Posts Tagged ‘Capital Reef’

Capitol Reef – The Waterpocket Fold

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold is the defining geologic feature of this majestic national park. This wrinkle in the earth’s surface extends for nearly 100 miles, creating a dramatic landscape of rugged cliffs and canyons, striking natural bridges and arches, and distinct formations in the heart of red rock country. This warp in the Earth’s crust is a classic monocline: a steep fold on one side of otherwise horizontal geological layers, about 7,000 feet higher in the west than on the east.

Waterpocket Fold - Capitol Reef

The Waterpocket Fold is clearly seen here in this aerial view over Capitol Reef National Park

Like most folds, the Waterpocket Fold was formed along an underlying fault; in this case during the Laramide Orogeny, a major mountain-forming event that occurred 50 to 70 million years ago. More recent uplift (about 15 million years ago) along the Colorado Plateau resulted in further erosion and exposure, creating “waterpockets”—hence the name—that formed as tilted sandstone layers were eroded by water to develop the cliffs, domes, canyons, arches and monoliths that could only be created by this incredible force of nature.

The Burr Trail

The Burr Trail in Long Canyon which leads toward the Waterpocket Fold

The Waterpocket Fold runs north-south from Thousand Lake Mountain all the way to Lake Powell. Scenic Highway 24 runs through the heart of the park, and is the only paved road that crosses the rugged terrain of the Waterpocket Fold. The incredibly scenic Burr Trail also crosses the Waterpocket Fold, from Boulder to Notom-Bullfrog Road; in fact, the Notom-Bullfrog Road/Burr Trail/Scenic Highways 12 and 24 loop is pretty popular. But Notom-Bullfrog Road is the only road that runs parallel to the Fold. It winds along the east side for more than 60 miles, giving great access to the scenic southern section of Capitol Reef National Park, plus views of the Henry Mountains.  Read more about the Waterpocket Fold by clicking on the link.

Although sections of Notom-Bullfrog Road are rugged, sandy and muddy, the road is pretty accessible without a four-wheel-drive vehicle under normal conditions. There are tons of slot canyons and trails just waiting to be explored in Capitol Reef NP. Three of the most popular slot canyons that can be accessed from Notom-Bullfrog Road are Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash and Sheets Gulch. These open washes quickly narrow into rugged slot canyons carved right into the landscape of the Waterpocket Fold. Lower Muley Twist Canyon is another deep and narrow slot canyon of the Fold, accessible from the Burr Trail Junction switchbacks. Upper Muley Twist Canyon provides some of the most dramatic views of the Waterpocket Fold’s eroded Wingate sandstone and massive arches. The Post and Hall’s Creek Overlook are spur roads that lead to some more distinct and well-known features of the Waterpocket Fold, including Brimhall Natural Bridge.

Capitol Reef - Capital

Views of the formations in Capitol Reef National Park

The most scenic section of the Waterpocket Fold is Capitol Reef,  featuring massive white domes of Navajo sandstone, and craggy barrier cliffs, or reefs.  Cathedral Valley, at the northwestern boundary, is the lower end of the incline, highlighted by deep erosion and free-standing temple-like Entrada sandstone monoliths. The vast Bentonite Hills roll at the southern end of the park.   Read more about Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef – Featured in new 60 Sec. Video

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Check out this great new video about Utah’s National Park Parks. Capitol Reef is the center of it all, so make your plans, and come on over!

Cassidy Arch & Grand Wash

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Hit the trails inside Capitol Reef National Park and walk in the footsteps of history’s most famous outlaws.  The trails through the majestic Grand Wash and the spur trail to Cassidy Arch lead to some pretty unforgettable scenery as you explore the colorful canyon country.  Combining the two trails makes for a 7.5-mile roundtrip hike and hits on some of Capitol Reef’s amazing highlights.

How to reach the Grand Wash trailhead:
The Grand Wash Trail cuts through the wash all the way from the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive to Scenic Highway 24, so you can actually start at either end. Follow the Scenic Drive for about 3.4 miles from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to the Grand Wash turn-off, then follow the maintained gravel road for 1.2 miles to the parking area.  Most passenger vehicles are able to handle the gravel road, at least during good weather. You can also enter the Grand Wash from a parking area off Scenic Highway 24, about 4.5 miles east of the visitor center.

Cassidy Arch - Grand Wash

Looking down on Cassidy Arch and toward the Grand Wash

The Grand Wash Trail:
The Grand Wash Trail is 2.25 miles one way with only a 200-foot elevation change. The easy, family-friendly hike offers lots of opportunities for kids (and grown-ups) to climb, scramble and explore—and it’s the trail you should hike if you only have time for one.  The trail follows the dry wash bed deep into the sandstone canyon, with cliffs looming up to 800-feet high.  At its narrowest, the walls are just 15 feet apart.  This half-mile section is a great introduction to slot canyon hiking and a dry alternative to Zion’s Narrows—just be sure to check the forecast for flash flood warnings.  For most of the hike along the canyon floor you’ll be following the gravel wash bed, which is pretty well-defined. The Grand Wash is one of the most popular trails in Capitol Reef but since this park is the least visited in Utah you’ll still be able to enjoy the solitude, and maybe even see some Desert Bighorn Sheep hanging out along the trail. You can also explore a few slot canyons, overhangs and spur trails along the way.

Capitol Reef hiking

Hikers from Europe pause for a photo at the Cassidy Arch trail-head.

The Cassidy Arch Trail:
The trail to Cassidy Arch forks off the Grand Wash about 3/4-mile from the parking area and ascends the cliffs to the massive arch which sits on a slickrock plateau about 500 feet above the wash. The arch is named for infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy who used to hide out in the canyon’s nooks and crannies with the Sundance Kid. The hike along the cliffs is fun but strenuous, with a rapid elevation gain (about 550 feet in a half mile), steep inclines, switchbacks, some rocky terrain and areas of the trail that aren’t clearly marked. Be sure to give kids a safety lecture before heading out, watch for drop-offs, and stop to take lots of pictures (and catch your breath) on the way up. Cairns and stairs carved in the red rock help with navigation, and the effort is well worth the payoff at trail’s end: a bird’s-eye vantage point just above the arch. If you’ve got the guts you can even hike over the arch, something you can’t do at other national parks. Give yourself at least two hours for the 3.1-mile roundtrip hike.

You can hike back whichever way you came in—back to the Grand Wash fork and either to the Scenic Road or to Scenic Highway 24—or you can hit the Frying Pan Trail, which takes you over the Waterpocket Fold and heads down into Cohab Canyon. If you choose to go straight through the gorge to the other side you’ll face a long hike back to where you started or need a shuttle waiting, so plan ahead. Weather-wise, the best time to hit these trails is during fall and spring but they’re accessible year-round.  Read more here

For additional information about these and other trails inside Capitol Reef National Park, visit