Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 23, 2010

Capitol Reef National Park

A huge piece of Navajo sandstone

It’s not often that a polygamists’ enclave morphs into a national park, but somewhere between the historic Mormon fruit orchards and the thousand feet of Navajo sandstone and the geologically famous Waterpocket Fold, legislators found Capitol Reef worthy of protection. I am so glad they did, as I went on an Explore on my days off with two co-workers. Risking life and limb on a rainy afternoon in a flash-flood-prone canyon, roasting marshmallows over a camp stove, and facing off against a marauding raccoon in the campsite made it all the more memorable.

Climbed about 1700 feet to Rim Overlook; orchards below

Always when I go to a place new to me, I am struck by the differences-that-are-similar. Most of the rock layers in Capitol Reef are also present in either Arches or Canyonlands or both, but they are of different colors and thicknesses farther west. The green oasis that is Moab is watered by the Colorado River, and fruit trees of many types thrive in the Moab Valley; the Fremont River runs right through Capitol Reef, prompting the ancestral people to dig irrigation ditches for their gardens. The early Mormon settlers found these ditches and planted numerous fruit orchards in this oasis.

This is the only national park I know of in which visitors can walk through the orchards and pick any fruit that is in season and eat it on the spot. (If you remove fruit from the orchard, you weigh and pay for it on the honor system.) Apples, peaches, pears, plums… whatever your heart desires is yours for the picking, if you can get it before the mule deer do.

"The Castle." Wingate sandstone is far more pink-and-salmon in Capitol Reef than in Canyonlands.

Majestic sandstone monoliths are indescribably beautiful, especially when thunderclouds frame them. Our 1.5 days in the park were woefully inadequate to explore much; the National Weather Service phoned the park to notify them of the high risk of flash floods, which kept us out of some of the exceptionally scenic low areas.

We’ll save those for next time. There will be a next time. Those Mormons sure know how to make hot-from-the-oven pies worth driving hours to get.

August 7, 2010

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

[Continued from yesterday]

Collared Lizard! Gorgeous! Click to see reptilian skin texture up close.

The rest of our day, in pursuit of a third sheep which we never find, is filled with ancillary discoveries that make up for the missed animal. A Black Widow web (one of many) catches my eye, messy-looking with stiff sticky threads. The widow is not in sight. A Collared Lizard, my favorite reptile ever, runs in front of us and strikes an extraordinary pose. Its yellowness assaults my eyes and we inch nearer to study it in detail. I pull out my camera and Bill suggests I approach it from the side so it can see me and not be startled. He seems to know everything about every creature out here, not to mention the local geology, botany, and meteorology. I wonder what it must be like to be so attuned to your small corner of the world that you know it inside and out, backward and forward. Actually, I marvel. I want to be wilderness-wise like that.

Similar to these granaries, which are in Canyonlands at Aztec Butte. (file photo)

At another stop, we pause on the high cliffs to view the mouth of Indian Creek where it meets the Colorado. Bill points out three ancestral Puebloan dwellings built into the side of the wall below us, and I study them through binoculars and marvel again. There are hundreds of archeological sites in Canyonlands; I’ve seen only a few. This must be remedied.

With an hour of daylight left, neither of us is in a mood to leave this place and find ourselves indoors. We strike out to the far end of an outcropping where we can sit and watch the day wind down. Not a sound reaches our ears but a distant hiss of a small waterfall, 1200 feet below and around a bend, and later one languorous canyon bird. Sitting in silence, gratitude wells up in both of us for the unexplainable gift of another day in a spectacular wilderness.

Alpenglow on the Wingate sandstone, three minutes before sunset

We’d better get back to the truck. I see a twinkle in Bill’s eyes as he asks, “Old route, or new route?” “What?!? You have routes you’ve not yet walked?” “Well, I may have, but I’ve forgotten. Old route, or new route?” “NEW!” We head off toward some white rock biscuits, way bigger than ourselves, wondering with the waning light if we’ll be stuck in the dark because of my choice. Gotta take risks. Gotta take chances. Gotta live on the edge.

It’s fully dark when the truck meets up with the stream bank that had the quicksand. We motor across the shallows without incident. Venus is in the western sky, and Bill stops the vehicle to mount the spotting telescope on his window. Mars, Saturn, and Mercury are all in close proximity to Venus tonight, and we study them in turn. The Milky Way arcs across the heavens, beckoning me to sleep beneath it. Thoreau’s words — the title of this post — reverberate in my jubilant soul.

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