Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Utah has five national parks within its borders, all thankfully only a few hours drive of each other. We all know about Zion, Arches, maybe Canyonlands and maybe Bryce Canyon...but the other national park that often gets left out of conversation is Capitol Reef National Park. I've talked with a lot of people who have visited Utah and when I mention Capitol Reef, I get one of two reactions. Either a deer in the headlights stare of confusion or a burst of excitement and gushing over how incredible Reef is. I'll go with the latter. At over 241,900 acres its Utah's second-biggest national park is probably the best-kept secret of the five. It's also a close tie-up with Canyonlands for being my favorite national park in the state.

The park's most prominent feature is the Waterpocket Fold. Stretching more than one-hundred miles across south-central Utah, this massive wrinkle (similar to a reef in an ocean), in the earth's surface that stopped early explorers of this vast undiscovered Colorado Plateau. How'd it happen? According to the National Park Service, layers of rock formed from sediments deposited over hundreds of millions of years in seas, tidal flats , deserts and other ancient environments. Then, as nearby mountains were created these rocky layers were bent and creased into the now-fold. Like the majority of Utah's wild land, wind and water erosion continue to shape the Waterpocket Fold year after year. One of the park's best surprises is a lush oasis of orchards in the Fruita Historic District. Before the start of the 1900s, Mormons called this Capitol Reef area home. Today you can still visit historic one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, Gifford Farmhouse and the Behunin Cabin. Donate a buck or two and you're even able to pick your own fresh, delicious apples from the rows of apple trees!

Capitol Reef also offers excellent hiking through towering domes, colorful cliffs and wide open washes. This is definently a park I need to get back to and spend at least three days exploring. When I arrived, I drove in through the Eastern entrance of the park, stopping to gaze at the impressive Capitol Dome, The Castle and the Fremont Petroglyphs before continuing on to the trailhead for the 2.0-mile round trip hike to Hickman Bridge, an easy-to-access 133ft long natural bridge. Go below and to the right of the bridge for the best views. Next, I returned to the trailhead and set out on the Rim Overlook Trail, that takes you up 1,110 feet in elevation over 2.3-miles (one-way) for the best views of the Waterpocket Fold and green Fruita down below your feet. That was an amazing hike.

 If you've got a four-wheel-drive vehicle, make sure to drive the the 16-mile round-trip Scenic Drive which takes you to the start of the mesmerizing Capitol Gorge. Branch off if you're feeling ambitious and your rental car insurance allows, to meander your way to the Grand Wash area of the park. You'll earn your off-roading stripes here as you ford through some rushing water. Return to the park's visitor center and head two-miles west on 24 towards Torrey and don't miss the Goosenecks Overlook, an insane chance to peak 800fty down into the Sulphur Creek below. Cue the goose bumps.

Again, I can't reiterate this enough, if you go to Utah you must, have to visit Capitol Reef National Park. I already have plans to return and spend at least 3 days there.

Cheers,
Robby