Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Discovering Capitol Reef National Park

capitol reef cliff

Of the five national parks in southern Utah, Capitol Reef is probably the least known. I'm not quite sure why that is. It may simply be overlooked since most of the attention is directed towards its more famous neighbors like Zion and Arches. But several people we spoke to who had visited all the parks in the area named Capitol Reef as their favorite. It quickly reached the top of our list as well. I think a big part of this preference is the smaller number of visitors. Capitol Reef attracts less than 1/4 of the visitors that Zion does. Beyond that, there is much to see, and beautiful scenery abounds.

burr trail road

We accessed the park via the incredibly scenic Burr Trail Road, which descends from the small town of Boulder and crosses Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capital Reef before continuing on to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The drive was magnificent, even though I was dreaming of making the trip on my bike the entire time. The road is partially paved and part dirt, with other dirt roads extending out from it now and then. We took one offshoot road to an overlook which gave us our first view of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the centerpiece of the park. It's a 100 mile long "warp" in the Earth's crust that was formed by ancient fault activity.

waterpocket fold

After entering the park, we headed for Fruita Campground, which is the only developed campground in the park. Although it is far from a true wilderness experience, it is beautiful nonetheless. It is situated along the Fremont River and is surrounded by dramatic, red cliff walls. The campground was developed within an old orchard farm that is still in operation and is using an irrigation system that was initially developed by Native Americans and later upgraded and expanded by Mormon settlers. The farmhouse and barn are still in operation, and visitors can purchase homemade pies at the house.

farm at fruita campground

Since this first-come, first-served campground fills up by late morning during the high season, we were lucky to nab a site at the boundary near the river. The downside of the campground, from a tenter's point of view, is that's it's dominated by RV's, so there is a high potential of views being blocked by huge rigs and natural sounds being drowned out by generators. I'd say for the most part the downsides were balanced out by the convenient location and facilities plus the overall beauty of the area. And if you're like us, you will be out exploring the park most of the day anyway.

fruita campsite

With miles of trails and dirt roads crisscrossing the park, there are plenty of opportunities for exploration. With our limited time, we made use of our Subaru Outback so we could see as much as possible. As with hiking, the further out you get, the fewer people you see, and there are new sights and vistas at every turn.

capitol reef cliff subaru outback

capitol reef overlook

balancing boulder

As with every park we visited in Southern Utah, we felt like we didn't have nearly enough time to see everything we wanted to see at Capitol Reef, but every day we spent there was amazing.

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