Canyoneering in Wild Utah
Exploring the ancient red rock formations of Capitol Reef National Park
words and images by Annie Aschim
From space, looking down on the lower 48, two big black spots stand out amongst a sea of lights—one is the greater Yellowstone region, the other is Southern Utah. And right in the center of the latter is Capitol Reef National Park, an expansive sweep of red rock cliffs and arches dotted with juniper named in part for the giant white dome resembling the nation’s capitol building.
Perched on the Western Edge of the Colorado Plateau bowl, Capital Reef is defined by the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold, a massive buckling of the Earth’s surface created some 65 million years ago when dinos called the zone home. The fold pushed up 7000 feet of rock on the western side, creating the deep canyons and rock formations that are now a mostly unexplored, highly unpredictable playground for hiking, canyoneering, and biking. Many of the park’s best areas aren’t yet all over the internet or in guidebooks, so it’s best to get a guide or make friends with a local.
Earlier this month we had the opportunity to explore Capital Reef over the span of a three day camp and canyoneering trip with Thule. Though we covered some solid ground, the surface was barely scratched, and we can’t wait to return.