We saw our fourth fake sheriff today on our move from Glendale, UT to Torrey, UT. The sheriffs of the huge counties out here place real sheriff’s vehicles by the side of the road near towns, and place manikins in the vehicles. It works when tourists going through the town see the cars and slow down. We’ve seen the same phenomenon now in four different towns, so it must work – the counties out here are huge, so it must save the sheriffs’ departments some money on salaries, and still works to keep speeds down.
Off to see Capitol Reef National Park on Tuesday; this park was established to preserve the Waterpocket Fold, a straight, 100 mile long ridge of tilted and layered rock stretching from the Fishlake Mountains in central Utah to Lake Powell in the south. Most of the fold is preserved in the park, which contains multicolored cliffs, narrow canyons, ridges, arches, spires and domes. The park is named because of the resemblance of many whitish Navajo sandstone domes to the US Capitol building; the Reef part of the name refers to the high uplifted ridge running north-south along the fold which presented a considerable barrier to early Mormon settlers. Capitol Reef National Park is the second largest park in the state, yet is much less visited than others in Utah, partly due to the rather remote location. It is part of the Grand Circle of US National Parks in Utah, and has very striking formations. It is hard to believe that as many rocks as we’ve seen on this trip, that there are still different formations, but it is indeed true. Most of the formations are formed from sedimentary rock, but the variety is so interesting. Moving water, wind, volcanic action, glacial deposits, uplift, earthquakes, and other geological effects have caused the formations to be different at each of the parks. The primary feature for Zion was the gigantic sheer cliffs, while for Bryce, it was the hoodoos. Here in Capitol Reef, the strata and layering of the cliffs is what I will remember the most. There are definite layers of varied colors. For example, the Navajo sandstone is whitish in color, while the orange-red top layer is solidified sand dunes and is part of the Wingate sandstone layer. The grey-green and purple layers below are part of the Chinle Formation and were deposited as volcanic ash. The lower, brick-red layer is part of the Moenkopi Formation and is full of ripple marks and mud cracks; this layer used to look like the Amazon River basin before it solidified to rock.
Prehistoric Fremont Indians moved to this area about 700 AD, lived around the Fremont River; both the Indian group and the river are named for the 19th century explorer, John Fremont. Petroglyphs created by the ancient Fremont culture still are able to be easily viewed in the park, and some were very unusual – some, like a ram, are easily identified, but others look like aliens! After this cultural group left around 1250 AD, no more permanent residents lived in the area until the Mormons moved here in the 1870s and established the hamlet of Fruita. Although this area is naturally a high desert with less than seven inches of annual precipitation, the river made this area like an oasis. The Mormons’ orchards of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and cherries are still maintained by the national park personnel, and a few of their buildings survive and are also available for touring. The one room Fruita schoolhouse, used from 1896 – 1941, is open for visitors, as is the Gifford Farmhouse, built in 1908 and sold to the park service in 1969. An 1882 sandstone cabin, built by the Behunin family, was home to the parents and eight children, but only the two youngest slept in the tiny cabin with their parents. The older girls slept outside in an old wagon bed, while the older boys climbed up a wash and slept in a cliff alcove way above the cabin. Not an easy life for those pioneers!
We took two seventy minute hikes in the park today. The first, into the Capitol Gorge at the end of the scenic road into the north end of the park, was more of a walk, since it was pretty level and down the center of the deep, twisting, turning, water-carved, sheer-walled canyon. We passed colorful cliffs, monoliths, domes, and other commanding rock formations as we walked past the prominent escarpment of rock cliffs. A great number of waterpockets, small bowl-like depressions in the rock, were also evident along the trail, which was one of only two canyons the pioneers could use to travel through the area. After leaving the canyon, we enjoyed our picnic lunch; a cute little chipmunk begged us for food while we were eating, but of course we did not oblige him. Our second trail was much more of a true hike. It rose in elevation 400 feet in a mile, and led us over quite a rocky pathway up to a natural bridge. Named after an early park advocate during the 1920s, Joe Hickman, the bridge is 133 feet wide and 125 feet tall. I’m glad we made the trek because we saw not only the large bridge, but several other smaller ones carved out when flash floods moved through the area, many large lava stones rounded and dropped by glacial action, beautiful, gnarly piñon and junipers, and several mule deer grazing on short meadow grasses. We rewarded ourselves after our hikes with a piece of freshly baked, tasty apple pie that we’d purchased at the Gifford Farmhouse. Yum, and no guilt because of all the calories we’d expended during our 140 minutes of hiking earlier in the day!