Monday, December 1, 2014

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah - Hiking

Thanksgiving  is a great time for a camping trip to southern Utah.  While most people indulge in endless turkey and desserts for the holiday, a surprisingly large number of people take advantage of the snow-free conditions and relatively mild temperatures for some late season camping and hiking without the crowds.  I was fortunate enough to have two friends interested in a few hikes and some frosty camping fun for the four day weekend.  We headed south to Capitol Reef National Park on Thursday morning to begin the adventure.

The happiest turkeys I've seen on Thanksgiving Day

Katy in Capitol Reef

A lesson learned.  Do not wait until the last minute or the last gas station to buy firewood for a winter camping trip.  Torrey, just outside of Capitol Reef, was a ghost town.  We decided to check out the main campground in the park and were fortunate enough to find a stack of  firewood that would last us for a few days.  With the wood in tow, we headed south along the Bullfrog Notom Road to our intended primitive campsite called Cedar Mesa.  Much to our surprise, all of the sites were full!  We made a new plan to continue south to the Burr Trail switchbacks and hopefully find a place to camp off of the Burr Trail.  As it was getting dark, we found a great site and quickly set up camp.  A wonderful fire kept us warm as we made our Thanksgiving dinner.

Camping near the Burr Trail

Sunset on Thanksgiving


Friends around my tent

John warming up in the morning

The first night was colder than I expected and I was happy that I had my -15 degree sleeping bag.  After warming up with a morning fire, we headed to Upper Muley Twist Canyon in Capitol Reef for a day of hiking.  We were able to drive the first three miles into the canyon to the Strike Valley overlook parking  without much difficulty.  We did the quick hike to Strike Valley Overlook before beginning our hike through Upper Muley Twist Canyon.

Katy and John at Strike Valley Overlook

Upper Muley can be done as a loop hike of about 9 miles, going up the canyon and then on to the eastern ridge to return south before rejoining the main canyon wash.  With limited daylight hours and lots of picture taking, we decided to hike out-and-back up the main canyon so we could plan our return before it got dark.  The weather and the canyon scenery were spectacular.  There were a few arches, some interesting geology, and a great mix of colors throughout the canyon.  Our turn around spot was a spectacular narrow section of the canyon that can be bypassed along the rim or explored if no water is present.

Saddle Arch

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Narrows of Upper Muley

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

It was another frosty night in the tent, but the rain fly and some extra clothes made it much more comfortable.  We decided to make the relatively long drive back to the main part of Capitol Reef, near Fruita, to hike the Navajo Knobs trail.  I wanted to do this hike last year, but a rockslide had closed the trail for several months.  It was another gorgeous, sunny day and the hike was an excellent choice with some of the best views of Capitol Reef of any trail in the park.

Pectols Pyramid

View of Fruita from above

John enjoying the views

Navajo Knobs Trail

Navajo Knobs Trail

Navajo Knobs Trail

Thank you, Katy and John, for being such great camping and hiking buddies for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The telescope, stargazing, wine, enormous fire, and great company made the frosty camping as much fun as the hiking!

Thanksgiving with Katy and John