Capitol Reef National Park: The Apotheosis of Canyon Country
The Colorado Plateau — redrock canyon country, that is — is replete with national parks and monuments: Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Cedar Breaks, Chaco Culture, Arches, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Glen Canyon, and many more. Most are destinations unto themselves. But my experience is a bit different with Capitol Reef. Back in 2006, when a backpack into Dark Canyon looked like it would be rained out (don't get stuck in the rain at the Sundance Trailhead with a Toyota Corolla), my friends and I spent a night backpacking in Capitol Reef. In 2010, when the heat at the place we were camping beneath the Henry Mountains climbed to 103 degrees, Jacob and I moved to Capitol Reef where things were only slightly cooler. Last month, when my friends and I were annoyed that our chosen camping spots were either packed with people, full of blowing dust or were frenetic with screaming kids, we spent the next two days in Capitol Reef, the alternative we head to when our original plans fall through.
But Capitol Reef deserves more than that. One of the lesser visited national parks in Utah, it has all the accommodations people unprepared for backcountry travel need: easy trails, green grass, locally-made ice cream and root beer and other stuff tourists like, except that nearly the entire park, much to its credit, is out of Facebook and cell phone range. Most of Capitol Reef is far out of reach of casual tourists, and that's why the park rocks. "The Land of Tilted Rocks" is a slanted redrock badland riddled with slots and grottoes, arches and narrows, and, of course, Cathedral Vallley, a remote icon of the park I have yet to visit. It's a 100 mile-long spear-shaped park that encapsulates all the greatest things about canyon country. One of my favorite protected places in Utah, Capitol Reef is unique among the national parks: In the summer, visitors can pick fresh fruit from the peach, apricot, cherry, pear and apple trees planted by the Mormon settlers more than a century ago.