USA Adventure Part 7: Capitol Reef

After leaving Goblin Valley, we drove for about 2 hours, to Capitol Reef National Park. This is not such a well-known park, and it seems quite off the beaten track for some reason. This has its advantages, Capitol Reef is a lot more relaxed about permits and camping inside the park. In addition, we chose to visit an area called Cathedral Valley which is rarely visited, so we had a very solitary experience in this park. We stopped at the visitor centre for information and a backcountry permit, which they almost didn’t want to give us. You only need it for camping outside of the designated campgrounds, and they said we could camp outside the boundaries of the park without any permit – I think they were a bit lazy and didn’t want to deal with the paperwork 😉 Eventually, we got the permit and were ready to go.

We first had to cross a river which was quite an adventure – but the car handled it without any problems. The dirt road was a bit tiring to drive, but the landscape was beautiful and we made lots of stops, for example at this well with an abandoned truck…

On old truck at a drinking place for animals - looks like it's sinking in! Paul and the old truck. Behind him you can see the drinking trough, which actually had water in it

Soon we came to the Bentonite Hills, with very impressive colours… in the last photo you can see a good example of cryptobiotic soil, which is a crusty soil that is “alive” as it’s made of bacteria/fungi/algae/lichens etc. Everywhere in Utah, there were warnings about this soil, as one footstep can take a hundred years to recover from the damage. I called it macrobiotic soil for the entire trip, as I could never remember the real name 😛 we made lots of jokes about it, but we did try to stay off it as much as possible.

Bizarre landscape - the Bentonite Hills Very colourful layers in the Bentonite Hills Cryptobiotic soil - it's alive and very fragile!

And although we were driving through a desert landscape, we still found lots of flowers – including the impressive Desert Paintbrush 🙂

I was surprised how many flowers there are in the desert: this is a Desert Paintbrush And some pretty purple flowers

We kept climbing, and suddenly we had this view right from the road… impressive!

Suddenly this view opened up - spectacular!

Shortly afterwards, we took a turn towards a viewpoint over Cathedral Valley. We were getting a bit carsick, so we left the car next to the road and walked the last bit to the viewpoint. There was a parking place and some picknick tables there, and for the first time we saw other cars (and people!). They must have been a bit surprised to see us arrive on foot 😉 We got our first view over Cathedral Valley from here, and it was just SPECTACULAR… You look down on a green valley with several monoliths, it was so beautiful!

Our first view over Cathedral Valley - wow! The monoliths at Upper Cathedral Valley - with the colours and the green grass, I'd almost expect giraffes here :D

After the viewpoint, the road went steeply down to the valley floor. We talked to several rangers at the visitor centre, and one of them had said the road was impassible in this area. We had a suspicion she was just trying to discourage us from going there, but we were a bit nervous here – around every bend and especially river crossing we thought the road might become impassible. And although the road was a bit tough at times, with soft sand and several river crossings, some of which actually had water in them – there really was no problem at all. It was getting quite late, so we drove on to our destination: the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Actually it was after seeing photos of these “temples” that I decided we needed to visit Cathedral Valley 🙂 And it was so worth the long journey, they are so impressive…

The Temple of the Moon (on the right) and the Temple of the Sun (on the left)

We took LOTS of photos, we arrived just before sunset so the light was soft and beautiful. We set up camp a little distance away from the Temple of the Moon.

The Temple of the Moon The Temple of the Moon seen from the other side Dinner at the foot of the Temple of the Moon, in fading daylight

We were all alone here, and far from anywhere – it was truly special. The night sky was incredible as well, this far from any light pollution. There were a lot of planes flying over though!

The stars (and Milky Way) over the Temple of the Moon. We were all alone here, and a long way from anywhere - it was very special Startrails over our tent :)

The next morning, I got up before sunrise and walked to the Temple of the Sun. It was so beautiful to watch the desert wake up, to see the colours change, to see a big red sun rising and to watch the changing light on the rocks. Magical!

The Temple of the Sun just before sunrise Here comes the sun... The Temple of the Sun just after sunrise... beautiful to see how the light was changing The Temple of the Moon just after sunrise

Meanwhile, Paul took these photos of the Temple of the Moon…

While I was taking photos at the Temple of the Sun, Paul took those of the Temple of the Moon just after sunrise Beautiful light painting the rock really orange Desert soil

In the morning there were lots of animal tracks in the sand. I was also amazed by all the plants that manage to live in the desert.

Animal tracks in the sand A tough plant braving the desert

After a beautiful sunrise, we took out tent down and made breakfast. We had to drive back the way we came, as the road became impassible just past the Temples. At least, according to the rangers at the Visitor Centre 😉 but this time we decided not to risk it. We stopped at the Gypsum Sinkhole, which formed after the collapse of something called a Gypsum Plug – a hill formed out of crystallized gypsum carried in groundwater. The hole is 15 m wide and 60 m deep – impressive! We also stopped at the monoliths for another view – they are so pretty.

One last photo of Hanneke and our tent The Gypsum Sinkhole, formed by groundwater dissolving a so-called gypsum plug (a hill formed of crystallized gypsum). The hole is 15 m wide and 60 m deep! Another stop at the monoliths of Cathedral Valley

We took a short side trip to Morrell cabin (also known as Les’s cabin), it was used by cowboys passing through the valley with cattle between 1930 and 1970. Beautiful and remote place, you feel like you’re stepping back in time, and wonder what it would have been like here back then…

Morrell Cabin, or also known as Les’s cabin, it was used by cowboys passing through the valley with cattle between 1930 and 1970 Rusty artifacts on the table inside the cabin

After driving the steep road up, we turned away from the road we travelled yesterday, and instead took the Thousand Lake Mountain Road. Here you exit the National Park, and enter the National Forest Area – we were joking about that there surely weren’t going to be trees in the desert, but look here… These sudden changes in the landscape are very impressive!

We took a different road out of the valley, and the landscape quite suddenly turned into a beautiful autumn forest... quite strange after coming straight from the desert!

Cathedral Valley was one of the highlights of our trip, and if we’d ever come back to Utah, I think we’d spend more time in Capitol Reef. We never even got to see the Waterpocket Fold that the park is famous for – but I think Cathedral Valley is a real gem that you shouldn’t miss out on 🙂

Tags:

4 Responses to “USA Adventure Part 7: Capitol Reef”

  1. Marie P says:

    Wow, great pix Hanneke, the place looks amazing, it must have been quite something waking up in the middle of it all 🙂 I want to travel to Utah now! 😉

    • Hanneke says:

      Thanks Marie! It was a dream 🙂 I can really recommend a visit to Utah, there’s SO much to see there!

  2. Martha says:

    AWESOME!!! BRAVO!!!ENCORE!!! Your photos are really a good portrait of this magic place. Photos 9 and 11 did not open up for me. I did wait quite a bit of time for them to open up, but no luck. What happened? Yes, I do love the desert. I have spent most than half my life right in the middle of it. I still have Arizona in my heart though. I have seen The Grand Canyon and all the different types of land formations, mountains, dry lakes, plateaus, washes, arroyos, cliffs and the grandiose majesty of the vast desolate apparent bare land of the desert is all there. Being born on the Tropic of Cancer latitude and spending my childhood lullabied to sleep with the rhythmic sound of breaking waves from the 3 block away beach, I have warm and fond memories of the sea. But, I know it would be difficult for me to leave the USA Southwest. I do not want to go too far for too long from New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment, Arizona, the Grand Canyon State, Nevada and Southern Utah. I miss eating fresh sea food right out of the water and feeling the moist cool breeze on my face and tasting its salt, but hearing the desert awaken at dawn while watching the spectacle of a desert sunrise…aaaah…that is just an exquisite experience….and then watching the sun extinguishing itself at the horizon and seeing the land disappear while the sky becomes a magical show…WOW!!! Sunrise, Sunset….mmm what delights of eye candy…Thank you for the photos….they revived memories of my youth. What a pleasure! 🙂