Capitol Reef National Park was formed in 1971 and is in south-central Utah. It covers 979 km2 (378 sq mi) of sandstone rock formations, most notable of which is a 160 km (100 mi) long monocline, a wrinkle in the earth, called the Waterpocket Fold. Capitol Reef, for which the park was named, is an especially rugged and spectacular section of the Fold, which with its white domes and cliffs of Navajo sandstone, is said to resemble the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. Overall, the terrain is formed of steep canyons, sharp ridges, buttes and monoliths.
The Fremont River runs through the park and has cut gorges into the landscape. Along its valley banks, there are preserved and protected orchards, containing 3,100 fruit trees, including cherry, peach, apple, pear, plum, almond and walnut. These were planted by early settlers as cash crops. The last family left the area in 1969 and the orchards are now maintained by the park authorities. Fruit-picking by visitors is allowed with one or two common-sense restrictions.
The drier landscapes elsewhere are characterised by low-lying vegetation such as sagebrush, Utah Juniper and cacti, which flower briefly in early spring. Animal life, typical of a desert-like environment, mainly comes out at night, although you may see mule deer and the Desert Bighorn sheep, reintroduced to the area in the 1990s. There are an abundance of lizard species and snakes, so watch where you’re putting your feet.
Fishing is allowed in the Fremont River on application for a valid Utah license. There is also a series of 15 well-marked trails divided into abilities from easy to strenuous, and plenty more opportunities for backcountry backpacking to explore the remoter areas. Rock climbing is an increasingly popular pastime, but beware the soft, crumbling sandstone and keep away from areas protected because of their prehistoric rock writings.