Written by callen60 on 27 Nov, 2007
We drove into Capitol Reef from the west, having left Monument Valley, crossed the Colorado at Hite, and turned west on Highway 24 toward the park at Hanksville. The rain that threatened during our stop at Natural Bridges was now pouring down, washing out any…Read More
We drove into Capitol Reef from the west, having left Monument Valley, crossed the Colorado at Hite, and turned west on Highway 24 toward the park at Hanksville. The rain that threatened during our stop at Natural Bridges was now pouring down, washing out any thoughts of seeing what this tiny junction town in the wilderness had to offer. As we headed west into the canyons, the rain began to let up, and by the time we reached the park’s western boundary it had stopped.But its after-effects hadn’t. Sheets of water now poured off the white domes of rock all along the road, and we lost count of the impromptu waterfalls as the road wove upstream through the canyon carved by the Fremont River. We thought we’d picked out the capitol-shaped dome that gave the area its name, but it was easier to see as we headed east later that evening.The skies were still gray as we arrived at the Visitor Center in late afternoon, but looked like they might clear soon. The center was both larger than it looked and larger than I expected, with a good-sized bookstore. The slide show in the small theater on the north side is shown on request, and we headed there after picking up maps and trail guides. I remember thinking that it was a decent presentation, but any specific memories of were wiped out by the way it ended—as the last image faded, the portion of the wall containing the screen rose up, leaving the large red rock formation called ‘The Castle’ perfectly framed in the exposed window.We’d planned to take a trip down the Scenic Drive, but the rangers at the desk were just announcing that the rain had washed out the road, closing it after a mile, just south of Fruita. We switched our plans, headed to Torrey to check in at Austin’s and eat at Brinks, and then headed back into the park about 7pm. The skies were now perfectly clear, just in time for the terrific light ahead of sunset.The fading sun really brought out the colors in the rocks along the north side of the highway. As the sun continued to set, they looked increasingly golden in the late-day light. This made it a particularly nice time to see the Twin Rocks and then Chimney Rock, both of which are visible from Highway 24 just inside the park boundary. The turnoff to Goosenecks and Panorama Point is just a bit past Chimney Rock, and is well worth visiting for a good view east along the Waterpocket Fold before the highway descends into Fruita.Panorama Point is not far off the highway. The road continues past here to a short hike to the Goosenecks, the deep bends in Sulphur Creek. The trail isn’t well marked, but it’s not too hard to sense the general direction you should take. There were just enough markers along the one-third of a mile to get us to the overlook, which is nearly directly above the big turns in the river. A small fenced platform is directly on the edge of the bluff. The Goosenecks are far enough down that they were deep in shadow by the time we arrived. I was up for returning the next morning for a better view (and better photos), but the urge to head on to Bryce Canyon won out with the rest of our crew. We retraced our steps to the parking lot, and then sprinted the short distance out to Sunset Point. There was another good view of the Waterpocket Fold and the Henry Mountains beyond, but any thought of staying for the actual sunset was squashed by my oldest kid’s desire to get to the Petroglyphs before we lost the sunlight. Our experience of Capitol Reef was directly tied to Highway 24. Our minivan wasn’t appropriate for Cathedral Valley, the Scenic Drive was closed, and we’d chosen not to risk the drive north along Notom-Bullfrog road for both time and safety reasons. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this park nearly as much as any of the others. The combination of wilderness and pioneer community was intriguing, and the large stretches of the park that remained off-limits to us meant that we’d only scratched the surface here. The Grand Canyon aside, I’d probably return here first before revisiting any of the stops on this trip. In part, the additional time we spent at both places gave me a better sense of each location. In addition, I know I’d be more likely to experience this place without the crowds that fill those two parks. Close
Written by LA guy on 14 Nov, 2005
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…Read More
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.
Written by Wasatch on 21 Apr, 2007
The Grand Staircase is the dominant geologic feature of the Colorado Plateau. The Grand Canyon is one small part of the Grand Staircase. There is nothing else on Earth like the Grand Staircase, which is so large it cannot be seen, it must be imagined.…Read More
The Grand Staircase is the dominant geologic feature of the Colorado Plateau. The Grand Canyon is one small part of the Grand Staircase. There is nothing else on Earth like the Grand Staircase, which is so large it cannot be seen, it must be imagined. The Grand Staircase is a series of high plateaus piled one on top of another, much like a flight of stairs starting at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, more that 1,000 feet below sea level, and rising to 10,450 feet on Boulder Mtn., aka the Aquarius Plateau. Geologists flock to the Grand Staircase for its unique scientific importance. The Grand Staircase is the only place on Earth where the entire geologic history of the world, more than three billion years, can be seen without having to dig holes. Pre-Cambrian rock, the Earth’s oldest surface rock, is exposed near the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The Aquarius Plateau is capped by the youngest. You can picture the Grand Staircase as a flight of stairs, but ultimately that image fails because stairs go up, then go flat, then go up again, etc., but not the Grand Staircase. The first step up from the very bottom of the Grand Canyon is a big one, 8,000 feet, to the Kaibab Plateau. But the Kaibab is not flat. It drops about 3,000 feet as you travel north to the foot of the next step, the Vermillion Cliffs, which rise 2,000 feet above the valley floor but top off 1,000 feet lower than the top of the step out of the Grand Canyon. Look up Grand Staircase on Wikipedia. There is a good NPS 3-D drawing illustrating its structure.Where did the Grand Staircase come from? For more than 1.5 billion years, the surface of the Colorado Plateau went up and down, as the continents shifted around the surface of the planet. The down cycles took the surface of the Colorado Plateau hundreds of feet below sea level, and it became part of the oceans. Erosion of the surrounding land carried sand into this shallow sea, where it formed sandstone. Then the Earth shifted, and lifted the sea floor well above sea level—today’s Colorado Plateau is 600-14,000 ft. above sea level—and what was once water became desert where occasional rain eroded the sandstone, covering the surface of the world’s biggest desert* with sand. Winds blew the sand into great sand dunes. When the earth sank under the seas again, these sand dunes were also transformed into rock. The petrified sand dunes are best seen driving into Zion National Park from the east on UT Rt 9, and are easily identified by the erratic strata in the rock which were formed by the shifting of the winds piling up sand from every which way. The last time the earth rose and pushed what was at the bottom of the sea up above sea level, it pushed the eastern side of the Colorado Plateau up faster than the west so that rainfall on the western slopes of the mountians in Colorado drained to the west, across the Colorado Plateau, creating today’s Colorado River. As the land slowly rose, the river cut a great canyon down through the slowly rising rock near the end of its journey across the Colorado Plateau—the Grand Canyon. Although desert, rain gradually wore away the softer rocks, leaving behind towering plies of harder rock that were more resistant to erosion, the plateaus that now form the Grand Staircase. The youngest rock strata exposed in the Grand Canyon is the oldest rock seen in Zion Canyon. The youngest rock at the top of the cliffs of Zion Canyon is the oldest rock at the bottom of Bryce Canyon.On the Grand Staircase, tourists find some of the most amazing scenery on Earth, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon in the side of the Pink Cliffs, Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, and the rugged back country of the Vermillion, White, Grey, and Black Cliffs. The rocks of the Grand Staircase come in every possible color for rock: red, yellow, black, green, white, orange, tan, and grey. Red is the dominant color, giving its name to the commonly used expression for this part of the continent, Red Rock Country. Capitol Reef, although part of the same geologic province as Grand Staircase, is not part of Grand Staircase itself. Back to mental images; picture the Grand Staircase as a layer cake cut through from the top at an angle, then one side of the cake removed to expose the layers to view from the side. That’s the Grand Staircase. Capitol Reef is a giant wrinkle in the layers, at almost a right angle to the exposed side of the cake. Looking west from the west side of the Reef, the tall dark mountain defining the western horizon is Boulder Mtn., called the Aqurius Plateau from the other side, and the top step of Grand Staircase.The best way for the visitor to see the Grand Staircase is by driving from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park. After dropping down into the desert from the forests on the Kaibab Plateau, the Vermillion Cliffs are the ridge disappearing into the distance on the right. Between Kanab and UT Rt 14, there are occasional glimpses of the White Cliffs to the right of US 89. From Sunset Point, look down at the Pink Cliffs, and out to the left to see the Aquarius Plateau.* The Sahara Desert is small time compared to the desert that helped create Zion National Park. Close