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         Capitol Reef National Park, UT (July 2009)
Overall Rating: B
Grand Wash Boulder
    Capitol Reef National Park is not the most exciting national park but you'll probably pass by it on a tour of southern Utah.  While overall the park is not that interesting it provided one of the best family hikes we've ever taken.

We approached Capitol Reef from the west on a very harrowing drive.  Harrowing on the inside as five-year-old Emi reached  her car travel limit and decided the best entertainment was to give her brother blunt force trauma to the head with a stiff plastic toy.  Upon losing her weapon Emi commenced a thirty minute screaming fit which only ended temporarily when her mom handed her a new weapon in the form of the portable DVD player.  Though I would have to agree with her that bonking Sean on the head is much more entertaining than watching Dora the Explorer.

The drive was more harrowing on the outside as we rose out of the Escalante River canyon.  I scoffed at the thirty mile-per-hour speed limit as we emerged onto the top of the canyon walls on a straight and level road.  A minute later I was doing twenty and praying the steering didn't fail.  The narrow two lane road capped a mesa of the same width.  It was like driving down a thousand foot high balance beam!

Except for our great hike in Grand Wash, Capitol Reef has little to offer.  The attractions Chimney Rock and Twin Boulders offer nothing but evidence the National Park Service is desperate to name every boulder and outcropping.  

The scenic drive is anything but.  It's a God forsaken place.  A strip mine or a WalMart parking lot would be an improvement.

Of course, we had to stop to see the park's namesake: Capitol Dome.  It is a white mound of rock identical to the several adjacent mounds of rock.  I can't figure our why they picked the one for the important moniker.

Luckily, I didn't listen to the moaning when I announced we were taking a hike.  We hiked several miles down a dry wash which cuts right through the spine of mountains which split the park.  The wash forms a deep canyon, at one point narrowing to eight hundred feet high and twenty feet wide.  The canyon walls were riddled with shallow caves and outcroppings which the kids enjoyed exploring and climbing.  The highlight was surprising a bighorn sheep right by the trail as we rounded a bend.  Even Toni and Emi who weren't up for the walk had fun sitting in the shade and building stone cairns with the smooth river stones.  You never know what will happen when you manage to get the family out of the car.
-  Brian


Gotta Go!
1) Grand Wash Trail
2) Rim Rock Inn
3) White Knuckle Drive

Skip It!
1) Senic Drive
Grand Wash Alcove

Big Horn Sheep

Family Grades
Toni (Mom) - B -  "I enjoyed my one-on-one time with Emi building the stone cairns.  It was a place where you need to make your own fun."

Sean (10 yrs) - A - "It was fun to run through the sand from the trail to the car.  It was also fun to climb the rock walls."

Kyle (9 yrs) - B- - "It was really hot, but the caves cooled us down.  The Bighorn Sheep were really cool."

Emi (5 yrs) - A+ - "It was fun making the stone people and it took lots of work so I thought everyone would like it."

Grand Wash Trail,  Rim Rock Inn,  White Knuckle Drive,  Scenic Drive
Rent a Boat on Lake Powell
Why Go
1)  A great family hike, level with lots to do and see.
2)  All sorts of rock climbing for the kids.  There are lots of little caves, alcoves really, dotting the sides of the trail.
3)  Desert Bighorn Sheep are frequently spotted on the trail.
Getting There
Grand Wash is in the Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah (Google maps).  The trailhead is near the eastern exit of the park, on Hwy 24 about three miles east of the visitor's center (trail map).
1)  Take some water and though the trail is level it can be sandy in some spots.
2)  Keep your voices down and you might stumble upon a Desert Bighorn Sheep.
3)  This is a wash, so at some points in the year it is a raging torrent.  Stop in at the visitor center to make sure you're not trying to hike it at one of these times.
Antelope Canyon
Why Go
1)  Very good restaurant.
2)  Good view of the sunset.
Getting There
The Rim Rock Inn is on Hwy 24 between Torrey, Utah and the western entrance to Capitol Reef National Park (map).
1)  The food was very good.  I hate reviewing restaurants because the quality can change so frequently, but this is quite good for such a small town.
2)  It was a little pricey, but again you're in Torrey, Utah (population 171) so your options are kind of limited.
Sand Hill, Lake Powell
Why Go
1)  An adventure.
2)  Great scenery.
3)  Cure your acrophobia.
Getting There
I've made up this name, it is simply the route you take from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park through the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument (map).  It is officially known as the Highway 12 Scenic Byway.
1)  The white knuckle part of the drive is when you rise out of the Escalante River Canyon (Hwy 12 just west of Escalante, UT).  The narrow two lane road covers a finger jutting into the canyon of the same width.  There are sheer thousand foot drops on both sides of the road with no guard rail.  Though the road is straight and level the speed limit is thirty miles-per-hour and for good reason.  
2)  We made the mistake of driving this three hour stretch straight through.  The kids wanted to get to the motel pool.  We should have turned off the highway where it crosses the Escalante River and let the kids wade and splash in the water for an hour.
3)  Boulder Mountain was the other highlight of this drive.  The highway rises over this mountain which dominates the otherwise flat and arid landscape.  Again, we only stopped at a couple of vistas, but I'd like to go back to visit someday.  The mountain is very lush even in July with dense aspen groves and small lakes.
Scenic Drive
Why Skip It
1)  Okay, I hate bad mouthing a national park.  I will admit that Capitol Reef National Park is more impressive than most parks on the East Coast.  However, compared with the other National Parks in the Southwest it is low on the totem pole.  By all means explore every inch of the park if you have several days, however, if you are just passing through on the way to bigger and better things I recommend skipping the scenic drive.  Instead hike Grand Wash (see above).
2)  The park service recommends visitors with limited time visit the area around the visitor's center and take a drive down scenic drive.  There is also a small farm with an orchard.  This is all nice but not very unique.  The scenery on scenic drive is pretty much the same as you'll see along Hwy 24 for 100 miles.

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