Cathedral Valley

The Temple of The Moon at Sunrise, Cathedral Valley, Utah

After our rewarding stopover in Delta, Ulrich and I angled southeast, to Capitol Reef National Park and Cathedral Valley.

We made an early start from Duke’s Campground in Hanksville the next morning, driving west on State Route 24 to Cathedral Valley Road, near Caineville. We weren’t making the entire loop tour, only the fifteen or so miles out to The Temples of the Sun and Moon, but it was slow-going due to frequent World Class Washboarding. I parked near the Temples barely five minutes before direct sunlight began spilling into the valley.


Befitting its name, the valley was q-u-i-e-t, and it was all ours. Shouldering our tripods, we wandered pleasantly until the light lost its edge and shadows began to recede. I cooked bacon and scrambled eggs and potatoes for breakfast then, and was cleaning dishes when the first Jeep tour arrived.

Who can resist cracked mud? Not me!

The washboards felt even worse on the return leg, so I took it easy and stopped several times for pictures. Back in Hanksville, we ate lunch at Blondie’s before continuing south on Highway 95.

Midday light, ideal for a harsh landscape





Vehicle tracks in slushy snow on a gravel road.

Sulphur Creek meets the Fremont River in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park just east of the Visitor Center. On this day sudden, heavy rains in the morning caused flash flooding over a wide area, calling the landscape to action. Cottonwoods were uprooted, scenic roads washed out, and tourists filled the Center with their bodies and anxious questions.

When I arrived hours later the Fremont still ran fast and red as it churned eastward, its water dense with sandstone silt. I employed a combination of processing plug-ins to render a vintage, slightly eroded effect to the picture, too, as it was appropriate to the mood I felt there, and to the idea of natural, timeless processes.

Rain, Of Course

I should have known better. When I pulled the drapes back the following morning the landscape wore a cape of misty, uneven fog. Light rain mist, as the forecasters now describe it. I peered outside again twenty minutes later to find beams of light spotlighting the surrounding cliffs, but after I dressed the weather deteriorated to a cold, impersonal rain. Like some mornings in Oregon, when all you crave is strong coffee with a teaspoon of weak sunlight stirred in.

What Ulrich and I required then was caffeine, and breakfast. After check-out at The Rimrock Inn we drove up the hill to the junction of Highways 12 and 24; there’s a collection of small businesses there, including Castlerock Coffee and Candy, which was drawing people inside like a magnet. I soon understood why—fill a warm, comfortable space with friendly people waiting out a storm, give them good food and lattés, and they’ll soon be working at their laptop computers or sharing stories across the tables, troubles (and rain) forgotten.

After an hour the sky brightened, a signal to everyone to hit the road again. Today was The Day to drive through Capitol Reef National Park, to the eastern entrance to the Cathedral Valley Loop road, but as we neared the park, where the Fremont River and the highway are funneled through a narrow gorge, I knew we weren’t going anywhere that couldn’t be reached by a paved road. Inside the park Visitor Center anxious travelers stood three-deep at the information counter, learning as I did that yes, the main highway was open again and no, the scenic drive was still closed because of trees that had fallen. A ranger said they’d received almost an inch of rain that morning—virtual waterfalls lined the cliffs above park headquarters.  

I didn’t bother asking about the Loop road (I learned later it had washed out). What was it villains exclaimed in old movies, after their plans fell apart? “Drat, foiled again!” I knew how they felt.

The storm had moved northeast towards Hanksville, where we’d spend the night—along Highway 24 evidence of heavy rainfall was everywhere. Hours after the brunt of the storm the Fremont still ran swiftly, red with soils that had washed down from the canyons. Anyone foolish enough to pull off the road would be stuck within six feet in the gray-black bentonite muck, so we drove along slowly, stopping only in well-graveled turnouts, snapping shots of slick rocks.

In Hanksville, an hour of daylight remained after dinner, so instead of folding our hand we gambled on sunset at Factory Butte and drove back to watch the day end.