Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Capitol Reef National Park

"...a sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, opulent with cherries, peaches, and apples in season, inhabited by a few families who were about equally good Mormons and good frontiersmen and good farmers."...Wallace Stegner

Arriving in Capitol Reef Nat'l Park was like finding an oasis in the midst of colorful red cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, and twisting canyons.  Named Capitol for the white domes of Navajo sandstone, and Reef, the local word referring to any rocky barrier to travel, describing the rugged up-thrust known as the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100 mile warp in the earth's crust.

The lush Fremont River Valley was settled by the Mormons in the late 1800s, occupying what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District.  They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, peaches, and cherries that still today produce seasonal fruit for the picking pleasure of visitors to the park.  Cottonwoods, willows, and ash populate the river corridor and herds of mule deer grazed the campground and napped on the lawns of picnic areas. 

We arrived at the end of apple season but at the height of tourist season, and were lucky to find a campsite suitable for a motorhome in the Fruita Campground for 4 nights.  We met folks from all over the world, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  I'm thinking the downturn in our dollar's value is helping tourism considerably.  Surely the RV rental business is booming! 

We explored Capitol Reef country on several roads in and around the park.  The major east-west highway, Utah 24, follows the winding Fremont River with pull-outs for viewing petroglyphs, the historic Fruita school, massive rock formations such as The Castle and Chimney Rock, Panorama Point, and a short walk to even a Goosenecks Overlook!

The Waterpocket Fold is best seen along the 16 mile Scenic Drive.  Two unpaved spur roads, suitable for passenger vehicles, lead into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge, deep and twisting, water-carved, sheer-walled canyons.  A short hike into Capitol Gorge reveals the rocky route cut through the Fold by the early settlers whose names fill a rock wall called the Pioneer Register. 

We made daily visits to the Historic Gifford Homestead for fresh sourdough bread, fruit scones, pies, and/or ice cream, especially after a hot day of driving with short walks and lots of photos.  Handcrafted items made by local artisans such as quilts, woven rugs and frames, pottery, candies, canned fruits and vegetables, are also available.  

The nearby town of Torrey is a gem to explore (and so small it does not take long), and the Cafe Diablo its claim to fame.  We wisely stopped by to check out their very innovative southwestern menu, so highly recommended by locals and tourists alike, and made a reservation for the following night.  We were invited to use their wifi, and dined outside in the lovely garden, enjoying empanadas made with Cotija cheese & sweet potatoes, served on cilantro black bean sauce...And that was just the first course!  

But now, it's time to head for St. George and get settled for the Huntsman World Senior Games.  Consequently, we decided to bypass the crowds of Bryce Canyon NP, presented here from our trip in 2007, and take a more direct and less circuitous route than Highway 12, the All American Scenic Byway; a magnificent, sometimes literally breath-taking experience, all its own!

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