It was a beautiful morning so we had a quick breakfast and got on the road. It is only 6 miles from Torrey to Capitol Reef NP. On the way, we stopped at the schoolhouse in town
And then, oh what a beautiful car we spotted, close to the entrance to Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park
Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks and monuments, it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef National Park’s sense of expansiveness; of broad, sweeping vistas; of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape; of limitless sky and desert rock. It is my favorite park – so very accessible and dramatic.
While Bryce and Zion are like encapsulated little fantasy lands of colored stone and soaring cliffs, Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.
Capitol Reef National Park is an evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion Canyons in a less crowded park that can be more relaxing to visit than either of those more-famous attractions.
The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface (“waterpocket” refers to the potholes that dot the sandstone and fill with rainwater). The park’s name combines the popular term for an uplifted landmass, “reef,” with a visual resemblance of the park’s many white Navajo Sandstone domes to that of the nation’s Capitol Building.
A few of the photos (for the best view, please click on the photos to see a larger version)
There’s an area in the park called, Fruita. Just after the turn of the century, the Mormon community of Fruita, nestled in the shaded canyon formed by the Fremont River, was a lively, vibrant town of nearly 50. Though most of Fruita’s residents gradually moved away after Capitol Reef’s establishment as a national monument, the fields and orchards (and an abundance of wildlife) remain for the enjoyment of visitors who may even pick small quantities of fruit in season: cherries in June, apricots in July, pears in August, and apples in September.
The Fruita schoolhouse still stands too
Classes had been conducted for two years before the Fruita Schoolhouse was built, when Elijah Cutler Behunin donated land for a school building in 1896. He and other early Junction settlers constructed the building. Even though only eight families lived in Junction, these farmers had large families. The Behunins raised thirteen children themselves, one of which, Nettie, became the first schoolteacher at age twelve. She taught children in the Behunin home before the schoolhouse was built. Nettie’s first class had 22 students, three of whom were her siblings.
Originally, there was a flat, dirt covered roof on the school. A peaked, shingled roof was added in 1912 or 1913. The interior walls, originally bare and chinked logs, were plastered in 1935. The first desks were homemade, constructed of pine, and seated two students each. These were sometimes used to quiet unruly students. The teacher would seat a troublesome boy with a girl, and the resulting blow to his ego would often bring him under control.
Teachers taught the “three-Rs” to the eight grades at the one-room school. If a teacher felt qualified and had enough textbooks, other subjects such as geography, were added.
Students were full of pranks. To delay the start of class, they often hid the teacher’s alarm clock in the woodpile. Lanterns used during night meetings were stored in the school, and a few enterprising students found that dropping a small piece of calcium carbide, taken from a lantern, into an inkwell produced a reaction that would cause the ink to overflow. If the inkwell was tightly capped, it would explode and spatter ink all over the room.
The log building also served as a community meeting house and church. Desks were not bolted to the floor, so the room could be cleared for different needs. As late as 1924, the building was also used for dances, town meetings, elections, church youth activities, box suppers, and celebrations.
In 1900, the building was loaned to the Wayne County School District for the first county approved classes. Nettie, then 22, was the first authorized teacher. She was paid $70 a month while her male counterparts received $80 per month. Classes of varying sizes, continued until 1941 when the school was discontinued for lack of students. Today, the school stands in its original location alongside Utah Highway 24. Visitors may peer through the windows into the furnished structure and imagine what school was like, so long ago. Those with a good imagination can still hear that old school bell ring.
“…of what value are objects of a past people if we don’t allow ourselves to be touched by them. They are alive. They have a voice. They remind us what it means to be human; that it is our nature to survive, to be resourceful, to be attentive to the world we live in.”
– Terry Tempest Williams from Exploring the Fremont
Fremont and ancestral Puebloan people began to incorporate farming into their hunter and gatherer lifestyles approximately 2,000 years ago. Petroglyph panels throughout the park depict ancient art and stories of these people who lived in the area from approximately 600-1300. Named for the Fremont River that flows through the park, evidence now shows that these people lived throughout Utah and adjacent areas of Idaho, Colorado and Nevada.
I would have loved to spent a couple of days in Capitol Reef – I had planned to camp here by myself to do some star trails but the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain later in the day, so star trails would not have been possible.
I had to get off the road and be in the desert proper before leaving though, so I left Jan to his ‘shelf’ photography and aimed for a huge yellow rock about a mile from the road. It was a very interesting walk for many reasons. The ground varied a lot – from spongy red sand to shale that had, at one time, been huge rocks. The desert plants were a startlingly vivid blue/green color. There was a dried-out wash which showed the way the rains ran off the rocks. And there was always the possibility of snakes and scorpions. I checked every step when near rocks and tufts of sage grass and I was especially careful to check the area when I squatted for a pee!
Once at the rock, I stood the camera on the tiny tripod, put the timer on and ran to get beneath the rock. Unfortunately, 10 seconds on the timer was not enough time to make it to the rock.
Final few photos. This is a tree I have photographed on three previous trips and it still intrigues me; it reminds me of a sickle on a Russian flag and it always looks lonely and regal; my ‘sickle tree’
Jan’s ‘shelf’ photos show the amazing layers of rock and the way the erosion has kind of ‘undercut’ them
We met a lovely couple from California (if you read this, I apologise for not being sure of your names; but I think, Kate and Som?)
Sadly, it was time to leave the park – we could see the clouds gathering.
Goodbye, Capitol Reef.
A beautiful day was complete when Jan heard the ‘Chef’s Special’ for that day in the Capitol Reef Motel and Inn was Crab legs (spider crab); Jan was in heaven.
I had a mushroom lasagne (those legs just don’t do it for me).
We returned to the motel and had a great chat with our new neighbours – two guys and a woman, out here to fish.
We chatted about the domestic state of our respective countries, we slated politicians, laughed at our differences – ‘What is the worst thing you have found about America?’ Me, ‘Americans just don’t ‘get’ tea; you get a cup of tepid water and a tea bag in an envelope!’
Jan made a new friend
And the sunset was lovely – I think I’m falling in love with this 18-wheeler truck
Goodnight Torrey; I’ve always liked you a lot.