It All Started With Capitol Reef 

My family knows that I’m a National Park Junkie. National Parks can be beautiful,  wondrous, and thrilling. It’s harder to enjoy some of the more popular parks  nowadays with the traffic they receive, but there is one park in Utah that remains  relatively accessible, Capitol Reef. Capitol Reef is my favorite National Park, and I  make it a point to visit it multiple times yearly. It’s insanely beautiful, remote, and  a great hiking destination. Years ago, when I decided that I was going to become a  backpacker, capitol reef was my first solo backpacking trip. I completed a 36-mile  trip in two days following a loop strung together from day hikes.  

I over-packed and made all the mistakes that a first-time backpacker makes. It was  one of the most challenging things I had done up to that point. At the end of the  trip, I was exhausted, more so than I had ever been. Even though my body was  bone tired, it is one of the most important and memorable outdoor experiences that  still affects me today. Nowadays, I am a frequent backpacker, mountain biker,  pack rafter, and overland explorer. Back then, I was just beginning. I remember the  feeling of awe that I experienced during that trip. I remember stopping and staring  at the wondrous, jagged desert scenery. I verbalized the word “Wow” on what  seemed like a hundred different occasions. This backpacking trip was a seminal  event for my adventuring. I realized how important it is to seek awe in our lives. I  started to understand what the emotion of awe can do for us mentally and  emotionally and how it can change us. Capitol Reef opened a door for me, and I  am so glad I walked through it.  

These are the impressions that I wrote down shortly after that first backpacking  trip:  

April 16, 2011  


I left at 4:30 am for Capitol Reef this morning. The Plan is to tackle six of the  park’s trails in three days:  

  1. would start with the water hike Sulfur Creek Goosenecks which is 6.6  miles one way and would take me to the Visitor Center. Then I would link  the Cohab Canyon trail to the 9-mile round-trip Hickman Bridge/ Navajo  Knobs trail.  
  2. I planned to camp on the Navajo Knobs trail and link up with the Frying Pan  Trail, which turns into the Grand Wash Trail, another 8.5 miles. After Grand 

Wash, all I needed to do was ford the Fremont river and hike another 9.5  miles up Spring Canyon and link up with the Chimney Rock trail, and I  would be back at my car.  

It was a rugged loop hike and an ambitious plan for my first backpacking trip.  

The Land of the Sleeping Rainbow is what the Native Americans called Capitol  Reef. It is a breathtaking and colorful wonderland. Every one of my trips to the  park has unlocked something new and exciting. In the 1930s, it was proposed that  the staggeringly fantastic sandstone formations and the entire Reef become a  National Monument called Wayne’s Wonderland after the county of Wayne.  Franklin Roosevelt dropped the name but made the monument. The idea of Capitol  Reef as a protected national refuge was born. In 1971 it became a National Park.  And what a unique and under-appreciated park it is. Although a local favorite,  Capitol Reef is the least visited Utah National Park. Because of its remoteness and  inaccessibility to 2-wheel drive cars (except for highway 24, which cuts through a  small part of the park), few get the opportunity to witness the majesty of this  remarkable place.  

Capitol Reef, however, is a hikers’ paradise. And when I say paradise, I mean that  quite literally. Hiking the Frying Pan trail is akin to a trip through a garden planted  by God. The desert fauna is strategically placed and beautiful. The desert  architecture is amazingly surreal and lonesome. The colorful rocks and earth only  add to the flavor. When you walk through Capitol Reef, you are trekking through a  desert paradise crafted for the wonderment and enjoyment of man. To stop and  stare at one’s surroundings every few feet along the slick rock path marked with  cairns is as uncontrolled a reflex as one’s heartbeat. A trail of only a few miles  could take hours and fill multiple memory cards.  

After each trip, the depth of my experiences in Capitol Reef continues to call to me  as if trying to beckon me back. Nature’s siren seduces me. If only I could have  lingered on the Navajo Knobs Trail and stared at the white sandstone domes.  Around each corner and peaking over every ridge, courtly sandstone towers rise as  I crane my neck back. These walls appear to have been chiseled by celestial  artisans. I am captivated and surprised by each new scene laid before my eyes as I  climb. I must look into the clear blue sky and watch the clouds pass behind the  domes, multi-colored cliffs, and monoliths. I want to feel the thrill of seeing that  bighorn sheep that makes its home among these cliffs and snapping its picture  again. My heart beats faster as I think about seeing that animal in its environment.  My heart rate is nearly uncontrollable as I approach the ram almost on tiptoes. Can 

he hear it, my heart thumping as a metronome tuned too fast for music? I got closer  to wildness than I ever thought possible. And I fear I may never get as close to it  again as I did that day on that trail.  

The History of the Park adds to the experience, from the Fremont Indians who  lived within the park boundaries from 700 -1300 AD to the Mormon settlers who  planted the orchards that are still maintained today. History is everywhere. There  are petroglyphs on rock walls depicting bighorn sheep and other animals. There are  pioneer buildings and homesteads still standing for us to remember. The Fremont  River reminds me of that history as if it flows through the Fruita District and the  park. The river flowed for the ancient peoples, and it flows for us still. Water  brings life to the desert. It creates riparian oases in extreme places. Water built this  National Park and is still shaping it today.  

I find myself freed from the weight of my pack in Spring Canyon. I am  emancipated from the world’s cares as I glory in the majesty of thousand-foot sheer  cliff walls. The rainbow is more evident here. White faces, maroon monoliths, and  pink peaks, with oranges and brown walls, are the primary colors here. The light of  the sinking sun does its dance on the rocks. My pack weighs heavy again until  suddenly, magnificence surrounds me, which is an all too frequent occurrence. I  have forgotten that my journey is almost complete. I am alone, but I speak vocally,  “Wow!” repeatedly with each new vista that spreads before my eyes. With each  step, I am closer to reality and the world. My adventure will be over soon. I will  reach my destination, and I will go back to life. I am leaving my desert haven. And  soon, I will have a yearning to return to Capitol Reef.