Utah – Capitol Reef

Temple of the Sun and the Moon

South Desert View in Cathedral Valley


Steve at Glass Mountain


We Named These the Coke Bottles


Desert Plants at Capitol Reef

SEPTEMBER 26, 2010



Today will be a short entry. Even on the road, tasks such as laundry require attention. Since we had only a 1 1/2 hour trip to Torrey, Utah today we decided that this was a good day to catch up. But the clothes took longer to dry than we thought and breakfast became brunch became lunch. After hitching up the trailer, we stopped in Escalante at the Golden Loop Cafe. Normally this small eatery would be quiet on a Sunday. Timing is everything. We arrived about ten minutes after a bus tour from Christian Tours. So our burgers and fries took about 45 minutes to appear.

We headed back up Utah 12 which by this time felt very familiar. The 14% climb made us slow down to 30mph but no trouble making it up the hill. I’ve always been attracted to the colors of nature  and the texture and shapes that intermingle with them. The soft colors of the sandstone against the deep blue sky and even the yellow, white and rose colored weeds made for a beautiful vista. Then we headed west on Utah 24 through Torrey to the Thousand Lakes RV Park. This park is one of the AAA and Good Sam approved sites. What a difference this makes. From now on we’ll definitely follow their lead. We were set up by 4P so headed down to the Capitol Reef Visitors Center. We watched the orientation movie and of course picked up our souvenir pin. We spoke with a ranger about various drives and hikes in the area. We wanted to see some of the backcountry and needed to check about vehicle clearance and road conditions.

Capitol Reef is a long and narrow park. Originally it was a National Monument and later was given Park status. We drove on the main Park road through the historic area of Fruita (pronounced Froo-ta here). This was the original Mormon community along the Fremont River in the area. As you might guess by the name, they raised fruit. It was a small community of ten families in the 1880s. I’m not sure if polygamy was practiced here but by the size of the schoolhouse I don’t think so. Then we drove the official scenic drive of 10 miles to Capitol Gorge. This road was the original wagon road used by settlers. It was the only road until 1962 when Utah 24 was completed. It passes through a steep gorge that floods and can strand travelers. There are signs everywhere about not entering the gorge if a storm is threatening. Fall is a great time to visit as it is the dry season. The gorge is 400-500’ high from the roadbed and made of 3 distinctive layers the Moenkpi, Chinle and Wingate sandstone. The Moenkopi layer is rust red soft mud and shale from tidal and coastal areas when Utah was located near the Equator 2.5 million years ago. The Chinle layer is a gray/green and was formed in woodland river floodplains and rivers.It also contains ash from distant volcanoes. The Wingate layer is pink and white  and is the the hardest layer. It represents the remains of sand dunes from an ancient desert. There are black basalt boulders strewn along the area that were washed down from mountains to the west of the park. Then you notice some sparkling strands in the rocks. This is gypsum.You’ll see these layers and colors in our photos. The rocks have weathered into interesting shapes. Some have large holes. There was one large enough for me to recline in as if I were taking a nap. The sun was beginning to cast deep shadows so i’m not sure how the pictures came out. We’ve been so busy we haven’t even looked at them.

Chari Takes Five at Capitol Gorge


Sandstone Colors at Capitol Reef NP


Sunset at Capitol Gorge


Lower Cathedral Valley


Upper Cathedral Valley


SEPTEMBER 27, 2010

After talking with the ranger yesterday, we decided to drive into the northern part of the park on a dirt road to an area called Cathedral Valley. I’m glad we have the Highlander and that Steve is comfortable driving in four wheel drive conditions. This route requires a high clearance vehicle. This is a very remote area. We estimate that only 2-3% of the people coming to Capitol Reef ever see this part. We drove for 8 hours and only saw 5 cars. This area is crisscrossed by Washes which are normally dry but during rains or snowmelt can flood causing roads to be impassable. We’d purchased a self guiding auto tour brochure at the Visitors Center. The 60 mile route crosses both Park and BLM lands. We began by turning off Utah 24 onto private land and driving for 60‘ in the Fremont River bed before turning left onto the Hartnet Road which later became Cathedral Valley Road. This drive turned out to be one of the best either of us has ever done. We were stopping so often to take pictures that it took us two hours to go the first seven miles! We decided that we’d better pick up the pace or we’d be out here in the dark!. We passed through the Bentonite Hills which were brightly colored sandstone. Then we came across an old pick-up truck and drilling rig circa 1950 that was just begging to have it’s picture taken. On to the South Desert with 500‘ high Jailhouse Rock. About halfway around we looked down on Lower Cathedral Valley. The BLM portions of the route gave Opal some off leash time. She really enjoys running in the sand and taking dust baths. There was one spring that had water in it as most others were dry. Steve tasted it and said it was mildly salty. We’d noticed salt deposits in the dry washes. Ranching is a major occupation in the area and Capitol Reef is one of the few Parks that allows grazing on Park land. Then we hit the switchbacks taking us down  400‘ to Upper Cathedral Valley with spectacular monoliths. There is a cut-off at this point that will take you over to Thousand Lake Mountain and Fishlake National Forest. We opted not to take this and just enjoyed the fall color from a distance. We planned to go over that way tomorrow. The road then became very sandy. During our side trip to the Gypsum Sinkhole we had to ride through a very sandy spot where if you slowed down, you’d be stuck. The sinkhole is about 200‘ deep and 50‘ wide. Yes, it is the Bottomless Pit. Toward the end of the drive we passed a sign designating the area Carl’s Reservoir. It was dry so we think Carl must have died of thirst! In Lower Cathedral Valley there are some large monoliths called Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Stars. All along the drive we’d seen dark red brown hills that we’d named The Chocolate Hills. A large area of them were at the Caineville Mesas. Remember this as you will see how this develops later. One of the last stops was one of the most fascinating. It’s called  Glass Mountain. Its not really a mountain at all but a 20‘ high by 12‘ wide conical mound of selenite (crystalized gypsum) with gray, white and black crystals in interesting patterns. It came out of nowhere. There wasn’t anything else like it around. We were fascinated.

Chari's Favorite Tree Pic

Capitol Gorge View


Sandstone Shapes


By now, it was pushing 7P as we turned back onto Utah 24. Sunset was to be at 7:18 so we hurried to Sunset Point. We got there about 7:10 which was too late for pics but we were able to sit on a rock that made a natural bench and just enjoy the view. We realized that the pork roast we were going to grill would be put off for another night. We’d already postponed this for two nights. Steve suggested stopping for a nice dinner. You didn’t need to ask me twice! We spotted the Rim Rock Inn and Restaurant and pulled in. It was cool enough to leave Opal in the car. She’d had a big day and was happy to go to sleep. It was a very good restaurant and we tried some different local beer. At the end of the meal, the waitress presented the check with a large piece of “Chocolate” on it. Really, It did look just like a hunk of good candy or fudge, especially in the low lighting. Steve said “Hey, look at this.” He began to try to break it in half. Grunt. Then he picked up his steak knife and started to cut it in two. “Hard as a rock” he said. I looked and saw fine sand on the plate. By that time I was beginning to laugh. I said “I think it’s a rock on top of the bill” Steve looked up as the reality began to dawn. We both were laughing like fools. I was laughing so hard that I buried my face in my hands lest I make some of those involuntary snorts or other noises. The tears were running down my face when the waitress came to collect the check. Steve admitted to her what had happened. She said “I told them they need to change this. People think it’s chocolate.” Then
Steve showed her where he’d tried to cut it. I think that was a first for her. At least he didn’t try to bite it and ruin his new $1500 crown. This will go down as one of THE STORIES.

The Benntonite Hills


Dry Salt Wash


SEPTEMBER 28, 2010

When we’d checked into our RV park in Torrey, the clerk had mentioned to Steve that the aspens were at their peak in Fishlake National Forest and that we should take a drive over there. Imagine. It was already on my list of scenic drives. Opal was so tired she didn’t even want breakfast and we decided to leave her in the trailer. She’s gotten very comfortable in the trailer. She acts just like when we leave her at home. There’s always the squealing and ‘happy to see you‘ when we return.

Fishlake National Forest is just 15 miles west of Torrey. We turned off to the right from Utah 24 and began to climb. You could see acres of bright yellow, orange and red mixed with green deciduous trees and evergreens. I’ve seen spots where aspens have turned but never a whole forest. You know we were in and out of the car like Jack-in- the- Boxes to take pictures. The road went around Johnson Valley Reservoir to Fishlake.  At one point we got out and just walked through a large aspen grove. I grew up on a street that was lined with white birch and have always had a weakness for this tree. Aspens are the West’s answer to white birch. I’m in love with them. we decided to pick up some of the dry branches covering the ground and have a campfire tonight. Good thing we didn’t have Opal with us. She’d have been buried in wood. There were also turnoffs with interpretive signs about the Old Spanish Trail and the Fishlake Cutoff that ran through here. Kit Carson had led many paries through this area. The lakes are beautiful and we plan to come back again when we can kayak.

We needed to do some grocery shopping and stopped in Loa. It’s the only town for 20 miles around with a major grocery store. While shopping, the waitress from the previous night was in the store. She greeted us with a very friendly, “Hi There”. I told Steve, it isn’t often you make an impression on waitstaff. It must be like teachers. They remember the really good ones and the really bad ones! We also needed some wine. It’s only since 2009 that Utah has had state liquor stores. The closest one was in Bicknell. As we entered Bicknell the speed limit dropped from 65 to 30mph. There was a Sheriff’s car sitting right there too. The liquor store was tiny. I’d guess that the public area was 8×10’. There wasn’t a big choice of wine. We did find some red for Steve and Pinot Grigio for me. Finally, we got the roast cooked and had a leisurely dinner. The campfire was lit and we made S’mores. Steve had never had a S’more, can you believe that? There was a man two trailers down sitting by himself so we invited him over. He was a retired accountant from Yakima, Washington. He loves to hike and travel. He and Steve seemed to hit it off. Steve said later that it was as if he were talking to himself from 3 or 4 years ago when he traveled alone.

We know we could make this whole trip again and do different things at the parks and have just as good a time. Tomorrow we pack up and head to Zion NP. One of the other RV folks told me we’d saved the best until last. I can’t wait to see if he’s right.

Cathedral Valley View


Opal Takes a Dust Bath


Old Well Drilling Rig with Our Car



The "Chocolate" Hills


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? (Can You Find Him?)


Aspen Woods at Fishlake National Forest


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
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