We slowly crept along the Grand Gulch, thick chunks of rock, broken debris crushing under the weight of the wheels. Zigzagging back and forth across intersecting veins of the Grand Wash. Mangled, sun scorched logs and limbs lay displaced, waiting for the next thunderstorm to sweep them down into the Fremont, the Dirty Devil and into Lake Powell – by that time splintered and fragmented. In the washes and up on the banks their ancestors scatter, turned over through time, transformed, petrified into ancient fossils. An eerie relief walking through the desert to see time unraveled in front of our eyes. This barren desert, eroding rock and deepening canyons once a paradise filled with life and vegetation. We walk and drive on a crumbled, silent graveyard.
The heat radiates, unrelenting. 100 degrees mid day with no relief. A few clouds break up the deep blue and pastel sky but will not block out the sun for even a moment. The wind minimal, sagebrush still in the calm silence. As we continue further into the gulch the canyon walls begin to tower more dramatically. Water pockets etch out the sandstone on vertical walls, called tafoni, making homes for lizards, bats, and small desert life. They look like giant honeycombs, a labyrinth maze or network.
Along the banks of the lightly vegetated foreground we spot a mountain goat eating dry brush, contently staring at us as we slowly drive by.
This is an unforgiving terrain that is impossible to ignore yet undoubtedly incredibly magical. Towering rocks and large mesas adorn the eye. Captivated by the red and maroon iron oxide and black desert varnish stained walls. Driving through the wash is inherently humbling. At any time, without warning, rain from a hundred miles away could cause a flash flood, sweeping our truck and us along with it, no mercy. Caution is absolutely necessary.
Along the East-West route on 24 through the center of Capitol Reef National Park there is a short hike just across the Fremont River that will take you up to Hickman Bridge, a large natural bridge that you can hike around and underneath. It is a spectacular site; Hickman stained with Desert Varnish, thick chunks of rock smoothed and weathered through time. Along the hike, just over the first ascent, there are plenty of piñon pine to seek refuge from the scolding sun.
Another fascinating spectacle in this landscape is the Goosenecks Overlook trail just one mile off the main road. After just a short walk you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the Fremont River as it silently flows through the continually carving canyon.
Capitol Reef has so much to offer in the way of its’ beauty that it simply cannot be explored in one day. Nor two. In fact we have been coming to this park countless times on our drives across Utah through Scenic Byway 24 and still have yet to see all its’ wonders. From the furthest southern edges of the Burr Trail and the Notom Road we have explored the parks most primitive side; roads ground in sand, uneven and rarely traversed terrain gradually climbing up and over the Waterpocket Fold. Through the scenic drive into the Grand Wash and down into the Grand Gulch from Fruita. Still we have yet to make it to Upper Cathedral Valley via the route from Fremont. I hope this summer we have the chance to explore more of the park, see and embrace more of this rugged landscape.