Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – Part 1

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It’s a rather short trip from Hite to Capitol Reef NP, but we took our time, did a little shopping, and got to the campground too late to get a spot.  That’s not usually a problem for us and true to form we found a nice campsite in the BLM area outside the park.

Camping on the Fremont River (BLM).

As you all know by now, some of our best spots are these free dispersed camping sites in the BLM and National Forests.  This little spot, besides being right on the river held a couple of unique features.  First was some really colorful Bentonite Hills, similar to those we found at Petrified Forest NP, and really spectacular in the late afternoon sun.

We also had a field of strange round Lava Rocks across the river.  These were chunks of Lava of the type known as Aa (Ahh! Ahh!).  The Aa chunks had been picked up by the last glacier to pass through these parts and ground into round balls as the glacier retreated.

Glacier Ground Lava Blocks.

A Hot Rock Massage!

We had a pretty weird sunrise and were off at the crack of dawn to try and snag a campsite in the Park.  We got one.

Part 1:  Finishing the Grand Wash & hiking to Cassidy (as in Butch) Arch.

Five years ago we first visited Capitol Reef NP.  We were on a short 3 week vacation and due to limited time we only spent one afternoon and evening in the park and left the next morning.  On the way out we passed the northern trailhead for the Grand Wash and took a few minutes to hike up it, quickly realizing that we did not have time to hike it, but would definitely like to come back to Capitol Reef to hike the complete canyon.

North Entrance to the Grand Wash.

The Picture above is about all we saw of the Grand Wash on the last trip, but you can see the attraction as it turns and narrows and disappears around the corner.  The Grand Wash flows through a steep walled canyon that crossed the Waterpocket Fold, the main feature of the Park.  The Waterpocket Fold was created between 50 and 70 million years ago by a the uplifting of one side of a fault, deep below the surface, pushing the surface up 7,000 feet and causing the overriding layers to drape over the edge of the fault.  You can click HERE to see a more lucid explanation of the process.  The north – south Waterpocket Fold is like a 100 mile long bread roll that is vertical on on side (the west) and has sagged down to meet the table on the other (the east).  Millions of years of flowing water have eroded canyons through the fold.  The Grand Wash is one of these canyons.

The hike winds through a narrow gap with sheer vertical walls on both sides.

Into the Narrows.

At it’s narrowest the canyon is about 30 feet wide and 300 – 500 feet high.  It was great fun to finally see this canyon.  When we reached the far end (2.5 miles) we found that an additional 2 mile hike, rising 870 feet above the wash, would take us to Cassidy Arch.

High above the Grand Wash.

The arch is named after the famous Butch Cassidy who led the equally famous “Hole in the Wall” gang who reputedly had a hideout here in the Waterpocket Fold.

Cassidy Arch, from the trail.

Looking down from the trail.

The trail up to the arch was simply marvelous, constructed in the 1930s by the CCC with beautiful stonework, all of natural stone to fit in with the environment, and well placed steps, waterbars, and supporting walls.

Cassidy Arch.

The arch is unusual, firstly in that you approach it from above, looking down through the arch to the valley below, and secondly in that you can walk out on top of the arch.  That second item makes one decidedly weak in the knees, but makes for a great picture.

Cheryl, standing on Cassidy Arch.

This was another great hike, and a real surprise because we didn’t even know the arch existed until we found the trail by accident.  It’s just Grand the things we find when we go out for a walk.  To quote the illustrious John Muir.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, is really going in.”

This is just so much fun, but I guess someone’s got to do it.

All in all the hike ended up about 8.5 miles.  Tomorrow we will hike Cohab Canyon to Hickman Natural Bridge.  How about that, an Arch and a Natural Bridge, both in the same park.  Know the difference?


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