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Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
The Temple of the Sun, center, and the Temple of the Moon, rear left, are in the Cathedral Valley of Capitol Reef National Park. Visitors must take a 43-mile drive on a dirt road to see these natural wonders.

How can you go wrong with a national park, a piece of a national recreation area and some of the state's most spectacular scenery within your midst . . . and not a single traffic light blocking your view in all of Wayne County?

Near the western end of the county is Capitol Reef National Park, and on the very eastern end is a piece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. In between are such sites as Factory Butte, Henry Mountains, Horseshoe Canyon and pieces of Fishlake and Dixie national forests.

What you know

Capitol Reef is, of course, the main attraction within the county, and for good reason. Among Utah's national parks, Capitol Reef is no less spectacular than Zion or Bryce but doesn't get the traffic they do.

Some suggest that's because many of the more intriguing sights are off the main highway — U.S. 24 — that runs through its midsection.

Some hidden sights away from the highway would be Glass Mountain, Temple of the Moon, Temple of the Sun and Cathedral Mountain, all located toward the northernmost tip of the park. To view these sights, however, requires travelers to leave the paved highway and take to a dirt road.

The park itself was formed by the bulging uplift of sandstone rock over eons of time that created a 100-mile-long strip of wrinkled land dubbed Waterpocket Fold.

The park is part of this natural sculpting of the land.

The trip most serious visitors like to take within the park is the 60-mile loop that starts 12 miles east of the visitors center, comes out at Caineville and then returns on U.S. 24 to the park. The first obstacle is dubbed the River Ford, which is a flowing river during spring runoff and after heavy showers, and can be impassable. Other times of the year it is passable.

The drive is 30 miles to Upper Cathedral Valley and 43 miles to Lower Cathedral Valley, where Temple of the Sun and Moon, and Glass Mountain are located.

Both Upper and Lower Cathedral Valleys are composed of monoliths, which are fine-grained sandstone deposits formed during the Jurassic period.

Glass Mountain is really a large mound of selenite crystals that take on the appearance of glass, especially from a distance on a bright, sunny day.

Also along the route is the Gypsum Sinkhole. Instead of groundwater being plugged, which eventually created Glass Mountain, groundwater dissolved the gypsum and created a large cavity nearly 50 feet in diameter and 200 feet deep.

Rising from the valley floor are two massive monoliths named Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. The largest of the two, the Temple of the Sun, rises about 400 feet above a floor of rock and dune sand.

Glass Mountain is within sight of both the Temple of the Sun and Moon.

There are, of course, a number of popular hiking and biking routes inside the park, as well as outside the park.

Maps for biking, hiking and ATV use outside the park are available from the Travel Bureau in Torrey.

In the Fruita area inside the park there are 15 day-hike trails, which offer a wide range of variety and challenges. According to park information, the hikes may "take you deep into a narrow gorge, to the top of high cliffs for a birds'-eye view of the surrounding area, under a natural stone arch, to historic inscriptions . . ."

All trails are marked, but there is a free guide available at the visitors center.

Hikes range from the easy one-mile Capitol Gorge hike, which passes along a narrow wash bottom with sheer canyons walls, to the more strenuous 3 1/2-mile hike that follows an old wagon route to Miners Mountain.

For those who prefer to drive or bike, there is a paved road that starts from the visitor center and accesses Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Pleasant Creek and South Draw Road.

The length of the tour is up to 25 miles. The road, however, is narrow and without shoulders, so bikers must be cautious. This is very moderate terrain.

For the more serious bikers there's always the 60-mile loop to Cathedral Valley.

On the other end of Wayne County is a piece of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and attached to that is a piece of Canyonlands National Park that butts up against the Green River and the county line.

One of the area's main landmarks is Factory Butte, which has been popular with off-highway vehicle owners in recent years.

Factory Butte is about 15 miles northwest of Hanksville and near the Dirty Devil River. Environmentalists are asking that the restrictions extend to close to the town.

The area, however, is ideal for ATVs and motorcycles, and a report from the U.S. Forest Service notes that once a vehicle has passed over the Mancos shale crust, "(it) will reform after one wetting and drying cycle, which can be as short as two days."

What you don't know

While Canyonlands is pretty much recognized, a more remote part of the park tends to get less traffic.

Access to the Maze District, and the Maze, is off U.S. 24, across from the Goblin Valley State Park turnoff in Emery County. It is roughly 60 miles on dirt road to a campground.

One of the rarely seen sights is Horseshoe Canyon, which is part the park but detached from it. The canyon is along the road into the Maze District.

It holds one of the greatest galleries of early Indian rock art in the world. The canyon is about 30 miles inland over the Maze road. There is a parking area near the trailhead to the canyon, and primitive camping is permitted. The hike into the canyon is about six miles round trip.

The Maze road also leads to some of the lesser-seen splendor within the park, like the Doll House area, which overlooks the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.

The Maze District of Canyonlands is rugged, primitive and remote. Camping in the district is primitive.

As in other parts of Utah with steep rock walls, rock climbers are starting to take notice of Capitol Reef. This, however, is not an area for inexperienced climbers. There are two kinds of sandstone inside the park — Entrada, which is soft and crumbly, and Wingate, which is much harder but can flake off and is unpredictable.

Areas such as Temple of the Sun and Moon are closed to climbers, as are Hickman Natural Bridge and Chimney Rock.

Before Capitol Reef was a park, it was a farming community, and some of the fruit orchards remain.

There are approximately 2,700 trees bearing such fruits as cherry, apricot, peach, pear and apple, with a few plum, mulberry, almond and walnut trees.

The National Park Service owns and tends the orchards. Visitors are welcome to enter one of the orchards and eat all they want. If they choose to take some home, however, there is a fee. Bags for carrying out the fruit are provided. Hand-held fruit pickers and ladders are available.

One of Utah's 70 Scenic Backway tours starts near Fremont and travels into the park and connects up with the Cathedral Valley Road.

Called the Thousand Lakes Mountain Road, it travels through Fishlake National Forest, which is in sharp contrast to the sandstone formations in Capitol Reef. This is a single-lane graded road. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

Also within the county is the Capitol Reef Scenic Byway, which runs along U.S. 24 from Loa to Hanksville. The road follows the Fremont River. Scenery ranges from open fields and pastures to the barren Mancos shale landscape around Hanksville.

Another popular hiking/biking route is Velvet Ridge. The trailhead is about two miles east of Bicknell and comes out on U.S. 24. The route takes hikers and bikers along red-cliff ridges and down onto the Sand Creek Road. For those riding one way, a shuttle service is required, either as a do-it-yourself or through one of the shuttle services in Torrey.

While ATV use is not allowed within the park, there is riding available along the Great Western Trail, which passes through Thousand Lakes Mountains. This is also a popular route for hikers, bikers and equestrian enthusiasts.

There is also access to the Henry Mountains at Hanksville. On the western slopes of the mountains is the only free-roaming, huntable herd of buffalo in the United States. The number of buffalo ranges from 300 to 400. There are also a number of nice camping areas along the road going from Hanksville toward the mountaintops.

The mountains are honeycombed with dirt roads ideal for biking, hiking and ATV use.

In Hanksville, at the BLM offices, is the restored Wolverton Mill, built in 1921 in the Henry Mountains and moved into town several years ago. It was used to mill wood and crush ore.

One thing visitors to Wayne County won't have to worry about is overcrowding. The county comprises 2,500 square miles and its resident population is 2,550 . . . and, as noted, not a single traffic light.


Wayne County

Well known: Capitol Reef, Factory Butte, Canyonlands

Unknown: Horseshoe Canyon, Fruita, Henry Mountains

Contact: 435-425-3930 www.capitolreef.org


E-mail: grass@desnews.com