Capitol Reef National Park

Tonight, we are in the town of Torrey, Utah which is where the Capitol Reef National Park is located.

We woke up at Bryce Canyon this morning to find it snowing. Overnight there had been almost 25 cm (one inch) of snowfall. but even though the temperature was -1C it was still very beautiful – just like a Christmas Card.


Today is the first day of US summer time and our bodies were all out of whack with the clocks. We found ourselves getting on the road a bit later than we intended as the time was one hour ahead of what we intended!

The first part of our travels was through some little towns such as Tropic and Escalonia – good Mormon towns that now look quite depressed and run down. We began to see mesas and large rock outcrops that, at first, appeared impressive but later became mundane as the countryside became continually more and more spectacular.

Once we were down lower than the high altitude of Bryce Canyon, the day became sunny and a little warmer.The temperature seemed to hover around 5C as we crossed some stunning canyon country with magnificent gorges and panoramic scenery all across the landscape. At one stage, the road transversed a high ridge that was just wide enough for the two lane road.


We came across deep gorges and canyons and at one time the road crossed a plateau of rocky outcrops where there was nothing else to see but bare rock across the undulating topography.



By lunch time, we had reached the little town of Boulder. It is smack in the middle of nowhere and until the 1940’s it was so remote that mail was delivered once each week by mule train. We stopped for lunch at the general store which billed itself as a trading post and found a young man who had. last year, worked in Northcote, Melbourne as a Barista. He knew how to make proper espresso coffee,  so we enjoyed an egg and salad sandwich with a decent coffee – none of this insipid filtered coffee.

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We continued on to Torrey across a long expanse of alpine territory. We actually crossed a mountain pass that was nearly 11,000 feet high. There was still a lot of snow remaining at that height and some parts of the scenery were very pretty.


Closer to Torrey, we began to get some expansive views across the country side.


By early afternoon, we had reached our destination of Capitol Reef National Park and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring along its circuit road to the canyon at the end of its 20 km length. Some if the the most impressive scenery was, in fact, along the last two miles of the road where it runs though Capitol Canyon. This was the the route that many early settlers took to get to the fertile farming areas along the valley.


Capitol Reef encompasses a 160 kilometre long warp in the earth’s crust that is 65 million years old. It is the largest exposed monocline in North America and is filled with brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs, gleaming white domes, and contrasting layers of stone and earth.


The area was named for the escarpment barrier of white domes and cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, each of which looks somewhat like the United States Capitol building. It forms a north-to-south barrier that even until today has barely been breached by roads. Early settlers referred to these parallel, impassable ridges as “reefs”, as just like a reef in the ocean, their wagon trains could not pass through. It is from this geological feature that the park gets the second half of its name. The first paved road was only constructed through the area in 1962.

The area was first inhabited by Native Americans who lived near the perennial Fremont River in the northern part of the Capitol Reef area. They irrigated crops of lentils, maize, and squash and stored their grain in stone granaries (in part made from the numerous black basalt boulders that litter the area). In the 13th century, all of the Native American cultures disappeared, perhaps because of a long drought. Their settlements and fields were abandoned.


Following the American Civil War, officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City sought to establish missions in the remotest niches of the Intermountain West pat of America. In 1866, a quasi-military expedition of Mormons in pursuit of natives penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers moved into these valleys, eventually establishing the towns in the area. The orchards that they planted remain to this day. In addition to farming, lime was extracted from local limestone and some small patches of uranium were mined early in the 20th century.

There was a lot of ‘wow’ factor for us as we drove long some of the escarpment and we were struck by the awe inspiring views of there ‘reef’.

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