos taken. We worked our way through the crowd and continued on our walk.
Finally, the parking lot, fresh water, and air conditioning. Outa my way, coming through.
I was so glad we pushed ourselves to the end. The shade was refreshing, the views wonderful, and the bridge unique in that the trail looped around underneath the arch and behind the cliff. It would have been a shame if we had missed it.
Other stops in the park
Panorama Point, Sunset Point trail, and Goosenecks Overlook are other sites in the park. The Sunset Point Trail was .4 mile one way. Although it was 2:30 p.m. and hot on the day we were there, the short hike wasn’t too bad, mostly flat.
There are plenty of interesting formations outside of the fee area for visitors to see. The Castle is one of these.
JT waited in the truck while I investigated Goosenecks Overlook. The views of the canyon were spectacular, but I feared the little kids running around would somehow slip through the railing and drop to their death. Parents, please hold on to your precious children when near canyon cliffs and don’t let them run around playing tag.
Panorama Point was truly a 360-degree panoramic view of the park. If a person could only see one thing in the park, I would suggest they check out Panorama Point to get a great overview of the canyons, the colors, and the cliffs.
Whoa, we saw a lot in Capitol Reef National Park and still didn’t see it all. A visit to the park in cooler weather someday may be in order. Next up are a few other places we visited while staying in Torrey, Utah, before making it into Colorado.
Unfortunately, I have to take a break from the blog posts for a few weeks. When this post publishes at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 11, I’ll be in heart surgery for a mitral valve repair. When I’m feeling up to it, I’ll continue with our Summer 2018 Tour.