RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Getting Out There:
RoadTrip News & Views

Directory of all "Getting Out There" Articles>

by Robert Schaller

Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Sitting beside the roadway, on the Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive, I watch the play of sunlight on the multicolored but mostly-some-shade-of-orange-red-or-charcoal rocks, as it highlights the visible sedimentary layers. The layers themselves I can imagine looking like this forever, but their presence measures the years of geologic time, a rock cadence of eras. The rangers say that most of these layers, long buried but later exposed when the "reef" thrust itself up into the sky eons ago, were witness to the dinosaurs. That means the dinosaurs were here -- alive on the earth -- for a very long time. The fact they are now gone leaves us with the impression that they weren't successful here. The rocks say otherwise -- we homo sapiens should survive as long.

Capitol Reef hoodoos
Hoodoos along the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

The shadows of afternoon clouds create a drama of dark and light on the rocks towering over my head and stretching off into the distance. The "Capitol Reef" (or Waterpocket Fold) is over a hundred miles long. I discover an interesting fact on an informational plaque: early prospectors were often former seamen. With their nautical frame of reference they called any landform impediment to their passage a "reef." In this case, the light grey or white Navajo sandstone formations that intermittently cap the reef have eroded into the shape of domes (like the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.) -- hence "Capitol Reef."

So often, I find myself giving advice to other travelers on how they can get through many miles on a road trip, as if driving were the point instead of the means. I do this myself. My natural inclination is to drive -- I love to drive -- as far as I can in an allotted span of days. On this day, the fact that I am sitting beside the road in Utah soaking up this view is a result of several inopportune and obnoxious errors.

Capitol Gorge
Capitol Gorge, at the end of the park's Scenic Drive

First, this was supposed to be a motorcycle trip. Instead, I am traveling in my pickup truck. My motorcycle is being held by a mechanic who failed to order a part and which is now being "shipped" from somewhere far away. Second, my first roadtrip day began in a too-leisurely way -- I didn't get on my way from Phoenix until noon. Then, I discovered that a portion of my first day's route was a graded dirt road, 46 miles long. It was a road I was not willing to forego and which took almost three hours to drive. Therefore, I arrived at my destination -- Torrey, Utah -- very late (at midnight, if you must know), preventing my planned exploration of Capitol Reef National Park that evening and snowballing into further delay the next morning.

At the Capitol Reef Inn, I considered my options over breakfast. I had plans for this day. I had driven State Route 12 the evening before in the dark. This is a magnificent road, worth driving -- and seeing. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, it connected the still-isolated town of Boulder to the world. Continuing according to the original plan and driving through some combination of the San Rafael Swell (or Reef), Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Valley of the Gods, Natural Bridges State Park, and Monument Valley meant I would miss the twists, turns, and scenic beauty of State Route 12, and I'd be virtually assured not to see any of those other places either. Those that I could get to at all, in one day, would have been a blur at about seventy miles per hour.

Gifford Homestead
Gifford Homestead in Fruita, Utah

Instead, I thought, I could take my time at Capitol Reef, and then mosey back down State Route 12 through the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. I could perhaps see a little of Bryce Canyon National Park at sunset before heading down US Highway 89 to Kanab for the night. Remembering my earlier pleasant experiences with moseying, I tossed the original high speed plan and chose moseying for this day.

So I sit beside the road soaking up this place. This is a luxury worth striving for. I recommend doing this solo if you can. It's a wonderful thing to be alone with your thoughts, particularly in a place like this. I am spending several hours on a round trip over a mere ten-and-a-half miles of National Park Service roadway. The rest of the plan will wait -- even the abbreviated one I have settled on for today. I drive a little. I stop to take a photo or two. I write some. I stay a little longer. I pick fresh fruit off the orchard trees within the Park. I won't make it to Bryce Canyon today.


Capitol Reef National Park is reached via State Route 24 between Torrey and Hanksville, Utah. The park has a 10-mile scenic drive south along the "reef," ending with a couple miles of graded dirt road through a very narrow canyon. Its dramatic beauty cannot easily be put into words. You return on the same road; it is not a loop. The orchards near the park's visitor center are available for your enjoyment -- both for shade from the hot summer sun, and for the fruit, which is free for the picking and immediate eating, a favorite activity of park visitors. (A fee is charged for fruit carried out of the orchards).

Food and Lodging in Torrey, Utah

The Capitol Reef Inn had great food for breakfast, and I'd bet other meals are just as well-prepared and delicious -- typical friendly Utah service.

For lunch, Brink's Burgers were delicious! I had a cheeseburger and "English fries." I have no clue where they got that name -- perhaps I'm wrong but I never saw chips like these in the United Kingdom. They were tasty, though.

There are several choices for lodging in Torrey, including a Super 8 Motel, a Day's Inn, and some smaller non-chain motels. I chose the privately-owned Boulder View Motel (or Inn). It was clean and inexpensive, but spartan. The Day's Inn looked brand new and very nice.

Bob Schaller
July 19, 2005


More "Getting Out There Articles>

Browse travel deals
    Name Your Own Price
    Fuel Cost Calculator