A little more of Southern Utah, a lot more stunning places.
We left off last time escaping from the snow of Bryce Canyon. The next morning we made our way to Capitol Reef National Park, a place where the earth’s crust buckled and created a Waterpocket Fold that stretches for over 100 miles. You can only access a small amount of the park off the main road, more if you had a 4×4, and even more if you walked for days or had a horse.
What little we saw of the park in the 2 days we spent there we loved. About a mile from the visitor centre is the historic Mormon settlement of Fruita. Early settlers lived here along the river from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s. The park was made a national monument in 1937 and then a national park after the last family left in 1971. Today there are a few old buildings; the school, some barns, and the Gifford Farmhouse. This is worth a mention as they make and sell the most amazing pies from orchards that still remain in the park. In season visitors are allowed to pick and eat fruit for free, unfortunately we were a little early for this, but not for the pie!
After morning tea we ventured out to see some of the canyons up close. The trails in the park are great, and much less busy that Zion and Bryce. We wandered the Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge for the rest of the day. Capitol Gorge used to be the main route that the early settlers used and there is one spot on the canyon wall where they stopped to write their names in the rock. There are also ancient Indian petroglyphs that can be found, but making your own graffiti results in a hefty fine. Everyone just wants to leave their mark, and it made us wonder if the petroglyphs weren’t just some bored hunters passing the time.
On our second day we decided that since the pie had been so good we had better try the cinnamon buns, also amazing. Energy restored we hiked up to the Hickman Bridge for amazing views over the valley. The Fremont River running through the middle of Capitol Reef makes it a very different place than the other parks in this desert area. It has beautiful green areas, cottonwoods and orchards, and above it all rises the harsher desert landscape.
Next stop, Natural Bridges National Monument (say that 3 times fast). We drove through Glen Canyon and crossed the Colorado River before it heads into the Grand Canyon. It was a very scenic drive, as most of the roads here have been.
Natural Bridges is only a small park with a 9 mile one way loop scenic drive. There are 3 big bridges to see with hikes either to lookouts or down to the bridges themselves. There are a couple of longer tracks through the canyons but we opted for the shorter ones and only spent a few hours here. It is worth a visit though to see something a little different. The area is covered in small juniper trees and it was interesting to see how old rivers had carved natural bridges into the canyon walls.
From here we carry on towards Moab and Canyonlands, looking forward to more amazing landscapes as we slowly start to wind our way north.