Capitol Reef: Hidden Solitude


(Photo by Conor Barry)

(Photo by Conor Barry)
(Photo by Conor Barry)

Capitol Reef National Park is host to some of Utah’s most unique and fascinating geology.
The park derives its name from dome features reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol Building, with reef-like cliffs jutting upward from the ground. Capitol Reef also encompasses what is known as the Waterpocket Fold, the largest exposed monocline rock layer on the continent. Like the nearby anticline of the San Rafael Swell, a warp in the earth’s crust exposes millions of years of different rock strata, giving rise to a diverse set of geological features within a relatively small area.
With the accessibility provided by State Route 24, the nearby town of Torrey, and attractions like the Fruita Visitor Center and an 8.2-mile-long scenic drive, the northern end of the park is the most frequently visited portion. Emily Moench from the Utah Office of Tourism says that because of this proximity, “a lot of people … happen to go through [just] because they’re on the highway.”
Moench says the park is a haven of solitude for tourists. In 2013, she says the park saw just 663,670 visitors, compared to Zion National Park’s “whopping” 2.8 million people.
Some think the best part of the park is found in its extensive backcountry. Dave Cawley is one of those people.
“A few years ago, I hiked through Upper Muley Twist [Canyon] towards the south end of the park,” he says. “Standing up on top of the rim looking out on Strike Valley … there was nobody else around. It was totally still. You couldn’t even hear jets overhead … I had this sense of the enormity of the scale of it. You really don’t get that almost anywhere else in the state.”
Cawley’s photography from the Cathedral Valley area of the park is on display at the “Utah Wilderness 50” exhibit currently hosted by the Natural History Museum of Utah.
“Capitol Reef is by far my favorite park in Utah,” Cawley says. “I just love the fact that its backcountry is so pristine.”
Visitors don’t need to be backcountry-savvy or head to the most remote reaches of the park to find its beauty. Goosenecks Overlook offers views available immediately off the road between Torrey and Fruita. A moderately
difficult 3.5-mile round-trip hike not far from the visitor center also showcases Cassidy Arch, named for famous local outlaw Butch Cassidy, and some of the radically diverse geology of the Waterpocket Fold.
Capitol Reef offers a uniquely captivating experience to anyone willing to put in the effort to access its remote beauty.
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