Capitol Reef National Park Utah – Awe-inspiring!

Capitol Reef National Park captivated us with its natural afternoon light show at Sunset Point, its Mormon history at the Pioneer Register and the natural rock Hickman Bridge. Capitol Reef National Park: Sunset Point. Vivid colors come to life at Capitol Reef National Park: Sunset Point.

Vivid colors come to life.

Capitol Reef's Sunset Point is a romantic spot for taking photos. Sunset Point at Capitol Reef National Park.

Mark disappears in the vast landscape.

Evening shadows at Sunset Point Trail, Capitol Reef Nat'l Monument.

Late afternoon shadow-play at Sunset Point.

Evening shadows at Sunset Point Trail, Capitol Reef Nat'l Monument. Twisted trees resemble driftwood on an inlad vermillion sea.

Twisted trees resemble driftwood on

an inlad vermillion sea.

We were way too excited to sit down!

Utah wildfire smolders int the distance.

A wildfire puffs smoke in the distance.

Spectacular views along Capitol Reef's

Views along the park's "Scenic Drive"

An antique plough sits out in a field.

An antique plough sits out in a field.

Pioneer Schoolhouse at Capitol Reef.

Pioneer Schoolhouse

The Capitol Gorge wash where pioneers arrived by car.

...and now.

Capitol Gorge Wash then...

It must have been exciting to

arrive here.

Pioneer Register, Capitol Reef National Park.

Hiking to the Pioneer Register.

Pioneer Register, Capitol Reef National Park.

Pioneer names from September

24th, 1910.

M. Larson, Nov. 20th, 1888

M. Larson, Nov. 20th, 1888

Wildflowers soften the canyon walls.

Views from the Golden Throne Hike at Capitol Reef Nat'l Park

Looking down from our hike to

the Golden Throne

Gnarled trees on the Golden Throne hike.

Gnarled trees on the Golden

Throne hike.

End of Trail.  And there's the Golden Throne.

End of Trail.  And there's the Golden Throne.

Views from Capitol Reef's

Views from the park's "Scenic Drive"

The setting sun plays with light and shadow on the rocks at Capitol Reef, Utah.

The setting sun plays with light and shadow on the rocks.

Gifford Homestead Barn, Fruita, Utah.

Gifford Homestead Barn

Horse grazing at Gifford Homestead.

Not a bad spot to graze.

Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef NP

Hickman Bridge

Mark admires the view of Hickman Bridge.

Admiring the view.

Capitol Reef National Park & Fruita, Utah

Mid-June, 2012 - After our energetic hikes in Natural Bridges National

Monument and our awe-inspiring drive along the Bicentennial Highway

(Route 95), we were geared up to for more immersion in Utah's red rocks.

We found exactly that at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

On our first afternoon

in the area we visited

Sunset Point, a perfect

spot to watch the sun

fall lower and lower in

the sky.  The vivid

colors came to life in

the late afternoon.

It is a dramatic

setting - a

wonderful place

to get a photo of a

loved one with a

soaring backdrop.

There were clouds

in the sky, and

they wafted past

us overhead,

casting shadows

and playing with

the sunlight as

they passed.

Dead tree stumps were twisted into exotic shapes here and

there, looking a bit like driftwood that had been washed ashore

somehow in this burnt orange desert land.

Park benches invited us to take

a load off, but we were way too

busy running up and down the

hiking trails -- trying to see

everything at once -- to even

think about sitting down.

Off in the distance a

new wildfire smoldered.  A nearby plaque stated that this part

of Utah boasts some of the cleanest air in the continental US,

but the smattering of wildfires that were burning at the time

weren't helping that claim.

We wandered among the red rocks until the disappearing

sun had quietly stolen all their colors away.

Capitol Reef National Park is a

long skinny park (~5 miles wide

by ~50 miles long) that runs on a

north-south axis along the

Waterpocket Fold which is a

huge buckle in the earth's crust.

There are loads of backcountry

roads and trails leading to wild

and remote places, but on this

visit we stuck to the easy-to-

reach hikes.

The tiny community of Fruita is at the heart of this area, and Mormons settled there in the late

1800's.  By 1917 they had a bustling village filled with orchards.  Cherries, apricots, peaches,

pears and apples are still grown here, but we were just a little too early to take advantage of any of the harvests.

Remnants of Fruita's past still remain

along the edges of the scenic drive

through the park.  An old plow and a

pioneer schoolhouse were reminders of

a bygone era.

This area was extremely difficult to

reach for those pioneers, due to the

rugged terrain of the Waterpocket Fold,

but a route coming in did exist along the

bottom of a wash through Capitol

Gorge.  Between 1871 and the early

1940's Mormons arrived via this route,

first by horse and buggy and then by

car.  Looking at my photos afterwards I

noticed that Mark had been standing

pretty close to the spot where a photo

from the National Park Service showed

an antique car going through.

It took a group of men eight days to move all the boulders out of a 3.5 mile

stretch of the Capitol Gorge wash so it could be traversed by vehicles.  Then two

cars could just barely pass side by side.  Today the wash is regaining its natural

state and there are boulders and thickets of plants growing where it once must

have been smooth enough for a car to make it through.

As the arriving pioneers passed the towering cliffs, a lot of them stopped to

carve their names in the flat parts of the stone walls.  Today it's called the

Pioneer Register, and we saw names and dates from the late 1800's all the way

to 1942.  It is hard to imagine what those determined, rugged and travel-weary

people must have felt as they passed through this gorge to a new life.  Little kids

with grubby hands must have peered out the windows of the cars, while

flustered moms tried to keep all their kids in tow.  I can't imagine the exhaustion

and exhilaration they must have felt.  Yet the town where they were arriving

didn't even have the paved campground loops, the gift shop full of coffee table

books or the flush toilets that it does today.

In my excitement of spotting

a list of names high up on

one wall, I hastily took a

photo without looking

closely enough at what I

was shooting.  I managed

to get all the names in the

list but cut off the date -- it

was September 24th 1910.

Still mulling over the

immense changes that

have taken place in the

world since the last signatures from the 1940's were pecked out on these

walls, we started up the initial ascents of the Golden

Throne hike.  This hike took us to the tops of the rock

cliffs where we had magnificent views looking down on

the road far below.

Gnarled trees greeted us as we climbed higher and

higher, until finally -- and rather abruptly -- we came to a

sign that said "End of trail."  Behind it was the trail's

namesake Golden Throne, a huge round yellow rock.

Making our way back along the park's

simply named "Scenic Drive," the late

afternoon light was playing with the

rocks again, a game of hide-and-seek

that involved brights and shadows

on the burgundy rocks.

A lone barn belonging to the historic

Gifford Homestead and a horse

munching the grass in the pasture

across the street spoke of the

immense peace of this place.  The

trees rustle so softly and the birds

chirp so quietly.  The bustle of the

campground and the arriving cars of

tourists seemed to suddenly hush,

as if everyone knew to act as if the

were in a library in honor of the calm

that resides here.

If the pioneers had a tortuous trip getting

here, once they arrived and got settled they

must have paused for a moment on many a

luscious afternoon and murmured "This is

God's country," because it is, even today.

We fell under the area's spell and decided to do one more hike

before moving on down the road.  Hickman Bridge is a rock

bridge that is a cousin to the three bridges we had seen at

Natural Bridges National Monument.  It is an easy hike in to see

it, but once there we found it hard to get it lined up in such a way

as to prove that it was indeed a bridge.  The other rocks and cliffs

all crowd around it, like a city swarming around a man-made

bridge, and only when you get

underneath can you get it

framed against the sky.

Mark gave up trying to capture

it on camera and simply sat

across the way admiring it, legs

folded and very content.

As has been the theme for us

this season, the heat of summer

began to catch up with us and soon we were pushed a little further

north in Utah to Koosharem Reservoir and Fish Lake where the

fiery red rocks gave way to cool green mountains and seagulls

flying over the water.