I have spent part of my last 2 summers in Capitol Reef searching for Mexican spotted owls and studying their habitat characteristics. This past summer I spent an entire month hiking the backcounty to past and present spotted owl sites in order to measure vegetation associated with breeding habitat. My time in Capitol Reef (as with all of the other parks I hiked) was full of challenges, adventure, new experiences, fun, hate, and natural wonders....
|Dry hike turned wet and muddy in Upper Spring Canyon.|
|Lower Muley Twist|
|Climbing out of a slick mud pit at night|
Out of the three National Parks (Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) that I have worked in, Capitol Reef is above all my favorite and will always hold special memories for me. Unlike many other National Parks in Utah, Capitol Reef still offers solitude and true adventure.
|Five Mile Canyon (view from the top)|
I have heard many people who have visited Capitol Reef or ‘driven through’ and claim that it’s ‘lame’ or they were ‘not impressed’ or it is their ‘least favorite’ of all the parks. These comments don’t offend me...in fact I sometimes enjoy hearing them, because this means they won’t be back. It also tells me that they likely hiked the most popular front country trails and failed to recognize everything that Capitol Reef has to offer.
|old abandoned pioneer camp|
|Sunset over canyons|
The unique geology of Capitol Reef can make any hike challenging. In fact, without hesitation I can say that scrambling over ‘the reef’ is not fun and at times seemed dangerous.
|Bitter Creek Divide|
The upheaval of Navajo sandstone at a 45 degree angle emerging from pink, green, and red Chinle slopes makes for adventurous scrambling. If you ever encounter this terrain and think ‘I wonder what’s on the other side?’ You might just want to keep wondering. I found myself surfing the Chinle slopes (these slopes are just a large pile of gravel and shale) and climbing to the top on my hands and knees, holding on for dear life to every tiny bit of shrub or tree branch I could find. Even if this meant I had to grasp onto plant only 4 inches high. Once past the Chinle slopes you walk straight up into the sky across the golden sandstone....very, very slowly because you are exhausted from climbing the gravel mountain.
|Five Mile Canyon, me hiking the Chinle slope over 'the reef'...and yes, I did hike up to that pointy red rock in the distance. For reference, I am already standing at the halfway point.|
What’s on the other side? Depending on where you climb up you may find a straight drop back down only to endure another climb up, or you will find a complex of smaller canyons hidden behind the sandstone curtain. These canyons less traveled are still full of wonder, beauty, adventure, and surprises...
|Slot canyon maze|
|Climbing down, or up, a very narrow slot|
|Pour-off after a flash flood|
|Very large flash flood in Grand Wash (one of the most popular hikes in the park)|
|Sulphur Creek Canyon (another popular hike in the park)|
Let's just keep this our little secret....