Capitol Reef - Are we there yet?

Camping May 20, 2017

So far our plan to head south to escape the cold of Salt Lake wasn't working so well. While it was a bit warmer during the day down in the Capitol Reef area, the nights were still a bit chilly. Still, it was better than the 2-3 inches of snow we had left behind back home.

Due to the chilly nights and running the heater in the trailer, we blew through a full tank of propane in just two nights. Luckily, it didn’t run out until we were up and moving in the morning, so it wasn’t that bad. But it still meant that to get some breakfast going, we'd need to get a tank refill first.

The previous day, we had picked up some Junior Ranger booklets that had a bunch of activities inside for the kids. The kids had been working on these, so we helped them to finish, our first stop of the morning was the park's visitors center. The kids turned in their booklets, and after the ranger looked them over, she got all the kids to raise their hands so they could recite the Junior Ranger pledge. She then awarded their new badges, which the kids thought was pretty awesome. Though, it’s probably a good thing that the ranger didn’t look too closely at the booklets, as Drew’s was mostly pictures, and Sienna’s had some pretty funny responses. As an example, in response to the question of “What do you think rock art means…”, Sienna responded with “What do you think?” Pretty sure that wasn’t the intent, but reading it with a “What do you think?” inflection just makes most of her answers pretty funny.

The main event for the day was driving the Cathedral Valley loop, which was going to be approximately 65-70 miles long, and take a few hours to complete. I’d been looking forward to this one, but still wanted to make sure that the rest of the family was comfortable, so we made sure to have plenty of snacks, charged tablets, drinks, etc. I saw some estimates that it would take 3-4 hours to drive, but because we took plenty of time for stops to hike, lunch, shooting video, etc., it turned out to be closer to 5-6 hours. The kids were troopers though, and did pretty good.

The drive itself was great. We began by fording the Fremont River, which was only about a foot deep, and the current wasn’t too bad. I wanted some video of our crossing though, so after driving across, Cindy got out, so that she could run the camera. The crossing back was slightly more difficult, but mostly due to having to drive upstream and fight the current. It wasn’t bad, but there was definitely a lot more resistance. Once we crossed to the other side though, Drew started asking if we were leaving his mom, and began insisting that we turn around to get her. As soon as we turned around to re-cross for the video, he was a lot happier.

The first portion of the drive wasn’t so great, scenery-wise, but still fun (for me.) Mostly because I just like driving. The terrain was unique, but it wasn’t until we started to get a little deeper into the valley that the views really started to open up. And once they did, it was pretty spectacular. Due to being relatively remote, we also didn’t see many other people, so it felt a bit like having the entire area to ourselves. We saw at most three or four other vehicles the entire trip.

We stopped for lunch at a picnic area near Hartnet Junction, which had some fantastic views of the valley floor below, including the Cathedral and Needle mountains. We even got to take our new bucket potty and tent for a test drive, and they performed admirably.

Because of our stops and getting a late start to the day, we did have to skip one of the items on my list, the gypsum sinkhole. I know it’s just a big hole in the ground, but I still wanted to check it out. We’ll just have to catch it on our next trip.

The last big stop of the drive was to see the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. These were incredible - close to 400 feet tall, they just towered over the valley floor. Impressive in photos, but even more so in person. We also checked out Glass Mountain, which is a mound of selenite roughly 15 feet high. From a distance, it doesn’t seem all that interesting, but up close, you can see the crystals, and how the mound got it’s name. The crystals were transparent, and the flakes on the ground really were like shards of glass. Pretty unique stuff.

As we picked up the pace to try and get back to the highway before sundown, we had to skip another one of my planned excursions. I had wanted to try and drive by the Mars Desert Research Station outside of Hanksville, but we just didn’t have time, and the kids, as well as Cindy, were pretty much done with bouncing around in the truck. When we got home from the trip, I happened to find a set of stickers based on Utah's national parks, and the Capitol Reef one perfectly summarized the kid's opinions of the Cathedral Valley drive…

We started heading back to town, and this time went to Bicknell to try and get some pizza. But when we got there, the place was closed, and there was a sign on the door explaining that they were closed for a family event. Instead we ate at the Sunglow diner, which was really tasty, and turned out to be a good choice.

Once we got back to camp, we took advantage of the lack of city lights, and went on a star walk with the kids. We did a lap around the campground, and stopped now & then to point out different constellations and planets. It was a nice relaxing way to cap off the day.

The last day of the trip we decided to get a couple of short little things done before we had to checkout and leave the campground at 11AM. We got up early, and just ate some donuts in the truck as we drove to the petroglyphs in Fruita. They’re right off of the highway, and there’s a boardwalk setup to go wander down and look at them, as well as some mounted binoculars available to get a closer look.

After the petroglyphs, the kids wanted some more ice cream from the Gifford House, so we decided that we were on vacation, so why not? Drove down, got the ice cream, a cinnamon roll, and some peach butter. A balanced breakfast.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at the Chimney Rock trailhead. We didn’t have time to do the full hike, so we just parked the truck and wandered around a bit. The hike is about 3 miles, so maybe next time we can get the kids to get out and do this one.

Once we loaded up the truck and hit the road, we decided to take a different scenic route home. This time, we went a little more direct, going through Scipio, Mona, & Goshen, just to name a few. It does take a little bit longer to get home, but not by much, and we enjoy the ride a lot more than we do just sticking to I-15.

This was a really fun trip, and we’re pretty happy we did it. Got to see a lot of things we haven’t seen before, and we’ve already got a list of things to go see for the next time we head down this way.