Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Part 2

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This is the second part of our hiking adventures at Capitol Reef National Park, if you missed it click here  for the first installment.

Another Dirt Road Tour with John and Pam

John and Pam invited us to take another ride in their Jeep to check out some sights along the wild Cathedral Valley district in the northern section of the park.  They keep telling us we should buy a Jeep so we can handle more of these roads, but why should we when we have them to haul us around? 😉

Cathedral Valley District

A jeep in the wild with storm clouds approaching – it’s gonna be an exciting day!

They wrote a great account of our fun day at Cathedral Valley, click here to check it out. Although there wasn’t much hiking involved on this day (because of the weather), it was a fun trip with several stops that we found interesting.  Below are my captures from that day:

Glass Mountain

Steve on top of Glass Mountain (really only a mound, but maybe there’s a mountain beneath it?).  Behind him to the left is the Temple of the Sun – the big one – and Temple of the Moon – the little one next to it

This stop reminded us of the Glass Mountain we visited in California in 2012.  It was a huge mountain, click here for that story.

Selenite Mound

A chunk of shiny selenite protruding from the sedimentary rock at Glass Mountain


Cathedrals – a line of beautifully striated buttes and pillars

Gypsum Sinkhol

An unusual geologic feature called the Gypsum Sinkhole – a deep chasm formed when the bottom gave out below a mass of selenite

Gypsum sinkHole

With John and Pam after our walk into the Gypsum Sinkhole, just before the wind kicked up

Cathedral Valley

Here’s what we saw as we were leaving the valley

There was a hike planned for this trip, but the wind and imminent rain made us re-think and eventually backtrack to the main road.  Just as we were approaching it the rain began, and we were certain we’d made the right decision.  But we had a great day in the desert and thank our friends for inviting us once again.


Dust blowing down the road, followed by serious rain soon after

Capitol Gorge/Tanks/Fremont River Trail

Rainy weather plagued us during our stay, and with several days ending up unhikable (is that a word?) in the afternoons, we started off early one morning.  First we hiked the Capitol Gorge Trail, which began at the end of the Capitol Gorge spur road.  It was an easy walk down the wash between towering cliffs of buff-colored sandstone, weaving its way into the very heart of Waterpocket Fold.  The walk had an option to hike up to several “waterpockets” or “tanks,” which we did.


Erosion created these tanks, or water pockets, in the rocks that hold critical rainwater for animals living in the fold

Mother Nature’s fascinating works of art made us stop and stare:

We spotted historic inscriptions about the pioneers who had passed over the original road through here.  This antique graffiti is called the “Pioneer Register”, and we saw names and dates from the late 1800’s all the way up to 1942:

Pioneer Registry

Zooming in on the Pioneer Register, a jumble of names and dates appear on the rock wall

Pioneer Registry

Names of six surveyors in 1911 near the top of the vertical face

Pioneer Registry

The surveyors must have used ladders or ropes to etch their names way up there

Since the weather remained decent for a while that day we added the 2.6-mile roundtrip Fremont River Trail to our trek.  We accessed it from behind the Gifford House, where I bought my 3rd pie on this stop- they were soooooo good!  Our paper map showed it as a moderate hike, but in reality it was an easy stroll the first half and then became quite strenuous the second half.

Fremont River

Chestnut Orchard

We passed thru Mulfor Orchard, which held lush peach trees and irrigation ditches

We were rewarded with great views here – the Fremont River Gorge as it cut through pine- and juniper-studded Miners Mountain, the Fruita Historic District and the western escarpment of the Waterpocket Fold.

Steve pointing at the Fremont Gorge Overlook that we hiked the day before

Steve points at the Fremont Gorge Overlook that we had hiked the day before

Ferns Nipple

View from end of the trail – Fruita Historic District below and Ferns Nipple sits atop a wall of Wingate formations

Western Escarpment of Waterfold

On the way back, the western escarpment of the Waterfold came into view

The weather had cooperated after all, and we were happy to get in five miles of hiking on a day when we didn’t think we’d make it out at all!

The topper – Steve spotted this gorgeous red/orange/yellow bird as we completed our hike:

The red orange plumage of Bullocks Oriole caught Steve's attention.

The plumage of a Bullocks Oriole caught our attention

Chimney Rock Trail

Steve took a day off and I went for a solo hike on the moderate 3.5-mile Chimney Rock Trail Loop, and added a 2-mile side trip to Chimney Rock Canyon.  The previous day’s rain had not muddied the path as Steve had guessed it would, and this hike provided some excellent “alone time” for both of us on a sunny day.

Spring Canyon

Easy obstacles to conquer along the way

There was lots to see in Chimney Rock Canyon.  I climbed over huge boulders that obstructed the washes, craned my neck to view towering examples of honeycomb weathering and gushed over sweeping Wingate Cliffs.

 honeycomb weathering

Examples of honeycomb weathering also known as swiss cheese rocks

Then I retraced my steps and picked up the Chimney Rock Loop Trail, where views at the highest point of the Mummy Cliffs were no less spectacular:

Capitol Reef

Nature’s tiedown for a dead tree

Windgate Cliffs

A selfie without the stick

Waterpocket Fold

Waterpocket Fold bends southward, revealing four sedimentary rock layers: top to bottom; Navajo, Wingate, Chinle and Moenkopi

Chimney Rock

Looking down at Chimney Rock and Highway 24

Scenic Byway 12

We tried to drive Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 during our stay in Torrey, but were unable to complete it due to snow at the higher elevations.  At least I was able to get out of the car and take advantage of a “photo op” before we turned around:

Snow showers in May

Snow showers in May!

This day also ended well, for when we arrived back at the campground we had two guests waiting for us:

What a week it was!  Sensory overload with all the vibrant colors of the exposed rock layers, and the remoteness of so many hikes bringing us welcome solitude.  This national park should not be missed!

Yellow bellied Marmot

Mr. Marmot says, “thanks for coming, visit us again!”


Next up:  Memorable landscapes along Utah’s Scenic Byway 12


Famous Western Nebraska landmarks – Platte River Valley

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One of the perks of this rolling lifestyle is learning history while at the same time enjoying the scenery.  Most of our 2013 stops along the “history belt” back east served well in educating and enriching us.  Our current stop at the Platte River Valley in western Nebraska did the same.

Although our stay and hikes would have been further enhanced had we been able to catch up with friends John and Pam, it didn’t quite work out as they had to move on from the same campground we were entering – and on the same day!  They have a great 2-part blog about this area, so check them out as well.

Platte River Valley

A long train filled with coal from Wyoming looks tiny when viewed from the top of Scotts Bluff

The Platte River Valley has many historical places to explore.  This area was a focal point more than a century ago, during the height of the greatest voluntary migrations in U.S. history.  The Platte River was a reference point that led travelers west as they pushed through the prairie grass.  Although the overland trails to Oregon, California and Utah had different beginning and end points, they all followed the Platte and North Platte Rivers. The waters of those rivers sustained the pioneers and the oxen that pulled their heavily-laden wagons through the area.

North Platte River

The Mormon emigrants stayed on the north side of the river to avoid conflicts with emigrants going to Oregon and California on the southern trails

Stories of the monuments…

Two towering landmarks showed those pioneers the way.  Scotts Bluff National Monument and Chimney Rock stand silent guard over the Westward Migration Trails, just as they did those many years ago.

The most notable landmark along the Oregon Trail was Chimney Rock.  The sentinel was visible from several days away and gave the emigrants a good spot to rest and ponder their situation.

Chimney Rock

Can you see the pointed Chimney Rock in the distance?  This is how it looks 22 miles away from the top of Scotts Bluff

For emigrants to Oregon and California, Chimney Rock meant completion of their travel across the plains and approximately one-third of their journey west.  It also meant the beginning of the rugged mountain portion of their trek.

For the Mormon pioneers, the sentinel was the halfway point to their destination in the Salt Lake City area of Utah.

Chimney Rock

Rising 470 feet above the plains, Chimney Rock served as a beacon for early travelers

The Oregon Trail stretches 2,000 miles, and most of the pioneers walked it!

Oregon Trail

The emigrants pushing on for a better life out west

A few miles further along the emigrants were confronted by a massive promontory rising some 800 ft. above the valley floor, now known as Scotts Bluff National Monument. During that time folks didn’t have the luxury of exploring the bluff, for they had to keep moving in order to get over the Rocky Mountains before winter storms hit.

Scotts Bluff

A replica of a wagon train is located where the pioneers pushed on here at Mitchell Pass, between Eagle Rock and Sentinel Rock

We hiked several trails during our stay.  The Saddle Rock Trail took us to the summit of Scotts Bluff and passed through a very active rock fall area.  We learned how active, as a large boulder broke off the rim above and rolled over the trail about 30 ft. behind me!  Of course, I immediately checked to make sure Steve wasn’t anywhere up there 😉

Saddle Rock Trail

An area with active rock falls – that dust shows the path of a rock fall that just happened

On another day we followed the Prairie View Trail, which took us through the area of the Five Rocks of Scotts Bluff.  From the lowlands we could take in the enormity of the bluff, and see why it gave the pioneers lasting memories.

Mitchell Pass, Scotts Bluff National Monument

Mitchell Pass between Sentinel Rock and Eagle Rock, where emigrants pressed on westward

Scotts Bluff

The view of Scotts Bluff the Mormons would see as they followed the trail north of the river


While here we also drove to a man-made landmark, a full-scale replica of England’s famous Stonehenge using antique cars instead of stones.  Built using 38 cars painted gray and with some half buried, it was designed by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father. Other vehicles are welded on top, and some jut out of the ground at odd angles.  A bit strange, but it’s the closest thing to Stonehenge we’ll see until we make it to England!


Carhenge in Alliance, NE


Steve’s figuring out which ones are Fords, GM’s and Chryslers

The Fourd Seasons

The “Fourd Seasons” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) represents the four stages of wheat grown in the area

…and a balloon festival!

Since we know we’ll miss the Albuqueque Balloon Festival this year, we were excited to learn that the (much smaller) Old West Balloon Festival…Re-inflated was happening in the Scottsbluff-Gering area during our stay.  Getting up at 4:00am wasn’t much fun, but it’s how we avoided a multi-hour traffic jam at the event’s single entry road (it was not at all well organized).

The balloons were scheduled to launch around 7am, but it was delayed due to high winds aloft.  Waiting out the delay was worth it, as the sights and sounds of the colorful hot air balloons being inflated and taking off one by one was very exciting.

Old West Balloon Fest

I couldn’t resist, I was in the perfect spot to be goofy!


Getting the hot air in there…


Fortunately, this Humpty Dumpty didn’t have a great fall!

Old West Balloon Fest

Scotts Bluff in the background

Old West Balloon Fest

Old West Balloon Fest

The balloons rise into a cool Nebraska morning sky

Seeing the historical landmarks in western Nebraska put us about halfway through our southward migration, so onward we go to avoid the Rocky Mountain winter ourselves!


Next Up:  Rocky Mountain National Park