Capitol Reef isn’t very big, as national parks go. But you can view magnificent desert vistas and ancient petroglyphs. You can hike up a narrow wash or beneath a stunning stone arch. You can lose the trail on a ledge 300 feet above a canyon floor. Yikes!
Our motel parking lot in Torrey, UT, had nearly emptied by the time we headed for the park. So, after taking in the view at Panorama Point, we made a beeline to the Grand Wash trail for our first hike of the day. We needn’t have hurried. There was plenty of parking on a late September morning.
The hike up the wash is easy. Beautiful, too. We parked along Highway 24 and entered at the northeast trail head, where the wash dumps into the Fremont River. The wash was dry with no threat of storms.
As we walked up the narrow canyon, we gained elevation almost imperceptibly.
The colors textures and character of the stone walls on either side changed with every turn as we walked in and out of full sun and shadow.
A herd of mountain goats reminiscent of ancestors depicted in petroglyphs elsewhere in the park had staked a claim to the greenery clumped atop a rocky mound at one turn in the canyon.
We were having a great time and approaching the end of the wash when we ran into a chatty ranger who pointed us toward the trail to Cassidy Arch – just 1.5 miles and 950 feet up the sunshine-drenched canyon wall.
The Geek was all in immediately. MontaraManDan was dubious. Ledges, steep grades and hot sun are his three least favorite things on a hiking trail. But after some deep thought while eating lunch – tortillas smeared with peanut butter, and an apple – he grudgingly agreed to make the climb.
The grade and the sun weren’t as bad as feared, and MontaraManDan kept the sheer drop to the left manageable by keeping his eyes laser-focused on the trail ahead. He had just about decided the trek was doable when suddenly there was no obvious way forward. And no more boot prints in the dust ahead.
We wondered if we were supposed to be on the ledge 20 feet below. Or perhaps the one 30 feet above. Even the trail back was unclear. And suddenly our goal was to be safely on the floor of the wash, 300 feet below.
After a bit of careful backtracking across terrain that seemed much less intimidating going forward than back, we eventually found our way to familiar-looking features and hiked our way back to the wash – defeated.
Defeat doesn’t sit well with either of us, so we spent the late afternoon easing the sting with a successful assault on a different arch – Hickman Natural Bridge.
Outmaneuvering photo bombers and a tree full of hornets proved to be our primary challenges.
We also made a stop to gawk at the petroglyphs above a boardwalk trail just off the highway. Some reminded us of the families of stick figures stuck to the back windows of SUVs and mini-vans throughout the park.
- Scenic overlook? Check.
- Petroglyphs? Check.
- Canyon hike? Check.
- Scary moment? Check.
- Stone arch? Check.
- A quick-mart located in a cave with gas pumps out front? We found that, too!
Mission Accomplished. We had a busy day.
This post is the fourth in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.