Capitol (with an o) – 2 in a series of 4 posts
In May, we visited Utah National Parks and Monuments from east to west, Arches to Zion. We spent over three weeks in the area with no time for writing. But blog we must because the parks are monumental with extraordinary discoveries in between.
Goblin Valley State Park – The Name Says it All
West of Moab, on UT 24, is Goblin Valley State Park, a maze of strangely shaped red-brown formations (hoodoos) through which children ZOOOOOM. The surreal formations resemble mushrooms and goblins. You are surrounded by caves, arches, gnomes, cartoon characters and thousands of faces in the cliffs. Might be spooky under moonlight.
It’s May 27th..snow?
Snow at Capitol Reef prompted us to drive south over the mountain to Boulder. Enroute we made a few acquaintances. The “oreo” cow is a Belted Galloway, and the horse seemed offended by my love for donkeys.
Burr Trail Scenic Backway
Seeing the sun in Boulder we made a “let’s go” decision and drove onto Burr Trail – the only road that crosses the top of the Waterpocket Fold – which means canyons and more canyons. But first, a little climbing on the white steps of Grand Staircase – Escalante.
The first 17 (paved) miles on this backroad wound around/up/down and through the deep Long Canyon, topping out with views of Grand Staircase and the Waterpocket Fold. Then the road became dirt and impassable and we turned back.
Expansive, colorful and a lot less crowded than Arches, but oh, so different. The landmark formation is Capitol Dome, astoundingly white after the dark formations in Arches National Park. Much of Capitol Reef is remote, but the parks’s 21-mile scenic drive is spectacular.
Panorama Point and Goosenecks Overlook – Dizzying Cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, a “buckle” in the earth’s surface, form Capitol Reef. The cliffs in the park are 2,000 feet high and the fold runs north/south for 100 miles. The rock layers on the west side of the fold have been lifted more than 7,000 feet higher than the layers on the east.
Early explorers found the fold a barrier. They compared it to a reef blocking passage on the ocean… thus the name.
Capitol Gorge – a towering chasm lined with petroglyphs and pioneer graffiti that cuts through the reef. For 80 years, this was the main state highway route. Mormon pioneers cleared a wagon path only to repeat the task every time boulders were rolled in by flashfloods. Cars bounced through the canyon until 1962, when highway 24 opened east of the park. Now it is a hike on the gravel riverbed.
Rock art in the gorge includes a “pioneer register”, petroglyphs by the Fremont people and a trail to natural water pockets (tanks) imperative to survival.
Grand Wash is a canyon that cuts through the reef. The wash is a channel path that follows the riverbed, typically dry except when we were there. I hiked until I saw mud at the start of the narrows. They say Butch Cassidy (and The Hole in the Wall Gang) hid out here in the 1890s.
Radioactive! “Elevated radiation levels due to uranium mines. A maximum of one day should be spent in the area. The area water is highly contaminated.” So of course I checked it out while Steve stayed a safe distance away. The shaft is a protected bat habitat (protected from people).
What We Missed & Recommendations
- West of Goblin State Park, a dirt road continues to an edge of the San Rafael Swell. This is a glimpse into 663,000 acres of red rock glory and home to Utah’s largest herd of bighorn sheep.
- Little Wild Horse Canyon, on Goblin Valley Road, is a slot canyon that “anyone can do”. It gradually narrows to less than a couple of feet at points, (and there may be ankle deep water).
- Grand Wash Trail – 4 miles from beginning to end. “A good substitute for the Zion Park Narrows.” How hard can it be?
- Other hikes we missed: Cassidy Arch, Hickman Natural Bridge
- Visit in autumn and you can pick and carry orchard fruit (planted by settlers in the 1880s) in the park.
- Green River – we found the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. In 1869, Powell, a one-armed civil war major led a mapping expedition from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon. A well-curated museum and river walk.
Book: Paddling the John Wesley Powell Route by Mike Bezemek, or follow this link for his story. https://www.oars.com/blog/john-wesley-powell-grand-canyon-first-descent/
NEXT: What could be better than the deep canyons and rainbow rocks of Capitol Reef, and the Goblin Hoodoos? Just you wait…..