Capitol Reef National Park
Number three on our tour of the Utah Mighty Five National Parks is Capitol Reef. This is a large very diverse park that offers something to please almost everyone. With geologic features that affected early pioneers to beautiful rock formations to ancient petroglyphs to an unexpected nook of fertile soil amid towering rock cliffs, this area has been home to hearty people through the ages.
The cover photo above may make one think that they are back in Arches National Park, but this grand arch is actually the 133 foot Hickman Bridge, and is the pay off for a .9 mile trail that rises 400 feet above the Fremont river. More on this trail with later photos, but first let's go to the visitor center.
Capitol Reef doesn't have the large crowds that are drawn to the other parks, so this small but very helpful visitor center can supply all the information needed for all the features of the park. How did the park get it's name? Well, it's hard to get into one photo, because the name comes from a 100 mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust that resulted in a wall of rock that blocked westward migration of early settlers. The "Reef" was too high and steep to cross so the pioneers had to find a way around it. This led them to the Fremont river canyon as a path through the natural barrier.
Near the visitor center is a very well preserved one room school house built by the early Mormons in the settlement of Fruita.
Now for the Hickman Bridge trail. Starting in a small parking lot next to the Fremont river, the trailhead begins with a wall to keep you safe from the abrupt drop off, up stair like steps before beginning a series of switchbacks that elevate you 400 feet to the trail out to Hickman Bridge. On your way, is a view of 6000 foot high Capitol Dome (shown below) which as the name implies, resembles the dome of the Capitol Building in D.C.
Along the trail there are many evidences of extensive water erosion such as this small bridge which is just high enough to walk under if you mind your head.
Very simple signage will lead you to Hickman Bridge. The sign directs you to walk down, then under the bridge and follow a circular path back to the main trail. Do you see a trail? We couldn't. It's a miracle we are not still out there under the bridge looking for a trail. The .9 mile trail connects to a 1.9 mile rim overlook trail that you can see in the photo below.
Along highway 24 at a pullout are these ancient works of art. A large panel of petroglyphs which are etched on the side of a vertical cliff face.
One of the early Mormon pioneers was the Behunin family. This is their one room house, home to Elijah, Tabitha and their 13 children in the late 1800s. Where did they all sleep? Some of the girls slept in the covered wagon while the boys stayed in the cave which you can see in the hillside above the cabin. Their farm here was soon washed away in a flash flood so they moved farther along the canyon and became one of the first to settle in Fruita.
The Mormon pioneers found the small fertile valley along the Fremont River to be perfect for fruit trees. They planted orchards of many types of fruit trees, which as seen above are still maintained by the park service. When the trees are bearing fruit, you can sample all you want, but can't take any with you.
The picturesque farm setting of the Gifford House offers a great break from all those hiking trails. The horses are very accustomed to park visitors and will pose for your photo for a pat on the head, but I think they may be looking for one of the local apples. I dare you to visit the Gifford House and not come out with one of their fruit pies made from their own fruit trees of course. Mine was apple. Kaye had Cherry,,,,and maybe a little ice cream on them. Ahem.. back to the park...quick!
Each park seems to have animal life that is unique. Near the barn with the horses we spotted this marmot. Picture a way over sized squirrel.
So, I wanted to see some slot canyons. The park ranger marked my map where we could see three slots. Didn't mention the steeep climb above the Gifford farm just to get to the canyon trail where these mythical slot canyons were supposed to be.
Yep there's a trail there. Where are the slots?
Passed by some swiss cheese canyon walls.....
Wow!! they do exist! We found all three, but liked this one best.
The search for slot canyons took us along Cohab Canyon trail. It is a 1.7 mile trail with a 440 ft elevation change with a moderate hiking rating. We think it's due for an upgrade. This unique formation is situated just before a major panorama.
On the way toward the western edge of the park is Panorama Point. This vantage point offers one of the best opportunities to be away from light pollution and do some star gazing. It was late in the day, so while we waited for sunset, we visited nearby Goosenecks Overlook over Sulphur Creek.
While we waited for star gazing, the sunset light show on the canyon walls kept us entertained.
Opps!! It's a little cloudy for star gazing....hummm do those clouds look like they have snow in them?
Driving past the Fluted Wall on Highway 24. No star gazing tonight. Yep we were soon driving in snow!