100 Days of National Parks: Day 35 – Across the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park

Across the Waterpocket Fold


Across the Waterpocket Fold
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When I passed through Capitol Reef for the first time in Spring of 2014, I knew very little about the park, and was wildly unprepared for what I would find.  I arrived early in the morning and found an amazing camp site amongst the flowering apple trees of the Fruita District, and set out on what I thought was going to be an easy walk.  I had spent the previous two weeks doing some particularly strenuous hiking, including a 24 mile hike through Canyonlands two days earlier, and wasn’t really in the mood for anything too taxing.

I passed through the orchards, taking pictures of cherry and apple blossoms in full bloom against a backdrop of red-rock sandstone walls, and stopped by the visitor center to browse the gift store and look at maps.    I wandered past the old school house and up a short trail to Hickman Bridge, an impressive span just off the main highway through the park.  From there I wandered down the road a bit to the Grand Wash, an aptly named canyon that has been likened to a dry version of the Zion Narrows, which I adored.  When I reached the trail up to Cassidy Arch, I took it, thinking it would be the easiest way to loop back to my campsite.

What I wasn’t anticipating was the breadth and dynamism of the landscape once I got above the canyon floor.  From on top of the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic upthrust that spans several hundred miles of central Utah, the world looks as if it’s been turned on its end, sloping down to the east in a disorienting way that makes you tilt your head to try and correct it.

This photo, looking south from just above the Grand Wash, is a perfect showcase for this tilted landscape.  The striated sandstone patterns intensify the effect, as everything seems to point downward, in the opposite direction of where I needed to go.

It was another six miles before I reached my camp, my casual stroll had become a 17 mile hike with no water, and my legs were severely cramped from the lack of hydration.  I collapsed into my tent when I made it back and drank multiple liters of water, grateful to be done with the hike but feeling like I’d had my eyes opened to a park I now consider one of my favorites.  There’s so much to explore and discover in a park like Capitol Reef, and I look forward to my next trip there.


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