At this point in our trip, we’ve completely run out of superlatives to describe the wonders we’ve seen. We’re unsure what we’ll say about the wonders that await, but we may need to try another language.
Interestingly, when we planned this trip, we didn’t consult any of the guidebooks or websites for the “ideal” itinerary. We didn’t seek advice from family or friends. We simply looked at a map and chose our destinations based on what we thought would be the most efficient and circuitous route from the east. As it turns out, we unknowingly set up a tour that has grown more spectacular with each successive park. Just when we thought we had seen the best of the best, today’s visit to Capitol Reef was even better.
We entered the park along Utah State Route 24, a.k.a. the Capitol Reef Scenic Byway, a 25-mile passage of unparalleled beauty right through the national park. The majesty of the rugged Waterpocket Fold is only one highlight of a journey that also includes views of the Henry Mountains and Goblin Valley.
We arrived at Wonderland RV Park a little past noon, and, after setting up, quickly returned to the park (after grabbing an excellent burger at Slackers), where we embarked on the eight-mile Scenic Drive. Visitors are advised to allow at least two hours, but it took us more than four — not nearly enough time to absorb the stunning palette of colors that spilled across the landscape. The sun played its role in changing the vibrant hues of the towering cliffs, massive domes, delicate arches, and twisting canyons. We felt more “up close and personal” to the geologic forces that shaped, lifted, and folded the earth creating this rugged, remote area than any other place we’ve visited.
“Scenic Drive” is a bit of a misnomer, as we spent much of our time on foot, hiking from parking areas to points of interest. Highlights included Capitol Dome, a Navajo Sandstone formation that reminded early travelers of the U.S. Capitol building and later inspired the name of the park; the Castle, a fractured Wingate Sandstone formation perched high upon grey Chinle and red Moenkopi Formations; and Cassidy Arch, named for the outlaw Butch Cassidy, who was said to have used the area to hide from the law. The “reef” part of the park’s name comes from the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile “wrinkle” in Earth’s crust that appears as a formidable barrier to travel, much like a barrier reef in an ocean.
During our adventure, we learned a few things worth sharing:
- Ancient petroglyphs and pictographs are not an old-school version of graffiti, and therefore shouldn’t be in close proximity.
- There’s no need to talk loudly in a quiet canyon.
- No one has the right-of-way on a narrow, rugged road — it’s all about common courtesy!