Discovering Capitol Reef

If Canyonlands National Park was the country cousin to Arches National Park, then Capitol Reef National Park is the distant relative. Though it’s just a couple of hours away from Moab, it could be across the country. Only 663,670 visitors came in 2013 as compared to 1,082,866 in Arches but more than Canyonlands (462,242 visitors).

The park is defined by a “waterpocket fold,” basically a long warp of rocks. It’s as if the earth buckled and created canyons, spires, domes and a jumble of rocks. Somewhere in there, a river runs through all this stone. Look at the picture above. It’s like they forgot to paint the rest of the rock.

Explorers and outlaws, including supposedly Butch Cassidy, came through here. The first settlers were a small group of Mormons who called their community Fruita for the fruit orchards. The orchards are still here and the park service maintains the fruit trees. You can buy pies made from the Capitol Reef fruit but they aren’t baked here.
Capitol Reef became a national monument in 1937 and a national park in 1971. By then, the last Fruita residents had left the canyon.

Today, Lenny and I put together three hikes for a total of 10 miles. Three separate hikes, with some driving in between, gets me a lot more tired than one hike of the same distance. But we’re trying to see the “top of the pops,” which in this park means short trail.

Chimney Rock Trail, a 3.5 miles lollipop, took us up to see the Rock. Unlike Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, no one was offering an elevator with a gift shop on top.

Hickman Bridge Trail, a two-mile out and back, is probably the most popular trail. The bridge, as I’m ashamed to say I found out only when I got there, was a natural bridge, an arch. We had our picture taken, probably the last time we’ll have our photo taken on a trail this trip.

Last but definitely not least, we walked into a canyon. The trail, Grand Wash, went through part of the pocket fold with sheer cliffs on each side.

By the early afternoon, it was hot and windy. The wind seems to pick up about 2 pm and you really have to hold on to your hat. Sand blows hard; everything I own is now gritty. It’s just part of living here, I guess.



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