‘Capitol Reed is filled with geology that takes shape, color, and dimension to a level beyond comprehension.’-Stefanie Payne
My third ‘Mighty Five’ is the hidden gem of the lot, Capital Reef National Park. It is the least visited, mostly because it is out of the way. As I mentioned in my previous post, SR-12 connects Bryce Canyon to Capital Reef. Not only is the drive worth it, visiting Capital Reef is definitely worth it! I stayed in Murray, population 200. It was also the most expensive place I stayed (slightly more than Moab, also expensive) but I was about 6 minutes from the park and, as I wake up early most days, I was able to check out the park just after sunrise making it well worth the money!
A few things about the park…you might think Capital Reef is an odd name for a park in the middle of a desert. The name comes from Mormon settlers who saw a gray capstone of Navajo sandstone that looked like the capital dome and the ripples of the sandstone reminded them of a coral reef. On a practical note, there is fee to visit the park if you don’t have a the annual pass (and as it is mentioned in most of my US based blog posts, you should have one) but it appeared to be done on the honor system. There was a pay station near the entrance to put your money.
The park an eclectic mix because I had no idea driving into the park,feeling like I was on Mars only to end up in an orchard, eating a cinnamon bun under the trees with a marmot. Mormon settlers started the orchards and did they know how to pick a location! There is a small shop where you can buy some jam or aprons but they are known for their baked goods, thus the cinnamon roll. It was a cute stop and some deer wandered nearby!
Even with the orchards, you feel like you are on Mars. I know the movie, ‘The Martian’ (one of my favorites, a must watch), was filmed in Hungary and Jordan but production could have stayed much closer to home! The shades of red are indescribable! I had already seen a lot of cool formations but Capital Reef is definitely unique amongst the Mighty Five. There are hiking trails but you can see much of the park on the main roadway. A important thing to keep in mind, there are other dirt roads throughout the park. You cannot go on them with RVs, trailers, and the like. They are also prone to flash floods, so it is important to keep an eye on the weather in the vicinity! I did not go on the dirt roads. I have before in Bend but I didn’t want to risk getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere very far from home. I still spent several hours at each scenic point and much of the time, a lot of the roads are closed to traffic, so don’t worry if you cannot access them!
There was hardly anyone in the park. After I finished breakfast with the marmot, I saw one other person. I saw a couple cars on the road but never encountered the passengers. This may have a lot to do with the time of day but it is not a high volume park like Zion (one of the most visited).
Capital Reef is truly unique and I am so glad I was able to experience it! When you leave, the drive from Capital Reef to Canyonlands is pretty spectacular, so embrace the detour to the least visited Mighty Five and enjoy the ride!