Capitol Reef National Park is located in the rugged red rock country of Utah. The tough terrain made it an ideal hideout for outlaws in the days when cattle rustling was common; today you can explore the park in ways that are easy or challenging, depending on your preference.
Start at the visitors’ center and watch a movie that explains the park’s history and geology, including the domed rock formations that give the park its name. Then head out to explore.
You can stay in your car and take in the sights from the Scenic Drive, but the best way to take in the park’s features is to get out of your vehicle and get close up to the rock formations on foot. Capitol Reef National Park has more than 150 miles of trails. Be sure to check with the rangers the difficulty level and weather conditions that might make it unsafe. When you hike, pay attention to the different appearance of the rocks. Some are formed from thin bands of silt, some were formed by volcanic ash, some levels are tilted– centuries of geologic history are summarized in a few vertical feet.
There’s more to the park than just land formations, though. The park was home to humans long before the outlaws passed through. A group of Native Americans known as the Fremont Culture made their home here about 1500 years ago. You can see their petroglyphs etched in stone at locations in the park. Settlers of European ancestry arrived in the 1800s; besides the outlaws, Mormons formed a community in what’s now called the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted fruit and you can pick from trees in the remaining orchards. You can also visit their schoolhouse.
You may also spot wildlife as you drive or walk around the park. Deer are common, and bighorn sheep were reintroduced some years ago. If you’re in the park at night, be sure to look up, not just straight ahead. Capitol Reef National Park is in a remote location and on a clear night the sky is filled with stars.
Images via paraflyer