Let me start out by saying that Capitol Reef is another prime example of the dramatic beauty of the Colorado Plateau. The geological feature of interest is a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust, known as the ‘Waterpocket Fold.’ Alternating layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale are on clear display and, frankly, it’s magnificent.
The park also boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage. There are fantastic displays of petroglyphs and well preserved villages of the Mormon pioneers. All that being said, after spending three days in this park, I didn’t fall in love with it. This is entirely my fault, not the fault of the park itself. (It’s not you, it me.) I had been enjoying the sights of the region for about a month and the travel fatigue had set in.
The Waterpocket Fold is a cool geological sight. I mentioned before that it is a ‘wrinkle in the earth’s crust.’ The wrinkle is a 100-mile-long monocline (mountain on one side), of layers of sedimentary rock. The sediment was deposited over 70 million years ago when oceans, deserts, wetlands, and rivers took turns covering the region. From 50-70 million years ago, the region uplifted, and instead of cracking, the layers of sedimentary rock folded. Then lots of time happened, and the erosion and weathering left us with the multihued cliff faces and rock formations on display today.
One of the most unique aspects of this park are the orchards. The Mormon settlers brought their fruit trees to the valley. The same heirloom varietals enjoyed by the pioneers can be eaten and purchased onsite. Edible History? Sign me up! If you arrive during the fruit season, you can wander through the orchards after a good day of sightseeing and literally grab a bite to eat. Sadly, it wasn’t fruit season. We saw plenty of signs that informed us that the fruit is free is eaten in the park, and available for purchase otherwise.
I wish we had spent more time visiting the well-preserved settlements of the Mormon pioneers. There was a school house, which we skipped (we were tired); a blacksmith, which we drove past (I said we were tired); and a pie shop, where we stopped (duh, pie!). The pie shop is a sight in its own right. As mentioned the fruit sold there is part of the park’s history, and the museum it’s sold out of is the Gifford House, which was a house built later during the Pioneer’s time there. We didn’t buy pie, (I know!), because we weren’t very hungry, and we saw other things to buy instead. Bear found some Cherry Butter, which is like Apple Butter, but with cherries. It’s amazing. I’ve been eating it with English muffins and butter. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!!! Goose and Bunny picked out some Apple Salsa, which was very flavorful, mild, and sweet. I grabbed some salsa, which was ok. But hey, one can never ever have enough salsa. It’s a rule of full timers, I’m sure of it!
To tour the scenery, we did the scenic drive, which follows the Fremont River through some beautiful monuments and canyons. There were a few side roads, but most came with a warning for car size and we were worried about tight corners with Truckasaurus, so we just drove past. If you have only time for one thing at the Reef – do this, then buy pie.
As for hikes, we did two, each about 4 miles. The first, was the Rim Overlook Trail. We didn’t make it all the way, but we were close. The trail ends at some great views of Fruita and the Waterpocket fold. We didn’t get to the gorge overlook, but we found some shade under a juniper bush at a great vista spot.
The second hike was the Chimney Rock Trail, which is a 3.6-mile loop. The best vistas of the trail’s namesake are from the parking lot and the flats nearby. Much of the hike is on the top of the feature behind Chimney Rock and the canyons behind that. The climb up the monument required some hand holding for Bunny and Goose, but it wasn’t too bad. Once on top, the trail stays away from the edge and the kids could run about a bit. This section is marvelously flat! We found another juniper bush and had lunch. The back half of the loop takes you back down the monument on another side into canyons, (more hand holding) and treated us with more wild flowers and great views of the layers of the canyons walls.
Overall it was a great park. We were able to enjoy a variety of sights and enhance our understanding of the geological processes that created the unique experience of the Colorado Plateau.