Capitol Reef National Park - part 2

Morning light on the cliffs of Grand Wash

We had another good breakfast to start our second day of hiking. During breakfast we traded stories with the couple from Ogden that we had met at breakfast yesterday. They had done a long mountain bike ride the day before. We told them about our hikes. We were the only guests. Hard to believe that there were only two couples on a weekend in spring. It's the best season for Utah canyon country.

Our plan for today was similar to the day before - two half day hikes both from the same trailhead. Our morning hike was Cassidy Arch, named for the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy. Local legend has it that he saw the arch while passing through Grand Wash as he traveled to and from his Robbers Roost hideout in Eastern Utah. Our afternoon hike would be through Grand Wash - passing through "The Narrows". As the name inplies, it is a very narrow section of canyon with high, steep cliffs. So just like yesterday, high country in the morning, canyon in the afternoon, from the same trailhead.

Sandy on the trail to Cassidy Arch

Not long after we turned onto the road into Grand Wash there was a sign for Cassidy Arch. We pulled off the road and got out of the car and sure enough, there it was. It looked a long way up and far away. We took some photos and continued to the trailhead. Our hike started up Grand Wash for about half a mile to the junction with the Cassidy Arch Trail. Once on that trail we climbed quickly and steadily. As we got higher the views improved. We could look down into Grand Wash and see the road we had taken to reach the trailhead. We could see a number of side canyons splitting off from Grand Wash. Above were high peaks and rock domes. It was an incredible maze. It is hard to imagine how early explorers and settlers found their way through this area. They must have been pretty tough.

The trail from the junction was only about two miles long but gained about a twelve hundred feet. Almost all ot the elvation gain was in the first mile so it was definitely steep. After that the trail did a level traverse along high terraces which gave great views all around. Soon we came around a corner and could see the arch. It was much more impressive now. We had climbed above it and were much closer now.

We turn a corner on the trail and Cassidy Arch comes into view

The last half mile of the route wasn't a trail but a gradual descent over slickrock marked with cairns. Just before that point we met someone coming down. He told us that the route on the slickrock had been too scary for him and that he had turned back. His two friends had gone on and we could see them near the arch. These were the only people we saw on the way to the arch. A beautiful day on a great trail in a national park and we only see one party on our way out. To be fair, we did see a couple of parties on the way back. Still, most of the time we had this beautiful place all to ourselves.

In spite of the dire warnings we had received from the hiker we met, we found the route over the slickrock to be quite easy. We reached a point behind the arch that gave a great view of it standing free and clear from the surrounding rock. The arch is quite impressive. I've seen various estimates but the most common is that the arch is 70 feet wide and 120 feet tall. An amazing structure.

Sandy on top of Cassidy Arch

From our viewpoint it was easy to climb down onto the arch itself. This made for a great photo. Sandy and I took turns photographing each other on top of the arch. It was quite a spectacular perch.

The hike down was easy with the same great views. The most prominent rock dome in the area is called Fern's Nipple. We had fun taking gag photos of it. You can use your imagination.

When we got back to the start of the trail in Grand Wash we took a break for some water and a snack. After resting up we hiked through the canyon of Grand Wash. Like many of the canyons in the Waterpocket Fold, it goes completely through and comes out on the other side. This is because the course of the water is older than the uplift of the land. So as the land rose the water just cut its way through. This is unusual but not unique (the Himalayas are the same way). That's why early travelers were able to use these canyons to get through the rough terrain of the Capitol Reef area.

About two miles down the canyon we reached "The Narrows". In this section the canyon walls are sheer cliffs 500 feet or more high and only twenty feet apart. Since the canyon twisted and turned you could see only a short distance. We walked through the Narrows area and then decided to head back. As was true the day before, more people (and families) were taking the short, level hike through the canyon then the steep climb up to the arch. Still there weren't that many people.

Sandy heads into The Narrows of Grand Wash

Although the canyon was a good hike, Cassidy Arch was definitely the best hike of our trip. We both highly recommend it.

After our hikes we decided to return to the Rim Rock Restaurant. We both had excellent dinners again. That evening the wind really picked up and clouds started to move in. Since our room at the B&B was on the third (and top) floor the wind really whistled and rattled the windows. It sounded like bad weather was moving in. Sure enough, the weather the next morning was overcast, cool, and windy. The forecast was for rain to begin sometime in the morning. We had thought about another short hike in the morning before leaving for home. But the window of good weather had obviously closed. So after another good breakfast we headed for home. Sure enough, we hit stormy weather within two hours of leaving.

Our trip to Capitol Reef had been great. We stayed at a fun B&B. We found some good restaurants. We did some great hikes in the national park. Capitol Reef is different than some of the other parks that we have visited in Utah. It is very scenic, but the scenary is not on as grand a scale as at Zion or Bryce Canyon. Still it is beautiful and it feels more intimate. And since it is relatively unknown the trail population is much smaller. No throngs of tourists like other national parks. So you can still experience some wilderness solitude, even on moderate length hikes. Definitely a good trip. We'd both like to go back next spring.

Additional pictures

Towering cliffs at the entrance to Grand Wash