Capital Reef National Park

Weird name for a National Park known for its red rock formations. There is one white grouping of rocks that resembles the US Capital. The Reef name came from the waterfall rock ripple in the earth that traverses 100 miles to Arizona and can be seen from space. We were only 62 miles from Lake Powell in this desert.

We explored a Wash area that had experienced a major flood in summer of 2022. I had actually watched a youtube video and that is why I chose this out of the way National Park. We departed I 70 through Utah and drove the road to Torrey, Utah, a small tourist town outside of Capital Reef. Late afternoon arrival from our drive from Avon, Colorado allowed us to see the glow of sunset off of the magnificent red rocks. We had two days here to explore, so we had supper and went to bed early.

You agree, don’t you, that God is in charge?
  He runs the universe—just look at the stars!
Yet you dare raise questions: ‘What does God know?
    From that distance and darkness, how can he judge?
He roams the heavens wrapped in clouds,
    so how can he see us?

 “Are you going to persist in that tired old line
    that wicked men and women have always used?
Where did it get them? They died young,
    flash floods sweeping them off to their doom.

They told God, ‘Get lost!
    What good is God Almighty to us?’
And yet it was God who gave them everything they had.
    It’s beyond me how they can carry on like this!
Job 22:12-16 The Message

The next day, we drove to the Grand Wash area to see the canyons. The roads off of the main eight mile ‘Scenic Drive’ road are dirt, but most sedans could traverse the area slowly. The Mormons founded this community 150 years ago and there are a few buildings (school house, homestead and cabins) to explore. They planted orchards along the Fremont River and still sell pies and preserves from the fruits trees in this patch of green. The soaring red canyon walls were very impressive, and I can see how you can get caught in a rainstorm in the narrowing canyon. There are petroglyphs and even an area where the Mormons signed their names.

We decided to climb to the Cassidy Arch. Yes, it is named after Butch Cassidy who is a famous horse thief portrayed by Paul Newman in the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This area is known as “Robbers Roost” as it was easy to drive the horses in to the narrowing canyons and defend your stolen stock from the high cliffs. His childhood home is close to here.

The climb to the Cassidy Arch was only 1.5 miles and gained 870 feet in the first third. With my high heart rate, I had to take several breaks to get it down from a high of 160 beats per minute. This area is still at 6500 feet altitude, and I still am challenged to hike. You could see the Arch from the distance, but the angle looked like it might be only a carving in the rock. It was probably my last big climb and that makes me sad. I prayed that I could get down from the Arch as it would be so hard for my husband to tell my parents, I died up there. We were told there were people rappelling off of the Arch, but we only saw the ropes when we arrived. It is a good path, and if you can take the first 1/4 mile, you are rewarded with spectacular views of Robbers Roost and less people than Hickman’s Arch. We had this beauty all to ourselves for half an hour. My husband walked across Cassidy Arch which is about 10 feet wide. (see the picture). I took pictures as I was pretty shaken from the climb. Take plenty of water.

We rested from our 15,000 step day until after supper. Then it was back to Sunset Point to capture the orange contrasted with the cerulean blue sky as the sun set and the moon rose. This is also a Night Sky place, but you have to get up at 3:00 am to see it and we had a full moon. This was my fifth and final National Park in Utah to visit over the last 12 years. The others, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands are more famous, but I liked the underrated Capital Reef very much. It was my favorite because it has so few people, yellow Aspens in the far distance, and such amazing beauty.

This underrated national park has features — knobs, ridges and slot canyons — that rival anything else in the world. While there are miles and miles of immaculate hiking trails, which are totally worth every bit of your time, much of the grandeur of Capitol Reef National Park can be taken in and accessed by vehicle.

Start with the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. This 8-mile paved road is accessible by all vehicles. There are a number of pull-offs to take in the towering sandstone cliffs, red rock and fall foliage of the park. And along Highway 24, about 2.5 miles west of the visitor center, don’t miss the Panorama Point and Goosenecks Overlook viewpoint. Get out of the car for the Grand Wash trail. Also picnicking along the Fremont River is a must; the plant life along the river makes for some of the most epic color gawking in the park.”

Top Hikes:

  • Fremont River Trail
  • Grand Wash
  • Frying Pan Trail
  • Golden Throne
  • Hickman Bridge

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