Giving thanks in the desert – Capitol Reef

Another Thanksgiving spent outdoors. This time in Capitol Reef National Park.

Since 2000, I’ve spent 10 of the past 15 Thanksgiving weekends outdoors.

A four-day weekend is a gift esp in a society that demands more and more of our free time in exchange for a paycheck.

With a gift of time, I’d rather make use of it where I can go when given a chance: the outdoors. Though I like my current job, there is a reason why it is called work. 🙂

For my someone and I, there would be no Black Friday shop-a-thons or checking out the stores opened on Thanksgiving evening. Instead, we’d enjoy the smell of sage, the glow of the desert sunset and the arid beauty of the Capitol Reef and nearby areas.

We chose Capitol Reef as the Moab area tends to be busier with fellow Coloradoans on long weekends. And it seems Capitol Reef is a little less used. Most people drive through on the way to other, more popular destinations.  Perfect for us.

Poring over the maps, we found a free and maintained NPS primitive camping site that looked promising.  At a hiking trail and not far from other trails, too.  Only five spots avail so we knew it would not be crowded.

We left Colorado Wednesday evening, arrived in the small town of Green River and made it to the park the following morning.  No surprise, three of the spots were already taken…and all the vehicles had Colorado plates.

Not a bad view for the weekend!

After setting up camp, we took advantage of the five-mile r/t hike that starts right from the campsite.

A pleasant walk and good way to stretch our legs after so much driving.

After the hike, we started our Thanksgiving preparations. The view for our soup course did not disappoint.

The light show for our post Thanksgiving feast was a nice way to end the day as well.

The following day we did started our hike on Upper Mulley Twist Canyon. Arguably the most scenic hike in the park with its arches, slot, red rocks and amazing overlook of the Waterpocket Fold.

The hike did not disappoint. The wash itself was superb. The rim route gave views over the canyon proper.

A small slot canyon was even explored.

Even the drive down the 4WD road was nice with us spotting Double Arch:

And the view to Peak-a-Boo arch from the 4WD trailhead was equally nice.

We enjoyed a last evening in camp. A fire took the chill off the night air.

The following morning, we would start to make our way back to Boulder slowly.

On the way to the visitors center, we spotted some desert big horns.

And the nearby petroglyphs from the Fremont people, over seven-hundred years old, seemed to show this site is a common one in the area.

After playing roadside tourist, it was time for a short hike to Hickman Bridge.

On the way up, we saw the Capitol Dome that gives the park its name.

A short one mile or so later, we were at the bridge. In November, it was a quiet and peaceful area.

We continued our drive back to Colorado.

A last-minute decision was made to camp at Goblin Valley State Park.  I’ve passed this turn-off many times over the years. It was time to see it a bit more.

The arid terrain with a mix of deep reds and browns evoked a Martian landscape.

And the mushroom-shaped “Goblins” were a unique site indeed.

From an overlook, we took a look at the San Rafael Swell. The lighting was perfect for the dramatic view.

The following morning, we’d again make our way back slowly. A quick pit-stop was made to Sego Canyon with its well-known Barrier-style Rock Images.

Only a few easy miles on a dirt road, the stop is will worth viewing.

Examples of 200-year-old or more Ute art is seen:

And more seven-hundred plus year old examples from the Fremont people:

But, perhaps most impressive, are the 2000+ year old examples known as the Barrier-style:

The pictographs are ghost-like and other-worldly. More than one person has described them as “alien-like”:

We drove up further and explored the more-recent artifacts of the ghost town of Sego:

What was equally interesting to me was the “living” ghost town of Thompson Springs just off the interstate.

Thompson Springs really does show how fickle the boom-bust cycle is in the American West. From a railroad building with a mid-90s vintage desk phone still plugged into the wall to a diner that still looks ready to serve customers, to me it was more haunting than Sego a few miles away.  Cautionary tale? Living museum? Curiosity?  In any case, it was worth the exploration.


From the Legends of America site linked above. This photo was taken in 2008. In 2014, it still looked the same. Same art work, same mop bucket even the same salt and pepper shakers.

We made our way home. Unpacked. And already started planning for our next foray when another gift of time is granted.

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9 years ago

Buying nothing at its finest.

9 years ago

Let me guess Cedar Mesa Campsite off Bullfrog Rd. You had to haul in H20 too. Did you gain Upper Muley Twist from the Cedar Mesa CS area or from Burr Trail Road area? That was a scenic packed trip done in a short amount of time. That’s the way to attach other scenic “worthiness” onto the main hike. Can’t say enough good things about your pics. I’m envious. Did you drive scenic Hwy 12? Stop at Anasazi SP? They are both worth it. Last time I was there there was a nice restaurant on Hwy 12 at the junction… Read more »