Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – Part 2

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Part 2 – Cohab Canyon and Hickman Natural Bridge.

When we first arrived at Capitol Reef we found that the campground was full, and had been full every night for the last 6 weeks.  Capitol Reef has been discovered.  Now situated in the campground we could more easily explore the park.

View from Fruita Campground.

The hike to Cohab Canyon starts right at the campground and ascends via switchbacks, 320 feet, to the mouth of the canyon.  From there it slowly descends 440 feet back down to the road on the east side of the Waterpocket Fold, through steep “Wingate” Sandstone canyon walls, and “Navajo” Sandstone dunes until it reaches the river.  It’s a great geology hike because you walk back through millions of years of geological time as you descend to the east.

A small slot canyon in Cohab Canyon.

A bonus on this hike, in the canyon walls area, were several small slot canyons leading, perpendicular to the canyon, back into the sandstone.  The slots were only a couple hundred feet long, but lot’s of fun scrambling through the tight little canyons until an impasse was reached.


The canyon eventually wound it’s  way down to the road and the Fremont River.

From the river another trail took us back up 400 feet to the 133 foot span of Hickman Natural Bridge.   Hickman Bridge is quite impressive, very colorful, and well worth the hike in.

Hickman Natural Bridge.

So what’s the difference between an arch, like Cassidy Arch, and a bridge, like Hickman Natural Bridge?  A bridge is formed by the erosive action of flowing water which wears away the walls of a canyon on an oxbow of the river or creek until it breaks through, leaving a bridge extending across the gap.  An arch is formed by the action of wind, freeze/thaw cycles, and vegetation pressures eroding the wall of a fin (a long, thin, fin shaped wall of rock) until it breaks through leaving an arch extending across the gap; no flowing water is involved.  Arches and Bridges often look similar but are created by completely different forces.  Hickman is a massive bridge of great beauty and it shows varied colors of rock as many bridges do.  I can’t answer the question as to why bridges are so often multicolored and arches are pretty much monochromatic; maybe someone out there can.

We actually saw 2 bridges on this hike, this little unnamed double bridge was alongside the trail.  Now of course to get back to the campground we had to hike back down 400 feet, then back up 440 feet through Cohab Canyon to reach the switchbacks and then back down 320 feet to our camper.  That was great fun for tired feet.

Volcanic Rocks in Cohab Canyon.

Arriving back at the campground we discovered that there was to be a solar eclipse in 3 days and Capitol Reef NP was one of few accessible viewing sites within the narrow band of totality.  And, this was not just some run of the mill solar eclipse, but an Annular Eclipse, where the moon is too far from the earth to completely cover the face of the sun and leaves a ring of fire around the moon.  Even our intrepid park astronomer, Park Volunteer and Professor Emeritus Martin Burkhead, was thrilled about it.  We booked three more nights and planned some more hikes.

A Solution Cavity.

Solution Cavities are formed when minerals in certain areas of the sandstone dissolve more easily than others, leaving these small holes and caves in the rock.

Campground and Historic Town of Fruita from Cohab Canyon.

Interesting factoid:  The name Cohab Canyon came about due to the Federal Governments attempts to enforce anti-polygamy laws against the Mormons in the 1880s.  The polygamists, known as “Cohabs” would use the difficult to access canyon to hide from U.S. Marshalls.


3 responses »

  1. Jim Burns (aka Clarryhill)

    I’m loving this trip, Ted, as I have all the others. Tell me, if you don’t mind. Do you and Cheryl do most of your research before leaving each spring, or on the fly so to speak? Your commentary is most interesting. Beautiful pics as usual. I’m taking notes…

  2. It’s all so beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  3. Jim,
    We do sometimes have a very general plan for which areas we will visit and do some web research. We carry DeLorme atlases for all the western states but once we are on the road we pretty much wing it. The atlases are full of info on special places. We do web research on NPs and Forests as well as BLM, but often just show up and see what we find. We meet so many great folks at campgrounds and on the trail and, of course, everyone has a favorite place to tell. That’s one of our best sources for little out of the way gems. Chiricahua NM in AZ (back in April) was such. We met a couple from WA, in Aguirre Springs, NM who loved the place, as did we. It’s a lot more fun to wander freely, than to try to stick to a schedule.

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