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Exploring:  Capitol Reef National Park

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Capitol Reef National ParkCapitol Reef was established a national monument in 1937. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became a national park. The history of the area is long, both geologically and historically. The park is located in between the small towns of Torrey and Hanksville. From either town take Highway 24 to the park entrance.

The park has no entrance fee, but there is a charge of $5.00 to drive the scenic drive. A national parks pass, golden age pass, or golden access pass negate the need to pay the fee.

The park sits atop a large geologic feature called the Waterpocket Fold. This fold occurred about 50-70 million years ago. The fold has left 200 million years of geologic history to view. The age of the rocks increases from the East to the Golden ThroneWest. Millions of years of erosion have left stunning canyons, towering cliff bands, and large domes. The domes are what has given the park its name. The Golden Throne and other domes resemble the rotundas of the typical state capitol building.

Petroglyph PanelsHistorically this area has also been busy. There are numerous evidences of Fremont Indian culture. There are several petroglyph panels located alongside the Fremont River. The park service has built a very nice boardwalk complete with mounted binoculars to view most of these panels.

More recently the area was the home of a pioneer settlement for members of the Latter Day Saints. Also known as Mormons, the pioneers settled this area in the late 1800’s. A small town sprung up centered around an agricultural society. Fruit was the main commodity, numerous orchards were planted alongside the Fremont River. The town was named Fruita in honor of its most prized resource.

Uranium MinesMiners also made their mark in the cliffs surrounding the park. In the
early days Uranium was mined and used as a cure for illnesses. These old
mines are interesting to look at from afar, but dangerous to approach.

When the park was designated a monument, and the road paved into the valley, most of the settlers began to leave. By the 1960’s everyone had moved out. Several buildings still remain to this day. The Gifford House, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop are still standing and provide a glimpse back into pioneer life.

Fruit OrchardsThe fruit orchards are maintained by the park service. Visitors are welcome to consume all the ripe fruit they wish. There are self-pay bags and scales located at each orchard’s entrance if you wish to take fruit with you.

The fruit ripens near the following schedule:
Fruit
Estimated
Season Start
Estimated
Season End
Cherries
6/11
7/7
Apricots
6/27
7/22
Peaches
8/4
9/6
Pears
8/7
9/8
Apples
9/4
10/17

Call ahead to confirm that your fruit of choice is ripe. Be sure the orchard ladders are stable, visitors have injured themselves and sued the park service.

Mule DeerOne can see plenty of wildlife in Capitol Reef. Mule deer are commonly seen around the river bottom. There are a number of deer that are almost tame, but, please refrain from approaching them. Reptiles including lizards and snakes can be seen with pretty much any journey off the pavement.

Fruita CampgroundThe Fruita Campground is the only improved campground in the park, this campground is a first come first served basis. There are 70 sites and usually openings. The sites are situated on the Fremont River bottom, large cottonwoods provide shade. The campsites are a bit close together and privacy is hard to come by. Each site features a picnic table and grill, there is a dump station and modern toilets.

There are two backcountry primitive campgrounds, Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa. Cathedral Valley is located in the Northwest corner of the park, there are six sites available. Cedar Mesa is located off the Notom-Bullfrog Road in the Southern portion of the park. There are five sites available, each featuring a picnic table and fire grate.

There are also numerous campgrounds located on Boulder Mountain, which lies to the West of the park. The Singletree, Pleasant Creek, and Oak Creek campgrounds are all managed by the forest service and provide a higher altitude escape from the summer heat.

Capitol Gorge TrailThere are many hiking trails in the park ranging from easy strolls to strenuous undertakings. The Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash are two very popular easy hikes. Both of these provide are interesting versions of Southern Utah slot canyons. The Capitol Gorge trail heads into an old route between pioneer settlements. Along this trail you’ll find a Potholespetroglyph panel, pioneer signatures and a series of interesting potholes. A drainage has formed a series of potholes, when these potholes hold water they are often full of tadpoles. The Spadefoot Frog lays eggs in the potholes and they remain dormant until water fills the pothole.

The Fremont River trail leads off from the Fruita campground and features an interpretive nature trail. The Cassidy Arch, Golden Throne, and Cohab Canyon trails are all strenuous and involve climbing up to the ridgeline overlooking the park. Fantastic views can be found from any of these trails.

Pleasant Creek/South Draw TrailThere are several four wheel drive trails located in and around the park. The Pleasant Creek/South Draw trail is located at the end of the scenic drive. This trail crosses several streams and can be a bit difficult in high water conditions. The Burr Trail and Nottom-Bullfrog Road also traverse the park’s boundaries. Both of these trails/roads provide an excellent way to see a bit of the less traveled part of the park.

Resources


Maps

Glen Canyon Lake Powell & Capitol Reef Trail Map

Glen Canyon Lake Powell & Capitol Reef Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.


Fish Lake/Capitol Reef Trail Map

Fish Lake/Capitol Reef Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.



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