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Capitol Reef National Park

November 11, 20236 min read

Wrinkle in the Earth 

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah is nothing short of spellbinding. This miraculous wonder is not only one of the most alluring parks I have visited, it’s a captivating sight that keeps you guessing what’s next on every road, angle, view.

Capitol Reef is frequently referred to as the Wrinkle in the Earth due to a geological feature known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold is a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust and is the defining geological feature of the park.

This fold creates a striking landscape of colorful canyons, cliffs and domes, making it look as if the Earth's surface has been wrinkled. The term Wrinkle in the Earth aptly captures the unique geology of Capitol Reef.

Fruita Historic District 

Capitol Reef was the first stop on my recent Utah adventure. More on that in upcoming blogs. The first two nights, we were lucky enough to score a campsite at the Fruita Campground, conveniently located in the central area of the park. 

This picturesque area near the central entrance is where you’ll find the visitor center. As with any park, I recommend a stop to get information and familiarize yourself with the numerous areas to see. 

Fruita Historical District

On the short drive to the Fruita Campground, you’ll pass the lush orchard gardens and historic buildings of the Fruita Historic District all along the Fremont River. The lushness of this area is one of the things that attracted the Mormon pioneers that settled here in the 19th century. 

The campground is nicely maintained with all the amenities you need for a great stay in this area. One of the highlights here is the green pasture with three gorgeous, friendly horses you can gaze on from camp.

Fruita Historical District

While the horses are nice, what’s even better is your proximity to the Gifford Homestead. The Gifford Homestead, listed on the National Register of Historic Place serves as a museum and store, but most people come here for the freshly baked pies. Since this blog is about sharing the testament of nature’s beauty in the park, I’m going to leave it at this… If you visit Capitol Reef, do your tastebuds a favor and stop at the Gifford Homestead for a pie! 

Fruita Historical District

A lot of the park's iconic sights are easily available from the Fruita Historic District where my wife and I camped. You can access the several scenic drives and viewpoints that are close by. Most of these viewpoint stops also have hikes you can explore.

While hiking is a treasured choice during most photo and camping adventures, my main focus for my days at Capitol Reef was to capture the many facets and shades responsible for this miraculous landscape. 

Sunset Point

First on my list of places to shoot in this area, Sunset Point. If you’re familiar with my work you know how quick I am to engulf myself in the intricacies that sunsets and sunrises give us. Especially when it comes to how these subtle yet spectacular light changes portray themselves in these desert landscapes and rock formations.

Sunset Point

The opportunities to capture the beauty, power and marvel of this land are limitless. Unfortunately, my time wasn’t as boundless as the wonder that is the central part of Capitol Reef. It was time to wrap up our stay in the Historic Fruita District of the park to explore the north side.

Sunset Point

Journey to Cathedral Valley

Little did I know I was in store for one of the most spectacularly impressive views I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know about you, but to me there’s nothing better than when nature presents you with those moments of intense scenes that take your breath away. 

The drive over Thousand Lakes Mountain to reach the northern portion of the park known as Cathedral Valley was simply breathtaking. Fresh off the ever popular leaf peeping season in the mountains of central Colorado, my wife and I were in awe of the amount and size of Aspens in this region. And their changing colors were just as impressive. Our eagerness to search for more epic landscapes made our stops to admire this drive’s sights brief. But if I may, I highly recommend making this drive, you won’t regret it.

Cathedral Valley

It’s hard to express what it’s like to be treated to the masterpiece that is Cathedral Valley from above. The numerous overlooks on the approach from Thousand Lakes Mountain and the primitive roads within the park above the valley provide viewpoints that are simply jaw dropping.

From the colors and shapes, to depth and vastness is an indescribable feeling. The energy here is one of zestful serenity, you feel completely untroubled by anything other than the state of being here. As hard as it was to peel myself off the most enthralling spectacle, it was time to find our spot for the night.

Cathedral Valley

A Hidden Gem

In comes Cathedral Valley Campground, the park’s primitive campground you’ll find after entering the park from the remote, northwest entrance. Though the roads are pretty passable, the park recommends four wheel drive and high clearance for this area, never a problem for our truck, Mr. T.

This gem of a campground is nestled off a windy, unpaved road that you’ll only find if you’re looking for it. The campground was empty when we arrived in the early afternoon. Heaven for us as we prefer such peace, quiet and solitude that are often hard to find in the more popular and easily accessible parts of the park.

What makes this campground so special? Pathways from the sites lead you to the coveted views of Cathedral Valley.

Cathedral Valley

The Monoliths

Cathedral Valley is famed for its rock striking rock formations that reach towards the sky, some bearing names like Wall of Jericho, Temple of the Sun and Moon, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to shoot them, impending afternoon storms be damned.

After a drive down rough, steep switchbacks and through dry washes we arrived just in time to capture several images. The massive monoliths, blanketed in soft, diffused sunlight contrasted by the clouds on the imposing thunderstorm were simply a dream come true.

Monolith

With our safety and ease of a return trip to the campground in mind, we returned from where we came to set up camp for the evening.

Sadly we only had one night to spend in the Cathedral Valley area and it’s high on my list of places to return to and enjoy a more extended stay. And even though our stay at this heavenly campground was met with a bitterly cold and windy night, it’s one site we’ll definitely come back to. 

Sunset Point

As the sun sets on this adventure, I find myself yearning for more time in the Cathedral Valley, with its towering monoliths and the serenity of the primitive campground. Despite the challenges of the night, the allure of this hidden gem is undeniable, leaving me with a sense of gratitude for the fleeting but profound connection with the park's wonders.

Capitol Reef, with its unique geological features and breathtaking landscapes, has become more than a destination, it's a sanctuary of natural marvels. This journey has fueled not just a desire for return but a profound appreciation for the intricate beauty etched into every canyon, cliff, and dome. As I bid farewell to this miraculous wonder, I carry with me the echoes of its beauty and the promise of future adventures in it's folds.

Like what you see? Enjoy what you read? Your support means a lot. I invite you to connect with me on social media. And yes, of course you can display my artwork in your space. Visit my online gallery today at https://alanstenbackphoto.etsy.com

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Alan Stenback

Meet Alan Stenback, a talented landscape photographer based in the breathtaking central Colorado Rockies. Alan's passion for capturing the natural and raw beauty of the Rocky Mountains is evident in his stunning landscapes, mountainscapes, and nightscapes. From popular to lesser-known locations, Alan's work showcases the majesty of our national park system and public lands. His work has been recognized by Rocky Mountain National Park, The Ansel Adams Gallery, Landscape Photography Magazine, and has been featured on many social media platforms. Join Alan on his journey to capture the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and experience the wonder of nature through his lens.

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