If you’ve visited Arches or Canyonlands national parks, then you’ve experienced some of America’s most beautiful scenery, thanks to careful planning and highway engineering. Both of these parks lead you down paved roads to well-marked parking areas positioned in range of natural monuments you’ve always wanted to see — like Double Arch, Delicate Arch, and Mesa Arch. But, for the most part, you parked, walked, photographed, and drove to the next scenic area.
First, on the horizon we could see boulders and distant structures with sandstone ribbons of color unlike the solid reds and ambers we’d seen in other parks. Capitol Reef is distinguishable by its striations — slices, if you will — of whites, pinks, tans, and browns.
Second, we looked for those well-marked parking areas, only to find that they didn’t exist. We were actually driving through Capitol Reef. The rocks we expected to see at a distance appeared alongside the highway, and many of our best photos were shot from a passenger seat window.
Third, when we did park the car, we had choices of other close-by sites to see. One of them, Historic Fruita (settled and developed by Latter Day Saints (Mormon) settlers in the 1870s) takes advantage of the rich resources of the Fremont River valley. And although no more than 10 families lived there at a time when it was a settlement, the area still boasts 3100 trees (cherry, peach, apricot, pear, apple, etc.) in the Fruita orchards. Today, visitors are allowed to pick the fruit and eat in the park for free or pay if they take fruit out of the area.
Also remaining in Fruita is this small, hand-made schoolhouse. On the day we visited, the school was locked — perhaps it always is — but we stood on tiptoe, peeping in the windows, imagining schooldays here. (The area is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.)
Finally, we followed a short portion of Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, putting us front and center with the park. For all its beauty, it was hard to believe that Capitol Reef wasn’t designated a national park until 1971.
If you’re headed to Capitol Reef, plan to spend more than one afternoon. We had not done our homework, so we missed many of the must-sees of this park: Fremont petroglyphs, Waterpocket Fold, and Panorama Point. You could easily spend a day or more at Capitol Reef, especially if you take the trails or spend time picking the fruit in the orchards.
Capitol Reef may be more of a “drive-through” national park than other Utah parks with paved roads leading to grand-scale designated parking areas. But the feeling of being “right there in the middle of things” makes us rank Capitol Reef as one of our top national parks to visit. After all, who doesn’t like being up close and personal with beauty like this?
For more information:
National Park Service website for Capitol Reef: https://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm
Visit Utah website for Capitol Reef: https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/most-visited-parks/capitol-reef/
7 Tips for Photographing Utah’s Parks: http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/2017/06/photographing-utahs-zion-park/