Capitol Reef National Park


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Capital Reef NP

Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the 1920s by local boosters Affirm P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman, Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. About 75 miles of the long up-thrust called the "Waterpocket Fold", extending like a rugged spine from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved within the park boundary. "Capitol Reef" is the name of an especially rugged and spectacular part of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont River.

Cultural History

Native Peoples

The earliest traces of human activity in the Capitol Reef National Park area were left by the mysterious Fremont Indians who occupied the flood plains and high ground near the few perennial watercourses as early as 700 AD. These people were apparently related to the pueblo-building Anasazi of the Four Corners area but were less sophisticated and lived in pit houses. Foundation boulders from these and associated storage cysts remain in various places and can be seen from the Hickman Bridge self-guided nature trail.

Fremont artifacts are on display at the Visitor Center. These people also left many petroglyphs carved in the rocks walls of the canyons and a much small number of pictogaphs (painted drawings) throughout the park. Sometime around 1300, all Indian cultures in this area underwent sudden change. the Fremont Indian settlements, and no one is sure what happened to these Fremont hunter-farmers. Southern Paiute Indians occupied the area from about 1600 until the first pioneers arrived 200 years later. The Paiutes summered in the Fishlake area west of Capitol Reef and wintered in the warmer canyons of Capitol Reef, relying on Bighorn Sheep as a major source of food.

Exploration & Settlement

Not for several centuries did significant human activity reappear. In fact, Capitol Reef was the last explored area in the continental U.S. When the first white explorers arrived in the vicinity of the Waterpocket Fold, both Utes and Southern Paiute nomads were encountered. Despite the fact that numerous expeditions passed near Capitol Reef, none of them, including John C. Fremont in 1853, explored the Waterpocket Fold. John Wesley Powell saw the park area fringes on his first explorations, but like everyone else, skirted the area because of its fierce ruggedness.

Following the Civil War, Mormon church officials at Salt Lake City sought to establish "missions" in the remotest niches of the intermountain west. In 1866, a quasi-military expedition of Mormons in pursuit of marauding Indians penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers moved into these valleys, eventually establishing Loa, Fremont, Lyman, Bicknell, and Torrey. Meanwhile, in 1872, men from the expeditions of Major John Wesley Powell began to explore, map and photograph lands that would become Capitol Reef national Park.

school house capital reef np

In the early 1880s, settlers (many of whom were polygamists) moved into Capitol Reef country. Tiny communities sprung up along the life-sustaining Fremont River: Junction (later Fruita), Caineville and Aldridge were created. Fruita prospered, Caineville barely survived, Aldridge died. By 1920, the work was hard but the life in Fruita was good. No more than ten families at one time were sustained by the fertile flood plain of the Fremont River and the land changed ownership over the years as the area remained isolated.

Park History

Affirm Porter Pectol, born in 1875, was fond of the rugged beauty of the Capitol Reef area and was an avid Fremont Culture relic hunter. A private museum in his Torrey store was widely known.

Pectol was anxious that the "outside world" should come to appreciate the beauty of the area. In 1921, he organized a "Boosters Club" in Torrey. Pectol pressed a promotional campaign, furnishing stories and photos to periodicals and newspapers. In his efforts, he was increasingly aided by his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Hickman, who was Wayne County High School principal.

In 1924, Hickman extended community involvement in the promotional effort by organizing a Wayne County-wide "Wayne Wonderland Club." In 1925, the educator was elected to the Utah State Legislature and, through his efforts, 16 acres of Fruita were set aside as a state park in 1926. A few days after the dedication, Hickman was killed in a boating accident.

In 1933, Pectol was elected to the state legislature and almost immediately introduced a memorial to President Roosevelt, asking for creation of "Wayne Wonderland National Monument" out of the federal lands comprising the bulk of the Capitol Reef area. Federal agencies began a feasibility study and boundary assessment. Meanwhile, Pectol not only guided the government investigators on numerous trips, but escorted an increasing number of visitors. The lectures of Broaddus were having an effect.

On August 2, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a locally unpopular proclamation creating Capitol Reef National Monument:

  • Total acres : 241,904.26
  • Federal acres : 222,753.35
  • Nonfederal: 19,150.91

By 1970, Capitol Reef National Monument comprised 254,251 acres and sprawled southeast from Thousand Lake Mountain almost to the Colorado River. Legislation creating Capitol Reef National Park was signed by President Richard Nixon December 18, 1971.

Natural History

Plants & Animals

Capitol Reef National park is located primarily in the Upper Sonoran life zone with its dominant trees of pygmy juniper and pinyon. Life in the Waterpocket Fold area is most abundant along the Fremont River where plant communities are more akin to cottonwood, willow and ash along river and stream beds. A profusion of wildflowers bloom annually, including Indian, vetches, lupin, and a species of penstemmons, common to most western states. More arid locations in the park also produce desert wildflowers including Paintbrush, Saltbrush, cacti and yucca, as well as Fremont Barberry, also known as Algerita.

There is also a profusion of wildlife in Capitol Reef. A variety of birds including mockingbirds, warblers and swifts, as well as Mountain Bluebirds and Golden Eagles, nest here. Many bats, squirrels, chipmunks, yellow-bellied marmots, as well as larger mammals like the Mule Deer, Mountain Lion, Bobcat and Desert Bighorn Sheep, make the park their home. Coyotes are common here as well as two species of fox -- the Gray Fox and Kit Fox.

A large number of amphibians and reptiles make the park their home, including the Spadefoot Toad. Many species of lizard exist here, with the Collared Lizard being the most colorful and notable. There are 2 species of rattlesnakes in Capitol Reef, the Prairie Rattlesnake and Midget Rattlesnake.

GeologyThe stratigraphy of Capitol Reef is layer-cake geology like the rest of the Colorado plateau, tilted to its side by the Waterpocket Fold, a monocline. The youngest layers are still at the top and the oldest layer remains at the bottom, but the eastward dip of the layers in the Waterpocket Fold expose the older rocks on the western side of the park and the younger rocks to the east.

This giant, sinuous wrinkle in the earth's crust was created by the same tremendous forces that built the rest of the Colorado plateau about 65 million years ago. Capitol Reef is a wonderful place for examples of differential erosion of harder and softer layers of rock, because of the way they are exposed in the folds of the monocline. The dome-shaped white Navajo Sandstone rimrock is uplifted and tilted by the Waterpocket Fold as narrow, high-walled gorges cut though the uplifted fold revealing vividly colored beds of Mesozoic sedimentary rock.

The eroded turrets of The Castle are carved from the orange and red Wingate Sandstone, which also forms the Circler Cliffs south of the park. The Hickman Bridge is a true natural bridge, a sandstone fin from the Kayenta Formation, penetrated by stream erosion at the bottom.

Chimney Rock, Twin Rocks and Egyptian Temple are buttes composed of soft Moenkopi beds capped by the resistant Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation. The "waterpockets" for which the monocline is named, are really potholes worn into bedrock sandstones by the abrasive action of swirling sand and gravel.


Overview| Climate/Map | Description | Things to Do | Lodging/Camping | Nearby


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