Posts Tagged ‘capitol reef utah’

The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

Friday, 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.

Cathedral Valley Utah

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Cathedral Valley

An overview of Cathedral Valley. Looking southeast.

Cathedral Valley is a remote district at the northern end of Capitol Reef National Park. This scenic backcountry gem is dominated by southern Utah’s iconic soaring sandstone monoliths scattered throughout the vast high desert. Cathedral Valley is a must-see for photographers and backcountry adventurists.

Cathedral Valley Formations

Key formations in Cathedral Valley

Most visitors tour the 70-mile scenic Cathedral Valley Loop, which requires a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. About 12 miles east of the visitor center on Highway 24, the Cathedral Valley Loop crosses the Fremont River ford, following Hartnet Road to Cathedral Road/Caineveille Wash Road, and then looping back to Highway 24 about 18.6 miles east of the visitor center. This 58-mile dirt road portion of the Cathedral Valley Loop leads to massive monoliths such as the Walls of Jericho and panoramic overlooks of the Upper and Lower Cathedral Valley.

Hoodoo formations

Hoodoo formations similar to Bryce Canyon

Begin with an eery look into the cowboy past at the Morrell Cabin, located two miles north of the Hartnet Junction. The richly colored Bentonite Hills are the first major geologic sight on the Cathedral Valley Loop, about nine miles past the river ford. These colorful clay hills photograph beautifully in the early morning and evening. A rusted old truck embedded in the mud adds unexpected interested.

Cathedral Valley View

A view from Cathedral Valley toward the Henry Mountains

The Cathedral Valley Loop continues through high desert landscape, accented with lots of sagebrush which makes the perfect hideout for small reptiles and mammals, until the turnoff for the South Desert, where Jailhouse Rock stands impressively.

Cathedral Valley Utah Rocks

A hidden alcove in Cathedral Valley

The pullout for Lower Cathedral Valley is the first of three main overlooks you won’t want to miss along the Cathedral Valley Loop. Next is South Desert Overlook, and Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook which has grand panoramic view of the entire Upper Cathedral Valley landscape and the Waterpocket Fold. The trio of massive monoliths known as the Temples of the Sun, Moon, and Stars are the main attraction of Lower Cathedral Valley. Nearby Glass Mountain, a large gypsum crystal formation is another must-see, along with the Gypsum Sinkhole.

There is a primitive campground just past the Upper Valley Overlook. It’s free, and provides a great home base for multi-day adventures. There are no facilities in the Cathedral Valley backcountry, with the exception of pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables at the campground, so come well prepared with adequate supplies. It’s unlikely that you’ll cross paths with anyone else, so be sure to carry plenty of water, food, and emergency supplies such as extra gas, a spare tire, and a shovel. Dress in layers, as even the hottest daytime temperatures can dip significantly at night.

Cathedral Valley is open all year, but weather conditions will determine how accessible it is at any given time. The Fremont River ford is usually dry and rocky, sometimes silty, and accessible most of the year but excessive rain, snow, and run-off can leave this and other roads impassable. The Bentonite clay can become very slippery when wet. Check with the visitor center for current conditions before heading into Cathedral Valley district.

Learn more about Capitol Reef National Park here.