When looking at the maps of our possible route through Utah I noticed that Capital Reef National Park was along the path so I added it to our itinerary. Our drive from southeastern Utah took us through Moab to Interstate 70 and then west through some of the most desolate desert landscape we’ve ever seen. We drove close to a hundred miles and didn’t see a single house or building. initially, it looked like tailings from some gigantic mine had just been dropped in piles along the interstate. Later we went along a section that looked like a giant plow had tried, and succeeded, in making a long, deep furrow in the earth. The rocks on the far side looked like a frozen wave about to crash down and we drove up through them in a canyon that had some been left behind. Just amazing landscape.
Our final stretch took us up over a mountain range. The pass was at 8950 feet and we saw a patch of snow by the roadside there (or at least I did, Susan refused to look) and more further up the slope. The other side of the pass, however, looked more like alpine meadow and there was a lot of green lower. When we got down to the valley we a river with water in it (!) and numerous farms most set up to use irrigation. We’re staying in Torrey, with trees and green lawn around us. It’s the first time we’ve seen this much grass in months.
Capital Reef is part of the furrow we saw many miles away. It is actually a remnant of the uplift of the Colorado Plateau. Some continental blocks got lifted more than others and there are now basically miles of tall cliffs. The cliffs were given the nautical term of ‘reef’, because they are too hard to get over and everybody had to go around. It got the name Capital Reef because it has numerous white domes in it that reminded people of state capital buildings.
One of our first sights on the way into the park was a formation called the chimney.
And it was followed a short distance down the road by a formation called The Castle.
We drove a distance past cliffs with natural buttresses. We both remarked that it reminded us of an Egyptian temple and that was because the buttresses looked a bit like Egyptian statues. It was mostly a trick of the eye and was mostly evident when we were in motion and the photos just don’t seem the same, somehow.
There is a scenic drive that included some dirt road branches that went down some gorges, which were in deep vertical canyons. There was a wash that criss-crossed the gorge and sometimes the road was the wash and sometimes it wasn’t. There were some deep side canyons that gave tantalizing views of hidden rock formations.
Water erosion acts some of the sandstone in odd ways. When we drove down Capital Gorge we saw a lot of rock that had holes etched into it. A couple years ago we had seen some similar rock near the seashore and I managed to pull Susan’s leg pretty firmly when she asked how the holes got there and I explained (with a very straight face) that they were caused by rock worms that excreted an acid and ate the rock. She was very disappointed (and annoyed with me) when I finally told her it wasn’t true. One of her first comments when we drove down Capital Gorge was there must have been a lot of rock worms there.
This area is all desert but the Fremont River has created an oasis in a small area. This area was inhabited by paleoindians who left petroglyphs scratched into the rock varnish in several areas. The forms in the petroglyphs are unique and not found elsewhere.
A small group of Mormons settled next to the Fremont River around 1880. They planted fruit trees orchards there (apples, pears, peaches). There were never more than 10 families living there and they mostly left after WWII. Their farms and orchards have been preserved and are part of the park. We had lunch in a lovely picnic area with grass and shaded by tall trees that has been part of somebody’s farm.
Capital Reef is dominated by its soaring cliff walls and deep canyons. We enjoyed our visit. Once again there was spectacular scenery and once again it was strikingly different from anything we’d seen before.
We’d have to give it a D for handicap accessibility, however. There were no wheelchair accessible trails and most of the viewpoints made no concession to wheelchairs whatsoever. The Visitor’s Center was particularly problematic. The women’s bathroom was labeled as handicap accessible but Susan got trapped there and one of the park staff had to come in and free her. There was a small theater that was almost impossible to get to because the display units in the Gift Shop blocked the path, and once in the theater there was no place for Susan’s wheelchair except to partly block the entrance. We been to a lot of national parks and a lot of visitor centers and this one has to rank near the bottom.