Capitol Reef National Park: Cathedral Valley


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! Today is the National Park Service’s 102nd birthday…happy birthday NPS!! Exactly 102 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act. This year’s theme is ‘Something New for 102’, so get out today and see a new park or see an old favorite from a different perspective.


With only one day to see Capitol Reef National Park, we started out before dawn with a sunrise tour of Cathedral Valley.  Our guide Jen from Red Rock Adventure Guides picked us up at our hotel at 5:20 AM. For real.


Jen suggested that the best use of our time would be to go directly to the formations called Temple of the Sun and Moon for the sunrise (rather than drive the entire Cathedral Valley Loop,) then leave the park to go to Goblin Valley state park. We figured she’d know best and she was right.


For about 90 minutes after picking us up in Torrey, Jen drove her Xterra in the dark over unpaved, unmarked roads deep into the park while making pleasant conversation (she did give us the option to sleep while she drove, but we were awake, our bodies still on East Coast time.)  We never would have found this without her, or felt safe doing so…miles in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and few people. Jen has a satellite beacon in her car for emergencies.


We arrived at the temples as the sky was just beginning to lighten, but the moon was still up. The temples are monolithic stone formations which seem to ‘worship’ the sun and the moon. I was able to catch the moon in the elbow of the Temple of the Moon.


Sunrise was absolutely beautiful. The sun lit up the temples as it rose in glorious pink and purple hues.

After we’d taken about a thousand photos of the sunrise, Jen took us to a few other awesome locations that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. There was a good balance of drive time and walking around time. Jen is a good conversationalist, so the time we did spend in the car passed by pleasantly and we learned a lot more about the area than if we’d just explored on our own. Before she dropped us off around noon, we visited three more sites.


We could see the distinctive Factory Butte while driving on Route 24 to Capitol Reef. We pulled out on a dirt road leading to it and explored the Nielson Wash…this is a conduit for water during flash floods and heavy rains, so don’t approach if those conditions exist. When dry, it’s an otherworldly canyon with little alcoves carved out along the way. We walked through the canyon a little ways and then returned to the car.


Our last sightseeing stop on the tour was the Fremont Petroglyphs inside Capitol Reef. We got out here briefly to see the ancient petroglyphs on the cliff wall. They are viewed from quite a distance…they are pretty high up…so we didn’t realize until reading the informational displays that the figures are huge…around 6 feet tall. Something definitely worth the 10 minute stop to read the signs and take a picture.


Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017


62 thoughts on “Capitol Reef National Park: Cathedral Valley

  1. Definitely a lot of sights to see in this art of the world. Absolutely beautiful. Great to see it at sunrise, worth getting up early if your body is in the right timezone. We did this on Maui for the Haleakala sunrise. A very spiritual moment, also a very cold moment. Thanks for sharing. Allan

      1. I highly recommend it and if you can do the bicycle ride down. It is fabulous and there are great breakfast stops on your way down. Allan

  2. How beautiful to have seen this at sunrise. It’s nice to have a guided tour like this to get you out of bed. My tendency is always to sleep through sunrise, unless I have a tour arranged. 🙂

      1. Haha, that’s funny. I can understand that. I wake up super early myself, but I like to linger in bed a while. Falling asleep early is usually the way I go too, although not quite as early as dinnertime. 🙂

  3. I will do something new for 102 …. but where to choose! Following your blog gives me an overload of inspiration – of course I had a notion of the diverse landscapes in this country but wow! And this place? Double wow!!! 😮

  4. Julie Dodd

    Thanks for your birthday post for the National Park Service. Great photos. Appreciate being able to join you for this special tour.

  5. All of the National Parks in Utah are wonderful, but Capitol Reef is the one that I think is best seen through a guide as you did. The roads and trails in the other parks such as Arches, Zion and Bryce are better marked – also have more people – while Capitol Reef is very expansive and not that well marked. Still, it is a wonderful adventure if you go with someone who knows the terrain.

    1. Capitol Reef does have the paved scenic drive with trailheads leading off from there as well as several good hikes and overlooks off the main highway…we did some of those on our own (will be in future posts.) But for this back-country area, I wouldn’t do it without a guide or some means to call for help. You could be a long time out in the desert before anyone found you.

  6. We loved Capitol Reef last year and visited the places on your tour except Cathedral Valley, due to the remoteness and difficult road conditions…now I know we must go back! Gorgeous photos!!

  7. Utah has such beautiful National Parks. I was in Capitol Reef last year but as we ended up getting lost on a trail and spending a long time rerouting ourselves, we didn’t get to see too much of it. Certainly none of the beauty pictured here (although we did see those petroglyphs) Will have to go back again sometime and not get lost haha.

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  11. Spectacular Capital Reef Park seemed less crowded than other National Parks we’ve visited. Nearby Goblin State Park was equally spectacular in a quiet way.

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