Capitol Reef: My Favorite Surprise

After a night of sleeping in frigid temperatures near Bryce Canyon, I don’t think I’ve ever packed up our camp so fast to move on to the next spot. I wasn’t ready to leave Bryce, but I was ready to travel to warmer temperatures, lesser altitudes. After driving through several small towns with populations of less than a thousand people, we had settled on taking a forest road to the Sevier River just south of Bryce Canyon. From walking amid rock structures under the golden sun, to sleeping amongst tall pines and random, unmelted snow piles, at 5 in the morning we were ready to head to our next destination.

Our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park. I had never even heard of this particular park before we had decided to do the Mighty Five in Utah and was excited that the one directly in the middle would be a complete surprise of geography and energy. We arrived closer to evening time, as we had made a stop at Lower Calf Creek falls on our way, and I was entranced by the way the late afternoon sun lit up the rock formations we were driving through. It’s hard to describe the majesty of the structures that looked like giant, stationary elephants allowing us into their tribe, the park and area exuding a wonderful, welcoming energy.

It was Easter weekend and many families were spending their holiday in the joyful park so we backtracked a bit looking for a wild camp or small town that might host us for the evening. The cheery energy encouraged us to do something we do once in a while, indulge ourselves and get a hotel. Because sometimes we like a slight essence of luxury during our long stretches of roughing it. We stayed in a cute inn that shared a small slot in the giant canyons with a little store for snacks and a restaurant called the Red Rim Cafe. It was a perfect, red cabin eatery that had windows on all sides of the cozy dining area. We sat at a table in the middle, porter in hand and watched the earth cast a glow and then a shadow on the surrounding red cliffs as the sun went down. I might go back to that very spot, just to eat with that view again. To watch the red canyons gleam with light. It was a magical feeling to be so aware of the sun saying goodnight. To recognize every moment of the light changing, every shift of the earth.

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We got up early since we were ready to explore the park, having not had much of a chance the night before. Making our way to Capitol Reef in the morning light was just as beautiful as the previous evening. The way the rocks were formed in this park made it look completely different depending on where the sun sat in the sky. It was such a jolly feeling, entering the park on a Sunday, Easter for that matter. I’ve never been one to celebrate Easter much but our family has always gathered to visit and I’ve never spent too many holidays away from home. But having my love with me in a place that had the most family friendly energy I had yet to experience was a wonderful treasure. Now, all of Utah was incredibly friendly. People smiled everywhere we went and were happy to help with advice on our adventures. But there was just something about Capitol Reef that made us feel so light and warm. Families were out exploring, there were horses that roamed the grounds, a still standing pioneer village that decorated the center of the park and orchards that welcome signs invited us to pick from, free of charge. But, I think the best part was the fresh baked pies that were sold out of one of the old pioneer homes.

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We walked into the shop, deciding if we were going to get pie, but we knew we had to, I mean it was Easter and when do you find pie in a national park?! The little house was laced with red checkered curtains, local honey, old fashioned ice cream, and there in the back was a shabby chic, white pantry filled with morning fresh pies. We picked out a strawberry rhubarb that we thought we’d have a few bites with our coffee and took it outside to picnic next to the horses. As we took one bite, we looked at each other in disbelief of how delicious a national park pie could be and proceeded to gobble every morsel that existed. I’m pretty sure we even licked the tin!! We still talk about going back some day just for that pie.

IMG_1976Two nice ladies who had sold us the pie told us that the Hickman Bridge hike would be a great introductory hike considering our time limit. So we filled our stomachs with pie and headed to the trail head. We were met by a sage green creek framed by trees of neon green leaves, all the colors enhancing the red and tan colors of the rocks. As we hiked through, the rocks kept shifting colors, from shiny red to sandy beige. I sat in so many naturally made caves and walked over small rock bridges, peering down at the people who decided to walk beneath. There was something so ancient about the canyons we were walking through. The walls that you could tell had been weathered by the winds and the waters over millions of years. The little holes in all the walls showing the beautiful scarring that time and weather causes. It was like walking through the Land Before Time. I half expected dinosaurs to walk around the corner if the rocks themselves didn’t transform into them.

After walking through a mile of these canyons, touching the rough walls and deciding whether to climb each one, we turned the corner to see the Hickman Bridge. National parks will always surprise you. Walking through ancient but seemingly normal canyons and having them open up on to a 138 foot bridge was a jaw dropping sight. I sat beneath it, looking straight up and realizing what an incredible feat of nature it is to create something like this. To suspend the earth above you and allow you to walk beneath it.

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Capitol Reef had so many surprises for me. Starting with not even knowing it existed. The colors of the rocks, the history, the pie, the arches. Since I didn’t hear much about Capitol Reef, I didn’t expect that it would capture my heart as much as it did. That I would fall in love with its energy. But as with love, I guess we find those things that make our heart full when we least expect it.

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