Capitol Reef’s Cassidy Arch and Grand Staircase’s Hole-In-The-Rock Road

Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef

After our fantastic visit to the Great Gallery, we drove over to Capitol Reef and snagged a campsite in their campground. Considering that October is the busy season for the Southern Utah parks, I was pleasantly surprised by the peaceful and quiet nature of the half-occupied campground. Everyone wants to hit the ‘big boys’ like Zion and Bryce, and Capitol Reef is often overlooked.

The campground is in an area known as “Fruita”, an old mormon settlement that still has old buildings standing between the red rock walls, including the school and the blacksmith shop. There is even an old home where they bake and sell pies. Several orchards still grow among the buildings. A large herd of deer wandered through camp and we watched some males fight at sunset. Hello ladies.

I hadn’t planned on any specific hikes at Capitol Reef, so we stopped in the Visitor Center on Tuesday morning for some recommendations. We ended up choosing the hike to Cassidy Arch (named after Butch Cassidy), a short but fun hike that went across the top of the arch.

Cassidy Arch from the road below (hard to see, it's in the red band)
Cassidy Arch from the road below (hard to see, it’s in the red band)

The hike starts in the bottom of a canyon and quickly switchbacks a few hundred feet up the canyon wall. It then contours along the canyon wall for the next mile and a half as it climbs to the arch. About half way there you finally spy the arch further along the ridge.

Hiking to Cassidy Arch
Hiking to Cassidy Arch
Cassidy Arch ahead
Cassidy Arch ahead

Near the arch, the maintained trail gives way to cairns marking a path through sculptured sandstone. I absolutely love this kind of terrain.

Hiking across the sandstone
Hiking across the sandstone

We followed the cairns until we were literally standing on top of the arch. It was much bigger up close than it looked from a distance.

David on top of Cassidy Arch
David on top of Cassidy Arch

After our hike to Cassidy Arch, we had pie for lunch. As you do.

Mmm pumpkin pie.
Mmm pumpkin pie.

Despite having a lovely time and really enjoying Capitol Reef, we had to move on so we headed south out of the park along Utah’s scenic highway 12. The highway wiggles up and over a mountain, and this mountain just happened to be hosting some nice thick clouds. Near the top we drove through a snow storm. Not what we expected from the forecast of 100% sunny skies!

Storms near Escalante
Storms near Escalante

Our intended destination for the afternoon and camp was Hole-In-The-Rock road in Grand Staircase Escalate. With the unexpected weather, we decided to stop by an outfitter in Escalate for a weather and conditions update.

The random storm clouds were just as big a mystery to the locals as to us. The National Weather Service still was showing an all-clear forecast for the night and the rest of the week, so we decided to take our chances on the 60 mile dirt road. After all, we only planned on driving 40 miles in.

Hole-In-The-Rock road is largely graded and passable to any car, but the further you go the more it deteriorates. Long sections of annoying washboard gave way to more washed out gullys. A large part of the 40 miles flew by, but there were enough sections of 5 mph crawling that it took a long time to get to our farthest destination, Dance Hall Rock.

Dance Hall Rock
Dance Hall Rock

The Dance Hall Rock area was like solid red sand dunes. There were potholes with water and full-sized trees growing out of them.

Tree growing in pothole
Tree growing in pothole

After Dance Hall, we decided to spend the evening light wandering around a nearby unnamed rock formation that I named the “Alternate Wave”. The Wave is a well known and popular destination regulated by permits and passes. My Alternate Wave had similar rock patterns but no people or bureaucracy to deal with. Yay!

My "Alternate Wave" area
My “Alternate Wave” area

The evening sunlight made wandering this special rock formation especially scenic, so we reluctantly moved on in order to find a campsite before it got too dark. We found something close by and watched the sunlight fade over miles and miles of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

View from Camp
View from Camp
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Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +

  • Andy Hawbaker

    Great report. I’ve never been to the Reef. As a Colorado resident I’ve never made it much past Moab for adventuring in Utah but that is about to change.