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Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Park Map    An amazing guide to all the flowers at Capitol Reef NP


When I planned this trip, I listed all the national parks in Utah (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands) but had no idea which ones I'd make it to...this one I had kind of heard of, but didn't know anyone who had seen it, and my feeling was, if nobody was raving at me about how awesome it was...it probably wasn't.

Then my friend Liz K drove across Utah, and emailed me that this place was amazing and not to miss it.*

Interesting, I thought. And while I was at Cannonville, I looked at maps and thought about the rest of the week, and decided to get a motel room (after five days in the truck, I was more than ready for one) on Sunday night, and see Capitol Reef on my way to Arches and Canyonlands.

So I booked a cheap room in Torrey, UT, which is right by Capitol Reef. And drove there on the 12, which was amazing in itself. And then I got there...and OH MY GOD IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, this was the surprise of the trip...this park is one of the most amazing places ever, and hardly anyone visits it. Highway 24 goes through it, and because it's a major road in this part of Utah, the NPS doesn't charge any entrance fee. That's right, it's not only amazing, it's FREE.

It's shaped like the letter T- the main road is the top part, and there's a second road that goes south from the visitor's center, is narrow and slow but beautiful, and dead ends in a 4 wheel drive/hiking area. The visitor's center is right by a meadow in the middle of the canyons where there were Native Americans living, and later a Mormon settlement named Fruita.There are petroglyphs on the rocks, and buildings like the schoolhouse that are still there, and so are the orchards...if you visit the orchards when the fruit (apples, pears, peaches, apricots) is ripe, you can eat all you want for free, or take it home for a low price per box.

I loved this place; I hiked here from about 3 pm to 7:30, and came back for hours the next day, blowing off other things I had planned to do so I could have more time here. This was one of the best things I did and I didn't do all of it; I'm sure I'll be coming back because WOW.

*Official description: Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

As you can see, the day was BEAUTIFUL, until (of course) I went hiking.
The Grand Wash is like the hypoteneuse connecting the main road and the south road, and is about 2.5 miles long; there is a narrows in the middle, and I was planning to hike through it, then turn around and come back.

See the sign? I blew up the fine print so you can be sure you're reading the FLASH FLOOD WARNING...

Aaaand...what do you notice about these two pictures? That's right, all of a sudden it's not bright and sunny any more...the clouds are black and low and the wind is coming up, and I'm on the other side of the Narrows...I turned around and hiked back FAST.
On the left is a pool of water...and on the right, you can see that the mushroom rock is keeping the rain off the ground under it...
But this is the best...there was a little stream running down the wash (that hadn't been there when I started hiking) but it wasn't that big...suddenly I heard water rushing, looked back down the canyon and didn't see a flood taking me away...then looked UP and saw these waterfalls starting to stream down the rocks! amazing. I hiked back over the curved areas full of shrubs and plants in the bends of the wash, so I only had to cross the wash instead of following it, and I looked upstream every time I crossed.
And here's my truck Boudika waiting for me, YAY!
The rain having pretty much stopped as soon as I got to my truck, I drove to the Hickman Bridge hike, stopping at the overlook for Navajo Dome (the thing that looks like an onion)
So this was interesting...you can see from the last picture that that part of the trail is RIGHT UNDER a huge cliff, and I guess rocks fall from there often enough that they don't want the tourists to get killed...I scampered across it really fast like a good little girl.
The trail went up the side of a hill, across a plateau and down into a wash on the other side.

This is down in the wash, where the (an hour ago) water mixed different colors of mud and sand together. Very pretty!

On the left is the arch the trail leads to and through. Very nice, you don't really see it til you're right near it.

Side Blotched Lizard.

One last picture of the Hickman Bridge Trail and the dark clouds over it... This room is at the back of the parking lot at the Capitol Reef Inn in Torrey, UT Aaaah. A room with a real bed. I was living cheap, so I ate food I had brought, but at least there was a microwave. And I bought my breakfast the next morning, and it was DELICIOUS.
The next morning, after my DELICIOUS breakfast that I didn't have to make myself, I went back to visit and hike Capitol Reef for the rest of the morning, even though it would mean I had to miss some other places later on. Totally worth it!

The first thing I did was to go see the Goosenecks and Sunset Point, both short hikes from the same parking lot.

Gooseneck Point is an overlook where one can see the river and many bends in it (the aforementioned goosenecks.) Very pretty.
I love the old signs with the old-fashioned font! Side-blotched lizard An interesting hole...
The rocks on this walk were all interesting...and another side=blotched lizard!
And I go to the visitor's center, where not only do I find a new hiking stick that is even better than the one I left behind at Bryce Canyon, but also Ranger Hannah gave a program about Capitol Reef and how it was formed (layers of rock bent and folded.)

After that, I took the Scenic Drive, which goes south for about 10 miles, at 30 MPH or less (narrow windy roads) and dead-ends at the Capitol Gorge Picnic Area. It was BEAUTIFUL, even with very little sun (which had again gone behind the clouds.)

Wallflower

Threadleaf Ragwort

Looks like a datura, although I'm not sure about the leaves...

The other end of the hike I took yesterday, where the water was coming down the sides of the cliffs...NOW they tell me...!

After the aptly-named Scenic Drive, I went to the Cohab Canyon trailhead; this is another one that connects the two roads in a hypoteneuse, but I was just going to hike a mile or two and return.
Here is the map and the beginning of the trail..in the middle picture, see the big rock at the very top with three points? that's where the trail went, first thing...straight up that hillside in switchbacks! In the third picture, I"m hiking along that big rock to the canyon, which is ahead and on the left.
One last look back at the road, and off I go into the canyon! it's cloudy/stormy, but beautiful.

Thistles.

More thistles

Another lovely lizard. Maybe a side blotched? hard to tell.

And another shot at the top of the first part of the trail, from the road. I was up there ten minutes before...

But now it was time for my last thing at Capitol Reef, the petroglyphs!

As you can see, the petroglyphs (which one sees from a boardwalk) are excellent...although a big chunk of the cliff broke loose, fell and disintegrated in 1951. Still, really pretty.
I don't normally edit my pictures; I will crop them like crazy, but I don't alter the actual look of them except to use gamma correction once in a while when something can't be seen...this one is an exception, I used the edge sharpener like crazy and it actually came out pretty well, and you can see the petroglyphs clearly.