I stopped off at the visitor center (natch!) to pick up some decent trail beta. The ranger seem quite impressed with my idea to link a few trails together and he even gave me some super-secret ranger knowledge to aid the quest. Thus outfitted (with ideas) I parked at the Gifford House and attacked the steep climb that marks the entrance to Cohab Canyon (ed: AKA Polygamy Canyon). This trail was shortish but very nice, and even though it went through a canyon that should have been like many of the other canyons I’ve been in it still managed to offer new things. In particular, the rock was rather different and pockmarked by many small holes as if it had been blasted by water. I also took the time to explore the numerous side canyons, none of which went very far, but all of which were exciting to squeeze through.
At the end of Cohab Canyon I found myself at UT 24 and the trailhead for a hike up to the Rim Overlook. This trail ascends up the Waterpocket Fold, a massive monocline that gives Capitol Reef its name. This “reef” is really like a huge version of Comb Ridge, not too far away. The trail mostly involved climbing over slickrock and it felt much longer than its reported 2 miles.
At the overlook I had a great view down onto the old pioneer settlement of Fruita (pronounced “froota”, not “fru-ita” as I had assumed) which is now the center of park operations. It really did look like an idyllic little place to raise a family and grow some fruit (hence the name). I could even see Van Halen from up here!
Farther to the west - the sheer vertical walls of the Walterpocket Fold extended north and south for 100’s of miles. To the east - a landscape dominated by naked rock and invisible gullies and washes. It’s no wonder this reef was a formidable obstacle to travelers in the area.
After the return to the Rim trailhead I took the ranger’s advice and walked back on UT 24, along the Fremont River. Here I passed many of the same orchards that gave the settlement of Fruita its name. They made a strange scene stuffed up against the walls of red rock.
Across a footbridge and through a few fields and I was back at Van Halen. I had only been out about 3 hours but was feeling super beat. A delicious lollipop from the Gifford House helped a lot as I pointed my wheels south along the park’s scenic drive. This road runs parallel to the reef right along its base and offers many great views along this wall of rock.
After the drive I headed into Torrey and got a shower (with no time limit!) that left me feeling mercifully clean. After that it was back through the park to a patch of BLM land on the other side. Up on top of a little mesa I found a good spot to camp surrounded by long views of nothing but rock and scrub.
Up here I met a very nice couple who having been living the van life for many years and were a pleasure to talk to. They had been to Kitt Peak recently and we spent a while talking about what it’s like to live up there. You can check out their blog at http://www.makelikeanapeman.com/.
That night the moon, recently full, emerged from behind the horizon and shone so brightly I had to close all the blinds in Van Halen. Crazy!