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November 06, 2008

Capitol Reef National Park

Early on Halloween we left Tony and Heather and drove to Capitol Reef National Park for a day’s exploring.

132E_editedIt is a little different than most parks, being long (almost 100 miles) and narrow, and at 242,000+ acres is the second largest of the five parks we visited in Utah on this trip.  A national park only since 1971, Capitol Reef resembles a giant wave (of rock, not water) called the Waterpocket Fold, which rose up from the dessert floor about 65 million years ago.  The Navajo call the area the ”Land of the Sleeping Rainbow” because of the variety of colours in the rock layers that form the reef.



We stopped briefly as we entered the park from the west, on State Rout 24, to view the first of the unique rock formations but then decided to go the Visitor Centre to ask their advice on a good day’s worth of sightseeing.
As we drove over a hill about a mile west of the Visitor Centre we came upon a most unexpected view! 076E_edited

The back side of about 100 head of cattle being herded east through the park. The cattle drive to their winter range happens on the last Saturday of October every year and because of the high and rugged rock formations, the highway is the only way through. Cattle are not exactly Olympic athletes so it took quite a few minutes to work our truck through the herd. Most of the driving was being done by one small Border Collie dog, while the half dozen cowboys just seemed to be along for the ride.

While at Arches, we had met Carolyn and Jim, from Connecticut, and had spent time together seeing the sights around Moab. As we walked toward the Visitor Centre, there they were, walking toward us from the opposite end of the parking lot.  Small world – amazing timing.

124The park rangers strongly recommended that we take the 25 mile Scenic Drive, formerly called the Blue Dugway, and suggested we do the 1 mile hike into Capitol Gorge at the end of the road, including a fairly strenuous climb to two pools (eroded into the sandstone), called the Tanks, high above the valley.

These depressions in the rock hold water after the rains, a vital element for wildlife in the park.

111_editedOne of the highlights of the hike is a flat vertical rock face in which are carved many names and dates of the people who used the route , the bottom of the gorge, over a hundred years ago when it was the only way in or out or the area.  It actually was a wagon trail until the new highway was built, and since then is only open to foot traffic.  There must have been dozens of names and dates and is now called the “Pioneer Register”.  The first date is 1871.  If people now scratch their names on the rocks in a National Park it is called vandalism.
094IMG_8541_editedWe also hiked the Grand Wash, which passes the Olyer Uranium Mine (closed for many years).  The Wash drains into the Fremont River and although dry most of the time, the water sculpted rocks and walls of the wash show evidence of much more violent times.

As we followed the scenic route back to Hwy 24, we travelled along the Western side of the Waterpocket Fold.  With the sun shining on the cliffs, it was an awesome spectacle.

Before we left the park, we drove through the old village Fruita, an early Mormon settlement of which only the original schoolhouse and blacksmith shop remain. The Fremont River cuts through the Fold and there are pioneer orchards and fields beside it.  The highway, only completed in 1962,  follows the river.


We left the park near dark for the 60 mile drive back to Richfield having seen yet another example of nature’s endless geological diversity. By then Tony and Heather had arrived at an RV park about 10 miles west and we stopped to say goodbye. Tony presented us with some Halloween candy bars and Heather had fresh scones and coffee.


IMG_8562_editedNovember 2nd saw us on the road again for a 4 day visit to Bryce Canyon National Park, our longtime favourite from our first trip to Utah years ago. Part way down US 89 as we rounded a curve, we arrived at Big Rock Candy Mountain, a unique tourist stop that is the basis of the folk song of the same name. On a rainy Sunday morning in November it wasn’t very busy and the colours in the rock that supposedly gave it it’s name didn’t really show.  After all the vibrant rock we have seen it didn’t live up to expectations.


We went on to the KOA, south-east of Bryce in Cannonville, where we set up camp for the next few days.


Bernie & Ross


Posted by Bernice at November 6, 2008 06:55 PM


Hopefully you plan a presentation once back in Ontario.
I will even pay admission!!!

Posted by: shirley blain at December 29, 2008 10:57 PM

In my next life I think I would like to come back as a cowboy. Looks like a good job to me.
Best wishes to you and your family for the holiday season.

Posted by: Adam Krehm at December 30, 2008 09:06 AM

Amazing Photos! We've really enjoyed these as we did the five parks in Utah last year ourselves. I hope you'll paint the one with the clouds! Our best to you in 2009.

Posted by: Ken and Dawn Gibbons at December 30, 2008 05:24 PM

More fantastic pictures! Haven't been to that park or Canyonlands. Utah is so gorgeous! Be sure to go to Cedar Breaks when you do Bryce altho I am sure you have already been there. Coming up on a cattle drive is pretty interesting and you never quite know what they are going to do. Looking forward to the next episode.

Sincerely, Bette

Posted by: Bette Andrew at January 4, 2009 04:32 PM