Capitol Reef National Park often gets overshadowed by the big shots: Zion National Park and the Arches National Park, but it also has much to offer. With preserved archeological evidence and stories of early pioneer settlers, this national park makes for a different experience that is well worth the visit.
A Historical Time Capsule
It is like taking a walk back in time. It is the first national park I have visited that has preserved so much of its historical dwellings. Yes, many have tribal villages and stories to share, but this one has a full focus around history and maintaining its history. Right outside of the visitor center and the only campground, Fruita Campground, on the Scenic Drive, lies the Fruita Schoolhouse, the Gifford farm and the Historic Gifford Homestead, the Giffords being the last residents of Fruita.
Early Pioneer Settlers Dwellings & Stories
Mormon pioneer families likely settled here in the 1880s. They were homesteaders and lived off land. The Fruita Schoolhouse and Gifford House are still there today to help teach visitors about stories of early pioneer settlers.
The Fremont Valley River used to be home to a group of Native Americans. They carved petroglyphs into the canyon walls. Leaving this preserved has allowed us to see that they likely hunted bighorn sheep and mule deer, gathered nuts and seeds and planted corn.
A Geology Enthusiasts Dream
Capitol Reef’s rock layers were deposited from 275 to 74 million years ago. This gives us a cool snapshot of the Mesozoic era. There are main different rock types, layers and fossils to help us understand and put together stories from the past.
According to the park, Capitol Reef National Park was created to preserve the Waterpocket Fold, a giant fold or wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. This was formed by deposition, uplift, and erosion that changed the landscape. These geological processes have occured throughout time. For those geology enthusiasts reading, according to the national park services: “the Waterpocket Fold is North America’s longest exposed monocline, a one-sided fold. ‘Waterpocket’ refers to the large bowl-shaped pockets of water in the rock, like the Tanks on the Capitol Gorge trail. The fold contains many different rock layers, which provide a variety of habitats for plants and animals. Capitol Reef’s grasslands, woodlands, deserts and riparian zones are home to over 1,000 species of plants and animals.”
It is an International Dark Sky Park
This means that it is an excellent place to stargaze. If you are a city dweller, the night sky here will blow your mind.
Further Reasons to Visit
There are a variety of hikes, varying in difficulty level. The Capitol Gorge Trail is easy and feels like you are walking back in time. You can visit the Fruita Orchards and are able to sample the fruit for free during the orchard season. It is not as heavily populated as other national parks in Utah, leaving it an easy addition to your road trip!