Capitol Dome and the nearby Navajo Dome are made of Navajo Sandstone and are remnants of an ancient Sahara-like desert. They were formed as sandy sediments were laid down over millions of years and cemented together by minerals deposited by the waters of an ancient shallow sea. The sediments were then overlaid by more layers which pressed them into sandstone. Much later, the formations were exposed by uplift and erosion from wind and rain. These forces continue to sculpt the formations today.
A short distance east of the Petroglyph Parking Area is the one for Hickman Bridge. Hickman Bridge is the largest natural bridge in the park with a 133 foot span. The bridge is reached via a 2 mile round trip trail that is steep and strenuous in spots then levels out and becomes easier. If you want a bit more of a challenge, you can take the strenuous 4.5 mile round trip, Rim Overlook Trail. Both trails will expose you to the glaring sun, so take lots of water and try to hike the trail early in the morning when it is cooler.
A bit further along Utah Highway 24, about a mile east of the visitor center, you will find a series of rock art consisting of "petroglyphs" pecked into the rock by another rock) and "pictographs" (painted onto the rocks). This rock art was left by the Fremont Culture which occupied the area from around 700 AD to 1250 AD. The rock art offers a glimpse into the lives and religious practices of these early settlers. The rock art is easily accessible via a short, level trail and a wooden bridge.
Heading east from the main part of the park is the Fruita School, part of the Fruita Historic District. The Mormon Settlers realized the importance of education so they built a one-room schoolhouse in 1896. The school served all grades and had from 8 to 26 students at a time. The building also served as a community center, Sunday school, and a Saturday Social Center. The school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the formations along the Scenic Drive include: The Egyptian Temple; EPH Hanks Tower; along with formations of Wingate Sandstone (Photo 3); Navajo Sandstone (Photo 4); and Chinle Formation (Photo 5).
Another interesting site toward the beginning of the Scenic Drive is the Historic Gifford House which was built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908. A few years later, Dewey Giffordsand his family occupied the farm. The Giffords Family was the last residents in Fruita and did not leave until 1969. Today, the Gifford Farmhouseconsists of a museum showing a typical farm in Fruita and a gift shop that sells handcrafted items, recipe books, and various food items. Don't miss the homemade pies! Hours are 8 AM to 5 PM.
At the beginning of the drive is part of the old Mormon settlement called "Fruita" because of the fruit trees the settlers planted here. At that time (the late 1800s) this part of Utah was pretty isolated so the little community had to be self-sufficient. The community remained here until the 1960s well after the park was taken over by the National Park Service in the 1930s. 1/2 mile south of the visitors center, along the Scenic Drive, is the Fruita Blacksmith Shop.
One of the main things to do in the park is taking the 10 mile long Scenic Drive. This drive costs $5 per vehicle after the Fruita Campground area and leads along the Waterpocket Fold. After the 10 miles of paved road the road divides into two unpaved roads: One leading to Capitol Gorge and the other to the South Draw. Along the Scenic Drive you will see a number of interesting formations from the Navajo Sandstone, the Wingate Sandstone and the Chinle Formation. There are a few historical sites at the beginning and some decent hiking trails/side trips if you have the time and wish to explore more. Guides to the Scenic Drive are available for purchase at the visitors center.
Just across Utah Highway 24 from Panorama Point is the parking area for the Chimney Rock Trail. This 3.5 mile loop trail leads through beautiful red rock formations to Chimney Rock, a very interesting formation. My photo of Chimney Rock did not come out well, this is from the Internet (not copyrighted).
Here at Capitol Reef National Park is some of the cleanest air in the country allowing you to see longer distances. A nice place to do that is here at Panorama Point and nearby Gooseneck Overlook. These views are on Utah Highway 24 before you get to the visitors center. Formation of this beautiful spot began some 65 million years ago when sediments were pressed together to form solid rock and then was carved out during the Pleistocene Era some 25,000 years ago during the last glaciation period. From this point you see the Western Edge of the WaterpocketFold (which form the park) and the Golden White domes formed from the Navajo Sandstone, the hard red cliffs formed from the Wingate Sandstone, and the Grey-green and Purple formation that came from the Chinle Formation. In the distance you may see the Henry Mountains.
The Ripple Rock Nature Center is located a short 1/2 mile down the Scenic Drive from the visitors' center. It has some nice interactive displays that are fun and educational for kids of all ages. You may want to check first at the visitors center, though, as the hours seem pretty intermittent.
The visitors center for Capitol Reef National Park is located at the intersection of the Scenic Drive and Utah Highway 24.It is kinda neat how the building blends into the environment. Here you can get a brochure and newspaper for the park; look over maps; and get recommendations from the helpful rangers on how to best enjoy your visit based on your interests and the amount of time you have to visit.
When Burr Trail reached Hwy 12 Scenic Byway at Boulder, we took a detour off the loop and headed south in hot pursuit of decent mug of joe and another great hike: both highly recommended. Here's the skinny:
• The byway passes over Haymaker Bench and a very narrow, hair-raising stretch called the Hogback: no barriers; not much shoulder; you-don't-wanna-know-foot-drops on both sides. The heights-hating husband was too busy whiteknuckling the SUV to look but it was a bonus for his passenger.
• Just beyond the Hogback is Calf Creek Recreation Area where you can, and should, take the 6-mile hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. There is also a nice campground, crystal-clear river and picnic area here.
• About 10 miles before Escalante we scored those lattes. Kiva Koffeehouse is easy to miss as it was custom-designed to blend with the landscape. Huge windows and a pretty patio open to scenic canyon views: a really nice spot for a light lunch, breakfast or pastry-and-coffee stop. They also have two rooms in a separate building that operate as a B&B. From here we doubled back to Calf Creek for our hike. http://www.kivakoffeehouse.com/
• With more time on your hands, you can follow Hwy 12 as it passes the town of Escalante, parts of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park (great hiking and campground), all the way to Bryce National Park - 80 miles from Boulder. The 124-mile length of 12 from Torrey to the junction of 89 - west of Bryce - is designated scenic byway: download a map and information from the link below.
If not interested in a side trip to the Calf Creek hike and/or drive across the Hogback, the loop heads north on Hwy 12 at Boulder; visit the museum at Anasazi State Park if you have time. Just the other side of town, this section of the route leaves the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M. and enters Dixie National Forest. You weave up, up 9,400 feet of the Aquarius Plateau to an alpine landscape of blue lakes, evergreen and aspen before sliding down, down again to Torrey. Along the way are a couple of fantastic overlook pullouts affording sweeping views across Grand Staircase-Escalanate and the Waterpocket to the Henry Mountains and even, on a clear morning, farther beyond to Monument Valley.
Our day was plagued with haze - not an uncommon problem in Southwestern parks - and my pictures suffered but what I could see with my eyes versus capture with the lens was a nice consolation prize.
Note: free-range livestock and deer were thick along the road so be very, very careful and keep your speed down. We spied one enormous cow bottoms-up in the ditch and can only hope that the vehicle that caused its demise didn't meet with the same fate.
This was, hands down, my favorite piece of the loop as there's one short, 5-star hike along the way, a stunning drive through the Circle Cliffs area of Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, and another down to Boulder through the sheer, red walls of Long Canyon. That eyeful of the Escalante's cliffs as you come over a rise from the east is probably the biggest reason I'd do this in a clockwise direction as it would be somewhat behind you coming from the west. Yes, you could pull over for a backwards glance but...
There aren't enough superlatives to describe the scenery along this route but suffice it to say, it's well worth the half-mile, 800' climb on a series of tight, steep switchbacks (no guardrails) out the Waterpocket to a plateau high above. The Husband - who is not wild about heights - was relieved to be doing this as an ascent rather than a descent? At the top of the switchbacks is a pullout with a heck'uva view into the fold you just climbed out of so take a photo-op here. As far as the rest of the must-stops? You don't need me for that: let your eyes be your guide.
Only the first 5 of the 36 miles - from the junction of Notom-Bullfrog to the entrance of Grand Staircase/Escalante - is unpaved but the Burr switchbacks should not be driven after heavy rain, with an RV, or towing a trailer. I'll cover the recommended hike in my next tip; be forewarned that you need a 4-wheel and/or high-clearance vehicle for that one...
This link will give you a nice description of the road starting from the "From Bullfrog: 31.6" point and skipping the Wolverine Loop paragraph: