Although Capitol Reef is not in the focus of the Four Corners and is a little way off the main route between the other parks in the area, it is well worth the trip from the east across the Green River desert. Green River desert is the most monotonous landscape without features a devoid of the colours you expect in this area. However, when you reach Capitol Reef you are definitely rewarded with arrays of red, orange and purple rock formations including a pale rock dome which gave the park its name, because it resembles the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, or any capitol building in most of the states.
Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef was established as a National Park in 1971 and its area is 978.95 km2. As it was grazed by cattle at the time, a ten year grazing phase-out period had to be allowed. The park is an elongated area in south central Utah running north to south about 160 km along the geological formation (monocline) called Waterpocket Fold, exposing various canyons, bridges, cliffs and domes. Only 2 highways running east west are cutting across the park with short exploration roads leading into the park. If you want to explore on foot, expect long hikes.
Capitol Reef
The area has been inhabited as documented for at least 2000 years. Originally by Fremont people, who were already farmers of beans, corn and squash. Even today we can find petroglyphs etched on the rock walls, illustrating life and animals of the era of these ancient people. Explorers and Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1800s, settling in the area called Fruita District. The orchards of varied fruits are still producing. One of the campgrounds is located in one of these fruit orchards. You can plan your visit according to ripening times of cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples, in this sequence. If you stay in the camp you can pick the fruits for your consumption for free or you can pick some before your departure for a minor fee. Excellent!
Capitol Reef
The plant and animal life is quite varied as in all Northern Colorado Plateau and definitely reflects the Great Basin Desert. A total of 887 plant species occur in the park, more than 40 are rare and endemic plant species. As trees are concerned, right through the rocky landscape you see characteristic Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), growing side by side with Two-needle Pinyon (Pinus edulis). Close to water are the larger trees of Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and higher up the famous Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). From the variety of cacti we should mention the common Central Pricklypear (Opuntia polyacantha), beautiful (when in flower) Claret Cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and a rare Whipple’s Fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus whipplei).
Capitol Reef
Wildflowers galore! Penstemon utahensis with its blinding red colours is a Utah specialty, therefore, Utah Beardstongue. Showy Four O’clock (Mirabilis multiflora) and other stunning flowers like Ferron Milkvetch (Astragalus musiniensis) or Yellow Catspaw (Cryptantha flava), Foothill Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), Naked Stem Sunrays (Enceliopsis nudicaulis), Mountain Pepperplant (Lepidium montanum) and not to forget the gorgeous Silvery Towndsendia (Townsendia incana).
Capitol Reef
Unfortunately even here you can list a variety of introduced weeds, from Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Woolly Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Burdock (Arctium minus), Knapweed (Centaurea repens), Thistles (Cirsium vulgare), to Tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis) and ubiquitous Russian Olive (Eleagnus angustifolia).
Capitol Reef
On the rockwalls you can see Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), and lower down Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), a small predator with a long, bushy, black and white banded tail, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Beaver, deer, variety of squirrels etc. Eighteen species of lizards are found here and because there are perennial streams flowing, a variety of amphibians, a number of non-poisonous and poisonous snakes. You can hear and see the Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) and Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) is very common.
Capitol Reef
Some plant species from the Capitol Reef National Park:
Abronia nana
Acer negundo
Achnatherum hymenoides
Actaea rubra
Aliciella tenuis
Allium cernuum
Allium nevadense
Amaranthus blitoides
Amerosedum lanceolatum
Androsace septentrionalis
Arabis demissa
Arctostaphylos patula
Argemone munita
Aristida purpurea
Artemisia frigida
Artemisia pygmaea
Asclepias cryptoceras
Asclepias speciosa
Aster ascendens
Aster welshii
Astragalus consobrinus
Astragalus lonchocarpus
Astragalus musiniensis
Atriplex confertifolia
Atriplex graciliflora
Bidens cernua
Bouteloua barbata
Bouteloua gracilis
Brickellia grandiflora
Calochortus aureus
Calochortus nuttallii
Campanula parryi
Carex aurea
Carex filifolia
Carex microptera
Carex praegracilis
Castilleja chromosa
Castilleja linariifolia
Castilleja scabrida
Chaetopappa ericoides
Cirsium arizonicum
Cirsium calcareum
Cirsium undulatum
Clematis ligusticifolia
Cleome lutea
Cryptantha flava
Cryptantha micrantha
Cymopterus beckii
Cystopteris fragilis
Dalea oligophylla
Datura wrightii
Descurainia californica
Draba aurea
Echinocereus triglochidiatus
Eleocharis palustris
Elymus salinus
Enceliopsis nudicaulis
Ephedra torreyana
Ephedra viridis
Epipactis gigantea
Ericameria nauseosa
Erigeron caespitosus
Erigeron maguirei
Erigeron pumilus
Evolvulus nuttallianus
Fallugia paradoxa
Festuca octoflora
Festuca sororia
Fragaria virginiana
Frasera albomarginata
Frasera speciosa
Fraxinus anomala
Fritillaria atropurpurea
Gaillardia pinnatifida
Gaura parviflora
Gentiana affinis
Geranium richardsonii
Glaux maritima
Glycyrrhiza lepidota
Gnaphalium wrightii
Gutierrezia sarothrae
Hedysarum boreale
Helianthus nuttallii
Hesperostipa comata
Heuchera parvifolia
Hordeum jubatum
Ipomopsis aggregata
Iris missouriensis
Iva xanthiifolia
Juncus arcticus
Juncus bufonius
Juncus tenuis
Juniperus osteosperma
Juniperus scopulorum
Koeleria macrantha
Lepidium montanum
Linum puberulum
Lithospermum incisum
Lomatium junceum
Lupinus argenteus
Lupinus pusillus
Lupinus sericeus
Lygodesmia grandiflora
Mahonia repens
Maianthemum stellatum
Mimulus eastwoodiae
Mimulus guttatus
Mirabilis linearis
Mirabilis multiflora
Muhlenbergia thurberi
Nicotiana attenuata
Nicotiana trigonophylla
Oenothera caespitosa
Oenothera longissima
Oenothera pallida
Opuntia fragilis
Opuntia polyacantha
Orobanche fasciculata
Oryzopsis micrantha
Ostrya knowltonii
Paronychia sessiliflora
Parthenocissus vitacea
Pedicularis centranthera
Pediocactus winkleri
Penstemon carnosus
Penstemon strictus
Penstemon utahensis
Phlox austromontana
Picea engelmannii
Picea pungens
Pinus edulis
Pinus longaeva
Platanthera zothecina
Poa fendleriana
Poa palustris
Poa secunda
Populus fremontii
Potentilla crinita
Potentilla pensylvanica
Primula specuicola
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Psoralidium junceum
Psorothamnus thompsoniae
Purshia mexicana
Purshia tridentata
Quercus gambelii
Ranunculus cymbalaria
Rosa woodsii
Salix amygdaloides
Salix lasiolepis
Salvia reflexa
Schizachne purpurascens
Schoenocrambe barnebyi
Sclerocactus whipplei
Sclerocactus wrightiae
Senecio multilobatus
Shepherdia canadensis
Shepherdia rotundifolia
Solidago simplex
Solidago velutina
Sphaeralcea coccinea
Sporobolus cryptandrus
Stanleya pinnata
Stanleya viridiflora
Stipa neomexicana
Stipa pinetorum
Stipa scribneri
Talinum brevifolium
Thermopsis montana
Townsendia annua
Townsendia aprica
Townsendia incana
Tradescantia occidentalis
Triglochin maritima
Vanclevea stylosa
Viola adunca
Woodsia oregana
Xylorhiza confertifolia
Xylorhiza tortifolia
Yucca angustissima
Yucca harrimaniae
Zigadenus elegans
Zuckia brandegeei

Capitol Reef
These images were taken by Karel Bergmann, summer 1995, and by Pavlína Zahradníková, winter 2006.