In my last post I began my summer travels by driving from Moab to Hanksville stopping to camp about 20 miles south of Hanksville. The next morning I hit the road and continued on toward Capital Reef, my next stop. I’ve covered all this ground numerous times before so I didn’t stop a lot.
This part of Utah has a few small town along the way but most of them don’t have any good reason to stop for long, but Hanksville has something pretty unique. At the intersection where 95 and 24 meet there is a gas station unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Outside the pumps are just like any other, but when you go inside to pay at the convenience store/gift shop, you actually walk right into the mountain side because it is hallow inside. At some time in the past someone drilled it out and now it is a gas station. Be sure and stop by and check it out if you are in the area. The town has a good Verizon 4g signal so I caught up on my website work there.
The drive from Hanksville to Capital Reef National Park is not exceptional but it is pretty because you drive along the Fremont River most of the way. But, as you get closer to the NP it gets better and better. Capital Reef has some of the deepest red colors of all the red rock country and it stands out in stark contrast against the Fremont River which is surrounded by green Cottonwoods.
Personally, I think that the best time to visit here is in the fall when the Cottonwoods are a golden yellow as they change into their fall colors. Also, the heat is basically over and the crowds have thinned to reasonable levels. The last time I was there was in 2008 when I had spent the first week of October in Colorado photographing it’s fall colors and when it got too cold I headed over to Moab for two weeks and in mid-October I headed over to Capital Reef and got there just in time for it’s fall colors. The contrast of the deep red and the bright yellow was very pretty!
I’ve always thought Capital Reef NP was one of the most underrated of the Parks on the Grand Circle, I would certainly rate it ahead of both Bryce and Canyonlands. Bryce only has the one thing to offer and Canyonlands is so large it’s hard to take it in. CRNP has the beautiful red rock and unique formations, the Fremont River, history including Petroglyphs and recent Mormon history, and one of the largest anticlines in the country called the Waterpocket Fold. It creates a dramatic backdrop for much of the park. Another thing it has, that few visitors bother to visit, is Cathedral Valley. It’s remote and takes quite a bit of driving to visit it–but if you will bother, you will be rewarded by amazing monolithic structures well worth seeing. I’ve been there before so I didn’t go this time. Beyond all that, CRNP is one of the few where they grow food right there for visitors to eat!
At one time there was a little town called Fruita where the Capital Reef Park Headquarters is now. It was settled by Mormon pioneers many years ago because of access to water from the Fremont. They planted large scale fruit orchards of peaches, pears, cherries and apples, which is where the name came from. The settlers are all gone now but the orchards are still there and the Park Service continues to tend to the orchards with loving care. If you are there in season you are welcome to harvest your own, but the Park Service does charge for them. I’ve never been there in season so I don’t know how much they charge. For harvest information, check out the NPS website here: http://www.nps.gov/care/learn/historyculture/orchardscms.htm
Like most NPs there is no dispersed camping in CRNP but (although there is a free campground in Cathedral Valley, but it is a long drive) also like many of them, there is good camping just outside of the Park. Whenever I’m there I stay at a very nice spot just outside of the Park’s west boundary. It’s on the right side as you’re driving west and you just have to keep a close eye out for the turn in. If you miss it you’ll shortly come to the first gas station/motel and you’ll know you missed it so turn around and go back watching for it, now on your left.
If you haven’t been to the Golden Circle, you’ve missed out on some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and you owe it to yourself to visit it. Make sure that Capital Reef is on your agenda!