Capitol Reef, Utah on the map. National Park Capitol Reef (Utah state) on the map of US

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Capitol Reef, Utah on the map. National Park Capitol Reef  (Utah state) on the map of US

Below: The rugged cliffs of Capital Reef offer a striking contrast to the orchards below.

Capitol Reef, Utah

Established: 1971   Acreage: 241,904

The Navajo Indians called it the 'Land of the Sleeping Rainbow' — a strange, but beautiful, country where colors of the rainbow can be seen in the many rock layers. Capitol Reef was so rugged and remote that it remained almost untouched by white settlers until the late 1800s. It resembled an ocean reef around a tropical island—difficult to cross. The term 'reef as applied to land formations means a ridge of rock that is a barrier. This reef was named for one of its high points, Capitol Dome, which looks like the dome of the US Capitol.

Capitol Reef National Park is located on the Colorado Plateau. As the area began rising to its present heights toward the end of the age of dinosaurs, pressures on the rock increased as the plateau rose, and resulted in a 100-mile long formation called the Waterpocket Fold. Considered unique by geologists because of its great size, it is the main reason for the establishment of the park. As the rock was folding, it was also eroding, creating the cliff faces, arches, monoliths and canyons one sees today.

The lush vegetation along the fertile plains of the Fremont River provides a stark contrast to the barren cliffs and terraces. Cottonwoods and willows grow along the riverbanks, but plant life exists in the drier parts of the park as well. Hardy pinyon jay, pinyon pine and Utah juniper live in the dry sandstone of the terraces. The sandy floor, piles of rock debris and water-worn holes on the canyon walls are home to side-blotched lizard, antelope squirrel and canyon wren. After a rain, pockets of rain remain, forming a temporary home for shrimp and spadefoot tadpoles. By the time the water dries, the tadpoles have progressed through their life cycles and become toads.

Human beings inhabited the Capitol Reef area as long ago as 800 AD. The Fremont Indians lived along the Fremont River for about 400 years. Their petroglyphs seem to indicate hunting, because they show desert bighorn sheep and figures of people. Some of their stone tools and storage bins—moki huts —still exist in the park. Later, Paiute Indians passed through Capitol Reef, hunting game and gathering food, but humans would not live in the area again until the Mormons settled there in 1880. The tiny town of Fruita, as the Mormon community was called, was widely known for its orchards— which are now protected by the National Park Service as a historic landscape.

Capitol Reef, Utah on the map. National Park Capitol Reef  (Utah state) on the map of US