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Capitol Reef: Utah Weekender

A national park near Torrey, Utah, boasts sandstone monoliths in Cathedral Valley and a wrinkle of rock 100 miles long.

  • The Castle at Capitol Reef, image
    Photo caption
    The Castle is an impressive craggy sandstone formation visible from Highway 24.
  • Hamburger Rocks, image
    Photo caption
    Getting to Hamburger Rocks in Capitol Reef requires a nine- to 12-mile hike.
  • Bentonite Hills, image
    Photo caption
    Awash in eerie hues, the Bentonite Hills look not of this world.


A massive, red-and-white-striped wrinkle of rock 100 miles long forms the centerpiece of Capitol Reef. The relatively quiet national park is also home to Cathedral Valley, a high desert wash punctuated by sandstone monoliths with sheer faces. Next door sits Torrey, a town so small that drivers wave at each other when they cross paths. Area code is 435.

  • The park protects the Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth that’s a rock scrambler’s dream collection of stone bridges, domes, and canyons. Capitol Reef also boasts American Indian petroglyphs and Gifford Homestead, a refurbished Mormon settlers’ farm complete with orchards producing peaches and apples for the fresh pies sold in the site’s gift shop. 425-3791,
  • Legend has it that when cartographers came to the area, locals switched the names of two nearby mountains, maybe to protect their favorite fishing holes: Boulder Mountain is riddled with lakes and ponds; the slopes of Thousand Lake Mountain are mostly dry. These days, Backcountry Outfitters is only too happy to lead anglers to hot spots on the Fremont River and at scenic lakes. 425-2010,
  • At the Rim Rock Patio, mushrooms, pepperoni slices, and jalapeños join forces in a homemade sauce on the Good, the Bad & the Ugly, a pizza best eaten at one of the picnic tables with a sunset view. 425-3389,
  • Rattlesnake cakes served with anchorosemary aioli mark a highlight of Café Diablo’s innovative Southwestern cuisine. The dessert tray, on the other hand, offers classic pastries and ice cream. 425-3070,
  • Vance Morrill sells bone tomahawks, pottery, and obsidian knives along with handmade cedar, poplar, and maple woodwinds at his Flute Shop Trading Post & Motel on Highway 12. 425-3144,
  • A cultural treasure trove surrounded by an oasis of shady trees, Robbers Roost Books and Beverages hosts a farmers’ market and lectures, and sells restored musical instruments. But the main attraction may be the excellent coffee and the tableau of birds flitting among the many feeders outside. 425-3265,
  • Saddled barstools, square-dancing lessons, five pool tables, and a 2,200-pound stuffed bull dubbed Smokestack, make for fun nights at the Saddlery Cowboy Bar & Steakhouse. 425-2424,

Photography courtesy of NPS

This article was first published in September 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.