Capitol Reef, the Other Utah Park

We didn’t know what to expect from Capitol Reef – our guidebooks barely devoted two pages apiece to the park and, being internet-less at Hamburger Rock, we couldn’t find a good overview – and didn’t quite know what to make of it once we got there. It’s counted as one of Utah’s Big Five, but it seems most people pass through without paying it much attention on their way between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands. I wanted to spend more time than the day we had allotted ourselves: the park is part caught-in-time orchard along a babbling brook, and part immense rock formations accessed by bumpy gravel roads and rocky hiking trails.

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The park ranger we talked to suggested the Cassidy Arch trail since we could walk out onto the arch, about a six-mile drive from the visitors center along the Fremont River. Mormons built a settlement along the banks, under massive cottonwood trees, in the 1800s and the Park Service has maintained the original orchards using farming techniques from that era. Another stream, Sulfur Creek, runs through the area and joins with the Fremont River near a picnic area. That rich, green area stretches under a mile on the scenic drive before the road reenters red slickrock and white limestone.

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File_000 (3)We hiked up through scraggly scrub brush and around a few recent-looking rock slides, across a wide stretch of slickrock marked by cairns, to a massive arch that appeared at our feet seemingly out of nowhere.

Hey, the ranger said we could climb on it.

The landscape surrounding the trail could have been from another planet. Divots eroded out of slickrock and cliffs looked like eyes, faces, watching us. Scrubby trees grew out of seemingly impossible crags and crevices, and you quickly forget that a vibrant green, shaded oasis sits only a few miles away.

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The greenery beckoned, though, as did our waiting PB&Js. After lunch I waded into Sulfur Creek, which lived up to its name smell-wise, and made my way out to the confluence with the Fremont River. It wasn’t as grand as I’m making it sound but it felt good on my hike-swollen feet.

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We got to experience some fauna:

The sky started to darken with heavy clouds as the wind picked up and we felt a storm coming on, so we attempted to head out, hindered by this deer causing a minor traffic jam.

What? I’m tryin’ ta eat some leaves here!

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