Touring the Waterpocket District

One of the big attractions in Capitol Reef is the Waterpocket Fold, a geological wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. Nearly 100-miles long, this monocline formed between 50-70 million years ago when ancient faults shifted, forcing the rock up and over the fault. Basically, causing the Earth’s surface to “fold” over itself. As water eroded away layers of the fold, basins formed in the surface of the rock, giving the area its name. Nowadays, the Waterpocket District is made up of colorful cliffs, sheer canyons, towering arches, and a variety of domes, spires and monoliths.

This area of the park is beautiful, and as a geological wonder, it is worth spending the time to check it out. However, getting there is no easy feat. It takes the better part of a day to complete the whole drive, taking a couple hours each way.

The journey starts out on an easy paved road, passing through some nice scenic views and the old town of Notom.

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There is even a song about Notom, which luckily for us (since we are a group of musicians) we were able to sightread the music and sing along. The song isn’t very good. But it quickly became the running joke of the trip, and an anthem to power us through hikes.

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Eventually the road turns into an unpaved road though, and you need a high-clearance vehicle to complete the drive. This is the part where the drive gets rough. Literally. There are so many grooves in the road, which caused our SUV to rattle and shake so hard, I thought it might fall apart. And the road stays like that for a good majority of the drive.

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This part of the park is completely desolate. There is nowhere to stop for gas or supplies, so make sure you have a full tank and plenty of food and water. If anything were to go wrong while you are out there, the park visitor center cautions travelers it could take hours, or even days, to get help to you. So be smart, and go prepared.

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In addition to being the bumpiest road I have ever traveled, it is also very windy in parts. So this journey is not for the easily motion sick.

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Towards the end of the drive, the road leads to an old corral. Which is kind of cool to see, but more importantly, here is where you will find some of the only bathrooms or picnic tables along the entire road.

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And by some picnic tables, I mean one. And it is completely exposed to the sun. We could practically watch our food melt and see all the moisture get sucked out of the sandwich bread.

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In case the pictures haven’t given it away, it was HOT. We visited Capitol Reef at the end of June, and it was already blisteringly hot. And the heat felt much stronger in this part of the park due to everything being more exposed. There was seriously no shade anywhere. So bring way more water than you think you need.

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On our way back to the main part of the park, we stopped to do a hike (there are signs along the road marking trails). We didn’t actually complete the hike because it was just too hot, but even following the trail for a little bit lead to some pretty awesome views.

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Hot and exhausted, we hit the road to head back. Here are some shots of the Waterpocket Fold and cool views we passed:

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Getting down into the Waterpocket District is definitely a time-consuming adventure, so if you are pressed for time during your visit to Capitol Reef, maybe skip this part, as there is a higher quantity of cool things to see closer to the center of the park. But if you have a couple days to spend here (and have an appropriate vehicle), it is interesting to see the product of millions of years of geological activity.

Author: Natalie Bates

LA-based freelance writer | Blogger | Craft beer drinker | Rock 'n roll girlfriend | Adventurer | Lover of tattoos, red lipstick, and popcorn | World traveler | Compassionate human | Photography enthusiast | Eco warrior | Celtic babe ❤️

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