Capitol Reef: two hikes

cigar_guy_capitol_reefI’m gonna go all literary on you and start this photo post at the end of the story.

Thus, you’ll find me here relaxing in a shaded, grassy glade near park headquarters, reclined against a picnic table, enjoying a celebratory post-hike cigar.

We began the day by checking in at the Visitor Center, where we learned that the Capitol Gorge road was closed to vehicular travel due to numerous washouts caused by recent heavy rains. The next day, said the ranger, work crews would begin grading the road, but today, she informed us, we were more than welcome to walk down the gorge in relative quiet.

Morning clouds, Capitol Reef western boundary

Morning clouds, Capitol Reef western boundary

View from Twin Rocks

View from Twin Rocks

Between Twin Rocks, morning light

Between Twin Rocks, morning light

And so we did. Packing a few high-energy snacks, some cheese sticks, apples and (of course!) plenty of water, Anne and I parked at the end of the gated road, scrambled over the auto barrier and ambled off down the canyon.

Capitol Gorge, washout

Capitol Gorge, washout

It was indeed a gorgeous and inspiring hike, with our solitude interrupted only by the cawing of a raven tracing out loops against the rugged sandstone cliffs overhead. We stopped for lunch about a mile into the canyon, around the bend from a vast overhanging concave headwall.

Branches, Capitol Gorge

Branches, Capitol Gorge

Cliffs in shade, Capitol Gorge

Cliffs in shade, Capitol Gorge

Titanic erratic, Capitol Gorge

Titanic erratic, Capitol Gorge

Erratic, reverse view

Erratic, reverse view

Cliff and clouds, Capitol Gorge

Cliff and clouds, Capitol Gorge

Perforations, Capitol Gorge

Perforations, Capitol Gorge

Curving headwall, Capitol Gorge

Curving headwall, Capitol Gorge

Grotto rock, Capitol Gorge

Grotto rock, Capitol Gorge

Unconformity, Capitol Gorge

Unconformity, Capitol Gorge

Drawing the line, Capitol Gorge

Drawing the line, Capitol Gorge

After the return hike, we drove back northward on the main park road to the Grand Wash cutoff, from whence we had decided to undertake a slightly more ambitious hike up a precipitous path to Cassidy Arch. The main trail from the Grand Gulch parking area led down canyon to a place called The Narrows, with a marker denoting the trail to Cassidy Arch expected about  300 yds. along the way.

Apache plume, Grand Gulch

Apache plume, Grand Gulch

Somehow, we missed this cutoff and continued slogging through the sandy bottom of the wash until we began to suspect that we’d overlooked the split. Eventually we broke down and asked some fellow hikers whether they might know where we’d gone wrong – or if, indeed, we had gone wrong. (Answer: yes, we had missed the cutoff quite a ways back toward our point of origin.)

Tree on the rock, Grand Gulch

Tree on the rock, Grand Gulch

Somewhat enervated, we retraced our steps and eventually came to a marker pointing the way up a steep series of switchbacks toward our selected destination

It’s far more obvious on the return trek – at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Grand Gulch from bench trail to Cassidy Arch

Grand Gulch from bench trail to Cassidy Arch

The trail to Cassidy Arch (we soon discovered) climbs abruptly over rough and rocky terrain to a bench above the gulch, affording grand views of the gulch itself and its opening to the west, from whence we had driven an hour or so previously.

Anne on the trail to Cassidy Arch

Anne on the trail to Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch

We hiked as far as the turning that offered a view of the arch (not visible from below) and decided we had gone as far as we needed to. One thing I’ve learned from many years of trail hiking is to be aware of my limits, and to anticipate the difficulties of the return – which is another way of saying I’ve benefited from prior mistakes that found me at the end of my endurance well before reaching my destination

This valuable self-knowledge continues to serve me well as I navigate the trails of middle age (and, says my birth certificate, beyond).

Bench trail to Cassidy Arch

Bench trail to Cassidy Arch

Parking area, Grand Gulch trailhead

Parking area, Grand Gulch trailhead

Cassidy Arch from bench trail

Cassidy Arch from bench trail

We returned to the car, refreshed ourselves with water from the ice-filled cooler, and drove back to the meadow-like park setting referenced at the beginning of this post, where I enjoyed a somewhat maltier beverage along with the fine Nicaraguan handmade pictured there.

Life is indeed good on days such as this.

Cottonwood, picnic grounds, Capitol Reef

Cottonwoods, picnic grounds, Capitol Reef

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