Capitol Reef: capitol for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes, and reef for the rocky cliffs which are a barrier to travel, like a coral reef.
Three nights and four days in the beautiful campground at Capitol Reef National Park. The scenery was awesome but it was a bit of a challenge for this technology-addicted traveler as there was no cell or Wi-Fi service. It really makes you realize how often you check your cell phone or grab your iPad when you don’t have any reason too! I managed to make it through the three days but decided that was about long enough without being connected. Guess I better get used to it now as my Alaska trek next summer will likely result in much more off the grid “opportunities”!
My last post talked about the human/cattle history of the park so it seems appropriate to focus on the geology while reflecting on my explorations there.
The Waterpocket Fold defines Capitol Reef National Park. A nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust, the Waterpocket Fold, a “step-up” in the rock layers formed between 50 and 70 million years ago from an ancient buried fault in the region. When the fault moved upwards the rock layers on the west side of the fold were lifted more than 7,000 feet (2,134 m) higher than the layers on the east.
More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name “Waterpocket Fold” reflects this ongoing erosion of the rock layers. “Waterpockets” are small depressions that form in many of the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water, and are common throughout the fold at Capitol Reef. Erosion of the rock layers continues today forming the colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches that you see in the park.
Water, wind and time in the form of erosion are responsible for the carving of this incredible landscape. The amazing varied landforms are a result of different responses of various rock layers to the forces of erosion. It is often hard to wrap our minds around the concept of geologic time. With numbers like 70 million, we are just a blip in the earth’s history.
My first stop is usually at the visitors center and here was no exception. The friendly Ranger on duty was very helpful in helping to select a couple of good hikes and drives for my visit.
The hike pf the day was to the Fremont Gorge Viewpoint, a great suggestion with beautiful views and hardly any other visitor traffic.
It was a good climb to an overlook with outstanding canyon walls. The different geology from one part of the park to the next is truly amazing.
Visitors to Capitol Reef should not miss the scenic drive up in to Capitol Gorge. Most of the road is paved with a couple of dirt spurs that lead to some good hiking trails.
As usual, the sunrise was a not to be missed event. This was one sunrise location where I had the place practically to myself (a family arrived just after the sun rose over the mountains). It is a peaceful quiet time watching the colors expand over the horizon.
“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains” – John Muir
Time to visit Cathedral Valley – the dirt road starts on BLM land and includes a challenge right at the start where you have to ford a river crossing. With the water so muddy it was impossible to see the bottom I first took off my boots, rolled up my pants and “tested the waters” (cold).
After determining the deepest places were not much more than 12-16 inches I felt it safe to cross.
The first part of the drive on BLM land was barren but interesting country.
I ran across an old truck buried in the sand next to a cattle watering hole. It made for some interesting photographs before moving on.
Entering the park on the northern end, Cathedral Valley was a sight to behold.
A great example of the power of water and wind erosion mentioned earlier.
The drive took the better part of the day and with a run into town for a few supplies I wasn’t able to make time for the Chimney Rock hike that I had planned for the afternoon.
Probably a good thing as the weather had turned cold and it was a good time to call it a day. I consider this a good hike to save for my next visit!
Next stop – Escalante
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes