Friday, June 13, 2014

Capitol Reef National Park

We started our day at the Boulder Mountain Lodge with breakfast at Hell's Backbone Grill, served by the same waitress who served us lunch yesterday. I was struck by the garden, which along with the lawns and trees, reminded me of Aspen, where my family lived during the summers as I grew up.

We left Boulder by turning north to continue the drive on Scenic Byway Route 12 over Boulder Mountain toward Capitol Reef National Park. The road has has its own 40 page booklet - apparently 'scenic byway' is a rare designation. The road was only completed in 1984, which made wintering in Boulder much easier as it was no longer at the end of the paved road. Boulder (the population was 220 in 2010) was known as the "last frontier in Utah" because until 1935 mail was delivered by horseback.

We got long vistas including previews of the Waterpocket Fold of Capitol Reef as we crossed several passes of over 9000 feet. We were also watching storms brewing, which meant Tom was dealing with wind gusts. The Prius is very aerodynamic from the front, but it really catches the wind from the side.

There were lots of wildflowers along the way, including these sweet little ones. At the end of Route 12, we turned east on Route 24.

The flag is flying from the visitor center at
Capitol Reef National Park
Adam was right. Capitol Reef is an amazing place. It is not as well-known as some of the other parks in the "Grand Circle" (the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Glen Canyon, Arches). The park follows a 100-mile long fold in the earth which apparently happened between 50-70 million years ago. Erosion wore away layers over the last 15-20 million years and revealed the layers of rocks formed between 80-270 million years ago.

There are 'cathedrals' and spires, mostly of red sandstone, and rounded domes of white. In places you can see layers of shale sticking out through the sandstone, and where slabs have tumbled down. There are mounds, often gray, that look like slag piles, but they are geologic formations.

Scattered over the landscape, particularly along Route 24, are rounded black volcanic rocks. They are from more recent eruptions of Boulder Mountain (20-30 million years ago), and some were carried by mini-glaciers to be dropped across the mostly red soil.

I can't grasp time in millions of years, but I am struck by how ancient these rocks are. I am also aware that they keep changing as wind and water erosion continue their relentless work.

More recently humans have been a part of the history of the area. You may be able to see the petroglyphs in the photo below at the bottom of the smooth rock face, above the boulders. They are believed to have been carved around the 1300s. Some of the petroglyphs were lost when the chunk of rock to the left fell off in the early 1950s.  In more modern times, some people couldn't resist adding their own writings on the rock to the right.

In the 1880s Mormon settlers made their way to this area despite the barrier of the Watermark Fold and planted fruit trees along the river and built the community of Fruita, since abandoned.

However, there are nice campgrounds at the park, and several places to stay just outside the park with phenomenal views (I'm not sure the rooms are particularly appealing).

We finished off our visit with some delicious homemade ice cream in the tiny town of Torrey before wending our way to Park City through mountains and valleys, two-lane highways, and a stint on US 15 before driving through Provo (home of Brigham Young University, and some of the nicest campus housing I have ever seen).

More about that in the next post - for now I'll leave you savoring Capitol Reef's stunning beauty.

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