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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park was another complete wildcard in my book. I really had no idea what to expect. On the ride in the day before, I’d seen the thousand-foot ridge line stretching to the horizon and knew that it was another macro feature of the Grand Staircase. The cliff towers over the many smaller mesas and canyons nearby.

I followed the road along the ridge, stopping at whatever features looked interesting. I was particularly tickled to see the famous Chimney Rock, another remnant, I suppose, from all those years of learning about the pioneers in grade school. The road passed through the arid landscape of orange rock and dry washes and strangely shaped outcroppings until it eventually led to the park entrance.

I was surprised to note how very green the park itself was. Not only that, but the whole area smelled sweetly of apples. Someone had planted a fairly substantial orchard right in the crook of the Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef was so named because the original explorers tended to be sailors and so thought of anything that impeded their progress as a reef. Later visitors noted that this particular reef resembled the capitol and the name stuck from there.

Leaving the orchards and parks behind, I took a drive along a windy scenic loop that followed a line of steep mesa walls.

The sky was alternating between gentle puffy clouds and angry looking monsoon storms all afternoon, creating some great backdrops for photos:

Many of the side trails that got up close and personal with the local canyons and washes required vehicles with far more offroading capability than my pavement-bound cruiser so I headed back towards the orchards for a hike up to the top of the Reef instead.

I had heard about a trail that climbed *up* into Cohab Canyon and this seemed counterintuitive enough that I had to check it out. After a half mile of ascending switchbacks I found myself staring into the canyon and marveling at the strange geology of the place. I’d seen pockmarked rock in various places through my travels (most especially in the Valley of Fire) but this canyon was a veritable beehive of rock that looked like swiss cheese.

The trail moved along the sandy canyon floor, passing cactus and patches of those particularly hearty trees that are impossible for foul conditions to deter.

There were a few slot canyons that disappeared down either side, making me wonder even further how exactly this high and dry canyon was created. The hike followed the wash for another half mile along the slick sandstone walls before finally splitting off a trail that climbed to the top of it all. I followed that along the top of the mesa until I hit the cliffs at the end and stopped to soak in the view and listen to the wind whistle past.

I hiked back a ways along the ridge while the previously scattered storm clouds began to coalesce into something a bit more serious. Never one to put good sense over a good photo, I stuck around to play Thor for a bit.

Finally the weather began to look rough enough that I started my descent back to the orchard. As dry as the canyon looked, I still didn’t relish the though of being caught in a rainstorm there. I made record time back to the bike, loaded up my gear and set off east toward Moab.

I’d love to say I got some great pictures of the positively evil looking storm that managed to envelop a hundred miles of the horizon line to the south, but I learned my lesson about mixing technology and water (a few times) and opted for the rain gear instead. I got a thorough dousing while I skimmed the edge of it and shot out the front, racing into the open desert to the North and pursued by the extended fingers of the tempest to my rear.

I managed to stay dry for rest of the ride to Moab, where I met up with a friend who’d rented a Harley in Denver and driven down to spend a week exploring the Four Corners area with me. I was more than happy to gain a hiking buddy and I looked forward to spending a few days based in one place. I do love exploring all corners of the world but little bits consistency here and there can be crucial anchors for an otherwise unmoored existence.