There are five National Parks in Utah, all within a couple hours of each other. After Arches, we headed to Capitol Reef, a park we had never heard of before the trip.
The park encompasses a huge 100 mile long “wrinkle” in the earth and runs north to south. The crux of it is the north.
We got to the visitor center to see two rangers in their twenties, one with dreadlocks, working at the front desk. Either the hippies love this park or the young guys all get their first assignment here.
One of them recommended two walks that were labeled “strenuous”. One of the trails wasn’t even on the tourist map but on a backcountry map. He reassured us by saying the categories are designed for “someone from Florida who’s never hiked before”.
Planning only to spend a day and a half there, we ended up doing both of the walks he suggested.
The first walk was called “Chimney Rock”. We did it that afternoon right before sunset. We only walked past a couple of other families the whole time and took a quick detour into the riverbed.
We camped overnight outside the park near the Cottonwood Wash trailhead and listened to an old radio drama on the AM dial.
In the morning we finally convinced ourselves to do the walk down Cottonwood Wash, where you start on the outside of the park and clamber in. We started walking, and realized that we already had some “canyoneering experience” that the guides recommend. Scrambling up some boulders, wading through pools; we had practiced those skills in the wadis of Oman. In fact, our friend Bob used to do all of it at the age of 58 wearing flip-flops.
But everything was new when we got to the slot canyon. I had no idea the name “slot canyons” was so accurate. Some of these spaces between the canyon walls were less than a foot across. We had to put our backs on one wall and our feet against the other to shimmy shimmy and hope not to slide down.
We only had small water bottles, so Edd carried a plastic gallon-sized bottle in his pack. But we had to take turns passing the backpack back and forth through some of the crevices.
After getting back down we drove into Fruita, a small historic Mormon village in the middle of the park. There’s a little shop called the Gifford House that sells salsas, candles, dishes. But we had one of their homemade cherry pies.
You can also pick whatever fruit that’s growing in their orchard and you can eat all you want and just pay for what you take out. You can even call their “fruit hotline” to see what’s in season. We got to pick apricots!
Later we went to pick up beer at the only general store in the nearby town of Torrey. And then back to a campsite just outside of the park.
Capitol Reef had everything we could ask for in a national park: clean air, adventurous hikes, colorful mountain views, little tourist traffic. Sometimes at the big canyons I feel like we’re missing out because we didn’t go rafting or climbing, but here I feel like we could make the most of it. And you can do it too, even if you’re from Florida!