Utah is an incredible place. Although it’s a popular place for hikers, in my travels it has often seemed like I’ve had the whole place to myself. On my way to Capitol Reef National Park I hadn’t passed another car in a long time. Civilization was becoming sparse. I was filled with excitement to go to this lesser known National Park.
I first learned about Capitol Reef from the Rock the Park show in which Jack Steward described it as a “gem.” It was an intriguing episode, because the park was portrayed with such a unique balance of history and nature. Jack also described it as “The real wild West.” Growing up in, and always being confined to, the Northeast and Midwest, the wild West always seemed so unreachable and too legendary to bother with making my acquaintance, but here we were, about to meet!
Prior to my arrival, I knew some basics about Capitol Reef. It was a supposed hideout for outlaws, including the infamous Butch Cassidy. It also included a commonly traveled pioneer wagon route and the restored Mormon ghost town of Fruita, situated in an oasis tucked down between the giant rock walls. It was named Capitol Reef after a giant rock feature on top of the Reef, which pioneers thought resembled the U.S. capitol building. I wanted to see it all for myself and was very curious what the “Reef” itself would look like- a 100 mile outcropping of earth pointing to the sky.
The two hour drive from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef was very peaceful and marked by tranquility, yet unbridled anticipation. I was driving down the long wavy landscape, swooping down and rolling up to see new marvels at each crest. I had gotten another early start as to be able to secure a campsite in Fruita. As I was traveling down the open roads, the morning sun was still waking up, slowly peering over mountainous deserts and lush fields of the remote Utah farmland. The temperature was brisk and in the lower fifties. The sun didn’t seem to be in a hurry but stretched casually, illuminating the beauty around it, turning dark grey areas to vibrant oranges and greens. As I approached the park, red giants stood up all around me. They announced their existence boldly and reached dramatically into the sky- some layered with colors, others monotone. Between the road and these giants were just fields of sand and rocks mixed with typical desert shrubs. It very much reminded me of the landscape in Disney Pixar’s original Cars movie. It felt like in any minute I’d be pulling up to Radiator Springs.
The Reef itself jutted diagonally up into the skype, as an immense rock ledge. In the park film, I learned that it is believe it was formed by plates of land colliding, pushing one plate up into the air, creating this massive wrinkle in the earth’s crust.
I was traveling alone. Dom had taken off in a different direction. He had forgotten to pack his camera battery and had found a place online in Moab, Utah that sold it. He was going to seek that out. When I rolled into the park, I passed the small visitor center and headed straight to Fruita. I didn’t have much pick of a site, because the campground was small and many sites were taken.
The whole campground was flat and had a mix of green grass and desert dust. It was all fenced in, so it did not have much of a wild feel. Roads were paved, sites plainly arranged. It was a very civilized campground, yet very scenic, because it was tucked away between giant red walls situated in small and picturesque Fruita. I chose a site in the front left corner of the campground. I quickly set up camp. Knowing I would stay a few days, I decided I would rest spaciously in True Blue. I then purchased some firewood from the campground host and headed back to the visitor center, as always to watch the park film, purchase a pin and sticker, and ask a ranger for hiking recommendations, despite already having an agenda. I then hit the park road.
The first hike on the agenda was to Cassidy Arch. It was a 6.6 mile round-trip hike. The trail arrived at a place believed to be a hideout spot for the infamous criminal it’s named after. To get there I drove on a extremely scenic dusty dirt road in an expansive area between enormous rock walls where my little rental car kicked up a large trail of dusty clouds. I stopped at numerous spots to take pictures. The giants walls, and bold rock formations around me, made me feel so small and as if my car was just a spec of dust. I had never seen anything like this. I carefully maneuvered my car around some sharp turns, paying attention to the location of my tires, making sure they didn’t fall into any ruts or run over any sharply protruding rocks.
I came to a dirt parking-lot. There were maybe a dozen other vehicles that had ventured out here. I got out of my car, took off my shirt to cover myself in sunscreen, and made sure my Camelbak was at its water holding capacity. The sun now was fully awake and wasn’t holding anything back. It was raw, sharp, and felt closeby, without any filter. I began my hike on a river wash, and shortly took a turn left to start ascending, hiking between a multitude of fallen rocks and desert shrubs. I remember looking up in amazement, wondering why I had not heard more about this place. It reminded me of the awe and grandeur of looking over Yosemite Valley, just in a different color. Mountains rolled around in every direction and rocks abruptly and strikingly reached up into the sky. The reds, oranges, browns, and even whites were layered, and at other times they swirled around.
I remember looking across the distance in awe and thanking God for the adventure and acknowledging his awesome creativity. The more places I visit and new landscapes I see, the more I get to know God, as I observe the creative expressions He has poured himself into.
As I was ascending from the canyon along this path, which hugs and meanders around cliff edges, a group of three young teenage boys passed me…and then I passed them. This became a pattern until it started to become a bit awkward. I decided to let them establish a lead, as I knew I’d be stopping many times to take pictures.
As the trail reached higher ground, much of it was on open exposed rock face, and the only way to know where I was going was to look for cairns. Some were small and inconspicuous, so my eyes were constantly scanning in all directions, and a few times I had to trace my steps backward to find the cairn.
After 3.3 miles, I reached Cassidy Arch. There was one family there, and separate from them a group of about 10 boys and a couple of men. I quickly figured out that it was a Boy Scout group that had beat me here. How cool it would be to take a Boy Scout excursion to Capitol Reef! Anyone that lives in Utah is spoiled with exquisite landscapes. Utah is my wonderland and favorite state. I was able to recruit a Boy Scout leader to take my photo with Cassidy Arch behind me. I then sat down and rested there at the end of the trail, on the open rock face, facing the arch. Here I was having already seen Saguaro, the Navajo Nation, Horseshoe Bend, and Bryce Canyon, yet my adventure was still young. I already felt accomplished, yet there was much more to see and adventure to be had. Here in Capitol Reef, tucked away in Utah, I truly felt off the grid, away from it all, hidden, just like the outlaws. I had escaped the troubles of my world and was free. As always Utah makes me feel at home. Although some may dread the heat of the desert, Utah to me has always felt comforting.
I have noticed many times, hiking in Utah, that my skin, after being exposed to the summer sun, takes on the same color of much of the rock. Utah is a place in which I could go camouflaged. It reminds me of the piece of scripture that says God formed man out of the dust of the earth. If God were to have formed me out of the dust of this earth, he picked up a scoop of Utah and molded me, and maybe that is why I love the Utah landscape so much- maybe coming to Utah is in some ways, coming home.
I let this sink in, as I sat there facing Cassidy Arch. I felt that making acquaintance with Capitol Reef was more than a mere polite gesture. Capitol Reef had spoken. “Welcome…” it said, “…just make yourself at home.” And so I did.
Check back for my account of hiking to the Pioneer Register in Capitol Reef!
Read the previous entry “Recollection and Wonder,” here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/recollection-and-wonder