October 1st, it was late in the afternoon of our last of a five-day vacation, National Park site #5 with only enough time to drive through Capitol Reef National Park home to Kanab. I visited this park about 40 years ago. It was summer, I had a dog and was driving a Vega. Didn’t get to explore enough that time either. Bill says the best parts of the park are off backroads, 4×4, north and south of the paved Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway, UT24.
The highway parallels the Freemont River which waters a line of trees, mostly cottonwood. And because there’s water people have been attracted to the area for over 2000 years. Around 500 BCE the Freemont Culture settled and farmed leaving behind their mysterious petroglyph and pictograph stories on stone. Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1800s planting orchards of apples, pears, and peaches.
First proclaimed a national monument by Pres FD Roosevelt in 1937 and later increased in size four times to almost a quarter million acres when designated a national park under Pres. Nixon in 1971. Capitol Reef National Park was established primarily to preserve geologic features, such as the scenic rock domes, narrow canyons and the Waterpocket Fold. Capitol for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes, and reef for the rocky cliffs which are a barrier to travel, like a coral reef.
This protected landscape includes nearly 200 million years of geologic history. Ancient environments varied as rivers and swamps, Sahara-like deserts and shallow oceans depositing layers of sediments. 50-70 million years ago tectonic forces warped the land lifting the west side of the fold 7000 feet higher than the tilted east side.
From Capitol Reef we slipped through Torreytown, as Bill calls it, and continued along SR24. At Loa we turned away from the Freemont River. At Koosharem we turned southwest on SR62 and finally to US89 for the last leg home to Kanab.
Although I knew a five day vacation wasn’t near enough, and never is, this was a reconnaissance trip for future journeys. I did feel like a “bloody tourist” trying to cram in as much as possible in a way too short period of time. Hovenweep deserves further archeological explorations along with its CO neighbor Canyon of the Ancients. Natural Bridges screams to be hiked. We barely opened the doors to Canyonlands. Arches cries to be hiked with more to explore camping outside the park on the Colorado River. So many more back roads to explore. And the quick drive through Capitol Reef was a major tease. I want to return to every park and the surrounding areas really spending some quality time. But I need to be able to survive colder temps to explore these places during the winter, which might be a less crowded time to visit national parks.
Bill and I are planning a winter road trip with the truck camper, a little southward but not across the border.
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