Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah - Sightseeing

The temperature has always been an issue for Southern Utah adventures (too hot or too cold, but rarely just right). A lot of this has to do with the fact that I hate crowds of people when I'm trying to enjoy the outdoors. The crowds, being the smart people that they are, disappear when it's too hot or too cold. Those are my favorite times to visit.

Rarely has precipitation been an issue. Aside from a few run-ins with thunderstorms, most trips have been dry. I always expect an adventure when I visit the deserts of Southern Utah, but this past Memorial Day weekend was more than I expected. While the canyons and rocks provided their usual spectacular show, the weather was the main event.

We decided to visit Capitol Reef National Park because it is by far the least crowded of the parks in Utah. There is also no reservation system for backcountry permits so it's not much of a hassle to escape whatever crowds are in the main part of the park, even on a holiday weekend.

The first day was a Jeep day. Brandon wanted to take his Jeep off-road so we decided to visit the northern portion of the park on the roads that are not accessible by car. The weather was cloudy and cool, but mainly dry. After driving through a river (and making me quite nervous), the rest of the Jeep roads were in good condition and traveled through some amazing scenery.

Brandon and Amber at the South Desert Overlook

Bentonite Hills

Exploring a small canyon with Amber

Amber shows off her Junior Ranger badge

Checking out the Fremont River with Brandon

Cathedral Valley

We camped in the main campground at Fruita that night. Despite the crowds, it was convenient and allowed us to enjoy some real food and beer with all the comforts of a developed campground. Just as I headed into my tent it started to rain. I love a little rain at night while I'm in my tent - it's great sleeping weather. The light rain, however, became heavier and heavier as the night wore on. I wasn't too concerned (it never rains for more than a few hours in Utah, right?). Morning came and it was still raining. We made breakfast and packed up our wet tents, determined to make it to the trailhead so we could camp in the backcountry. Surely the weather would clear!

We took the Bullfrog-Notom road south along the Waterpocket fold as we headed towards Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The rain became a downpour and the dirt road became muddier and muddier. At some point the road became impassable, and we pulled into the Cedar Mesa primitive campground to join other refugees of the flood. It became apparent that we weren't going to make it to the trailhead so we decided to set up camp and hunker down for the evening at Cedar Mesa.

Flood and mud

Red flood water

A "dry" wash

Brandon and Amber setting up their tent in the rain

Muddy Jeep

The rain let up for a bit that evening so we took a walk to check out the surroundings and get rid of the tent boredom. The abundant water made the familiar landscape a brand new experience for me. Our walk up the dry wash was so peaceful and relaxing - one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip!

A break in the storm


Flowering Yucca

The sun came out the next morning! We decided to risk the muddy road and do a day hike in Upper Muley Twist Canyon (where we had planned on backpacking). The road was terrible, but Brandon navigated the slippery mud and washed out sections expertly. Even a small rockslide on the Burr Trail switchbacks didn't stop us.

Clearing rocks from the Burr Trail road

We made it to the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead and had an excellent day hike under mostly sunny skies. I backpacked Lower Muley Twist Canyon with Rob and Jake a couple of years ago, but the Upper portion of the canyon seemed more scenic. We weren't able to explore the whole upper portion of canyon due to time constraints, but we managed to see some beautiful arches and narrow parts of the canyon. We made it out just before another round of thunderstorms hit.

Me in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Saddle Arch

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Amber and Brandon

Amber and Brandon walking out of the canyon

We camped in Dixie National Forest, a beautiful pine forest just west of Capitol Reef, on the final night. The weather had one final surprise for us - a big thunderstorm with lots of hail! A beautiful rainbow signaled the end of the stormy weather and the end of our adventure.

Dixie National Forest


Rainbow after the storm

This was my second trip to Southern Utah with Brandon and my first trip with his friend Amber. They both proved to be awesome adventure buddies (even in challenging conditions) and made the trip extra fun. I hope there will be future trips with both of them!