The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

December 27th, 2013

Scenic Drive - Capitol Reef

The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

The aptly named Scenic Drive winds through the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, with gorgeous views of sheer cliffs and geologic interest in every direction. The paved Scenic Drive begins near the visitor center and winds for about eight miles, giving access from the road to many of the park’s most popular sights and trailheads. There are 11 viewpoints marked along the scenic road, providing an overview of the geologic history and formations.   Read more about Capitol Reef National Park.

Fruita Orchards - Capitol Reef

Orchards in the Fruita district of Capitol Reef National Park

After the visitor center, the first stop on the Scenic Drive is the historic town of Fruita, where pioneers planted orchards in the late 1800s. The Gifford Homestead still stands as an example of an historic Utah farmhouse. You won’t want to miss the fruit pies for sale during summer season! Impressive rock formations along the Scenic Drive include the 950-foot thick Moenkopi Formation, which shows banded layers of reddish-brown, grey, and burgundy sandstone and shale mixed with volcanic ash. The Chinle Formation is 700-feet thick and contains massive amounts of petrified wood. The Waterpocket Fold’s layers of sediment and rocks are clearly visible at the second stop on the Scenic Drive, telling Capitol Reef’s complex geologic history in its varying colors and textures.  View a Capitol Reef map.

Capitol Reef

Biking / Cycling Enthusiasts will enjoy the ride along Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

The next landmark along the Scenic Drive is the spur road into the narrow, steep Grand Wash. You can drive for about one mile, and then hike the trail a couple miles further—highly recommended if you have the time and ability. The trail leads north to the massive Cassidy Arch, named for famed outlaw Butch Cassidy who used the rugged Grand Wash as a hideout. The Cassidy Arch Trail extends your hike even further, to the cliffs above the arch, for a 3.5-mile round trip strenuous hike. You can also catch a glimpse of the now-defunct Oyler Uranium Mine, which dates back to 1901.

Historic Barn - Capitol Reef

The Gifford barn in Capitol Reef National Park

The geology is diverse in Capitol Reef, as evidenced by the contrast of the sheer Wingate sandstone cliffs, the deep red shale of the Moenkopi formations, the Slickrock Divide, the yellowish-gray Shinarump sediments containing uranium that make up the Chinle formations, and the massive white Navajo Formation which stands over 1400-feet tall. At stop 10 you can see how Capitol Reef earned its name, with a white rounded dome that recalls the U.S. Capitol building, and the steep Waterpocket Fold monocline that early explorers considered a “barrier reef.”

The paved Scenic Drive road ends where the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road begins. This dirt road continues for about two miles into Capitol Gorge, where you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to continue on to Pleasant Creek Road and South Draw. There is a great 2.5-mile hike in Capitol Gorge, where you can find ancient petroglyphs created by the Fremont people, and see the famed Pioneer Registry carved into a canyon wall. The Tanks are pockets of eroded rock that hold rainwater, and they mark the end of the trail. If you’re up to the extremely strenuous 4-mile hike to the Golden Throne, you’ll be rewarded with dramatic views of the massive rock formation.

Visitors will pay normal park entrance fee or use their America the Beautiful Pass to access the Scenic Drive.  A normal passenger vehicle is usually fine for traveling the Scenic Drive, unless you are continuing on the dirt spur roads.  Check with the visitor center for road conditions before entering the Grand Wash or other canyons.

Bird Watching in Capitol Reef Country

December 26th, 2013

Capitol Reef Country’s diverse landscape supports hundreds of bird habitats, including more than 230 documented species in Capitol Reef National Park. From tiny hummingbirds flitting about the campgrounds to massive birds of prey soaring above the slickrock cliffs, recreational bird watchers and ornithologists alike won’t be disappointed. Owl, pinyon jay, chukar, oriole, canyon wren and rock wren are just some of the smaller bird species that make Capitol Reef’s diverse cliffs, canyons, desert grasslands, and pinyon forests their home. Both wren, for example, are typically found in crevices along rock ledges, with the rock wren found in craggy slopes as high as 10,000 feet. Pinyon jay and oriole are commonly found in the park’s woodlands during breeding season. The Mexican Spotted Owl is rarely sighted, but may be spotted in cliff ledges or in trees.  Learn more about wildlife viewing – here.

Utah Golden Eagle

A Golden Eagle views the open terrain from a high perch.

Larger bird sightings in Capitol Reef include raven, Golden Eagle, and the endangered Peregrine Falcon. The raven is one of the smartest and most frequently sighted large birds in Capitol Reef National Park, usually found nesting on cliff ledges or swooping over canyon walls. Falcon and eagle sightings are much more rare, but possible, usually soaring overhead or perched high in the cliffs. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest of all birds, able to fly an impressive 200mph. But there’s no thrill quite a rare Golden Eagle sighting, which may happen as they soar high above wide, open spaces in the Waterpocket Fold. Park rangers are your best bet for information on what birds to see where on any given day inside Capitol Reef.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles are more commonly seen during winter months.

The Fremont River Trail near historic Fruita is one of the most popular bird-watching areas in the park. The Great Blue Heron is extremely rare, but you just might get lucky and catch a glimpse of one near the river. The chukar, a game bird introduced to the area in 1951, is frequently sighted in large groups during the colder months in the rocky, arid section near Fruita. The wooded area around the Ripple Rock Nature Center and the banks of Sulphur Creek are also popular bird watching locations in Capitol Reef.


Geese are commonly seen at certain times of the year along the Bicknell Bottoms

Outside the park, Bicknell Bottoms is one of the best places for bird watching in Capitol Reef Country. This Wildlife Management Area along the Fremont River and Pine Creek contains 670 acres of marshy wetlands and shallow open waters surrounded by farmlands, making it a great spot for sighting waterfowl and game birds. Frequent sightings include the Great Egret, Blue-winged Teal, Northern mockingbird, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, plus a host of more common marsh wren, ducks, geese, pheasant and quail. Bird watchers have even been lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of Bald Eagles and American White Pelicans.

Pelicans Utah

Migrating white pelicans are spotted on this mountain lake in Capitol Reef Country.

Bicknell Bottoms is often a layover for migrating birds, so what you’ll see depends on the season. Grab your binoculars and watch from the roadside or hop in a canoe for a closer look. This birding hotspot is located a few miles west of Torrey, just outside Bicknell. You can walk in to the WMA from an access road just off Posey Lake Road near the J. Perry Egan fish hatchery.

Visit here for a complete list of Capitol Reef birds.

Ranger Programs – Visitor Experiences – Capitol Reef National Park

December 16th, 2013

There are many ways to create a rewarding, memorable, and educational experience at Capitol Reef National Park. Hike a trail, play pioneer games, map constellations—whatever you choose, both adults and kids can take advantage of free ranger programs to make the most of any visit.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef Visitor Center

The Capitol Reef visitor center should be your first stop. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to orient yourself and plan your day, pick up maps, explore the informational exhibits, watch the park movie, and speak with a park ranger. Enjoy free ranger-led programs such as geology and history talks, nature walks, petroglyph panel tours, and summer evening campground programs. Adults and families can check out Fun Packs which contain several self-guided activities to choose from. Then visit the Ripple Rock Nature Center, just 3/4-mile down the road from the visitor center. This family-oriented learning center has interactive displays, a Junior Geologist program, and free nature talks daily during the summer. Also be sure to visit the historic Gifford House, located about a mile south of the visitor center, to learn about pioneer history. And you won’t want to miss the delicious fresh pies baked with local fruits!

Capitol Reef historic artifacts

Artifacts from the Capitol Reef region.

The Junior Ranger program is one of the most popular visitor experiences at Capitol Reef National Park. This free, fun, interactive program is open to kids of all ages, with age-appropriate activities for kids 8 and under, and 9 and over. Junior Rangers will pick up a booklet, then participate in seven different activities—such as interviewing a park ranger, observing waterbugs, and mapping –in order to complete the program. Upon completion, Junior Rangers earn a certificate and a plastic badge. Patches are available for purchase.  Learn more.

Geology information on Capitol Reef National Park

The Junior Geologist program is held twice a week during the summer. During the 45-minute program, kids learn about Capitol Reef National Park’s colorful geologic layers, erosion, how the Waterpocket Fold was formed, and how to identify a fault line. Kids will earn a signed certificate and embroidered patch.

Visitors gaze at interpretive and geologic displays at the Capitol Reef visitor center.

Family Fun Packs include fun activities and games that teach history and skills, such as learning to bird watch, reading a contour map, playing pioneer games, and identifying constellations. It’s a super fun way to keep the whole family engaged, and even fun for adults exploring on their own.

At the Ripple Rock Nature Center, kids can milk a pretend cow, identify fossils, spin wool, grind cornmeal, and play with animal puppets. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open during the summer, and has limited hours, so check with the visitor center to make the most of your visit.

Plan a day of family learning fun at Capitol Reef National Park. You’re sure to find a fun ranger program activity for every member of the family, and best of all, it’s free with park admission!  See some typical program schedules here.