Posts Tagged ‘waterpocket fold’

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.

Utah’s Scenic Byway 24 – Capitol Reef Country

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Scenic Byway 24 runs east and west between Loa and Hanksville, Utah.  This incredibly scenic 75-mile drive winds between the Fishlake and Dixie National Forests, through Capitol Reef National Park, between the San Rafael Swell and the Henry Mountains and near the canyons of the Dirty Devil river basin.  A drive straight through will take just a few hours, but there is plenty to see along the way so allow time to explore.  (View maps here)

Scenic Byway 24 as it passes through Lyman, Utah

From the Interstate 70 near Richfield, follow Scenic Byway 24 south toward Loa, the seat of Wayne County.

While traveling at an elevation just over 7,000 feet, you’ll also pass through the communities of Lyman, Bicknell (home of Bicknell Bottoms Wildlife Habitat and historic Nielsen Mill) and Teasdale at the foot of the northern slope of Boulder Mountain.  Around Torrey, at the intersection with Scenic Byway 12, this pretty Fremont River valley gives way to a backdrop of red rock cliffs and canyon country.  Thousand Lakes Mountain, located in the eastern part of Fishlake National Forest, is surrounded by Fremont, Loa and Lyman to the west, Bicknell, Teasdale and Torrey to the south, and Capitol Reef to the east. Exposed layers of red sandstone along the lower slopes are topped by alpine forests and meadows at higher elevations.   (Learn more about scenic drives – here)

Scenic Byway - Utah

Utah's Scenic Byway 24 as it passes through Capitol Reef National Park

The majesty of the rugged Waterpocket Fold is a highlight of Scenic Byway 24. The next 25 miles of this scenic drive passes through Capitol Reef National Park, the only route through the park. Just past the entrance and Chimney Rock, you can visit the orchards and historic buildings at the ghost town of Fruita. A trail behind the schoolhouse leads to a petroglyph panel, then continues on to Hickman Natural Bridge and the Fremont Indian ruins.

Past Caineville, the landscape flattens out with views in every direction. The Henry Mountains can be seen to the south. Located in the San Rafael Swell near Hanksville, about 20 minutes from the intersection with Highway 95, the Mars Desert Research Station is one of four simulated Mars habitats in the world. The Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry is located in the Morrison Formation, about 11 miles northwest of Hanksville. The quarry features hundreds of Jurassic Period dinosaur bones. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the dirt road that leads to the site.

Henry Mountain View

View of the Henry Mountains from Scenic Byway 24

Side trips that can be taken from Scenic Byway 24 include Scenic Byway 12, Fishlake Scenic Byway, Notom Scenic Backway and Goblin Valley State Park.