Thursday, July 8, 2021

Capitol Reef National Park

If you've been around my corner of the InterWebs for a hot minute, you probably saw that the hubby and I had a bit of an adventure at the end of May. We drove from SoCal to Wyoming and back again - with a stop at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on the way to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Well, you didn't think the party was done when we packed up our AdventureMobile to head home, did ya?! Spoiler Alert: THE PARTY WASN'T OVER! On the way trip home, we planned to spend a day at Capitol Reef National Park {and this is my recap ;)}.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves... If you missed our road trip to Wyoming, you can check out the recap HERE. Also, if you missed Days 1, 2, 3 or 4 in Yellowstone National Park or Days 1 and 2 in Grand Teton National Park, you can catch up on them HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. And now that everyone's on the same page, we can proceed.

When we left off, the hubby and I had stopped at Mormon Row on the way out of Grand Teton National Park. Originally it was going to be our final place to visit on Day 2 of the Grand Teton portion of the adventure, but we heard the lighting is better in the mornings so we shifted it in the itinerary. {FYI: The hubby and I put a crap-ton of planning into this trip!}

John Moulton's Barn in Mormon Row

Once we walked around the area and snapped some pictures, it was time to hit the road. Our game plan was to drive for the majority of the day (about 8 hours/ 500 miles), that way on Sunday we could wake up and spend as much of the day as we would like exploring the new-to-us National Park (and relatively new National Park in general), Capitol Reef.

Well, a road trip wouldn't be complete without a little unexpected excitement, right?! Let me start off by saying the hubby is normally super diligent about keeping our cars full of gas (there's a possibility I almost ran us out of gas on the way to the Phoenix Marathon in 2016 and since then he lovingly harps on me about making sure the tank is full and that we know where gas stations are on our routes). I'm the type of person who wants to get as much of the gas out of the tank as possible before filling up, whereas once the tank hits about halfway, the hubby's on the hunt for a gas station. Well, although we bought our truck in 2019, I'd say we're still discovering some of the quirks and features. One such particularity is how much gas you have left in the tank when the "low fuel" light comes on. Yep, I'm sure you know where this story is going... The hubby had been driving for a while and hadn't really been on the lookout for a gas station (which is totally unlike him). By the time we got to about a quarter tank he had me look on our map for the next place to fill up. I asked him how long he thought we had and he guesstimated the distance. I found a gas station a ways before that and asked him if that would work. He said it would and we updated our navigation to route us there. About 15 miles before we got to said gas station (note - we were in a remote portion of Utah, so it wasn't like there were options at every exit... the services were very few and far between), the "low fuel" light came on warning us we were running low (DUH!). Our Focus' light pops on when we have enough gas to get approximately 50 miles so we assumed we were fine... As I'm sure you've heard before, you know what assuming does ;) Just about 3 miles from the exit the truck started sputtering and we ran out of gas! Originally I was thinking I could run to the gas station, get a gallon of gas and run back, but the temps were in the triple digits and I was worried I'd end up spilling the majority of the gas if I actually ran back to the truck. Thankfully we have roadside assistance and we were able to get someone to us within an hour to give us a gallon of gas. Okay, so I know I probably could've made this section like two sentences, but because I am normally the one in danger of running out of gas (but never have) and the hubby is on top of it 99% of the time, I just HAD TO record it in great detail ;)

Trying not to chuckle at the fact that it was the hubby who was at the helm when we hit E.

The hubby was frustrated he let us run out of gas, but eventually cooled down (once we got the gas and could turn on the AC, hehe). I tried to remind him that if we were going to run out of gas, this was the perfect time because we didn't technically have anywhere to be or do that day other than drive. Once our knight in shining armor a tow truck arrived with gas we were off to the gas station a few miles away and then back to our regularly scheduled program of chugging south. 

Having roadside assistance has been crucial for us, especially when we had our VW EuroVan!

Like the trip out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we planned to stay at free campsites/ on BLM land on the way home. Originally the hubby had scouted a place a bit further away from Capitol Reef National Park (at Koosharem Reservoir), but when we got there we realized we still had plenty of time to get somewhere closer to the park so kept driving.  We actually ended up just a few miles from the entrance at the Capitol Reef Overflow Dispersed Camping - SCORE! The area seemed pretty busy, but we were able to find a little nook away from the hussle and bussle to set up "shop".

Although we have a small portable potty in the truck, we've never used it. We normally try
to find places to stay that have facilities (even if that is just a port-o-potty or a pit toilet).

If you're like us prior to starting to research for this trip, you may not know much about Capitol Reef. Although it is a fairly large (in size) National Park, it seems as though the main things to do and see are on one main drag. Our game plan was to get in a few hikes, check out some of the historical areas in the park and enjoy yummy PIE (but more on that soon ;)).


Similar to my Yellowstone and Grand Teton recaps, I thought I'd share the things we did/ saw, in case you were planning on visiting Capitol Reef and wanted suggestions for a {very rough} itinerary to follow (or modify to fit your needs/ desires). PS I numbered the stops on our original itenary and letter anything we added "on the fly". I did my fair share of research prior to the trip, but we usually find extras (whether we drive by or see it in a park map/ brochure) that we end up adding. 

[capitol reef graphic]

1. Capitol Reef Entrance Sign

I love taking pictures at the entrance of a National Park (and hopefully I'm not alone). The only issue with this stop was that we were starting early to try and beat the heat so the lighting wasn't super awesome. Even still, we HAD to stop.

My biggest tip for clothes in the desert?! LAYERS! The mornings start off chilly but the day warms up quick!

A. The Castle

There were plenty of stops we could have made before we even made it into the park and this was one of them. The rock formations in this part of the country are just amazing and it was hard not to want to pull over and stop every few minutes. The Castle is an iconic landmark just north of the park's visitor center, towering nearly 800 feet over the road.

Isn't nature amazing?!

You probably can't tell from the picture, but the layers in the rocks were so different, pronounced and AWESOME!

I can see where it gets its name.

The views went on for miles and miles.

2. Hike Hickman Bridge

Our first major stop in the park was going to be a hike to the Hickman Bridge. This was a short loop (less than two miles) with some awesome sights along the route. When we arrived there was plenty of parking, but I'd definitely recommend going early or late in the day to avoid the crowds (with it being near the entrance and family friendly, I can only imagine how busy it gets) and the heat (this trail is very exposed). For a fairly quick hike, the natural bridge is super impressive.

Let's do this thang!

Always take time to stop and smell the roses flowers.

And to play with panoramic pictures ;) 

Love how creation can still thrive in this environment! 

Hickman Bridge is a natural bridge 133 feet wide.


B. Behunin Cabin

We just happened to be driving by this cabin and the hubby wanted to stop. I'm not sure if the picture does it justice, but it was pretty small... AND A FAMILY OF 15 LIVED HERE (the older kids actually had to sleep outside because of the lack of space!)! It was built in 1883, but the family only stayed for a year because they found it inhospitable (crops washed away by flash floods, etc). I wouldn't recommend driving out of your way to see it, but if you're in the area it's an interesting stop.

I'm all about tiny houses, but this would be rough with that many people ;)

The AdventureMobile waiting for us to finish checking out the cabin.

C. Navajo Dome

You may not know this, but Capitol Reef got its name in part from the great white rock formations which resemble the U.S. Capitol building, and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers. The Navajo Dome is one such dome. It was made by huge deposit of Navajo sandstone and is one of the more notable features within the park. (#RealTalk - The hubby thought it looked a bit more like a nipple than a dome {and, if I'm being honest, I had to agree ;)}.)

It's the whiter rock in the left half of the photo (if you couldn't guess).

The white sandstone definitely stood out amongst all of the red rock.

3. Walk Capitol Reef Petroglyph Trail

This is a super short "trail" (more like a sidewalk along the side of the road), but it was absolutely worth the stop to see some of the petroglyphs. The rock art created by the Indigenous Peoples can be seen in several places in Capitol Reef National Park. Most are attributed to the Fremont Culture, which lived in areas of Utah from approximately AD 600 to 1300. These Native Americans were contemporaries of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) of the Four Corners area.

It seemed like the longer you looked at the walls the more you could see.

4. Fruita Schoolhouse

The land for this schoolhouse was donated in 1896, although classes in the Junction area (later named "Fruita") started a few years prior. This one room schoolhouse might not look super impressive, but what I did find fascinating was the audio recording from one of the teachers who taught there in 1934 {FYI: You can listen to the recording HERE if you're interested}. Not only was this building used for teaching, but it also held dances, town meetings, elections, church youth activities, box suppers, and celebrations. Classes were discontinued in 1941 due to a lack of students.

This was right across from the orchards.

The building wasn't open, but you could peer through the windows to look inside.

5. Visitor Center

We had to pop into the Visitors Center while we were in the area (even if it was just to go potty and stamp my passport).

6. Hike Fremont River Trail

The next hike of the day was the Fremont River Trail. This one is along the Fremont River (duh), then meanders up the side of a mountain and ends with a beautiful 360 view of the park. The part along the river is shaded and cool, but then you have to work a bit to "earn the views" at the turnaround point. {Side note: We didn't really know where the trail officially "ended", so there's a possibility we didn't make it the entire way, but the views were awesome nonetheless.}

Nature along the river.

Some of the views once we started climbing up away from the river.

The hubby might not have been warned about the climb towards the end ;)

Playing with the panoramic picture where we turned around on the trail.

There were some horses right along the fence near the river, so the hubby and I stopped to pet them (on the way back they were further out in the pasture so I'm glad we took the few moments on the way out to hang out with them). 

These ponies must get a ton of pets from all of the hikers going by throughout the day.

7. Gifford House

Okay, so if you know much at all about the hubby, you probably know that he is A. an AMAZING man, B. super loving, creative, fun and goofy and C. had a HUGE sweet tooth ;) When we were researching things to do at Capitol Reef we both came across the fact that the Gifford House serves fresh baked goods to hungry travelers (opening their doors every year on Pi Day for the season ;)). As I'm sure you could guess, this stop was TOP PRIORITY on the hubby's itinerary.


We heard that they can sell out of their individual hand pies quickly, so we figured that since they were open from 8am-5pm, we'd try and get in as early as possible. After we finished our Fremont River Trail hike (which starts and ends right near the Gifford House) we decided to head over and get in the long line - even if it was before 10am. #BreakfastPies

Apparently I totally forgot to take a picture of the homestead, so this little building in the yard will have to do ;) #BloggerFail

When we finally got through the line (due to COVID they were only allowing 10 people in the building at a time, so I think the line appeared longer since we were trying to practice social distancing), we got up to the counter to place our order. I went with the Strawberry Rhubarb pie (my mom makes a mean one!) and the hubby got the Apple Pie and Peach Pie. 

Find someone who looks at you the way the hubby looks at pie ;) 

(Note - Although we arrived at 10am, the hubby got one of the last three apple pies! If you want a pie, we recommend going early! We were told sometimes they sell out before they go to lunch at 11am and don't reopen for the afternoon!)

Of course he couldn't wait for me to take a picture, haha.

When we were there, pies were the only thing on the menu. You could grab a bottle of water or an individual scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, but other than there weren't any other treats (they did have some houseware items like cookbooks, aprons, etc available for purchase). But I guess you could say we were totally fine with the dessert options ;)

They didn't stand a chance... especially after we had already done a couple hikes ;)

PRO TIP: Travel with your own utensils to avoid single-use plastics. Put them in your car (even if they're from your standard silverware set) and grab them when you go somewhere that doesn't offer washable cutlery (i.e. Chipotle, etc).

Seeing as we were camping we had all of our own cutlery with us, but even if you aren't camping, it's always
a great idea to have some reusable items with you so you can limit your consumption of single-use plastics.

8. Ripple Rock Nature Center

Although we would have loved to check out the Ripple Rock Nature Center, it was closed. The details did make it seem a little more children-centric, but, shoot, the hubby and I are just big kids and I'm sure we would've enjoyed it. #NextTime

9. Hike Cassidy Arch Trail

After filling our tummies with breakfast pie yummies, it was time to tackle our longest and most difficult hike of the day, Cassidy Arch Trail. (Okay, okay, so slightly more than three miles and just over 650 feet of elevation gain isn't exactly "tough" for us, but compared to the other two hikes we did earlier in the day this was going to be the most strenuous.)

Let's get this party started!

And although Alltrails has the hike listed at 3.1 miles, we had to park quite a ways away from the trailhead because the parking was all full (it ended up adding another mile total to our hike). We also noticed that the sky appeared to be darkening in the distance. Mother Nature is NOT to be messed with, especially when you are in canyons. We had a serious discussion prior to the hike to see if we thought we could finish it with plenty of time before the storms potentially rolled in. We felt confident, but also decided that we would absolutely turn around early if the weather got closer.

The sky might not look 'that' threatening in the photo, but the weather app was
calling for thunderstorms and the dark clouds could be seen in the distance. 

I'll be honest, there were a lot of people on the trail who appeared to be in over their heads. I hope this doesn't come across as judgy, but I was worried about quite a few of them. Many appeared as though they weren't carrying enough water, didn't have proper footwear, etc. The hubby and I were doing our best to go as quickly as possible so we would be back to the AdventureMobile before the potential rains started, but I feared this would not be possible for many of the people we were passing. The terrain was pretty rocky and steep in sections and the trail was marked mostly with cairns. 

Gotta keep your eyes peeled on trails that aren't obviously marked.

We chugged along as best we could (with the potential rains on their way, there was thankfully a bit of cloud cover which was making it a bit cooler, but otherwise the trail is completely exposed), safely going around slower groups, checking in on hikers who appeared to be having a difficult time, etc, all the while keeping our eyes on the sky.

Gotta have a little fun along the way, right?!

When we finally made it to the arch, I was surprised that there wasn't anyone out on it. Now, wait, that may sound strange, but this is actually a natural arch that you are able to walk out on. Once I noticed no one was out there, I mentioned it to the hubby and one of the kids who we had been playing leapfrog with on the trail (us passing him when he stopped for a quick second, then him passing us when we would stop) overheard me and said he'd take our photo while we went out on it if we'd take his. SCORE! [We ended up hiking down with him and found out he was a traveling nurse from Michigan!]

Can you see us out there?!

This one is a little closer so you can see us better ;)

Before we made our way back down I snapped a couple last shots of the bridge and then we hightailed it out of there. 

When we got close to the edge you could actually see a few people who were canyoneering.

The arch is wide enough that you can walk out on it without worrying about falling (but if you're scared of heights
you still might want to think twice about walking out on it since it's about 400 feet above the ground).

When we got down we were thinking we could continue our hike with a short bit on the Grand Wash Trail since it goes back into slot canyons like The Narrows in Zion National Park, but with the weather looming we didn't want to risk it. 

10. Scenic Drive

The last item on our list was the Scenic Drive. This is a 7.9 mile paved road with two dirt spur roads. It's a "virtual tour" with numbered signs along the route corresponding to information about the area. We hadn't grabbed the info from the visitor center nor did we have cell service so we were on our own to make up what we were seeing around us ;)

Not a bad place to ride your road bike, but I would have gone earlier to avoid the rain...

Shortly after we started the rain started. We were stoked we finished our hike just in time and were in the comfort of the AdventureMobile. We drove the length of the paved road but decided to turn around once we got to the dirt section for a few reasons. First, we didn't want to be driving into a slot canyon when it was raining. Second, although the truck has four-wheel drive and absolutely could've handled the terrain, not all the vehicles going that way looked dirt road worthy and we were worried we'd get stuck behind someone who got stuck ;) Lastly, the road is a one way in/ one way out sort of road, which means you have to go at the speed of the car(s) in front of you. Although I'm sure it would have been awesome to see, we didn't love the thought of being potentially stuck in a slot canyon, crawling along through a crowded corridor.


After we finished I looked at my watch and noticed it was just after 1pm. I pulled up our navigation and saw it would "only" take a little less than eleven hours to get home. I asked the hubby what his thoughts were on driving straight through (instead of the original plan of stopping at Leeds Canyon Designated Dispersed Camping {where we had stayed on the way to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks for our birthday trip last year}). He was totally on board. Our thought was it would give us all day on Monday (which was Memorial Day) to unpack, do laundry, pick up the pup from our friends, get groceries, clean the AdventureMobile and get ready for the coming week after being gone for almost two weeks.

We made a brief stop in Las Vegas for dinner at Pizza Rock (let's just say that being off-the-grid for almost two weeks and then walking into the craziness that is Vegas was a bit of a HUGE culture shock, especially since for the majority of the previous 15 months we had been pretty isolated for the most part due to COVID) because it's one of the hubby's FAVES. We didn't realize that the Golden Knights were playing a play-off game at the exact time we were trying to roll in for dinner, but thankfully we were able to score two seats at the bar where we could scarf down our Detroit Style Red Top pizza.

I always chuckle at the bathroom signs here so of course I had to snap a pic along with a pizza shot ;)

Other than the brief stop for dinner, we were just keeping the pedal to the medal (and making sure we watched the gas gauge of course, hehe). We did hit a HUGE delay outside of Baker {what a way to welcome us back to California...}. It took us over TWO HOURS to go six miles. Literally we could've walked faster than we were "driving". And although sitting in traffic is not my jam, there was no way around it so we just had to do our best not to overheat (it was still 110* at 8pm) and keep smiles on our faces. Eventually we pulled up to the house a little after 2am (thanks to the traffic jam), jumped in the shower {because we could NOT get in bed after dirtbagging it for such a long time}, unpacked a bit and hit the hay.

We may have only spent about seven hours at Capitol Reef National Park, but we made the most out of it. The hubby and I would each give it two BIG thumbs up. We loved the relaxed vibe, fewer visitors and the pie... I don't know that we'd make a trip solely to go there, but if we're in the area again we'd absolutely stop by and hit up more of the trails. 

Have you ever heard of or been to Capitol Reef?

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