This is a 125 mile drive, so plan a day for this activity. You will begin this drive with the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This road intersects Utah Hwy 24 about 9.3 miles east of the visitor center. This dirt road runs along the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold. This fold is a bending and folding of rock layers caused by pressure deep within the earth. The scenery here is wonderful, and there are also a number of hiking trails that may be accessed from this road. We saw near vertical cliffs, white domes made of Navajo Sandstone, and beautiful overlooks of mountains and multi colored sandstone cliffs. From the Notom-Bullfrog Road take the Burr Trail Road. This was originally a cattle trail route that will take you to the town of Boulder on Utah Hwy 12. Much of this leg of the loop lies outside the park. The Burr Trail Road takes you through the northern part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Wow! Was this spectacular! The scenery is breath taking with huge towering red cliff walls on either side of us. These were composed of gigantic, flat faced surfaces with sharp edges. Some of the cliffs had beautiful, multi-colored ribbon like stripes cascading down their faces. In Boulder stop and visit the Anasazi State Park where you will enjoy an interesting museum. The Anasazi were some of the ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the area in early times. Behind the museum you will see excavations of rooms and pit structures. The Anasazi abandoned the area around 1175 A.D. From Boulder take Highway 12 through the Dixie National Forest to the west side of Capitol Reef. Here we passed by unbelievably huge stands of aspen trees ranging far back and over the rolling hills. This would be a stunning view in the fall when the trees are dressed in their golden finery. The Burr Trail road and hwy 12 are paved. Inside the park the route is a graded dirt road, which can be affected by weather conditions. For this reason you should inquire about road and weather conditions before taking this drive.
Capitol Reef National Park is a great birding park. We saw many while enjoying the lush valley floor, quite comforting after being in more desert surroundings in most of Utah. This Flycatcher was a particular favorite. With a name like flycatcher you would imagine they are quite the hunter for insects and we were lucky to see him catch this yellow jacket in quite an easy manner. He then went up to a branch and savored his little prize immensely. It was quite a show and a reminder at how proficient different species are at surviving in the wild.
Another treat was the Western Tanager. The beautifully colored bird is bright yellow with gray wings and a red head. We saw some avid birders making a big deal at seeing one pretty far away in a tree on the Fremont River Trail. I told them we got a picture of one catching a bee but later realized that was a flycatcher. I was happy to finally get a picture of one playing around in the Fruita Campground.
The picnic area just up the Scenic Drive from the visitor center is an alluring spot. It is a pretty and lush park with an atmospheric old fashioned wooden fence surrounding it. Normally such a tame spot would not be a big attraction for me when so close to an array of more wild natural sights but this place has a real soul to it. The star attractions are two huge cottonwood trees that must be 100 years old. It took us a while to realize they were cottonwoods as we'd never seen any that size before. How anyone could cut something like this down is beyond me. It's like killing an old man with a wealth of knowledge and memories. There are some picnic tables and fields for kids to run around. It's a great place to have a meal if you are not camping. You'll pass this if you continue up the Scenic Drive from the visitor center to the Historic Gifford Farm.
These strange looking rock formations were formed over millions of years of water and wind erosion. They sit in a valley floor, and are surrounded by a ridge of hills. They are called mushrooms because of the similarity. The rock on top is harder than that underneath, and over time the surrounding ground around these pinnacles eroded away, leaving these standing out. They are called hoodoo's, meaning soft rock topped by harder rock.
The area was used for grazing for years. In 1926 Arthur Chaffin came here and helped to try to preserve the rock formations. Not until 1954 did it get a protected status, though, and a state park in 1964. Admission is $7. The viewing only may be less than an hour for you to enjoy. If you hike among the rocks and contiguous area, then maybe all day. The different rocks seen here are worth the trip, I believe.
From Capitol Reef, the park is about 45 miles to the north on Hwy 24, or around 24 miles off Hwy 70 going south on Hwy 24.
This road starts at the north end off Hwy 24, and about 9 1/2 miles east of the visitor center, but only 3 miles from the park entrance. Going down this road, you can see some of the backside rock formations of Capitol Reef, and it goes right through the Waterpocket Fold wilderness for 70 miles. It follows Oak Creek bed, and the Muley Twist canyon. I did not take this road down too far, but can only imagine the beauty along it, but maybe also the difficulty in driving over rough terrain. The road is paved for 10 miles at the north, and 10 miles at the south, where it intersects to Bullfrog marina on Lake Powell. The road is impassible when wet, or afterwords for a while.
The leg on the north end has some big homes overlooking the park views, and one ranch to stay at that I saw.
Do not tell anybody-but the scoop is there is a large fossil find of dinosaur bones near Hanksville. Location is off Hwy 24 about 5 miles north and past Hwy 95 to the east. Locals come here and pick through the fossils to sell. It is on an old rocket missile firing range of the Government. It is supposed to be ringed off, but local people get to the find.
This huge expanse of territory surrounds much of the national parks in southern Utah. It is in different pieces around the area, and much of it is for long term camping to enjoy the serenity. Forest Service manages the arks, but does have a lot of volunteers to assists in staffing the various campground and stop off area.
It is said the view can go on for close to 150 miles. I do not disagree with that after this clean air environment and the views I saw for a multitude of miles
Along the Hickman Bridge Trail these natural bridges were formed over long periods of time. Water seldom travels through these canyons but when it does the resulting erosion creates interesting landforms.
These Bridges were the result of potholes in the wash which were formed and then undercut by the sand heavy seasonal floods that torment the landscape.
Frommers travel writers say that, if you can visit only one National Park in your lifetime, it should be Capitol Reef. I'm not sure if that's true and since less than one million visitors enter this park per year, most don't seem to agree. But Capitol Reef is uniquely beautiful in its ruddy earth-toned scenery and fascinating in its geological history.
The gorges are narrow areas formed when water ran through cracks in the earth. These areas collect rainfall and form small waterpockets. They are one of the places to see in Capitol Reef, when the forces of nature are cooperating. Rainstorms can cause flash floods in the gorges and, for that reason, it is advisable not to enter if storms are threatening. The gorges may also be closed after a storm if it is determined that they contain conditions dangerous to hikers.
The Waterpocket Fold is a 100 mile long bulge in the earth's crust which resulted from an uplift of the earth's layers and subsequent leveling off, forming what appears to be a mountain. The mini cliffs and domes surrounding the fold acted as a barrier against travel in the region, hence the "reef" portion of the park's name.
All in all, its not such a bad day weather-wise. Its pretty chilly (in the 30's) and it hasn't broken 40 degrees all day. But the huge snowstorm I'd feared while driving over Boulder mountain has yet to descend upon the area. in fact, the sun has finally broken free of the clouds which gave it a heck of a fight trying to shield its rays. I guess the sun was more determined. Or the clouds were not as strong as they appeared to be.
Its a repetitive tip, but this is a clearer shot of Chimney Rock. It still doesn't look like its worth hiking 3.5 miles through the mud to get to it, but its an interesting sight from the dry and mud free highway.
In the Fruita area, there are 15 day hiking trails with trailheads located along Utah Hwy. 24 and the Scenic Drive. These trails offer the hiker a wide variety of options, from easy strolls along smooth paths over level ground to strenuous hikes involving steep climbs over uneven terrain near cliff edges. Hikes may take you deep into a narrow gorge, to the top of high cliffs for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area, under a natural stone arch, to historic inscriptions...and much, much more! Round trip distances vary in length from less than 1/4 mile to 10 miles.