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2019 Utah Travel Blog (Capitol Reef National Park)

Written by Jeff Drake
5 · 15 · 19

The name “Capitol Reef” is kind of misnomer. I first thought that it might be some kind of ancient primeval coral reef that had been exposed due to erosion, but I was wrong. It turns out that there is a relation to the ancient sea, but only in the sense that the rock formation called Capitol Reef is a “wrinkle” in the earth’s crust, known by geologists as a “geologic monocline” and by others as the “Waterpocket Fold,” that looks like it could be a reef in the sea. Instead of coral, this fold is comprised of layers of golden sandstone, while in the park itself, the sandstone is white. This explains why they call it a reef, but why do they call it a “capitol” reef? The “capitol” refers to the white domes of Navajo sandstone that look like the domes of buildings you’d find in any capitol.

While Zion was beautiful, it really wasn’t until the drive to Capitol Reef that I started to really get an appreciation for the geological history that was being displayed everywhere we looked. I read somewhere once  a statement that said that the Earth is a book and each of the layers of rock beneath us is a page in that book. Together, page after page, they tell a remarkable story, a tale only a geologist can read and understand. I believe it!

To get to Capitol Reef from Zion, you take scenic byway Highway 12, referred to by many as the “best road in America.” Lisa and I agree! In fact, we drove that highway twice, because we decided to go back the way we came to get to Bryce (our next stop). We’d read that if you do this, the road looks completely different because you’re heading the opposite way and seeing different scenery. They weren’t wrong, it was just as amazing the second time through!

A couple shots of the “reef’ below. Note that the Waterpocket Fold that is the reef goes on for 100 miles! Photos cannot do it justice!

We took tons of photos of the beauty of Capitol Reef and could hardly keep our jaws from hitting the ground. Everywhere you looked the earth’s crust was ripped open and exposed, layers upon layers, the centuries piled up before our eyes, leading me to ponder just how short my own time is on this planet and in this universe. One of my favorite subjects these days is the Philosophy of Time and I could not think of a better place to sit and reflect on time itself, while the mountains and cliffs around me displayed their eons of existence in each layer, like combat badges on a military uniform. It was awesome!

The white rock shown above is not limestone. It is comprised of ancient sand dunes! Centuries of wind-blown sand, fossilized for our viewing pleasure. Geologists can actually tell which way the winds were blowing hundreds of thousands of years ago, since the direction of the wind is frozen into the sand and in time.

This area in Utah was first settled by Ephraim Hanks and his family in 1882. In his honor, they named this rock tower after him:

We only stayed one night in the Capitol Reef area, but it was enough to drive through it all and enjoy the amazing views.

Next, we were off to Bryce National Park!

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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