We trekked down to Capitol Reef National Park last week, horses in tow. Above is a view of the Henry Mountains from the Notom Road / Burr Trail heading south from Hanksville, Utah.
We drove along the eastern border of the Park, with the Henry Mountains to the east and Capitol Reef's Waterpocket Fold to the west.
The Waterpocket Fold is a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust. The rock layers on the west side of the Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet (2100 m) higher than the layers on the east. The Fold was formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a fault beneath the area moved. Overlying rock layers were pushed up and formed a monocline.
More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface. Shallow basins are formed in the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout this Fold formation, capturing water from snowmelt and rain. Because of these eroded "waterpockets", the Fold earned its name.
Our trail began at "The Post". Originally, the Post was an old cottonwood tree to which cowboys hitched their horses while traveling the Burr Trail. The tree is long gone. Now there's just a trailhead parking area and an old corral. The corral was built by local ranchers in 1950 and used for spring and fall cattle drives. Although still usable in part, most of the corral is now in disrepair.
Poor Daisy had to stay at the trailhead (dogs not allowed on national park trails), but she was happy enough in the shade with a bucket of water.
Steve and I saddled up and rode south on a sandy path parallel to the Waterpocket Fold. No vehicles or bikes are allowed here. We saw only three hikers over 45 miles and 2 days of riding, so it's a great area for solitude and communing with the desert environment.
We rode over red sand formed by erosion of the Carmel formation
with no shortage of interesting sandstone cliffs to admire.
These are the Muley Tanks, examples of waterpockets in the Waterpocket Fold. Note the two pools, a beautiful sight in this dry land, showing the sandstone pour-off above. We saw tadpoles and bugs in the water and a toad plopping into the lower pool.
Steve climbed above the pools to get this photo. I'm holding Boss below. Coco is getting antsy. "Come back, Coco! We're not ready to go yet."
Four miles down the Post trail, we reach the entrance to Lower Muley Twist Canyon. From 1881 to 1884, the canyon served as a wagon route for Mormon pioneers traveling from northern Utah toward San Juan County in the southernmost part of the state. The canyon was said to be narrow enough to "twist a mule", the origin of the unusual name.
As we are swallowed up by the deep shadows of the looming sandstone cliffs, we feel like we're entering a worm hole to alternate universe. Cowboys and Aliens, here we come.
To be continued...