On Monday we were up and ready to go earlier than usual as our local tour guides, Larry and Annette, would be arriving at 9:00 to take us on another new adventure. We boarded the tour bus (their Jeep) and headed through Capitol Reefs NP, turning south on the same road we took the previous day to our hike up Sheets Gulch. Today we continued past Sheets Gulch into Strike Valley, stopping for a short hike up on top of a rock upheaval called Oyster Reef.
Standing in the middle of an arid valley, it’s difficult to imagine that the area was once at the bottom of an ocean, but the shells covering the reef provide the evidence of ancient sea life.
Continuing to the south, we stopped for a look at some barren, color-banded, rounded hills. Vegetation is scarce in the area and the surface of the hills has a “popcorn” texture from the bentonite clay.
A few miles further south we took a right turn and headed west on the Burr Trail Road. The road quickly ascended through a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge.
Had we been by ourselves we would have missed the narrow road to the left at the top of the hill. But our trusty guides used their vast local knowledge and turned onto the narrow side road. A very short distance on this road is an overlook where the Park Service was kind enough to place a picnic table for our use. We stopped there to enjoy another “lunch with a view.”
After lunch we continued west on Burr Trail Road to a turn-off leading to the Strike Valley Overlook. This area has many stone arches, and here’s one we spotted from Burr Trail Road.
After a short distance we turned to the north on a road leading to the Strike Canyon Overlook. While the Burr Trail Road is two lane and fine for all vehicles, this side road is recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles only. A more appropriate restriction would be for high clearance vehicles only, as we didn’t need four-wheel drive. But high clearance was definitely required in a few spots.
As we continued our guides pointed out several more arches. The first was a large double arch.
The next looked like a single arch.
But a close up look revealed that it was also a double arch.
At the trailhead we headed up the slickrock to check out the overlook.
The overlook is a perfect place to see the long ridge that gives Capitol Reef National Park the second part of its name. The Waterpocket Fold is a warp in the earth’s crust that forms a north-to-south barrier over a hundred miles long. Early settlers called the impassible barrier a reef and even today it has barely been breached by roads. The first part of the park’s name comes from a line of white domes and cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, each of which looks somewhat like the United States Capitol building, that runs from the Fremont River to Pleasant Creek on the Waterpocket Fold.
After a snack on the overlook, we headed back down the slickrock to the trailhead.
On the trip back to the main road our guides pointed out more neat arches and rock formations.
We then continued west on Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon while enjoying more great views.
At the end of Burr Trail Road, we turned south on Rte. 12 in the tiny community of Boulder (more on Boulder later). About ten miles to the south our tour guides pulled over to show us an ancient granary. Early nomadic inhabitants of the area would often utilize openings in the rock cliffs to store grain as they moved locations during different seasons.
Larry felt the cover of the opening had deteriorated since his last visit to the area a few years ago, so it’s days may be numbered.
We then drove north for a return visit to the community of Boulder. But this blog is getting a bit “lengthy,” so we’ll give you a break and continue this exciting story in our next blog.
Look for part two tomorrow . . .