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Capitol Reef National Park was created in 1971 to preserve approximately 242,000 acres of high desert in south central Utah. The landscape is very dry, averaging about 8 inches of precipitation each year.


The park was named after a north-south geologic feature called the Waterpocket Fold. This steeply tilted ramp of yellow-white Navajo Sandstone slowed and altered the progress of westward-headed travelers much like a reef would block the course of a ship at sea. Furthermore, the Navajo sandstone tended to erode in rounded shapes—reminding earlier travelers of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. 


The Waterpocket Fold is a massive linear ridge (a "geologic wrinkle" says the National Park Service) that is visible from space. It was formed as compression of the continent from the west folded into an ancient monocline, was subsequently eroded, then re-elevated thousands of feet, and eroded again. One result of all of this is that the rock layers to the west of the Fold are much higher and older than the rocks on the east side. The geology of the park is far beyond the intent of this introduction. More information on Capitol Reef geology can be found here:

geologic cross-section of Capitol Reef showing the Waterpocket Fold upward

Geologic cross-section of Capitol Reef, looking north. Heading east, the layers make a deep dive and the rock on the surface gets younger and younger. Graph from the link above. 

The Fremont River cuts through the Waterpocket Fold. Prehistoric people inhabited this area, as evidenced by ancient artifacts and rock art still visible today. These people had certain cultural characteristics that differed from their contemporaries (the "Anasazi") and although they inhabited a very large area—generally north and east of the "Anasazi"—they came to be.known as the Fremont people. 

Capitol Reef was and is of interest to me because of its proximity to Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. Because it has so little vegetation, it is an open textbook of geology. For the same reason, the unmitigated erosive force of water creates amazing natural forms that are very alluring to a photographer. 

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