Having completed most everything we could do in Zion short of the hikes that require permits, such as the Narrows and Subway. Our next destination was Capitol Reef. It was relatively close, something new, and sounded like there might be some interesting hikes there. It’s not as well known as Bryce, Arches, or a few of the other parks in that area, but we had already seen parts of those in past trips.
The park itself is a very long narrow stretch of land surrounding a waterpocket fold. As we learned, the defining element of a fold is where the rock rises up gently from one side, but has broken off and forms cliffs from the other. In the park, this means that if you approach from the West you see cliff walls and if you approach from the East, not so much. Capitol Reef has a small area which is the Fruita Historic District where the remains of the town are preserved and the various orchards are still active and at the right time of year you can pick your own fruit.
We stayed at a hotel about 10 miles outside of the park in Torrey, got up relatively early and went straight to the Capitol Reef visitor center to figure out what we were going to do to make best use of about a day and half visit. The weather which had haunted us thus far on the trip was not far off and the ranger warned us that if we wanted to hike any of the slot canyons we needed to be headed there immediately to avoid potential rain and flash floods later in the day.
We picked two slot canyons to hike: Cottonwood Wash and Burro Wash. Two of the more more strenuous which were still doable without special equipment (or a high clearance vehicle). We weren’t really sure what we were signing up for, but figured we would go as far as we could.
Cottonwoodwas first. We did have the assurance that the ranger had sent a family of four out to the same canyon just a bit earlier and we figured that we could make it as far as they did and that they might serve as an early warning if rain did come up and we had to scurry out of the canyon.
The trail involved about a two mile walk through a dried up flood river to get back to the narrow portion of the hike. A little way in to the narrows, we met the family coming back. Our confidence based on “a family of four” was apparently ill found, as it appeared they were a family who started the kids off at the climbing gym when they were 4 years old.
There were lots of areas that required some careful sideways walking between the rock faces and, if I recall, three or four points that legitimately required climbing, either between two faces to get over obstacles. The hike ended for us at an ‘impassable’ stone in the canyon – though I suspect that someone with greater climbing skill or even just lower concern of breaking something while four miles into difficult terrain with potential floods in the forecast could have passed.
Burro seemed less visited. It was similar to start, hiking from the road to the canyons, but without the ATV cheat trail. The route was not as clear though, and I hiked a ways up a pour over thinking it might have been the canyon before turning back and continuing up what we are pretty sure was the correct route. I think there was less climbing in Cottonwood – or at least fewer obstacles in the canyon. The exception is one very large arrow head shaped stone, but it had a sneaky path underneath on one side. I also, think that the canyon was narrower than Burrow Wash for a good portion of the time.
The hike ended when we got to a long pool of water which was impassable, at least without swimming or shimmying through a slanted narrow pass. The trail description indicated this, but based on pictures I have found online, I’m not sure we encountered the same pool as was referenced.
We made it back out to the road without getting hit by any rain, though based on the skies, it did just barely miss us. We headed back toward the campground, and since we had time before dark, drove the scenic route to Capitol Gorge to do a quick hike trying to find “The Tanks” which were a set of three pools in the cliffs reported to be home to some unique critters. We looked for a while, but the trail was very poorly marked and it was getting dark to the point that we needed to head out before our chances of getting lost took a sharp increase.
We drove into Torrey, though I don’t recall what for exactly. I remember we bought a bundle of firewood, but upon returning to the campground realized that we didn’t have a fire pit in our site. Fortunately, we weren’t counting on the campfire for dinner and made some form of pasta… probably covered in pesto.