Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – Part 3-A

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Part 3 – Capitol Reef, the big and tall, and the very very skinny of it.

This post is dedicated to our dear friend Sandy who loves big canyon walls and little bitty slot canyons.  Get yourself a camper and come join us, girl.

“The Castle” from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

We had a couple of days to wait for the big eclipse so we took a short (3.5 mile loop) hike to view Chimney Rock. The trailed climbed up a bunch of switchbacks and put us atop a huge bluff overlooking Chimney Rock.

Looking east from the bluff at the “Waterpocket Fold”.

Chimney Rock – looking west toward Torrey, Utah.

The hike was nice, nothing special, but in checking the map we found a 2 mile route (a route is a hike that requires additional skills to follow because it is not well marked or signed, many routes can be quite difficult to follow, but this one was in a canyon and pretty near impossible not to follow) that provided access to Spring Creek Canyon.

The “Route” enters the canyon on the left and travels back through the gap in the center of the picture.

This was a beautiful hike down a wide wash between magnificent red sandstone walls hundreds of feet high.

Canyon Walls – Wingate Sandstone.

The dark streaks are “Desert Varnish” caused by dissolved minerals in the water running down the face of the cliffs.

We followed it down to the point where it met Spring Creek Canyon, which promises to be a great hike on a future visit (we would need to set up some kind of shuttle since the hike would be too long to go out and back in one day, but there are access points on both ends of the lower Spring Creek Canyon).

The entrance to Spring Canyon is just around the corner.

Coming back out to join the Chimney Rock trail we passed some interesting rock formations of Bentonite, Chinle Sandstone, and Volcanic Tuff.

A Bentonite Canyon.

Chinle Formation (Sandstone).

Volcanic Tuff

Volcanic Tuff is formed when ash is compressed under many tons of rock for a few million years, give or take.  It is similar in texture to sandstone, but a bit coarser and much softer.

We were up early the day of the eclipse so we could hike Burro Wash, outside the Park, to a slot canyon that wanders into the Waterpocket Fold from the east.  We drove east from the park to Notom road which parallels the Waterpocket Fold, south to the trailhead, then hiked 2 miles up the wash, back into Capitol Reef NP and the entrance to what I assume is called Burro Canyon.

First let me tell you a little bit about slot canyons.

The Beauty of Sandstone.

The picture above shows you what is so special about slot canyons.  Water, running over the sandstone for millions of years, carves swirls, potholes, waterfalls, flat pour-offs, and narrow little channels.  These channels are slot canyons.  The slots can be from inches wide to many feet wide, sometimes 8  or 10 feet high, sometimes 300 or 400 feet high, straight, curved or twisty.  They are great fun to hike, and just generally play around in.  Slot canyons CAN be DANGEROUS.  Water from a recent rainfall collects across miles of slick rock and sluices through these slots at high speed and many feet deep.  Generally, you do not hike slot canyons in the summer when thunderstorms can turn them quickly ugly, and you always leave them alone after a rainfall, even if the rainfall is not over the slot, because the water can travel many miles to reach the canyon.  We have seen piles of waterborne debris stuck between the walls of a slot 40 feet above our heads.  Spring is the best time for hiking slot canyons, the temperature is good, the soil is still fairly permeable, and rain is infrequent.

Here’s the kind of things you find in a slot canyon.

Beautiful Sculptured Sandstone.

Multiple Routes – High and Low.

Pour offs, where water runs across the sandstone and over an edge. Can be 6″ high, or 60 feet high.

Narrow little squeezy places.

Obstacles.  This is a Chockstone.

The canyon started out through white Navajo Sandstone as we followed the narrow wash which had been cut down through the rock.  We met our first obstacle about ¼ mile in.  A large chockstone (also sometimes called a chokestone, but Capitol Reef NP uses the term chockstone), blocked off the canyon to a height of about 10 – 12 feet.  We climbed it by wedging ourselves between the walls (feet on one, back on the other) until we could inch our way high enough to pull ourselves over the rock.

This post is pretty long so I’m going to make another called Part 3-B with the description of the hike through the slot and a bunch of pictures to tell the story.

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3 responses »

  1. Thanks for posting photos from my most favorite National Park. I’ll never get back where you two hike. I’ve saved off some of your photos for a screensaver this winter.

  2. Thanks Anne. It certainly is a unique and special place. We can keep coming back here for years and still find great hikes. I’m glad we can share these things with so many others.

  3. Trish Manning

    DITTO… to a book in the making. These are amazing photos and great story-telling. LOVE IT!!! Thanks for sharing. Trish

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