Today’s journey took us on the Scenic Drive of Capital Reef National Park. This road follows the western face of the Waterpocket Fold. The Scenic Drive is a portion of the original road through the Waterpocket Fold. Ancient peoples used the route for centuries. After settlement along the Fremont River, the ancient trail was developed into a wagon road in about 1884. Early explorers and prospectors called the fold a “reef” – a barrier of sandstone cliffs almost a hundred miles long. It was used by the settlers, Mormon church leaders, miners, and by cattle and sheep ranchers when they moved their herds between the high country to the west and the lowlands to the east. The road was unpaved and passed through the dangerous narrows at Capitol Gorge. Flash floods periodically transformed the usually dry stream bed in the gorge into a raging river, sometimes stranding unwary travelers. This gravel road was the only one through the Waterpocket Fold until the completion of Highway 24 in 1962.
The centerpiece of Capitol Reef National Park is the Waterpocket Fold, a gigantic wrinkle in the Earth’s crust called a monocline or stair step fold – one of the largest in North America.
After the rock formations were deposited and solidified, enormous compressional forces in the earth caused these sedimentary rock layers (called strata) to be uplifted, tilted, and folded. Over time, erosion has exposed these formations. Different types of rocks erode at different rates in a process called differential erosion. This differential erosion is one reason for the many landforms – cliffs, valleys, domes, ledges, etc. – in the park.
Aerial view of the Waterpocket Fold:
And away we go:
Side trip on the Grand Wash Road:
Notice the entrances to the Oyler Mine. This mine produced some of the richest uranium ore in the Capitol Reef area. The first claim on the mine was filed in 1901. In the early 1900’s, the uranium was used for medicinal purposes. Later, it was used for atomic energy. The National Park Service has now closed the mine for both health and safety reasons.
There was a hike at the end of the road but we decided to do the Capitol Gorge hike instead. Maybe later on, we will hike to the Narrows.
Back on Scenic Drive:
In many of these photos, you will see boulders along the road. I just had to get a picture by one to show the size of these “rocks.”
Checking to see if any are rolling down the hill:
They are HUGE:
The entrance to Capitol Gorge:
Strange looking rock:
In some areas, the road and the wash were the same – I would not want to be here when it rained:
The dark stripes on the wall above are known as desert varnish. It is a thin brown or black coating found on exposed rock walls in the dry environment of the desert. It forms slowly on non-soluble rock surfaces, and consists in large part of clay colored by iron and manganese oxides.
The holes on the wall above are like smooth craters. Most of the rock is sandstone – grains of dune sand weakly cemented by water-soluble minerals. Where water seeps between layers, it may dissolve the cement, forming cavities which catch more moisture. The cliff becomes pitted like weathered bone.
A short video of our drive:
At the end of the road, we parked and off we went down the trail – which was the wash and the old gravel road.
We made a stop at the petroglyphs:
Yep, this was the road. Can you imagine traveling this way – Yikees!
This wall was known as the Pioneer Register. It’s earliest date is 1871, when two prospectors scratched their names in the rock wall of Capitol Gorge.
We continued on down the trail:
We found the sign for the Tanks pointing up but finding the trail was another thing. Here is part of the trail:
This is known as the “Tank” area. It is a group of pockets hollowed out as water swirls over ledges in the streambed. The Waterpocket Fold is named for the sandstone cisterns. While the surrounding desert bakes, the pockets may hold gallons of rainwater.
There was even an arch:
The views, oh my:
The trail below:
We made our way to the trailhead and had lunch – with a visitor:
And then we slowly made our way back to the Scenic Drive:
Notice how the rocks have changed color as the day goes on. It is amazing to see how red and fiery they become as the mid-afternoon to evening approaches.
Back home, we had afternoon social with our neighbors and just relaxed the rest of the day.
Another wonderful day.