In Which Brooke Plans Your Next Vacation

For spring break this year, Brian was able to take a couple of days off, and we headed down south to Capitol Reef National Park.

What was that?  No . . . not Cedar Breaks.  Capitol  Reef.

It’s a national park right in the middle of Utah.

No?  Not heard of it? I’m not surprised.  Most of the people I’ve told about this trip have never heard of this park, and that includes people who have lived in Utah their whole lives.  I’d like to change this, because I think the park is a really special place.  Brian and I first visited it in the summer of 2001, right before we moved to Pennsylvania, and we were charmed.

Well then — sit back, relax, and enjoy a bit of armchair tourism, eh?

The name of the park has two origins.  “Capitol” because of these big rocky domes that resemble the U.S. Capitol building:

“Reef” because the pioneers found the big ridge — what geologists call a “waterpocket fold” — to be nearly impassable, like a coral reef would be for a boat.  So there you have it: Capitol Reef, aka One Confusing Name.

The Navajo apparently called this region “the sleeping rainbow,” because of the stripes on the ridge.  Why they couldn’t call it Sleeping Rainbow National Park is beyond me.  Don’t you think people would be more likely to visit Sleeping Rainbow?  Or is that too hippie sounding?

The pioneers were so proud of their trek through the narrow Capitol Wash that they took time to create a name register on the walls.  Very cool:

Unfortunately, the pioneer register has too many contributions from modern park visitors.  “Bong Wang 1998” is not history, folks.

Oh, and the Fremont Indians took time to make some neat rock art, too.

A tiny town called Fruita existed in the Reef until 1969.  There were never more than ten families living there at a time, but they grew lots of fruit trees, which are now preserved by the Parks Dept. as “historic orchards.”

Capitol Reef is also one of the more family-friendly parks we’ve visited.  A lot of the trails are safe for kids, like Grand Wash, which has a beautiful series of narrows:

Grand Wash also has these really neat water-made hollows in the redrock.  The kids loved taking breaks inside of them:

The hike to the Hickman Bridge is also great for kids, which includes a self-guided nature trail:

Okay, fine.  Let’s get it out of our systems: ELEANOR HAS SHORT HAIR.  The stylist cut it shorter than I intended, and thank heavens that Ella didn’t care.  She looks so different!

Capitol Reef also has the Ripple Rock Nature Center, which is like a mini children’s museum about the park.  We went with a ranger to examine water insects in the Sulphur Creek, and later made plaster castings of deer tracks.  Cool!  I’ve wanted to make track castings ever since I saw it done on an old episode of Mr. Wizard.  (Do you remember that show?)  But who goes hiking with Plaster of Paris?

Sulphur Creek is also home to this big field and a lovely bridge over a stream shallow enough for wading.  The kids LOVED that place; we could easily have stayed there all day, done nothing else, and Jeffrey would have been perfectly satisfied.

In the evening, we made the short hike up to Sunset Point, where you can see the rainbow in earnest.

So beautiful and relaxing, right?  And it’s only a four hour drive from SLC, so why not try Capitol Reef out instead of Zion or Bryce?  No crowds, no shuttles, only a $5 park entrance fee.  Think about it, eh?

Tomorrow I continue my Capitol Reef travelogue with the Tale of the Water Pit!  Stay Tuned!

5 thoughts on “In Which Brooke Plans Your Next Vacation

  1. Right now, my grandkids are sleeping in a tent in our living room, because the last time they slept in a tent was last year at Capitol Reef. We picked a particularly chilly weekend (when it should have been warmer–summer, after all), and they were quite miserable. The tent-in-the-living room is to see if they can sleep in sleeping bags better now that they are almost a year older.

    We’ve been to Capitol Reef many times–the first time I ever did any rappeling was there–so you can do challenging things there, too.

    The campgrounds are very nice, and there are plenty of very kid friendly hikes, as well as other things to do. My grandson and his cousin had a ball racing to the next marker in the Hickman Bridge trail, after they’d read to us what the self-guided tour booklet said about each one.

    I second Brooke’s recommendation, with one small concern. If too many people hear what a great part Capitol Reef is, it will get crowded and not nearly as nice any more.

    Thanks for sharing the great photos. Glad you had such a fun time.

    1. Geez, you’re right! The last thing we need is the amusement park-style crowds that they have at Zion. So keep it on the down-low, people. 🙂

      Camping in the living room sounds like scads of fun. You’re a great grandma. (Not great-grandma, but . . .you know.)

  2. That looks like a lot of fun and very pretty! I’m sure I’ve been to Capitol Reef before as my mom loved toting my brother and I all over the state when we were kids, but all the parks blend together for me. Pat and I are definitely going to have to go! I like seeing Katie in the baby bjorn that June use to ride in all the time. 🙂 And Ella’s hair is cute! Glad she wasn’t traumatized when it was cut off. ““Bong Wang 1998″ is not history, folks.” Best Brooke quote ever.

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