Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is the least visited of the six national parks in southern Utah. I don't understand why. Its scenery is as spectacular as the others, and it's located along Utah S.R. 12/24, which links Bryce Canyon to Arches and Canyonlands. The park's lack of popularity was fine with us, since it just meant the possibility of more serenity. While it wasn't a madhouse like Zion and Bryce can be, the park was hardly deserted.
The park was established mainly to protect the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, a massive swell (monocline) in the earth's crust that formed while the Rocky Mountains were being uplifted. A monocline is a regional fold with one steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal sedimentary layers; a monocline is a "step up" in the rock layers. Rock layers on the west side of the fold have been lifted 7,000 feet higher than those one the east side, but erosion over the last 20 million years has removed most of the uplifted rock so that the difference in the contemporary landscape is only several hundred feet between west and east. The Waterpocket Fold is the largest and longest monocline in North America and one of the largest in the world.
The Waterpocket Fold gots its name because it is a "fold" in the earth's crust, and because rainwater collects in sandstone basins in the rocks (i.e., waterpockets), creating pools that support wildlife throughout the year. The park's name comes from the fact that the Mormon pioneers who first visited the area thought that one of the eroded sandstone domes looked like the recently completed United States Capitol building in Washington, and the geologic formation, which formed a formidable barrier to east-west travel, resembled an ocean reef.
For our first day-hike in the park, we decided to tackle the Hickman Bridge Trail, the most popular in the park. The trail leads along the Fremont River, then heads into the hills above the river to Hickman Natural Bridge.
After visiting the bridge, we retraced our steps down the trail and back along the Fremont River. In the riparian cottonwood trees along the river, we came across the very accommodating Western Tanager pictured at the beginning of this post. We saw quite a few Western Tanagers during our trip, but none that cooperated for a portrait like this one did.