Onto Capitol Reef where we had 5 days to explore. Justin and I hadn’t really had time to explore this park in much depth during our honeymoon trip years ago, so we were excited to take advantage of what all the park had to offer.
The first day we explored as a day trip from our camp site in Torrey, and then we spent the next 4 nights camped in the park at the Fruita Campground.
Fruita Campground is nestled in the lush meadows and orchards of historic Fruita (irrigated from the Fremont river), and surrounded by the rocky dry desert landscape.
The landscape of Capitol Reef is defined by the “Waterpocket Fold”, a nearly 100 mile long “monocline”– an area of the land that has been tilted upward, revealing layers of rock and soil representing 200 million years of geologic history (Justin attended the geology ranger talk, which was excellent, to learn all this!)
Day 1: Capitol Gorge
It was a chilly but sunny day. We spent a lot of time at the Visitor’s Center reading books, watching the “welcome to the Park” film, gathering Jr Ranger Books and looking at the various tchotchkes they were selling. While we were there we also checked the weather report for the day. Clear in the morning and raining in the afternoon. When we finally made it out we decided to check out the Capitol Gorge hike, which was 2 miles round trip. Justin asked the ranger if this was a safe hike to do despite the rainy weather report. She said we were safe to go; clearly she knew more about the weather here than we did, right? In order to get to the trail head we drove down the park’s Scenic Drive. It was bumpy but outstanding! The road went right down the middle of a slot canyon passing back and forth across dry river beds. It was a spectacular sight!
When we arrived at the trailhead we double checked the weather report via satellite since the hike was in a slot canyon. Bad news: the weather report called for heavy rain starting at 1pm. It was 12:45. We decided to start the hike and if it started raining we would turn back. However, as we started hiking red flags kept going off for both Justin and I. Not only did the trail soon lead down into a dry stream bed, we also had to cross over multiple waterways on the road in/out and the road was a mix of gravel and clay.
The beginning of the hike was beautiful and we even spotted two critters. One was a flying beetle/ant and the other was some kind of a caterpillar. There were also some petroglyphs on the rocks along the path. However, when the trail led down into the canyon dry water bed and we had just checked the weather and knew it was supposed to rain, it did not seem like a smart or safe choice to be on or around that trailhead during the rain storm.
We turned around just in time. When we were within viewing distance to the trail head it started raining. It was a steady medium rain but enough to create small streams in the previously dry water beds and to make the road a bit mucky. Looking back it probably wasn’t necessary to flee the scene as fast as we did but I’m still glad we did just to be on the safe side. You never know when a flash flood will occur and I wasn’t going to chance it! Rain check! I guess going on the hike first thing in the morning would have been a better choice, leaving the Visitor’s Center for the rainy afternoon. Ah well! Next time.
Day 2: Fremont River Trail
We hung out at our campsite in Torrey until we were sure our reserved site at Capitol Reef would be unoccupied when we arrived. We were also taking that time to do any work we needed to do on the internet since we knew Capitol Reef was a dead zone for phones.
Once at Capitol Reef Wobbles used the dump station and we got settled into our site. Pulling into the site without kids screaming at the top of their lungs worked, not seamlessly, but much better by enforcing our new rule of allowing only one kid in the car while Justin backs up the trailer (and one with me outside). Someone commented on our blog that they “take 5” and feed their family just before entering into a campground so all are in higher spirits when set-up is happening. I might give that one a whirl next time. Thanks!
We hiked 1.4 miles of the Fremont River Trail, which was an easy trail for most of it and then got steep to an amazing view toward the end. The plan was to just hike along the river until the steep part came and then turn back but the trail was calling to us. The flat path that followed the river also went along the orchards of Fruita which the pioneers planted to sustain their lifestyle.
It was a steep but beautiful meandering path up a cliffside. The rule was that if the girls wanted to explore up the steep part of the trail they could so long as they stayed on the inside and held Justin or my hand. Our 3 year old had some issues with this so she stayed behind a while with Justin while our 5 year old and I went up ahead. Eventually our 3 year old decided she did want to catch up and complete the hike, but only because she wanted her sweatshirt which was in my bag!
The views down into the canyon were beautiful! The river down below harbored lush green and yellow tree tops with speckled orange and red fall bushes. Those vibrant colors were a stark contrast to the red and cocoa brown cliffs above.
In the evening the girls enjoyed dressing up in their costumes which we brought from home and creating a parade in the fall leaves. Such fun!
Since it was a full moon that evening, there was a ranger led moon-lit walk in the late evening that Justin took part in while I stayed with the girls and wrote letters to friends and family. Justin says, “It was amazing how much you could see from just the light of the moon despite the clouds. It lit up the cliff faces which made them appear to be glowing in the dark. The ranger talked about human’s senses and how our other senses step in more when some, like our eyesight don’t work quite as well.”
Day 3: Capitol Gorge (2nd try)
Take two on the Capitol Gorge hike. It sounded too amazing to pass up!
The gorge was full of cavernous rock walls which made perfect perches for the girls.
It was funny that along the river bed there was 19th Century inscriptions, aka old graffiti, that was idolized as historic documentation. It was neat to see the writing from so long ago but really it was pioneers defacing the rock.
At the end of the beautiful canyon, the dry riverbed trail turned to a steep incline up the side of a cliff. It was quite the climb but the girls both did great! Our youngest found it easier for her to crawl up that part of the trail as it was practically like climbing a latter at times.
It did level out after a bit to a more reasonable climb and finally at the top we got to The Tanks. These are some small and some large pockets of water trapped in the folds of the rock. One in particular was very deep. Rangers warned visitors not to touch this stagnant water as it rarely gets washed out therefore any toxins (sunblock, bug repellent, lotion) on our hands could contaminate the tank potentially killing the living organisms within.
Along this trip so far our lunch spots have been spectacularly scenic places. This day was no exception as we dined on a beautiful sandstone rock which surrounded the biggest of the tanks. As my girls say, “we are lucky girls” and boy. 🙂
The Gifford House is another sweet place to visit. This building served as the Mormon Pioneer’s meeting house. It is now part history, part quaint little store. They sold the most amazing peach salsa which we ended up going back and getting a second jar of before we left the park. They also sold beautiful maple rolling pins, beautifully intricate metal measuring spoons, pies and homemade ice cream. Oh how I wish we didn’t have to travel light sometimes! I bet those pioneer ladies worked their buns off but it looked like such fun; quilting, harvesting, canning, pickling and clothing making. Sigh.
That evening our 5 year old got a special treat and got to stay up late to go to a ranger talk about amphibians and reptiles that live in the park. It was a lot of fun and gave us a lot of great information.
Day 4: Hickman Natural Bridge
For our next adventure, we decided to take the Hickman Natural Bridge Trail which highlighted a 133 ft natural bridge in the 2 mile lollipop trail. The trail started off along the serene Fremont River climbing up a series of rock slabs. As the trail leveled off a bit it became very sandy and basically like a giant sand pit for the girls! While having fun in the sand we spied a raven carrying his mouse meal in his beak. The raven then dug a whole with its beak, put the dead rodent in it then covered it with grass it plucked. Neat to watch.
We then found the perfect place to eat lunch! Just off the path there was a beautiful cave-like dwelling with light coming in through a large natural sky light in the ceiling. Beneath the sky light pools of water had gathered in holes similar to the tanks we experienced on our earlier hike though, in my opinion, much more magnificent.
The natural bridge was beautiful and very large. We were fortunate enough to have a very sweet fellow hiker offer to take our family picture until all of us were looking! 🙂 Not an easy task.
By the time we hiked down, the girls required a couple hug breaks where the girls snuggled with me to regain momentum. Who needs batteries when they have Mom hugs?!
Day 5: Sunset Point Trail, Chimney Rock Trail
Our last day at Capitol Reef was a series of bumps in the road. We started our day with a view point walk and 1 mile hike along Sunset Point Trail. It was a nice hike with a pretty view at the end among some huge angular rocks making for good photos. However, we had to scurry back for a Daddy bathroom emergency.
Next we had a little miscommunication between Justin and I. Justin had found that he could get cell service from a trailhead parking lot so we were going to take advantage of that. I was under the impression that we were going to check our messages to be sure our Airbnb was running smoothly and sync some of our photos while enjoying a snack in the parking lot. Justin’s idea, however, was that we were going to stay in the parking lot all afternoon to work on various things. During this time our 5 year old got some good hands on math schooling done in a beautiful location. Despite this great schooling opportunity, I was itching to get out of the parking lot (2 plus hours later)!
We ended up going on the beginning of the hike (Chimney Rock Trail) for which we were at the trailhead knowing that we would turn back at the first junction giving us a nice 1 mile hike. The next series of events would have been comical to an outsider. After 1/4 of the way up the trail our 3 year old informed us that she had to go potty. Mid pee we realize it’s not just pee! Oh man! This was a short hike so extra supplies were not with us. Luckily though I had some doggy/kid bags in my pack that I was able to clean up with.
Along the way we spied a family of 5 allowing their kids to run off trail on top of the dirt hills surrounding the area. As our little Jr Ranger’s know, the soil in Capitol Reef is living; biological soil crust. If crushed, it can take around 100 years to be repaired! Our girls were appalled to see these kids sliding down the hillsides. Our 5 year old called out from our vantage point, “This is a Jr Ranger speaking! Please get off the hills and stay on the trail. I repeat, please stay off the hills!” They either didn’t understand of didn’t care, for they slid all the way back to their car. Later that day, our oldest insisted on reporting her findings to the ranger station and was thanked for her efforts. It was pretty sweet.
Anyway, when we got to our turn around junction our 5 year old told us that she needed to go to the bathroom and it was an emergency. Good heavens people! Ha! So, we all raced down the trail and back to the pit toilet that we had spent all afternoon next to. What a day.
At the end of the day we realized we could have cut our Capitol Reef trip short a day and would have been happy with that. Great park, nice hikes!