Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Day in Capitol Reef National Park

We woke up early in our room at the Broken Spur Inn in Torrey, ready for a full day of hiking and other sightseeing in Capitol Reef National Park.  I give Broken Spur good marks – not luxurious by any means, but good value for the money.  We breakfasted there both days – Nancy had a breakfast steak this morning that was especially tasty.  The place has a covered pool that is larger than your standard inexpensive hotel pool, along with a hot tub, but we did not use either because we were too busy in the parks all day long.  And not only were there windows that open, but despite the heat of the day, in the afternoon and evening there was a cooling breeze that gave every reason to keep the windows open instead of relying on air conditioning.

On the way into Capitol Reef, we drove past Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock in Capitol Reef National Park

stopped for a quick look at the Goosenecks overlook, standing hundreds of feet over Sulphur Creek, then headed to the visitors center to pick up maps and get some advice.  The park features an early Mormon settlement called Fruita (FROO-TUH) that still maintains orchards containing hundreds of trees, and the guidebooks reported that the orchards are generally open for free “pick your own” sessions, with a small charge only for tourists who want to take their picked fruit out of the orchards.  Unfortunately, the ranger that we asked reported that a late freeze had destroyed the apricot crop and most of the cherries, so the orchards were closed.  And our top choice hike for this park, to the Hickman Bridge, featuring not only a large natural bridge but an archeological site featuring ruins of houses of the Fremont people, who lived in the area from about 700 to 1300 AD, was closed because of a rock slide near the beginning of the trail.  The Visitor Center did have one excellent feature — three stacks of poster boards on which descriptions, dried examples and photos were mounted for the various plants and flowers to be found in the park.  On our way back out of the park, we were able to identify several plants that we had seen in Capitol Reef, and even some that we had seen in the days before.

For our first hike, we chose to enter Cohab Canyon, requiring a quick climb up several switchbacks to reach the canyon entrance atop a bluff overlooking the Fruita valley

Entrance to Cohab Canyon atop bluff overlooking Fruita valley

Then we were into the Canyon, where we were free to walk into narrow slot canyons as far as we could go (generally, not very far)

Many of the walls were pocked with small holes, similar to what we had seen in the smooth walls in Arches

Small holes in walls along Cohab Canyon

Small holes in walls along Cohab Canyon

and we walked by free standing formations such as this one reminiscent of Balanced Rock

Rock formation in Cohab Canyon

Near the end of the walk, just before turning around, we climbed up a side of the canyon for this nice overview of Fruita

Overlooking Fruita from a spur on the Cohab Canyon trail

We saw lots of this bush, later identified for us at the Visitors Center as the round-leaved gooseberry

Roundleaved gooseberry in Cohab Canyon
Then, we retraced our steps out to Fruita and sat down for a nice picnic lunch of leftovers from the day before.

Next, we took the scenic drive southward, following the small road that was originally the main route through the Waterpocket Fold, enjoying the cliffs towering overhead

Near the southern end of the scenic drive, we parked and walked into the Capitol Gorge, which Mormon pioneers had followed in the mid-1800's.  The features of this Gorge including petroglyphs from the Fremont people

and the Pioneer Register, where Mormon pioneers had etched or painted their names on the rock in 1871

The otherwise excellent Lonely Planet guidebook cautioned us not to be “confused” by the names of USGS surveyors that had been etched into overhanging rock 40 years later “vandalism by today’s standards.”

Names of USGS surveyors carved into the rocks of Capitol Gorge in 1911

I couldn’t help being struck by the irony, calling 100 year old names vandalism while 140 year-old-names were a historic treasure than helped make the hike worthwhile.

Leaving Capitol Gorge, we headed back up the Scenic Drive to hike into the Grand Wash.  As we began our walk, we could see the Cassidy Arch high above, the former hiding place of outlaw Butch Cassidy

Cassidy Arch, high above the Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park

Along the walk, we found this boulder showing a ripple pattern in the sandstone, oft-discussed in Arches National Park although we had not noted any examples

Eventually, the walls of the canyon around us, maybe fifteen to twenty feet from one wall to the other while the walls went up several hundred feet -- delicious to be feel so small, and besides the shade provided a welcome respite from the sun that made our walk  blazing hot as well as dusty and dry

Grand Wash narrows down

Welcome shade while hiking the Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park
It was because of this closed-in feature of the Grand Wash that the guidebooks and signs at the beginning of the trail all warned that if there was any threat of rain in the area, the trail was to be avoided because of the danger of flash flooding.

After we left the Grand Wash and began to drive back for our last walk of the day, we saw these gathering clouds that looked very much like rain, and we were glad that we were out of the wash. 

In the end, there was no rain – we saw clouds like this later in our trip, near Zion, and again we were sure that rain was coming (and again, we were mistaken)

Our final walk of the day was to see Fremont petroglyphs on a wall along the Fremont River.  These are the ones we saw from the wooden walkway

I’m not sure whether there were any others further down the walkway; there was a tree down blocking the walkway, so we could only get to part of it

This wall was across SR 24 from the petroglyphs

We drove back into Torrey and tried dinner at the Capitol Reef Café.  The place had been recommended for good cooking with an emphasis on local ingredients.  I was unimpressed – again I tried the trout, but unlike at Café Diablo the evening before, it was dry and overcooked.  Indeed, I tried trout again in Springdale while we were visiting, and Café Diablo was the only place that kept it tender.  Fish can much too easily be overcooked, and it has taken me years to learn to do it right; Capitol Reef Inn did not pass this test.

No comments:

Post a Comment