Capitol Reef Revisited – Day 1

It has been 7 years since I last visited Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, Utah.  I tried to go last year in April after getting the second COVID vaccination in early April, but the Park and all the nearby campgrounds were booked solid until mid July.

So after the prostate surgery last fall, I decided it was time to get back out there.  I made reservations at a campground on the east end of Torrey in early February for later March.  This was my first trip out of the area since the surgery, and I was really hoping that the workouts would make the hiking livable.

My new trailer I got last September, all setup in Torrey, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is an absolutely unbelievable place with vast almost indescribable scenery.  I really wanted to see new trails this time, but I wasn’t sure how my body would perform since that prostate surgery last October.  The surgery was much more all encompassing than I had imagined.  I got to the Visitor’s Center nice and early, and was able to speak with a ranger about trail recommendations.

She suggested Cohab Canyon which is a moderately difficult trail but fairly close to the Visitor’s Center.  It starts in Fruita, an old orchard just about a mile south of Highway 24.

This the near the beginning of Cohab Canyon trail looking back westward about 150 to 200 feet or so above the trailhead.  The barn and the little house in the background are located in the Fruita orchards.

The Cohab Canyon trail is brutal at the beginning.  It begins right across the road from the little barn in the above photo.  The trail goes up the face of the steep bluffs in a series of tight switchbacks and numerous rock steps until it goes back into the canyon where it changes to more undulating terrain.  That first part of the Cohab trail definitely gets the blood pumping.

This is closer to the top of the bluffs looking southwest across the valley.

Have you are wondered how Capitol Reef National Park got its name? The “capitol” part is because the early pioneers noticed that many of domed rock formations resembled the domed structures on our capitol buildings.  Now you can impress, or bore, your friends at parties. 😂

The “reef” is a bit more complicated. The uplifted, very rugged terrain that makes up most of the park acted as a great barrier to travel across that land in the 1800’s, much like a reef may act as a barrier under the sea.

These cliffs and rock formations are on the north side of Utah 24, but became very prominent near the top of the Cohab trail as it nears the top of the bluff face.

Why does this area in south central Utah have such crazy and breathtaking scenery?  Well, Capitol Reef is located on a rather unique geologic formation known as a monocline – a step up in the rock formations.  About 50 to 70 million years ago the western part of North America was undergoing some serious mountain building due to the Pacific Plate shoving itself against the North American Plate, and an ancient fault line pushed up the western side of the monocline about 7000 feet(2134 meters) higher than the eastern side.

Boulders near the entrance to Cohab Canyon right after the trail crests the face of the high bluffs.

More recently (about 15 to 20 million years ago) the Colorado Plateau uplifted further, pushing these ancient rock formations up above the surface and exposing the monocline.  The rocks in Capitol Reef are between 270 million and 80 million years old.  So in these canyons you can see almost 200 million years of geologic history.

Looking east near the entrance to Cohab Canyon.  This is really rugged country, but the colors were just spectacular!

The view in the canyon was breathtaking!  The morning sun was really highlighting the cliff faces.  I felt like my old self again, and suddenly I was only thinking about the place, the view and how to convey the unique beauty of this canyon in my photographs.

This crack in the rocks was on the south side of the trail, and the light was softer in the shade, giving that “glowing” quality to the photo.

Honestly, I have no idea as to how far I hiked in the canyon.  It seemed that every few feet there was another wonderful scene.  The terrain in Cohab Canyon was really rugged, but incredibly beautiful.  I kept seeing more, and would stop to compose a shot.  I would walk a bit more, and find another possible photo.

I saw this old branch, probably a leftover from an old juniper tree, sitting all by itself on these red rocks.  This was up a ways above the trail, and it looked like it might be a great place to have lunch.

As I was sitting up above the trail eating my lunch, I saw these strange rock formations to the east, and went over to investigate.  Around every turn was more incredible scenery.

These formations really defy description.  This was my view from near the spot where I had lunch. Notice the vivid colors.

The Cohab Canyon trail ends up splitting.  The main trail goes back toward Highway 24 after several miles.  There is a side trail that goes farther up the canyon side, and eventually ends up on top of the high bluffs overlooking Utah 24.  The views from the top are beyond description.

This is at the top of Cohab Canyon looking eastward down onto Utah 24.  Those black rocks in the foreground are old lava.  This landscape is so mysterious.  Notice the various colors in the sandstone across the canyon – part of that 200 million year geologic history.

I turned around here as I had spent so much time photographing. I’m sure my average speed on this hike was something similar to that of a sloth. Now the midday sun was up, and the light was not a nice as earlier in the day.

These holes in these rocks were formed from ages of water freezing in little cracks, and then the relentless winds scouring out the loose sediments.

This ends my first day hiking in the park. I had a fresh burger waiting to be grilled at my trailer. The next day in Capitol Reef is for another post.

Here is a wider view of those strange formations near the trail split.

Hopefully you have enjoyed this tour of Capitol Reef, and I really hope that you have learned a bit about the Utah geology. This is an endlessly fascinating place. Thanks for visiting my blog, and for giving me motivation to get back out there. Have fun and travel safe!

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