Prior to travelling I always try to minimise my exposure to pictures of my destination. If one has already seen a place through image and video the actual act of visiting can become a mechanical and rather soulless experience, a mere checking off of preconceived activities from a list. It is preferable to travel with an clean mind, open to fresh experiences.
Capitol Reef NP was not a place I knew anything about. Indeed it was only when it became clear that the drive from Bryce to Moab was longer than could be comfortably motorcaravanned in a single day that we decided to break the journey there. I am heartily glad that we did for it may well prove to be the highlight of this trip.
I have never seen colour so vivid. Just as blue light permeates from the bowels of a glacier, it is as if a deep red light illuminates the rocks of the reef from within, like a candle in a turnip lantern. The attraction is not just the utterly clean, sterile rock, laid out in licquorice allsort stripes of white, red and yellow; the lush canyon floors act as a counter balance, not just the vivid springtime green of the cottonwood and willow leaves, only a few days out the bud, but also that which is a lingering remnant of Mormon sweat. Fruita, which nestles below red cliff and grey mesa in the valley of the Fremont River, is one of many corners of this fantastic state that was settled and transformed by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s. They levelled, tilled and irrigated fields and orchards that are still productive today.
It is in one such orchard, enclosed by fences of juniper wood, that the park campground is located. Pink and white blossom adorned the pioneers’ fruit trees. The wind, hot from exposure to the baking rock, scattered it like confetti across the spacious riverside pitches. Green grass, like US Open semi-rough, provides running space for toddlers. For parents there are world class walks through surreal canyons and washes, onto the slickrock of the reef itself and through the orchards to view petroglyphs, marmots, mule deer and hummingbirds. All are accessed directly from the campground, making our three day stay relaxing and invigorating.
Evenings round the campfire were spent reading up on the geology of the reef and the settlement of Utah by the Mormon pioneers. I’d forgotten that they were hounded from a couple of locations in the east before embarking on their exodus to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. It’s fascinating to think that as recently as 160 years ago it was possible to find sufficient space to settle a population of 14,000 persecuted polygamists. It’s also humbling to think how hardy and self-reliant they must have been to create these oases in the desert – perhaps because they had no choice but to make new lives for themselves?
The only place that I can compare Fruita to is Muktinath, high in the Nepali Himilaya. It lies in the rain shadow of the range, yet the people catch the meltwater and grow crops in terraced fields, green jewels in otherwise barren desert country.
Note the amusing beer from the Wasatch Brewery – Polygamy Porter ‘Why have just one?’