Growing up, when I needed to escape and go somewhere where I was safe, I would close my eyes and repeat the phrase “horses in a green meadow” over and over and over. I would imagine standing alone in a meadow surrounded by a dozen or so horses all peacefully munching away on summer pasture. Around the perimeter of the meadow was a forest of trees and I was further protected by mountains. It is my safe haven.
Last year, while wrapping up the road trip through the southwest we stopped in Capital Reef. It was amazing! Not far from where we had pitched our tents under some apple trees, I found the closest real-life version of my salvation as a child. There are amazing places everywhere you turn in Arizona and Utah but Capital Reef, for me, took me home.
I have been itching to throw some gear in the car, along with Lexi, and set off to Capital Reef again. To sit among the apple orchards and write and edit photos, to kiss the noses of all the horses, to watch the deer wander about the place like they own it (because I think they really do), to grab a homemade pie and a fork and eat myself silly, to hike and explore, and just get away from it all for a few days.
Capital Reef is not a large park. In fact, I think it’s rather small. It’s only about 60 miles long from north to south and is only about six miles wide. Much of the area features this geographical formation called the Waterpocket Fold. It’s really rather cool. You have this sensation, while hiking for example, that everything is a little off kilter as the horizon is not like it is in other places in the surrounding areas. Plus, this fold/warp it’s about 65 million years old, so you’ll totally feel like you young in this place.
The park got its name, Capital Reef, for the line of white Navajo Sandstone cliffs with dome formations. They are similar, at least in concept, to the white domes that are often places atop capitol buildings. As for reef, you know how ocean reefs are barriers to sea travel, the same is applied to land in the case of a rocky barrier to land travel. Because of this there are very few paved roads and most of the exploring has to be done on foot. Thankfully, there are hundreds of miles of trails.
In the main part of the park, there’s the town of Fruita. But long before it had an English name, it was home to Native Americans. They irrigated crops of lentils, maize, and squash and stored their grain in granaries. In the 13th century, something happened, people think it was a drought, and the fields and settlements were abandoned. It was some time before the Paiutes would move in and later, in 1872, a surveyor attached to John Wesley Powell’s expedition, came through. They spent a couple of summers studying the area but the landscape was incredibly rugged and forbidding so the Waterpocket Fold wasn’t really explored in great detail.
After the Civil War, leaders in the LDS church set out to establish missions in remote areas of the Intermountain West. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, settlers started to move into the valley and eventually established Fruita along with Torrey and other towns. It was hard living. For example, by the 1920’s no more than 10 families lived in Fruita at one time. The area was eventually abandoned and left until the National Park Service came in and restored buildings and the like. Today there are camp sites, hiking trails, orchards, and more. But it’s still overlooked by many people who are, for whatever reason, more interested in the big parks like Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands.
People are welcome to explore those areas to their heart’s content. For me, this quiet little park will forever remain in my heart as a little slice of heaven and a safe haven.
Has anyone been to Capital Reef? What did you think? Did any hikes stand out to you and what was your favorite pie?