National Parks

Capitol Reef National Park

Cassidy Arch stretches along the crimson sandstone rocks in Capitol Reef, Utah

A Waterpocket Fold is a geologic landform characterized by a monocline or a “step-up” in the rock layers. The term water pocket is used to define basins formed when sandstone layers are eroded by water. These basins occur mostly in folds. The tilted rock layers’ continued erosion gives rise to deep canyons, bright orange cliffs, dusty slick rocks, towering spires, and urbane arches. The Capitol Reef National Park offers the easiest access to these Waterpocket Folds. Located near the Fremont River, the Capitol Reef boasts sandstones that resemble capitol buildings domes and reefs that were rocky cliffs, akin to that of the seafloor.

ABOUT THE PARK

Capitol Reef is acclimatized by dry and warm weather and is home to many types of rock formations. This national park in south-central Utah measures 97 kilometers long and 9.7 kilometers wide. Nearly 160 kilometers of the park is made up of long rocky spines of Waterpocket Fold. These waterpocket folds are estimated to be 65 million years old and considered the largest exposed monocline in North America. Early settlers referred to the place as the “land of the sleeping rainbow” because of its wonderful contrasts: colorful stones, lush riverbanks, and arid desert lands under the clear skies.

The park is composed of various campsites, hiking trails, outdoor activities, and scenic rocks made of sandstone. It is open all-year-round. During winter, the park gets little precipitation, although there are occasional snowstorms. In spring, the fruit trees are in full bloom, and the weather is perfect for hiking. Summer and fall are the park’s primetime seasons – arid and dry, and the rock formations were at its best.

HISTORY

Long before it became a tourist spot, ancient tribes established communities amid the canyon walls and along the rivers. The first known inhabitants of the area are the Fremont People. They lived around places with fertile soil until about 1250. Evidence of their stay is depicted by stone carvings left on the large rocks throughout the park. Fast forward to 1972, Utah began to document explorers and settlers who stayed there. One of those settlers is Ephraim Portman Pectol, who vowed to help preserve the rocky region. In 1920, he helped organize the “Wayne Wonderland Club,” a group dedicated to preserve and promote the place’s landscape. A decade later, President Franklin Roosevelt expanded the park and declared it a national monument. Only in 1971 when Capitol Reef officially became a national park.

SITES TO VISIT

A wooden Fruita schoolhouse in the tiny community at the foot of a Capitol Reef canyon wall.

Fruita Historic District

You might be surprised to see a tiny community just around the corner of desert rocks. Ten families are living there. These families plant cherry, apricot, peach, almond, plum, and walnut trees in the 200-acre orchards. Here, you can stroll and consume ripe fruit while in there. However, the harvested fruits must be paid for. A self-service station is located near the entrance of the orchards. The best time to harvest is from Summer to Fall. Cherries are abundant from mid-June to early July, peaches, and pears in August and Apples in September.

Sunset Point Trail

Witness the dramatic scenery of Capitol Reef’s golden rocks and the full view of the Waterpocket Fold. The landscapes turn crimson hue appearing along the stair terraces, fluted cliffs, and chimney rocks at golden hour. As you hike farther, you can reach a trail that traverses a small ridge into a canyon. This is the Sulphur Creek Canyon, from which the park’s two oldest rock layers – Kaibab Limestone and White Rim Sandstone – can be found. These ancient rock layers date back to the Permian period. You have to go through the Goosenecks Road and follow the signs leading for Panorama Point to get here.

Cassidy Arch

Maybe you have seen photos of this arch in wallpapers too many times. This iconic arch is named after Butch Cassidy, an American outlaw, who uses this place as his long-time hideout as per rumors. Hiking to this place is relatively strenuous. The three-mile journey is filled with steep areas and dangerous drops as you zigzag back and forth the canyon wall.

Petroglyph carvings on an orange rock along the Capitol Gorge trail

Capitol Gorge Road and Trail

This road is a gravel road stretching 2.2 miles along the canyon walls. It is narrow, sandy, but curvy and is suitable for most vehicles. The road ends at the trailhead for the Capitol Gorge Trail. While here, you can appreciate historic carvings on the canyon walls called the Pioneer Register. The petroglyphs contain the names of settlers and miners who traveled this place in the 1800s.

Scenic Drive

One of the best activities to do in the park is to drive along this road. This paved path is 7.9 miles long and takes you to the Capitol Reef National Park’s heart. You can pass by the park’s famous formation or reach popular trailheads. The road offers sceneries of sandstone cliffs, layers of lifted rocks, and folded stones, providing glimpses of the Earth’s geologic history.

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