Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Part 2

Comments 6 Standard

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


It’s a rocky situation at Glass Mountain

Comments 4 Standard

After talking about scenery,  lava tubes and caves, it’s time to show some rocks that really rock.  Volcanic rocks, that is.  In our first two blogs about the Lava Beds National Monument we explored the hidden world of the lava caves and the rugged surface encompassing the monument.  This time we highlight the naturally occurring volcanic glass – obsidian rock.  It’s a form of Rhyolite that has the highest content of silica.  It is a volcanic glass prized by Native Americans for making arrowheads, knives, spear points and other tools.


Is this really sharp?

Obsidian Roc kFile

A huge pile of Obsidian Rock

This excursion took us about 30 miles south of the Lava Beds as we continued our geologic adventure at Glass Mountain.

Glass Mountain has been designated a Special Interest Area in Modoc National Forest because of its geologic formations.  The area is a 4,210 acre lava flow of glassy black obsidian boulders ending suddenly in white pumice soil.  Wandering around at the top of  Glass Mountain, we encountered prehistoric obsidian mines along a glass flow and were amazed at the ancient quarry remains evident today.  Being there was kind of surreal and made us wonder what it must have been like when this amazing landscape was being formed.  Estimates are that the most recent flows of pumice and obsidian at Glass Mountain occurred less than 900 years ago.

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain

Ancient Rock Quarries

Ancient Rock Quarries

We are not geologists or rock hounds, but this place rocks!

The drive took us through the Modoc National Forest were we also saw Ponderosa Pines for miles covered with lichens.

Lichens covering trunks of Ponderosa Pines

After wandering through the quarries we drove to Arnica Sink, a dry basin in which water-worn cobbles and pebbles are mixed with sub-angular boulders covered by a washed mantle of pumice.

Arnica Sink

Arnica Sink

Our final stop was at Medicine Lake, which was once the center of a volcano and is over 150 feet deep.  It was quite a beautiful day and only a few folks were enjoying the serenity and beauty surrounding the area.

Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

Yellow Rabbit flowers were in full bloom and dotted the landscape with yellow and orange glow. Simply beautiful!

Yellow Rabbit Bloom