Sunday, January 15, 2012
Late October in Utah brings a lot of people out to southern Utah. Some for the fall hunt, and many take advantage of the great fall weather usually found during this time of year. We were taking advantage of the great weather and the annual fall break in our school district.
We arrived in Capitol Reef late in the early afternoon on a Thursday. We decided to try and get a campsite in the park, only to find the campground was already full. We went to the Visitor’s Center and talked with the rangers and they gave us some ideas of places to camp in locations outside the park.
One of the areas they suggested was just south of Hwy 24 and the Notom – Bullfrog Road. The other place suggested was back towards Bicknell at the Sunglow Campground in the Fishlake National Forest.
We also asked about the river crossing and other information we needed to know about for our trip into Cathedral Valley. There seemed to be a lot of water running in the Fremont River near the campground, but the ranger said there shouldn’t be too much to cross with a stock 4X4 pick up. He said to just make sure you in 4 wheel drive and keep your momentum up when turning left out of the river on the north side.
On Friday morning we skipped the Visitor’s Center and headed right to the river crossing at the east end of the park. The river ford is about 12 miles east of the Visitor’s Center and crosses some private land so be careful to follow the main dirt road paralleling Hwy 24 until the road splits and the right hand road goes uphill. Don’t head uphill back towards Hwy 24. Instead you take the left track and that will get you to the river crossing.
At this point it’s convenient to reset the odometer and track the mileage from zero.
Not far from the spring we started to work our way through the Bentonite Hills at approximately Mile 8.5. The colors of the hills are very interesting and the soil is such that if it were raining it would be impossible to go anywhere, four wheel drive or not.
The next opportunity is the trailhead to the Lower Valley Overlook. It’s a one-mile cross-country hike to the north. It took us across the creek bed a couple of times and then up a saddle to a really nice overlook of the Temples of the Sun and Moon.
The next point of interest is the junction of the road that continues up onto Thousand Lake Mountain and the road that continues on the loop through Cathedral Valley. If you find the Cathedral Valley Campground full, the ranger suggested taking this road up into the mountain for numerous at-large camping opportunities. Taking a right turn instead took us to the turn off to the Cathedral Valley Campground.
After breaking camp, we worked our way down into the valley and took the time to stop and walk up to Morrell Cabin. I was surprised to see running water in the creek just before reaching the cabin.
A short drive further down the road is a trailhead that works up on top of the mesa and parallels the cathedrals in that area. It’s a little over a mile walk heading west to the top end of the cathedrals and well worth the hike. I loved the views in-between each of the cathedrals further down into the north valley.
As we worked our way east along the road, I was surprised that there weren’t very many more opportunities to view more cathedrals. It seemed that before we knew it, we were turning off to the Gypsum Sinkhole. You may want to slow down and take more time in the section around the Morrell Cabin.
We stopped for lunch about a mile down the road on a little used spur that looked like it had been used for camping since it’s outside the park on BLM land.
One thing that impressed me was the condition of the road on the whole loop. There was little or no washboard. Very smooth and very well maintained. An excellent trip in dry weather and the only need for four wheel drive was to just make sure we could get across the Fremont River. If there was any concern about the river crossing, you could do the trip going the opposite direction and backtrack before reaching the river. I like going the direction of the river crossing first. Then, if for some reason the river rises while being out in Cathedral Valley we’ve already crossed the river and wouldn’t have to double back the way we came.
In any case, be sure to stop by the Visitor’s Center and get the most up-to-date information. This is just a report and not intended to be used as a guide. Be sure to use your own judgement.