Capitol Reef National Park is located in Torrey, Utah. It is one of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks. Capitol Reef isn’t quite as popular as some of the other parks in Utah because of it’s remote location. Torrey is a very very small town. What the area is missing in amenities, it has in scenery. It’s beautiful here.
If you are staying in Torrey, Austin’s Chuckwagon General Store has everything you need- food, laundry, ice, and some camping supplies. We stayed at Sandcreek RV Park, just down the road. People in this corner of Utah are very friendly and helpful. Including the owner of this small RV park. We had a beautiful view of rock formations.
Torrey has been designated as Utah’s first Dark Sky Community. Capitol Reef is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park. This means that in this area, people work hard to protect natural darkness. There are even town ordinances in place that restrict light use and lighting fixtures must be compliant. This may sound odd to many, but dark skies are becoming more and more rare in our society. Why is that a bad thing? Well, dark skies are important to nature and necessary to the heath of many plants and animals. Some plants only bloom at night. They attract nocturnal pollinators. Birds and insects navigate by the moon and stars. Many creatures need the protection of darkness to avoid predators. Nearly half of species on earth are nocturnal. Many species rely on the balance of dark and light patterns to nest, mate, migrate, and hunt. Even humans have an inherent physiological need to darkness to regulate sleep patterns. You’ve probably heard of the hormone Melatonin. You can even buy it in supplement form. It helps people to sleep. But, did you know it boosts the immune system, regulates cholesterol, adrenal glands, the thyroid, and the pancreas. Do you know what triggers your pineal gland in your brain to secrete melatonin? Darkness. Dark skies are the heritage of everyone. In the solitude of Capitol Reef country, you can experience the night sky in a magnificent way.
I laid a blanket on the ground outside our RV one night in Torrey after reading about the dark sky movement. We laid down and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, it became very clear to me why this mission is so important. The sky there is awe-inspiring. I’m from the country. I live in a rural area and I’m used to seeing the stars at night. But, the skies over Capitol Reef are mind-blowing. I can’t describe the vastness and the clarity of it. It’s magical. I’ve seen a lot of amazing sights all over America. I’ve gazed at gorgeous mountains, deserts, and oceans. But, this rivaled all of that. I didn’t realize the sky could look this way. This was a Van Gogh masterpiece in real life. It was incredible.
Capitol Reef is teeming with nocturnal animals. It is a safe harbor for 16 species of bats, owls, ringtail, kangaroo rats, night snakes, and racoons. Did you know that bats are important pollinators? Bats pollinate over 300 species of fruit, including bananas and mangoes. Even chocolate, tequila, and avocados productions rely on bats. Bats comprise 20% of all mammal species worldwide. While, bees get a lot of attention for their contribution to our food system, bats tend to be forgotten. According to the National Wildlife Federation, seeds dropped by bats account for up to 95% of forest regrowth on cleared land. Bats are vital to the survival of the rainforest and are considered a keystone species in several regions. In order to pollinate and hunt, they need darkness. In order for us to continue functioning as a species, we need bats. One of the easiest ways to protect the bat population in your area is to simply turn off your exterior lights.
Even though “half the park is after dark,” Capitol Reef is pretty incredible during the day as well. Wildlife sightings are common. Big game in the park include, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, and Mountain Lion. Our family spotted Whitetail Deer in the picnic area.
As with all Utah parks, geology is a big part of the story they tell. Capitol Reef is known and protected because of it’s Water Pocket Fold. It is a nearly 100 mile warp in the Earth’s crust. Erosion, sedimentary rocks forming strata, tectonic shift, and uplift have created a geological recipe for these odd rock formations. There are sandstone domes, (which look like capitol buildings), rocky cliffs (that resemble ocean reefs), and monoliths make up the features of the park. There are also lots of other interesting rocks here.
These “swiss cheese rocks” are called Tafoni.
The history of this park is captivating as well. Ancient people who lived here have been named the Freemont Culture. They left petroglyphs on the rock panels of the park.
Another story told in this park is from more recent history. Mormon pioneers explored Utah and set up tiny communities throughout the region. One such community was within the park boundaries. It was called Fruita. Settlers planted orchards here by the Fremont river to sustain them. A small cabin from this settlement still stands today. A small museum and store sells fruit pies in the Fruita area. Also, during harvest time, you can pick fruit in the orchard..
There are 15 day hiking trails in the Fruita area of the park. We really enjoyed the hikes that we took here.
There are dramatic overlooks, there’s lots of lizards and birds to watch, and the hikes are fun because the surroundings are so unlike other places we’ve been.
Flash floods and run-off prevented us from taking some of the scenic drives in the park. Some of the park areas were inaccessible. But, we still had a really great time.
Charlotte completed two Junior Ranger Programs here. She earned her traditional Junior Ranger Badge for the park and also a Junior Night Explorer Badge to wear on her Girl Scout vest.
Capitol Reef outdoor activities also include canyoneering, rock climbing, bouldering, back country horseback riding, and biking.
Camping is available in Capitol Reef. There is one traditional campground and there are two free primitive campgrounds. You’ll need a permit for backpacking.
Capitol Reef is worth the drive. Come on out and enjoy the adventures during the day and the spectacular show of stars at night.