We had perfect weather for our first day in Capital Reef National Park. It was sunny, warm but not hot. Just right for hiking. It wasn't clear though from the forecast how our second day would be. "Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy". Well, that covers everything from a nice day with fair-weather cumulus to a drab, overcast day with lousy, flat light for taking pictures. The weatherman was also predicting high winds, which meant it might not be a good day to go up high. I spent a lot of time the evening before trying to pick the optimum hike. If it was cloudy, maybe we should do a slot canyon so the lack of blue sky wouldn't matter. I thought about doing Navaho Knobs, a hike to a high viewpoint, but worried that the high winds would be a problem. Finally I decided that I just needed to pick one. There wasn't enough info in the forecast to allow me to perfectly optimize our hike for tomorrow. I settled on doing the first part of the Navaho Knobs hike, to the Rim Overlook viewpoint. Sandy agreed that this was a good choice.
We had another good breakfast at the Torrey Schoolhouse B&B. This time I broke my own rule about breakfasts before hiking. Besides my usual fruit and toast I had a big piece of the main course, some sort of baked fruit pastry in a big pan. There was a bowl of whipped cream to go with it and I put several big spoonfuls portion on top. That was what got me. I can't resist whipped cream. I knew I would feel it later in the morning when I was climbing up the hill but it sure tasted good.
After breakfast I waddled to the car so that we could head for the trailhead. Sandy and I were going to do our hike alone this morning. Our friend Mary Beth had trouble on the hike the day before. This morning her knees were badly swollen and she didn't think she could handle the elevation gain and loss on this hike. We were planning to come back later to pick her up to do a different hike in the afternoon. Meanwhile she was enjoying the nice lounge area at the B&B.
When we reached the trailhead and started out there was a solid overcast. It didn't look threatening though and the temperature was fine for hiking so we started up the trail. Since the trail climbed slowly but steadily, it was nice being out of the bright sun for a while.
We were doing the Rim Overlook/Navaho Knobs trail. The WOW hiking guide for canyon country, from my favorite series of guidebooks, said that this was one of the two trails that you had to do in Capital Reef National Park. The other was Spring Canyon, which wasn't an option for us since it's a one way hike that needs a shuttle. Our plan was to do the hike as far as Rim Overlook, which would be 4.5 miles round trip with 1100 feet of elevation gain. There is a viewpoint there that looks down on the Fruita valley and the Visitor Center. From the viewpoint you can continue another 2 miles to Navaho Knobs, for a total of 2500 feet of elevation gain.
From what I've read, the end of the Navaho Knobs trail is not clearly defined. It just sort of peters out near some local high points that you can scramble up. We thought the Rim Overlook sounded like a good destination. We could do the round trip in the morning and be back in time to do something with Mary Beth in the afternoon. But it would still be a good workout.
The trail started with a short, level stretch following the Fremont River, then turned up stone steps to start the long climb up the side of the escarpment. It didn't take long till we reached a signed junction. To the left a trail went towards Hickman Bridge. Actually it goes to the bridge, then loops underneath it and then back again. Because the trail is just off the main highway, less than two miles round trip and only 400 feet of elevation gain, it's very heavily traveled. It's a quick, easy way to see one of the largest bridges in the park, with a height of 125 feet and a span of 133 feet.
We took the other trail from the junction, the one that leads to the Rim Overlook and Navaho Knobs. It was mostly on slick rock and followed a long series of ascending ledges that slanted upwards with the natural tilt of the strata. At one point we veered off the trail a short distance to an overlook of Hickman Bridge. It's a beautiful formation but actually hard to see from the overlook. It's difficult to pick out against the background since only similarly colored rock is visible through the opening.
The trail continued to climb slowly but steadily. As we hiked the skies cleared in the west and the clouds moved off to the east. It was turning out to be a nice day.
Eventually the trail came close to the edge of the cliffs that fell away towards the Fremont River. This was the Rim Overlook. There were several people here but there was a lot of room to spread out. We found some comfortable rock slabs. It was just like sitting on a bench in the park. It was a great place to enjoy the view while we rested and got out some snacks.
We could see down into the valley, to Fruita and its orchards and to the Visitor Center, over a thousand feet below. We could see the trailhead from yesterday, the trail switchbacking up into Cohab Canyon. Beyond was the up and down terrain we had crossed on the Frying Pan Trail. In the southeast we could see the Henry Mountains, near Hanksville. In the southwest we could see Boulder Mountain. Nearer we could see a long stretch of the Waterpockeet Fold, an incredibly rugged landscape of domes and canyons.
I must have been distracted by the view. We had a big bag of GORP that we were sharing, and I set it on the edge of the rock after taking a handful. But it wasn't quite level and the bag tipped over. I tried to catch it but was too late. Imagine a slow motion video with Jim Carey trying to catch something before it falls over, complete with low-frequency slow audio of "Nooooooooooooooo!" That's what it looked like. About half of our GORP ended up scattered all over the rocks. At least the squirrels and birds were happy.
The hike down was easy. The weather was perfect. The scenery was great. After we reached the car we drove back to the hotel in Torrey to pick up Mary Beth, getting there not long after noon. We still had another hike to do.