On Sunday morning we were up and out of here before 0815 heading to Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. We didn’t do our homework very well on this expedition like we normally do and found we traversed over 310 miles – a LONG day and didn’t get back home till after 5:00 p.m. Exhausted to say the least, but such magnificent sights along the way so it was a good exhaustion if that makes any sense!
We arrived at Capitol Reef at the wrong time of day for our approach with the sun’s location, but the pictures we took upon entering the Park still show off the natural beauty of the area and certainly was fun driving through and exploring.
A stop at the Visitor’s Center helped prepare us for what we were about to see, or had seen on our way to it. Wonderfully sculpted rock layers in a rainbow of colors put on a fine show here. Although many of these same rocks are throughout much of this Four Corners region, their artistic variety has no equal outside Capitol Reef according to the presentation. And knowing Bryce has its magnificent display of color and diversity as does Zion and many other parks, we both thought Capitol provided the true diversity of them all with the colors represented.
About 70 million years ago, gigantic forces within the earth began to uplift, squeeze, and fold more than a dozen rock formations into the central feature of the park today – the Waterpocket Fold; so named for the many small pools of water trapped by the tilted strata. Erosion has since carved spires, graceful curves, canyons and arches. Waterpocket Fold extends 100 miles between Thousand Lake Mountain in the north and Lake Powell in the south. The most spectacular cliffs and rock formations of Waterpocket Fold form Capitol Reef curving northwest across the Fremont River toward Thousand Lake Mountain. And now to answer your question Emerson on why it’s called “The Capitol Reef” - the reef was named by explorers who found Waterpocket Fold a barrier to travel and likened it to a reef blocking passage on the ocean. The rounded sandstone hills reminded them of the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C., hence the name Capitol Reef.
We stopped by the Fruita Schoolhouse to see the remnants of the pioneer community along the narrow stretch of the Fremont River where there were hundreds or orchards planted that are still being maintained by the National Park Service and available to the public to come and pick the fruit when in harvest. Saw quite a few deer as we drove by this particular area as well.
From there we went to the area to walk the one mile path to see the natural bridge, called Hickman Bridge. A pretty rocky walk from the beginning that evened out as the walk progressed upward. The walk was more than worth it to see this positively stunning bridge. The bridge was named after Joseph Hickman, a local educator, who labored to preserve Capitol Reef as a park. We both felt almost more beautiful than those seen at the Natural Bridges National Monument. And think the pictures will portray this as well.
We also took the scenic drive from the Visitor’s Center to really see the extent of the Capitol Reef and the magnificent geologic representations along the route. Beautiful short, ten mile drive on a very primitive road, but again, the vistas were more than rewarding along the entire route in and out of the Park.
We continued back the same route we took to get to the Park to reach the small town of Torrey and the scenic drive on Hwy 12 heading south to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – also called the Million Dollar Highway (you may recall the horrors we described along the Million Dollar Hwy in Colorado from Durango to Ouray). This route is between Escalante and Boulder and was completed in 1935 by workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps. The cost was a budget-busting $1M. Before then, mules carried supplies and mail across this wilderness of slickrock and narrow canyons. We didn’t think it was too bad till we reached what is called “Hog’s Back” – and now I’m thinking whenever I read that a road/highway is called a million dollar road; we’ll avoid it. Again, no guard rails and the pull off spots would have us approximately 300’ below in the bottom of the canyon floor. Saw our first 14% descent sign here too – that was enough to get my right hand firmly squeezing the arm rest door handle for all it was worth! My brake foot was mashing so hard that I had carpet fibers between my toes!!! I wonder if Jerry realized all the support he was getting from my side of the car! Probably Not!
When Jerry asked if I wanted to pull over and take a picture at one point along the route, my emphatic “NO”, said in quite a loud voice made him start laughing. And at which point he was admonished that no laughing was authorized on this section of road and full concentration was to be employed – needless to say, that made him laugh harder. I was NOT laughing AT ALL, and yes, my call sign of “Bawk, Bawk, Bawk” (the chicken) was in full affect.
But, when I was able to look off to see the Grand Staircase-Escalante, I truly was mesmerized and kept telling Jerry he could wait and see it in the pictures and not to bother to look while he was driving – but it truly was spectacular. Escalante became a National Monument in September, 1996 by President Bill Clinton declaring the 1.9 million acres of south-central Utah a national monument ending decades of debate about preserving this area of the southwest.
Some of the geology of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument really showed how much the forces of nature served to make our continent. The desert landscape once sat at the verge of a vast inland sea. About 300 million years ago, sand dunes rose hundreds of feet above the waves, then sank below sea level and were covered by water. Thick layers of sediment built up one on top of the other, turning the sand dunes to stone. During the last 50 million years, powerful forces within the earth slowly pushed the entire region one mile upward. The ancestral Colorado River began to carve the deep gorges seen today near Glen Canyon. In turn, the tributaries of the Colorado, such as the Escalante were also forced to trench deeper and deeper in order to drain their watershed. These are not as magnificent to see in the pictures, but seeing in person when you see this HUGE expanse is absolutely breathtaking.
There are many hiking paths within the National Monument and we just didn’t have time to explore them on today’s outing with our limited time. But we are hopeful to be able to come back and explore in more detail and “on the ground” to see this beautiful area more in person when we are staying our remaining month in Utah at Glendale. The drive home took us through a small corner of Bryce National Park enough to whet our appetites for our return to explore in more detail when we get to Glendale. We drove up some pretty desolate, solitary roads to get back to Richfield – but so pretty and we both thoroughly enjoyed the whole route.
Till the next time . . .