Cathedral Valley: Capitol Reef National Park

Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T!

With a sturdy vehicle, you can visit the Cathedral Valley District in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. We were uncertain of our rental car’s ability to travel the 60-mile dirt road safely. So we arranged a sunrise tour with Jen Howe from Red Rock Adventure Guides. Capitol Reef’s first superintendent named the valley for its many ornate monoliths in 1945.


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. We were 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.


Location: Wayne, Utah
Designation: National Park
Date designated/established: December 18, 1971
Date of my visit: April 13, 2017