Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CO & UT - Day 8 - Capitol Reef & Goblin Valley

Our final park destinations in Utah would  be Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley - both proving to be beautiful for very different reasons.

First up was Capital Reef - a lengthy drive (about 1 3/4 hours) from Green River, along largely empty roads (apart from the occasion RV or tour bus).  Even from the park "entrance" it was still a way to go to the Visitor Centre and parking lot at Fruita, but we eventually joined a smattering of cars in a green field serving as the car park, and laced up our boots.

Capitol Reef is described as a "remote, hidden treasure" filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in a fold of the earth stretching across almost 100 miles, known as the Waterpocket Fold.  It was also a settlement for Mormon pioneers in the 1880s, at the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and is now a preserved village and orchards in an area known as Fruita.  

We had two potential hikes in mind - Cohab Canyon and Hickman Bridge (both deemed "moderate" at 2.5 miles and 2 miles respectively), and we hoped to be able to complete both of them if our legs allowed!

We started out on a very steep hike up the cliff-face adjacent to the car park along switchback trails. It was worth stopping every so often simply to take in the views back across Fruita, the preserved village and the all-important Waterpocket Fold which defines Capitol Reef.  

Once we had our breath back, we entered into Cohab Canyon itself - a beautiful, serene, sun-rimmed canyon, so peaceful, with sandstone rock faces beautifully lit in the sunlight.  Surrounded by high walls on either side, it was easy to forget we were in a big tourist destination, and we met perhaps 2 or 3 other hikers during our entire time on the trail.

Once we reached the end of the canyon, we made our way carefully down the cliff again, crossed the main road (now filled with parked cars on either side), and joined up with the trail for Hickman Bridge.  Being a little shorter, this trail was noticeably busier, and we often had to give way to several groups and families on the narrow trails.  Hickman Bridge was another stunning natural bridge or arch feature, and proved to be the perfect spot for some much needed lunch! 

Rejuvenated by our vittles, and keen to avoid more crowds, we headed back along the trail, across the road, and back up the steep cliff face into the canyon again, before eventually emerging at the Fruita overlook.  Things had got a lot busier since we'd first arrived, with a country fair in full swing in the village.  Obviously we had to take a look!  Live country music, a few crafts and some lovely hand-baked goodies made a nice diversion from sore feet and legs!  

But the day wasn't over yet...

Next stop - the mysteriously named Goblin Valley, albeit over an hour's drive away (but at least in the direction of the hotel).  Legend has it that Goblin Valley was "discovered" by some cowboys looking for lost cattle in the 1920s.  Who knows what went through their minds when they stumbled on this view!  (Although we do know it was originally called Mushroom Valley).

Millions of years ago, this whole area would have been below sea level, gradually forming layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale.  As sea levels subsided and the sandstone became exposed to the elements, the softer layers eroded more quickly, creating the quirky "goblins" that now inhabit the park.

There was no real hiking planned here - it was already quite late in the afternoon, but we spent an enjoyable hour or so meandering through the odd-shaped sculptures in the evening light, and marvelling once again at the beauty of Mother Nature in all its forms.