The Torrey area averages less than 8 inches of rain a year and temperatures often top 90 degrees during the summer. You'll see reminders everywhere to drink plenty of water, pack at least a quart (short hikes) to a gallon (longer treks) along for the day, and cover your head: dehydration/sunstroke is no joke.
Drink and then drink some more. Having been to the dizzy, stomachache stage of dehydration, I have some firsthand experience with how fast it can slap you upside the head. Yup, that bottle of (eventually) lukewarm water is going to taste like crap so bringing along some of those zero-calorie flavoring packets to make it go down a little easier is a good idea.
Cairns, those little pyramids of piled stones along the trails, are there for two reasons:
A. To keep you from getting lost and/or away from dangerous or unstable places
B. To keep you off cryptobiotic crust
Cryptobiotic means "hidden life" and these lumpy, living colonies of microorganisms, algae, lichen and whatnot help keep the desert surface from washing or blowing away and give plant life a fertile, friendly place to germinate. It's very fragile and some types take many, many years to form; step on it and you've just wiped out 10 - 100 years of growth. It usually looks like a bumpy black fungus covering large or small areas of ground but some kinds are difficult to recognize or are just starting to form.
So please, please help keep the desert healthy and beautiful and don't hike, bike or 4-wheel off clearly indicated trails, paths or roads. And please don't build new cairns or remove any that you see.
Bringing your pet to a National Park is not recommended as they're almost always banned from trails, not allowed in visitor centers, and can be walked (on a leash only) in limited places. They also cannot ever be left unattended in cars, RVS or campgrounds. Such is the case with Capitol Reef although you can walk Spot in the orchards and along the roads.
So unless you intend to see only what is possible from behind your windshield or at a pullout, leave your best friend in a nice kennel at home.
Park roads vary from asphalt-paved to graded-dirt to primitive-track: it's good to have an idea what to expect before heading off on a dirt spur. Figure that when the NPS guide says a route is for 4-wheel drive/high-clearance vehicles only, they mean it. Really. And those won't even cut it after a heavy rain so remote trailheads may have to wait until after a dry couple of days.
My photo was taken on Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road and not even a really bad spot: I was too busy hanging my head out the window and watching the fenders (on our 4WD/moderately high-cleareance SUV) to snap any in the tight places.
Because of all the gorgeous rock, I have to write this one about every National Park in Utah. This region see very little rainfall but when it does, all that water has to drain somewhere. That somewhere is usually to the bottoms of narrow canyons - where there is no place to go but OUT. In a hurry.
Slot or otherwise narrow, high-walled canyons are very dangerous places to be in rain as you'll have very little warning - and very little time - to escape one if a debris-filled flood rushes through. It doesn't have to be pouring where you are, either; flash flooding can occur from cloudbursts far upstream.
Same goes for unpaved roads or those crossing gulches or washes: they can quickly become impassable and strand you for a good long wait on the wrong side during or after a heavy shower.
So enjoy the canyons and byways but check the forecast or call the NPS desk first. And for pete's sake don't park your car in a dry wash, OK?
The handout given at the Visiter Centre is full of errors. For example, Fremont River trail is in the Easy (?) category with a 770' elevation change in 1 1/4miles, when in actuality, it is only less than 500vf. They have Cassidy Arch listed as 1,150vf when it is only 675'. Those were the only trails that I measured with my altimeter, but a local told me that other descriptions were also incorrect. I talked to the Park Manager, who told me that I was the first one to complain and that he would fix the problem. However, the park staff had already had the right information at their desk, but had not offered it to me when I first inquired about hiking.
It is advisable to have the right attire to hike and even walk around. A good brim hat, and cover for the arms, even help avoid the harsh sun. Sunscreen and lip gloss is a necessity. Sweat bands for the head and arms also helped me feel more comfortable in the 80-90 degree heat. Lips will crack and skin dry out fast in this climate.
Watch where you feel you need to have some relief. The pit toilets are merely holes in the ground and they have not vent except up that hole you are looking into. The methane gases may kill you, if the smell does not make you pass out first. Not all are this bad as described, but, yes a lot are, and you do not have the privilege to choose if you are out in the wilderness.
Yes-the methane gas is deadly if in a confined area. I did not pass out, but my weak stomach and tolerance definitely let me know I was in danger. It the vent does not work sufficiently, then the problem of keeping the smell away is moot. If the vent does not work adequately, you will know when you go inside
The soil content of this special dirt is sensitive to being disturbed. It contains minerals and it bound together with organic material. There are lichens, algae, moss, fungi, and other components that plant life in the desert needs to survive. Over time this soil lumps up and looks crumbling, but it is alive. If you step on it, that kills the soil. It takes 20 or more years to regrow.
There were signs of some major flooding in Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. The Park Service shut off access by vehicle while I was there. The rains apparently were only 2 inches, but around here they so flash flood swiftly
The roads from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef are steep, with many switchbacks, cliffs, and mountains. In some areas, there is loose gravel on the road, so you have to be especially careful. You will be fine if you take your time. I would plan extra time for traveling when going to Capitol Reef because it did feel like it took forever to get there.
There are potholes through out the Southwest. In the dry arid country anywhere water collects becomes vital to sustain life. There are some species of fish and amphibians whose life cycle is determined by when the water is collected in their home. When the water dries up they bury in the mud at the bottom or plant their eggs to wait the next rain. So try not to step in the potholes whether dry or wet, you may disturb small life.
There are several dirt roads you must take to get to trailheads or scenic views. First of all, don't go in the mud if your car isn't built for it. Second, drive slowly! Those potholes are murder, and you don't want to break an axle in the middle of nowhere. Also, there are a few blind spots, so watch for people whipping around corners.
When the sign says this, believe it. The dirt trail leading to Chimney Rock was so saturated that the mud was ankle deep. And this was the most tenacious mud on the surface of the earth. Not only did it completely coat my hiking boots, it was virtually impossible to remove. I think I actually brought some home with me, despite having thoroughly washed those boots. Hiking in the mud ruins the experience, at least for me. So I'd suggest reading those warnings on the signs before taking off along a dirt path.
As logic would have it, dirt roads turn muddy after rain or snow. These conditions often make the roads impassible and force closures. Even when the roads are not entirely impassible, driving conditions may be more difficult, especially for cars and other vehicles without off road capability. Its a good idea to check with the visitor's center about any road closures and the conditions of any dirt roads within the park.