Yesterday, Nathan and I stopped by the Capitol Reef visitor center in Torrey and got a lay of the land prior to today’s big outing.
Our plan today is to hike the Hickman Bridge Trail, drive the northern loop jeep trail through Cathedral Valley and North Blue Flats, take photos of the Petroglyphs, and explore the Scenic Drive to the Tanks & Pioneer Register; a full day’s drive and exploring of Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef National Monument was established in 1937 and became a National Park in 1971. It is over 100 miles long and 24 miles wide at the widest point. It’s a giant buckle, called a Waterpocket Fold, in the Earth’s crust created over 65 million years ago by the same great forces that later uplifted the Colorado Plateau.
A strange, beautiful landscape of multi-hued rock layers and desert, Capitol Reef offers geologic formations, archeological evidence of ancient Fremont Culture, vestiges of a historic Mormon settlement “Fruita Historic District” with its fruit orchards, and a range of habitats.
Mormon pioneers and others began coming to the Fremont River valley in the late 1800s. No more than ten families at a time called the valley home. The last families moved on in 1968, leaving the orchards and buildings to the National Park.
We started hiking Hickman Bridge Trail at 7am. The trail started off with a rock wall on one side and Fremont River on the other. The trail then steadily climbed to the top where it smoothed out.
On this trail, you can see the Capitol Dome, which is said to resemble the Capitol building in Washington DC. (Personally, I saw no similarities.) The other part of Capitol Reef’s name derives from the regionally common use of the nautical term “reef” to identify steep ridges that are barriers to transportation.
The Hickman Bridge is 133 feet long and 125 feet high. It was named after Joseph Hickman who was a local school administrator and Utah legislator. Hickman was an early advocate for this area, which he called “Wayne Wonderland.”
Mike was determined to climb up to the top and walk over the top of the bridge. Briana, Zachary and him tried from both sides and could find no access across.
After the hike, we started driving to the jeep trail. The visitor center said to start on the river ford side first before we headed to the northern loop, since the depth of the river is unknown each day until you approach it. It takes eight hours to drive the loop. Would have to drive it back for eight hours if the river was too deep to cross. Mike had a great time fording the river with the truck. So much so, he did it another time. Dogs got to swim and unfortunately, Schatzy blew out her ACL and went lame.
The drive on the trail was so different than any other road we have ever been on… rough, HOT and barren. At one point, there was little vegetation. We found a few live cows. Why they are here, we had no idea. What a desolate place for them to live!
Mike thought it was funny to see a National Park sign with a gravel roadway, so he took a photo of it. The sign was out in the middle of nowhere. Once we left the park, we found a little lake. It was a weird place, so we did not stay long. We drove on to find the paved road, short cut, back to the main entrance to the petroglyphs.
Fremont Culture people lived here by the year 700 until sometime after 1250, growing corn, beans and squash, also hunting and gathering food. They left little traces, but the images they etched on the canyon walls are a sight to see.
After the petroglyphs, we headed on the Scenic Drive. Capitol Gorge was the only rocky route that cut through the Fold. Names of the canyon’s travelers after 1871 fill a rock wall called the Pioneer Register.
At 90+, Nathan decided to make a pass out scene to express his desire not to continue walking to the Tanks. Mike with Briana and Zachary continued on.
Capitol Reef gets less than eight inches of rain a year, but flash floods can occur at any time and are most common in late summer. Rainwater sometimes pools in eroded, bowl-like rock depressions. They are called the Tanks.
Spadefoot Toads live in these Tanks. Their eggs are laid in the water and hatch within days after a rainstorm. Tadpoles that reach adulthood, before the pool dries up, will repeat the cycle when the pool fills again. Mike got a photo of one. On the way up to the Tanks, Mike found boxwork above ground. We remembered it from the caves in South Dakota.
By night fall, we returned to the trailer, ready for sleep and the big drive to Oregon for dirt biking to our beloved riding spot, East Fort Rock, near Bend.
…Click on any image to enlarge. Or better yet… click on the first photo and scroll through them all.