As the third stop on our Grand Circle Tour, we arrived at Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef, at noon. After a brief lunch, we headed out to Capitol Reef located about 10 miles away to the east.
It was during this drive that I realized just how vast Capitol Reef really was. Even at 10 miles out, the reef was already present to the north. And it must stretch another tens of miles farther to the west beyond Torrey. And looking east towards the park, this reef extends even as far as my eyes could see. This reef, also referred to as the Waterpocket Fold, is enormous.
As we drove to Capitol Reef, I was also surprised by the amount of flourishing wildlife and exquisite scenery in this area. We had learned that this area is called "Fruita," because when Mormons first settled this area less than 100 year ago, they built a tiny town based on growing fruits using the water from the nearby Freemont River. Each year, visitors were allowed to pick fruits from the abandoned fruit farms in they arrived in season. The fruits and river in this area in turn support a thriving population of deer in the region. But since we were visiting late fall, there were no free fruits to pick, but the leaves had begun turning colors. Therefore, instead of picking free fruits, we were treated to a colorful display of different shades of leaves and wildlife roaming free in this area.
After viewing a 10-minute introductory video at the visitor center about what we can see and do in the park, we proceeded to drive the scenic road. As we drove down the road, we found that this park was not only beautiful but also a magnificent display of geology. With each rising cliff and butte, it was easy to distinguish the different sediments of rocks that made up the reef, each layer giving off a different color and consistency compared to the layers above and below. These unique strata of rock in turn gave off a dazzling variety of cliffs, arches, washes, sand dunes, and slick rocks. With all the Kodak moments along the road, we were able to finish the 10-mile scenic drive in about 3 hours. The drive visit could have been longer, but we decided not to venture into the trails at Capitol Gorge because of the difficult gravel roads. We did drive/hike down the Grand Wash road, where we visited such places as Echo Cliff and saw Cassidy Arch (named after Butch Cassidy) from the road.
After arriving back at the visitor center, since we still had a few hours left, we decided instead to embark on the 1-mile hike to the Hickman Bridge. The 1- to 2-hour hike not only allowed us to see the huge Hickman Bridge. From being high up on the plateau, it was also easy to see the valley that is carved out by the Freemont River. After we hiked down the hill, we took advantage of the remaining sunlight and drove up and down Byway 12. With time, we shot more photos of the incredible scenery in the region and visited such places as a cliff wall with ancient petroglyphs and the Fruita School House.