Capitol Reef National Park, Utah


Utah Route 24 takes you directly through the Waterpocket Fold, much of which falls within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park.  The name Capitol Reef came from early explorers, who chose the name “Capitol” for the dome shaped cliffs, similar to the U. S. Capitol building, and “Reef” for the obstacle the mountains posed, much like a reef stands in the way of an ocean voyage.

Capitol Reef is promoted as Utah’s least visited National Park.  Indeed, I was almost completely alone during my visit.

The Fremont River provides most of the scenic vistas in Capitol Reef.  It also helps keep the landscape lush and green, while surrounding areas are dry and barren.

No hiking is required to view some of the park’s petroglyphs: these ancient drawings are on a cliff, right by the side of the road.  These petroglyphs were created by the Fremont Native Americans (named after the river).  They lived in the area between 700 and 1300 AD.  After 1300, they disappeared from this area… and no one is sure why.

A close-up view.  Archaeologists believe rock drawings represented things that were spiritually important to the ancients, and not necessarily a form of artistic expression.

Historic Fruita

The Fruita Schoolhouse.

The Mormon settlement of Fruita is protected within the park.  As the name implies, fruit trees abound here, thanks to the water stored in the Water- pocket Fold.  If the fruit is ripe, pick some, and enjoy.  Whatever you can eat while in the orchard is free.

Along the side of the road, you’ll see cliffs capped with white domes.  These, along with some larger domed rock formations throughout the area, helped earn the “Capitol” part of the park’s name.

Another shot from along the road.  The entire landscape here seems somewhat “jumbled”, for lack of a better word.  Rock strata jut upwards, and it seems there are no level lines on the horizon.  The unusual mix makes every scene different, and intriguing.

At the West end of the park, you have one last, or first, chance to view the folded landscape.  This is quite a scene, and unfortunately, no photo is large enough to capture this impressive sight.

The sun is once again racing towards the horizon, which means it’s time to find a place to stay, and call it a night.  But there’s one more stop to make on the outer edge of the park before ending the day.


Follow a short road off UT 24 to reach the Goosenecks, a deep canyon with a steep drop, right off the side of the viewpoint.  Sulphur Creek makes a series of tight switchback turns as it meanders through the canyon.

From here, I headed on to Torrey, which has a few motels, and a handful of restaurants, but not much more.

Day 5 Begins: Grand Wash

I wasn’t quite satisfied with my short trip through Capitol Reef, on my way to Torrey, as the sun set on Day 4.  So I returned the next morning, and set out down Grand Wash.  A rough road takes you part of the way, after that, a trail follows a normally dry riverbed.

Avoid the Grand Wash area if there’s ANY sign of rain on the horizon.  The canyon can flood quickly, and you’ll have nowhere to go.

Many rocks here have eroded in an odd pattern, leaving dozens of small holes, rather than one big arch.  Most only sink back a few inches into the rock, but a few go all the way through,

Remarkably colorful canyon walls line the Grand Wash path. Legend has it, wild west outlaw Butch Cassidy used to hide out in these canyons.  They even named an arch after him, and you can see it for yourself, just off of Frying Pan Trail (which branches off from Grand Wash).

This was my final stop in Capitol Reef.  I know there’s a lot more to explore here, but I simply didn’t have time, and it was quite cold.  So from here, I headed back into Torrey, then turned South on UT 12.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.  I visited Capitol Reef again in 2014, and drove the park’s scenic road.  Check out that visit here.

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