Utah’s Beautiful Big 5: Capital Reef

The sun breaks the ridge and brings the shadows to light while Hickman Bridge in Capital Reef National Park.

It is approximately a three hour drive from Canyonlands to capital Reef National park. There is a bonus to the journey in that the route provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the various scenery that makes up the terrain. After getting off the highway and onto Rt.24 a feeling of openness returns heading down the quiet and desperate roadway traveling through the deserts winter landscape. There is a rather scenic stretch of area has the road passes by Goblin Valley State Park. This region offers some of its own unique points of interest that are worth seeing outside of the more popular national parks. One thing I enjoy about this drive is the amount of inspiring structures that loom in the distance whether it is a mountain, a butte or a hoodoo something always seems to grab the eye. Along a dirt road there is a large rock formation off in the distance that makes me stop the vehicle and grab the camera. The structure is known has Factory Butte and poses mightily in the desert scenery making for a nice landscape image to take a moment and capture has some white clouds accent the sky.

Factory Butte located along Route 24 in Utah is worth the stop to take a moment and appreciate the view.

Once back on the road there is a an itinerary planned for the day. Deciding to break away from it and detour towards a destination I was planning on scouting out later in the trip. The Cathedral Valley area grabbed my attention while gathering info about Capital Reef National Park. The road that leads there is a high clearance 4×4 road in winter and I’m curious to see the conditions along the way. There are two extra ordinary monoliths set into the landscape here that are known as the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. Opting only to scout these monoliths out for a sunrise photography possibility further along the trip I end up not staying here long. The drive continues on rugged dirt road that navigates through vast spectacular desert terrain while capturing the eyes and letting the imagination wander along the backcountry road excursion.

Cattle free roam the plains around the areas near the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon in Capital Reef.

Eventually ending up at the Cathedral Valley area itself there was an abundance of beauty to take in along the way. Upon arrival there is a national park primitive campground located here and I take the drive up a switchback hill that is covered in snow, slush, ice and mud to go check it out. This takes some concentration here has there is no room for error along this stretch and the conditions are a bit sketchy. After climbing my way to the top I’m relieved to make it to the campground. There isn’t a soul in sight and you can really feel the vast isolation of being out there. This is a nice campground and I contemplate rearranging my itinerary and staying here for the night to photograph the cathedral monoliths that decor the Valley below for sunset. There is just one catch to this scenario the decent back down the switchbacked hill. It is already sketchy with the amount of ice and mud but has darkness settles in the road will only become more ice covered by morning and traveling down to the temples would be difficult. The day is already getting late and most of the road down the ridge is shaded and the temperature is dropping quickly. It is time to get moving on and I decide to venture back down the 4×4 trail the best I can. As the 4runner slips and slides a little in some spots along the sloppy hill I’m glad I made the decision to get out of here now instead of in the morning. The drive back out the dusty dirt trail to rte 24 goes fairly quickly and I head to the west side of the park to see about some possible sunset locations.

The view form sunset point is well worth the short hike and the snowcapped mountain just adds a nice touch to the scene.

First was a quick hike out to panoramic point followed by a nice stroll out to Sunset Point. There is a nice set of clouds in the distance hovering over a snow capped peaked mountain in the far off remoteness. The overlooking view is breathtaking and there are some beautiful aged cedar trees that line the land with their story of ages to tell. After some time here enjoying the surroundings I head back to the main road toward twin rocks to see about getting an interesting sunset image containing the features in the foreground. After scrambling up the mounded ridge of earth I take in the formations and attempt to arrange a composition. There is a spectacular sunset starting to unfold in the distant west, but behind me to the east the clouds are taken on the reflective light from the setting sun and making for a beautiful purplish/pink sky that backdrops chimney rocks. This is a terrific moment of dusk to put an end on what has been a great day.

A wonderful backlight illuminates the clouds to the east creating for a picturesque sunset over Chimney Rock in Capital Reef National Park.
The sun fills in the canyon and strikingly brightens up this small shrub into a glowing ember during a winter sunrise.

After spending the night at Fruita campground the morning comes and it is still very much dark out. There is a chilly start to this late February morning and the air is crisp and ripe. The plan is to hike to Hickman bridge to enjoy the daybreak and early morning sun. In the parking lot I take a moment to make some tea and gather up my gear before hitting the trail in the predawn hours. The hike is short and simple and not very difficult to navigate in the dark. It takes awhile before the sun comes up so I take time laying out a composition that will work. Taking advantage of waiting on the light it is nice to hike around and see fun rocks, shrubs and trees that paint the surrounding land with character.

In time there is some light making its way slowly above the Ridgeline in the background. It will take awhile before the arch is illuminated by the sunlight. At the same time there are pieces of the surrounding environment that are picking up fragments of the morning glow so I focus the attention on them with the second camera body and telephoto lens. There is a variety of pretty and pleasing scenery unfolding and plenty to keep the creative eye focused on. Eventually the sun is above the ridge enough to illuminate the arch and makes for a compelling photograph that captures the essence of the scene. 

The rising sun illuminating the crest of Hickman Bridge.
A piece of the morning light illuminates a fragment of a rock wall during a sunrise in Capital Reef National Park

After hanging around for awhile it is time to start heading back down the trail. There are some interesting features along the path that are worth stopping at to enjoy and be amused by with what nature can create in a splendid wonder. Eventually back at camp it is time to head along on the journey and next up is Zion National Park for a couple of days. The subway hike is on the schedule for tomorrow and the wilderness office where you go to obtain your permit closes early in the afternoon. There is a sense of urgency and excitement about the hike and getting to Zion as I pack up the vehicle. Additionally an extra bonus to this next part of the trip is a drive down what is called one of Americas most scenic roads along Utah rt 12 and now having been there I have agree.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap