Capitol Reef National Park

There are no ocean reefs in Capitol Reef National Park, but there's plenty of ridges and cliffs. Sandstone rock formations are weird and wonderful, shaped like castles, elephant's feet, or ruffled skirts, rising out of the desert. With the Fremont River providing year-round water, early people lived in the area over a thousand years ago, followed by Mormon pioneers in the 1880's.

Highway 24, a good paved road, goes across the park. At the Visitor Center/Fruita Historic District is the turnoff for a Scenic Drive south to Capitol Gorge. Take your time exploring the park; you can easily spend a couple of days just exploring the Fruita area and Highway 24. For places to stay, either camp in the park, or there are hotels in the town of Torrey to the west.

Fruita orchards - Along Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive are heirloom orchards, planted in 1880's along the rivers. In summer and early fall months, when fruit is ripe, you can pick the apricots, cherries, peaches and apples. Signs will be posted, and the park provides buckets, ladders and fruit picking tools - you can eat what you pick right off the tree, or if you take the fruit away, there's a modest fee per pound. Call the park in advance to find out what's in season: 435.425.3791.
Visitor Center - Make your first stop at the visitor center. One exhibit identifies the seven different geologic layers (Moenkopi, Shinarump, Chinle, Wingate, Kayenta, Navajo, Carmel, which you can see in "The Castle" formation just across Route 24. Watch a movie about the geology and people who lived in the area - ancient Native Americans and early pioneers. Pick up the schedules for campfire talks in the campground, Ripple Rock Nature Center, night sky viewings, orchard pickings, and trail maps.
Scenic Drive - Take the scenic drive south for:
Blacksmith shop - Make a quick stop at the old blacksmith shop, an adobe building with forge and old farm tools.
Ripple Rock Nature Center - In the summer months, at the nature center are junior geologist programs and guided hikes for kids. Check at the visitor center for the schedule.
Picnic area - This is a gorgeous picnic area, lots of tables in the shade under big trees, next to the Fremont River. Restrooms and plenty of grass to run around, plan to stop here for lunch.
Gifford Farmhouse - The historic Gifford farmhouse has a lovely weathered wooden barn and farmhouse (furnished with wood burning stove and rag rugs). Kids can imagine life a pioneer in this canyon, miles from the nearest town. At the store, try homemade pies and ice cream, picnic tables out front under the trees.
Fremont River Trail - At the Fremont Campground, turn into Campground Loop C and park. For a short hike along the Fremont River, pick up the trail brochure, and hike up the first 1/2 mile, with the river on the right, orchards on your left.
Along Highway 24 -
Fruita Schoolhouse - Look inside the one room schoolhouse, opened in 1896, with eight grades in one room. The schoolhouse was also a community and church center. Inside are old fashioned wooden desks (with bottles for ink), the teacher's desk, blackboard, and wood stove.
Petroglyphs - Just down the road from the schoolhouse, stop to see petroglyphs on the sheer rock cliff. The petroglyphs were carved by the ancient Fremont peoples, who lived in the area from approximately 700 - 1200 AD. The petroglyphs are human figures with stick figure hands and horned headdresses, plus mountain sheep leaping around. Easy access and a nice viewing platform for the petroglyphs, but bring binoculars for close up views.
Behunin cabin - Kids can get a real feel for pioneer life in the canyon. Elijah Behunin built this adobe cabin in 1882 for his family of ten. The mother and father, and two smallest children slept inside the cabin; the boys had a dugout in the cliff, the older girls made a bed in an old wagon box. The cabin is 5.9 miles from the visitor center, east on Highway 24.
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