Capitol Reef National Park

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Panorama Point. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Centered around a 100-mile-long (161 km) wrinkle in the earth’s crust, Capitol Reef National Park preserves a region of south-central Utah that harbors beautiful landscapes as well as fascinating geology, cultural features, animals, and plants.

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Panorama Point. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The geologic history of this area can be traced back to nearly 270 million years ago (mya). The rocks that are exposed here were deposited from the late Permian Period through the “dinosaur age” of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods (250 to 65 mya). Evidence for a variety of changing environments in those 200 million years can be found in the mudstones of the Chinle Formation (rivers and swamps), Navajo Sandstone (massive Sahara-like desert), and the Mancos Shale (shallow ocean bottom) .

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Section of rocks exposed along the Waterpocket Fold. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

From about 70 to 50 mya the Laramide Orogeny that helped form the Rocky Mountains uplifted and distorted this region. Locally a 100-mile-long monocline called the Waterpocket Fold was formed, and over the last few million years erosion has helped sculpt the landscape that exists today.

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Scenic Drive. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Evidence for human habitation of this region goes back approximately 12,000 years. During the last 2,000 years Fremont and ancestral Puebloan people left their mark on the sandstone cliffs in the form of petroglyphs:

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Petroglyphs made by the Fremont people. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

When European-American pioneers reached this place in the nineteenth century they named it “Capitol Reef” for two reasons. First, the monoliths of white Navajo Sandstone reminded them of the Capitol Building in Washington DC:

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Capitol Dome and the Fremont River. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The “reef” in “Capitol Reef” may make one think of a coral reef in an ocean. Historically, however, settlers applied the term “reef” to any rocky landscape that presented a barrier to travel.

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Scenic Drive. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Although seemingly impassable at first glance, more than one route through the reef was discovered by early European-American settlers. The first pass is located along the Fremont River where late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century settlements were established. The Behunin family was among the first, and they built a cabin and farmed the area beginning in 1882:

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Behunin Cabin photographed 04/13/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Further west a number of apple orchards were established by other settlers:

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Wild turkeys in a historic apple orchard. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Today the fruit and foliage of these relatively lush areas harbor wildlife including wild turkeys (Galliformes: Phasianidae: Meleagris gallopavo)…

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Wild turkey photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

yellow-bellied marmots (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Marmota flaviventris)…

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Yellow-bellied marmot photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…as well as numerous mule deer (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Odocoileus hemionus):

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Mule deer photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Humans later established another route through Capitol Gorge:

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Gravel road into Capitol Gorge. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Among the rocks of the Waterpocket Fold are a number of cool features like the Golden Throne…

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Golden Throne photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…the scenery near the mouth of Capitol Gorge…

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View near the mouth of Capitol Gorge. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…The Castle…

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The Castle photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…Chimney Rock…

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Chimney Rock photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…and Sulphur Creek from the Goosenecks Overlook:

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Canyon along Sulphur Creek from the Goosenecks Overlook. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The Hickman Bridge Trail provides for some other excellent views. First is an overlook of the Fremont River:

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The Fremont River from the Hickman Bridge Trail. Photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Then Hickman Bridge, a massive natural bridge located within the park:

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Hickman Natural Bridge. Photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The rugged, rocky landscape itself provides an interesting hike along the way:

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View along the Hickman Bridge Trail. Photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

These isolated rocky outcrops nurture other wildlife like chipmunks (Rodentia: Scuiridae: Neotamias spp.):

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Chipmunk near Hickman Bridge. Photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

In April a variety of colorful wildflowers can be found throughout the park, including Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.Orobanchaceae)…

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Indian paintbrush photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…milkvetch (Astragalus sp., Fabaceae)…

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Milkvetch photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…Utah penstemon (Penstemon utahensisPlantaginaceae):

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Utah penstemon photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…globemallow (Sphaeralcea sp., Malvaceae)…

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Globemallow photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

…and cleftleaf wildheliotrope (Phacelia crenulata, Hydrophyllaceae)…

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Cleftleaf wildheliotrope photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The beautiful scenery, intriguing geologic and human history, as well as the abundant plant and animal life make Capitol Reef a rewarding place to visit. The high points can be seen in a day or two, but the extensive roads, trails, and backcountry through the varied terrain invite more detailed exploration. Capitol Reef sees fewer visitors than other parks in the region, so finding solitude in this magnificent wilderness is not hard to do.

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Scenic Drive. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Paleoecology, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Capitol Reef National Park

  1. kgjerdset says:

    I always wondered why “reef” was in the name. Interesting and great pics.

    Like

  2. neihtn2012 says:

    Beautiful shots of Capitol Reef, and the flowers are exceptional!

    Like

  3. Jeremy Sell says:

    Thanks for the comments. Up until now I had only visited the southwest in the winter, so it was nice to visit during spring wildflower season for a change.

    Like

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