Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Orchards, Petroglyphs, and Abandoned Uranium Mines At Capitol Reef: A National Park Odyssey Day 35

Two late nights in a row meant I was slow to get myself moving when my alarm went off on Day 35.  A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) was having a worship service in the lodge at 9:30 AM, and we wanted to be there since it was a Sunday.  We hastily threw on clothes and hoofed it to the lodge, electing to shower and eat breakfast after the service.

Once again, ACMNP volunteers led us in a short time of praise and worship similar to those we’d experienced at Grand Canyon and Sequoia.  We joined a small group of other tourists and park employees, all committed to starting the new week off right by honoring the Maker of Heaven and Hoodoos.  I sat next to a park ranger who leaned over to me near the end of the service to comment conspiratorially that she’d seen tremendous growth in the ACMNP volunteers over the summer.  They had evidently become much more confident worship leaders in the weeks leading up to that point, and she mentioned that she’d noticed a great deal of spiritual growth as well.  This was the first park where we had seen any park employees at a service, and it was nice to have a mix of visitors and regulars there that day.

Feeling uplifted and upbeat, we returned to the cabin to clean up and clear out.  We took one last peek at the prairie dogs on our way out and stopped at the Visitors’ Center to get Junior Ranger badges.  The Visitors’ Center had a donation box with a slot for each state, similar to the one that we had seen at Sequoia and Kings Canyon.  Knox wanted to represent Indiana well, so he stuck in a dollar or two.  The ranger who swore in the kids was especially gregarious and helpful, and he was impressed that the kids can gone the extra mile to earn the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” stickers.
The line to speak to a park ranger was at least 10 people deep, but this nice man spent at least 10 minutes with our kids.  You can see Knox and Kinley's rubbings from hiking the hoodoos on the counter in front of Knox.  Notice that Kinley's has three colors and Knox's only has one.

Knox makes a donation to represent Indiana.

With Bryce in the rear view mirror, we started our two hour drive toward Capitol Reef National Park.  The small town of Torrey,Utah, is the gateway to the park, and I was charmed by its quaint cafes and bed and breakfast options.  We stopped for lunch at the Capitol Reef Inn and CafĂ© which had several delicious menu items including a Ten Vegetable Salad for lunch and homemade pies and cobblers for dessert.  I told Josh that I thought Torrey looked like a nice place to come back to and spend some time on a future trip since we had only allowed a few hours for this visit.
Check out the Capitol Reef Cafe if you're in the area!

We started off at the Visitors’ Center, picking up advice and Junior Ranger booklets before heading to a ranger-led program on petroglyphs in the park.  We arrived just as the ranger was beginning (as we often tend to do), and learned that the carvings on the rocks on front of us were much taller than they appeared from our vantage point.  Petroglyphs are carvings in rock while pictographs are drawings on rock, and the ancient Fremont people who inhabited the area from around 600-1300 AD left hundreds of examples of the former on nearby rock formations.  Boardwalks afford views that are close enough to get a good look but far enough away to protect the petroglyphs from damage.
The ranger talk about the park's petroglyphs was interesting and informative.

Each human figure in these ancient petroglyphs is about 3 feet tall though they appear much smaller from the viewing area.

In addition to the ancient rock carvings, another interesting feature of this park is its numerous fruit orchards.  Apples, pears, peaches, cherries, apricots, and plums all grow within the park, and the more than 2700 trees are reminders of the early Mormon settlers in the area. 

When we visited Hot Springs National Park, we learned that not all parks have the, “Take only photographs; leave only footprints,” rule, but that park led us to believe they were the only park in the system that allowed guests to take things away.  (At Hot Springs, you can bottle the spring water and take all you want from public fountains.)  But, in fact, you can take fruit from the Capitol Reef orchards, too!  Any fruit you consume in the park is free when it’s in season, but there is a small charge to take fruit out of the park.  Unfortunately, our timing was off.  We had just missed the peach, apricot, and plum season, and we were too early for apples and pears.  We had to be content to buy a cherry pie made from the park’s fruits at the Gifford Homestead in the Fruita area of the park.  We sampled their homemade ice cream, too, and would definitely recommend both.

In addition to pies and ice cream, the Gifford Farm sells vintage-inspired, hand-embroidered linens, jams, jellies, and items such as soap, wooden kitchen utensils, and rugs made by local artisans.  There were several pear trees in the barnyard, and while the fruit was awfully tempting, the lady at the shop assured me it would give us a stomachache since it wasn’t ripe.
The pears were so tempting!

From the Gifford Homestead, we could easily see the campground, and we noticed that it was practically empty.  Compared to Bryce Canyon or Zion, this park was deserted.  On our drive through the park, we encountered few cars and even fewer other visitors even though a quick drive-through seemed to be the typical tourist’s method of doing the park. 

As we drove we saw several bighorn sheep, and we encountered the remains of several old uranium mines.  We enjoyed sweeping views and beautiful rock formations, too.  There was the one resembles the dome of the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., that gave the park its name, but we also drove to the Goosenecks Overlook which affords a view of a turn in the Fremont River which has spent eons carving out a picturesque gorge.  We walked up to Panorama Point and later took a short hike to Sunset Point.  Like Bryce, the colors and layers here were distinctly different with beiges, maroons, rusts, and even pale greens making up the palette. 
The dark, cave-like holes covered with ramshackle wooden barriers mark the old uranium mines.

Bighorn sheep roam freely through the park.
The huge dome-like formation ahead is the park's namesake.
The view from Goosenecks Overlook was spectacular.  You can see the tiny river far below continually carving the canyon.
A short hike brought us to Sunset Point.

A bench at Sunset Point was the perfect place to enjoy the view.

Since it was early evening and we still had to make the two-hour drive to Moab, Utah, we returned to the Visitors’ Center to finish up the kids’ Junior Ranger badges so that we could move on to the part of our trip that had been giving me anxiety for months.  I had alternately looked forward to and dreaded this day for more than a year. We were going to be spending three nights glamping (glamorous camping) at Moab Under Canvas outside Arches National Park, and it was either going to be awesome or awful.  (Isn’t it weird how those two words are opposites but share the same stem?)  But you'll have to read my next post to find out which adjective I'd use to describe the experience.
A panoramic shot from Panorama Point

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