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


Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Part 1

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Like most attractions in a national park, the best way to experience diverse landscapes is to hike among them.  The weather wasn’t forecast to be good during the second half of our stay here, so we wanted to cover as much ground as possible right away.  A variety of trails gave us plenty of options to choose from, and this post will be a bit lengthy and loaded with pictures from our adventures.

A long loop trail

Our first day of hiking was full indeed.  Starting with the Cohab Canyon Trail, we began our trek at the park’s campground and added the Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash trails.  We finally completed the 12.2-mile loop by returning to our car from the far end of the Cohab Canyon Trail.

Cohan Canyon Trail

Entering Cohab Canyon.  This is a “must-do” trail if you come here, the first mile from the campground end is especially spectacular


“Beehives ” on Cohab Canyon’s walls

cavernous weathering

Wind and water did the sculpting here

We transitioned first onto the Frying Pan Trail, which increased in elevation and offered stunning views in every direction.  We were feeling the burn by the time we moved onto the Cassidy Arch Trail, where we rested after hiking to the amazing arch where a bunch of noisy tourists were hanging out.

Frying Pan Trail

We took our lunch break along the Frying Pan Trail


Folklore holds that Butch Cassidy and his gang frequented this area in the 1890’s, so the arch is named after him.  See little ol’ me on top of the arch?

Next we connected to the Grand Wash Trail and walked through a wonderful sculpted canyon with a narrows section and unique melded rock formations.  Since the park doesn’t offer a shuttle service, we had to walk 2.6 miles along Hwy 24 to the far end of the Cohab Trail to hike back to our car.  We were worn out!

Frying Pan Trail

Sea of cream-colored Navajo Sandstone

Grand Wash Trail

The narrows section of Grand Wash Trail

Highway 24

Trudging along Hwy 24 for 2.6 miles (not so fun, but traffic was light)

Young Mule Deer

The consolation prize for our walk along the highway

Mule Deer

These guys were too busy munching to notice us straggling along

Side-blotched lizard

“Didn’t you pass by here this morning?”, asked the Side-blotched lizard on the Cohab Canyon Trail

Hickman Bridge Trail

The next day we took it easy and hiked a popular short trail near the visitor center.  It was the Hickman Bridge Trail, only 2 miles roundtrip but strenuous enough that we saw several people turning around halfway through.  Continuing along we came across a small “double bridge” formation.  This minor cavity was once a pothole known to arch hunters as Nels Johnson Bridge, named for the first permanent Euro-American settler in the area back in 1880.


The Nels Johnson Bridge, a double bridge along the trail

Hickman Natural Bridge

The main attraction on this hike, the Hickman Natural Bridge with an impressive 133′ span

It was what I saw looking down, rather than up, that grabbed my attention to take a snapshot of these wild beauties.  I can never say no when they’re so pretty.

Before heading home we stopped at a sign pointing to some petroglyphs.  From 600 to 1,300 years ago, native people of the Fremont Culture made their home at Capitol Reef. Petroglyphs were carved here to detail their daily lives – or so we think.  Only the artists knew the true meaning of these drawings.

Fremont Culture Petroglyps

These are called classic Fremont trapezoidal anthropomorphic petroglyphs (that’s a mouthful!)

Petroglyphs and pictographs at Capitol Reef are more recent examples of works of the Hopi and Pueblo of Zuni tribes from this area.

Fremont Indian

An illustration of how native Fremont Indians created petroglyphs on canyon walls

Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail

We had read that one of the least traveled but best hikes in the area was the Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail.   On another beautiful morning we headed out early to investigate and were impressed by this one.  It included an 1,100’ elevation gain over a 2.3-mile hike to the top of an overlook that revealed amazing views of the Fremont Gorge.


After an initial 400’ climb at the beginning, we walked just over a mile across a volcanic boulder-strewn field to the next section, a killer 700’ hike to the overlook.

Capitol Reef National Park

Wingate sandstone walls as seen from the ascent to Johnson Mesa.  That’s our car down in the parking lot

Johnson Mesa

Johnson Mesa, a 1-mile flat section after the initial ascent

Fremont Gorge Overlook

A final long climb to the cliff edge

The views all around were awesome!

Fremont River

Looking down at Fremont River on its route to Fruita and beyond

Fremont Gorge Overlook

Having a laugh at the edge of stunning Fremont Gorge

Cohan Canyon

A nice display of the Waterpocket Fold’s many sedimentary layers

We took a couple of short hikes to finish this day, a 1-mile roundtrip on the Sunset Point Trail and a short .2-mile jaunt on the Goosenecks Trail.  They were both accessible from a parking lot at the end of a gravel road that started at Panoramic Point.  We felt the strong winds as we walked here and saw its handiwork on the unusual rocks.

Sunset Trail

The goosenecks of Sulphur Creek were a challenge to photograph on an overcast day.  See the streaming water 800′ below?  That’s Sulphur Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River.

Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek

Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek

From the aptly named Panorama Point, to the Sunset Point to the Goosenecks, the views were fabulous.  Actually, everywhere we hiked within this park was stunning.

Waterpocket Fold

Steve soaking it in

We did so much hiking on this stop that I broke up our treks into two parts.  So there’s more to come!


Next up:  Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Pt. 2