To Parts Unknown – Cathedral Valley
Capital Reef National Park
Today Bob wanted to go to Cathedral Valley in the far north section of Capital Reef National Park. The park service suggests one of two dirt/sandy roads in from the east. One is listed as a high-center, 4-wheel drive and the other as high-center 2-wheel – for either road they suggest you plan on four hours each way. An eight hour trek? Is it worth it?
After consulting our multitude of maps it looks to us that we can go in from the west side with only about half the distance on dirt road. Utah 24 takes us from Torrey through irrigated had fields and ranges to Loa where we turn onto Utah 72. A Fishlake National Forest sign marks an easterly turn – Cathedral Valley 13 m. The first 6+ miles are paved, ascending into an aspen and pine forest. As much as we admire the canyon country forest green is a lovely respite.
A grassy glen dotted with bright dandelions and shaded by tall aspen at Riley Springs Trailhead looks like a perfect picnic spot. After days of feeling near heat stroke from record setting high temps the need for a light jacket is welcome. Even after the pavement ends the road isn’t especially rough until we enter the west side of the Capital Reef National Park. Almost immediately there’s a couple of extremely rocky sections before the road starts a steep decent into the valley floor. Gearing down saves any brake issues. Although there are places where the road becomes too narrow to pass they are few and traffic is not an issue. We meet only two cars in ten miles.
Vast Cathedral Valley spreads below with sandstone monoliths standing tall and imperial bathed in sunlight. At some point along our journey across the valley we decide to take the 2-wheel, high clearance road out instead of retracing our route. Near Gypsum Sinkhole we pause to contemplate the black "filling" between layers of red up-thrush dikes, learning later the black is obsidian cutting through red sedimentary strata.
While the geography is constantly changing the road is a continual series of curves, lurchy sandy bottoms and small wash crossings. Stretches of washboard feels like we driving on corrugated steel – truly teeth rattling, nerve shattering. Even at low, low speeds the vibration is almost uncontrollable. The roadbed is a continuous kaleidoscope of colors – grey, green, vermillion, white, red, rust, smoke. Wind accompanies us for miles, stirring up as much dust in front as behind. The last of the 24 miles seem endless even though it’s taken less than two hours. Finally we intersect with the highway.