On Wednesday our local tour guides, Annette and Larry, invited us for another Jeep tour of Capitol Reef NP and some nearby sites. Earlier in the week they took us for a tour of the southern section of the park through the Waterpocket Fold and into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Today we headed to the north for a ride through an area of the park know as Cathedral Valley.
A few miles east of the visitors center just outside the national park boundary, we turned north on to a dirt road where we met our first and only obstacle of the trip, the Fremont River, at a spot appropriately called River Ford. Back East, the Fremont would be called a creek, but out here in the dry West the Mighty Fremont is a river. Fortunately, the water was pretty shallow. But it is a neat crossing where you enter the
creek river, turn right and drive in the stream river for a bit before turning left and exiting back onto the dirt road.
We drove a few miles over a huge flat area controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. After a bit we came to a spring area where we found an old abandoned well drilling rig. The rig is slowly deteriorating and sinking into the sand, but we had a good time climbing on it.
There is a water trough next to the truck that is used by cattle that graze in the area. They must be pretty hardy cows, as the vegetation here is pretty sparse. We didn’t see any cows so they must have moved on to find “greener” pastures.
Further up the road we drove through some very colorful areas that resembled the surface of the moon. One rock had “Neal and Buzz – 7/69” carved on it, so maybe this is where they filmed those fake moon landings!
At one point we hiked about a quarter mile off the main road to check out Lower South Desert Overlook. From there we had a great view of the South Desert with Jailhouse Rock towering in the middle of our view. No one is sure just how this rock projection got its name, but we scanned the area for an Elvis sighting, but could find no evidence of his presence (he must still be up in Canada).
There are numerous balanced rocks in southern Utah, but its rare to be able to get up close and personal with one.
Annette and Larry had a spot all picked out for “lunch with a view,” but high winds altered our plans. Instead we opted for “lunch in the trees” where it was a bit calmer.
We continued north on the dirt road and after a fairly long drive came to one of our goals for the day. The first interesting feature we came to is called Glass Mountain. It is a very cool hill of large gypsum crystals rising fifteen feet in the air. The gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O for those scientist out there) was deposited from evaporating seawater approximately 165 million years ago.
Cathedral Valley contains numerous, large stands of massive rock called monoliths or cathedrals. Two of the largest cathedrals, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, are right next to Glass Mountain. The cathedrals consist of fine grained sandstone and siltstone in shades of red to reddish-orange. The color is the result of tiny amounts of iron oxide and other iron-bearing minerals.
We drove back to the west and stopped to visit Morrell Cabin. Built in the 1920s, the structure was originally a summer logging camp for a family of eight up in the nearby mountains. In 1939 a cattleman named Lesley Morrell bought it and, after carefully numbering each piece, dismantled it. He loaded it onto a wagon and moved it down the mountain, where he re-assembled it at its present location. For the next thirty years it served as a shelter for cowboys moving cattle in the area.
Back on the road just past the cabin we left Capitol Reef and entered Fishlake National Forest. As the road rose to an elevation of over 8,000 feet, we passed numerous snow banks. After a bit we took a short side trip to check out Round Lake, a favorite fishing site for many people.
The road then continued through the forest to Rte. 72, where we headed south through the tiny town of Fremont, then east on Rte. 24 back to Torrey. Once back in “town” we enjoyed a nice meal at La Cueva, a local Mexican restaurant. Many thanks to Annette and Larry for another great adventure!