November 4, 2011

Looking forward to a day of exploring Utah, I started out at 9:45 on a Thursday morning, heading east on Highway 12. It should have been a 2.5 hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park, but it turned out to take me almost four hours. I stopped in Escalante to visit the Skyhoopi Thrift Store where I bought a pair of Wrangler Jeans for $2. I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of trying them on at the time, and when I did that later, I discovered I would need to lose a few more pounds.

Kiva Coffee House in UtahKiva Koffeehouse - Grand Staircase-Escalante

I had heard good things about Escalante Outfitters, so stopped in to visit there as well. It seems to be a combination outdoor gear store/liquor store/bookstore/restaurant, quite a novel assortment of interests under one roof. Escalante is an interesting town - I barely scratched the surface and would love to spend more time some day.

Eventually I started off again with lots of stops to take photos, and a delicious lunch break at Kiva Coffee House, which sits on a cliff overlooking the Escalante River Canyon.

The Koffeehouse serves yummy homemade soups, breads and sweets. It was built over a period of two years by the artist, contractor and engineer Bradford Bowman. The Koffeehouse was completed in 1998 and Mr. Bowman, at the young age of 87, continued his work, creating the Kiva Cottage, a guest house set into the rim below the KIVA.

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View of Capitol Reef and Henry Mountains, UtahCapitol Reef & Henry Mountains from Larb Hollow Overlook on Boulder Moutain

My day of exploring Utah was filled with beauty. The aspens were bright yellow-green with touches of orange, sparkling in the sun at the lower elevations; the leaves already dried and the colors dulled as I drove higher. There's a high ridge (9600') between Boulder and Torrey, which had piles of snow still around from the storm last week, and a light covering of snow on the fields. I drove up and up, stopped at some wonderful overlooks with views of Capitol Reef and the Henry Mountains, then started down again, headed through the town of Torrey and turned right on Highway 24 which parallels the Reef.

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Entrance to Capitol Reef NPEntrance to Capital Reef National Park

Exploring Utah at Capital Reef 

I stopped at the Visitor Center in the historic village of Fruita. Though the town never consisted of more than about 300 acres, Fruita became quite important due to the long growing season and abundant water from the Fremont River (noted for wonderful fly fishing) which runs through this area. Settlers from nearby Torrey and Loa came to the area and planted thousands of fruit trees – many varieties of apples, apricots, peaches, pears and plums. There are also ancient Fremont cottonwoods with huge twisted trunks. The US government started buying up land in the 1950s and today the town is a semi-preserved, well-managed historic district containing cabins, a one-room schoolhouse, barns and, naturally, the orchards – all run by the National Park Service.

Castle Rock - Capitol Reef National ParkThe Castle at Capital Reef National Park

Taking the scenic drive which follows the reef about 10 miles, I turned onto the unpaved Grand Wash Road which heads into one of the canyons. There are hiking trails going further in and I followed one for a bit, but didn't feel I could take the time for a real hike – should have gotten up earlier.

Fremont CottonwoodFremont Cottonwood

Capitol Reef, on the eastern edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante, is nearly 100 miles long, defined by the Waterpocket Fold, a classic monocline, or fold, with one quite steep side in an area of horizontal layers. Between 50-70 million years ago the sub-surface rocks lifted about 7,000 feet, the overlaying layers draping over the fault, creating the Waterpocket Fold. It is quite spectacular, the colors ranging from yellow to orange to reddish brown and purple, even light blue, dark green and bright white. Iron is the most prevalent coloring agent.

My drive took me along the steep cliff on the West side of the Fold; I had hoped to go back on the East side, on the Notom Bullfrog Road, another unimproved road. I figured that would be the perfect end to my day of exploring Utah, but the rangers at the Visitor Center advised against it because of the recent heavy snow.

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Fremont Indians occupied this area starting in the 700s and I drove about a mile past the Visitor Center on Hwy. 24 to see the Fremont petroglyphs, then started back, spotting a herd of mule deer as I ascended Boulder Mountain again. The late afternoon light on the many cliffs was beautiful so of course I had to stop several times for photos, finally arriving home about 6:30. Way too much driving, but it was certainly worth it!

Colored Cliffs in Capitol Reef NP, UtahMulticolored Formations at Capital Reef National Park

I would be leaving this beautiful canyon country soon and was sad that I hadn’t spent more time exploring Utah or done much of the hiking I had planned. My two days off each week were primarily filled with maintenance type busyness; I didn’t hike Bryce Canyon this time, though I had done a hike there a few years ago; I didn't hike the trails at Red Canyon, and I never rode the horse out to Cool Cave here in the park. There were many adventures in Utah still to experience. Oh well… I could always come back some other day, and I was very glad I had made the trip out to Capital Reef.

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Pleasant Creek in Capitol Reef National ParkPleasant Creek - on the Scenic Drive

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