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A virtual tour of Capitol Reef - Utah's lesser-known jewel, by Laurent Martres

NOTE: this exhibit appeared in December 1998. Click here to visit the current showcase.

All other exhibits: Click here to access

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Panorama Point

Panorama Point

The vast majority of visitors enter Capitol Reef National Park from Torrey, located near the Western border of the park. As they enter the park they are almost immediately greeted by this spectacular view, taken from Panorama Point, with the Henry Mountains in the background. Visibility often reaches over 100 miles from this point.

The Castle

The Castle

Soon after entering the Park from the West, visitors encounter this imposing landmark called the Castle, towering over the little settlement of Fruita.

Fruita orchards

Fruita orchards

Fruita, the old Mormon settlement where the Visitor Center is located, is a delightful oasis in the midst of Capitol Reef's mineral universe. It's surrounded by beautiful fruit orchards contrasting with the golden canyon walls.

The Scenic Drive

The Scenic Drive

The 12 mile long Scenic Drive begins just outside the Visitor Center and leads to magnificent views of Capitol Dome, the Golden Throne and the Egyptian Temple. There are several delightful hikes, such as Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. This picture was taken in early morning from near the trail to Grand Wash, looking back toward Fruita.

The Fremont River

The Fremont River

Driving off Fruita toward Hanksville on Scenic byway 24, you follow the magnificent Fremont River as it rolls gently between walls of gold. This picture was taken in the early morning and I had to use a 2-stop ND grad filter to maintain detail in the foreground and restitute the depth of the landscape, as I saw it.

Tamarisk on the Fremont

Tamarisk on the Fremont

Autumn and Spring are the best seasons to enjoy Capitol Reef: the temperatures are moderate and the abundant vegetation is luxuriant. During a 10-day period in Autumn, the visitor is treated to a festival of fall colors while following the shores of the Fremont River.

The Caineville Badlands

The Caineville Badlands

Following the Fremont toward the East, the canyon gradually opens up and gives way to an amazing universe of stark badlands from an ancient seabed; this area is known as the Bentonite Hills and the Caineville Badlands. These badlands are less colorful than some in the southern section of the park, but have more inetresting nuances of grey and black.The volcanic rock that can be seen at the bottom right is from an ancient eruption of distant Boulder Mountain.

Temple of the Moon

Temple of the Moon at dawn

West of the Caineville badlands lies the very remote Cathedral Valley. After about 20 miles of rough driving, the visitor encounters Lower Cathedral Valley, noted for two formidable monoliths jutting toward the sky: the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. I took this image of the Temple of the Moon just as the rising sun was stiking the rock flank. On my last foray into the valley, I didn't encounter a human for 24 hours. A lone coyote greeted me with a howl in the early morning and I was elated to have these magnificient formations all to myself.

Temple of the Moon later

This medium telephoto view emphasizes the striking shape of the Temple of the Moon, as it emerges from the valley floor.

Temple of the sun

Temples of the Sun & Moon

This late afternoon wide-angle shot of both Temples projecting into the sky against a colorful sky evokes in my mind the metaphor of two Grand Priests of the mineral world.

Cathedral Valley Hoodoos

Cathedral Valley Hoodoos

I photographed these beautiful hoodos forming the base of the Hartnet plateau just behind the Temple of the Sun.

Upper Cathedral Valley


Upper Cathedral Valley 1

Another twelve miles past Lower Cathedral Valley brings you to the upper part of the valley, at the foot of the 10,000 feet Fishlake National Forest.I like to cross these mountains in Winter in my 4WD because of the extreme contrast between the high-alpine landscape covered in snow and the fantastic red monoliths of the valley.

Upper Cathedral Valley

Upper Cathedral Valley 2

Upper Cathedral Valley consists of several huge megaliths rising at the base of Elkhorn Mountain. This one is the largest of the rock blocks and rises like a cathedral from the valley bed.

Cathedral Valley

Upper Cathedral Valley 3

As the valley opens up, the monoliths become gradually smaller and more pointy.

Walls of Jericho

The Walls of Jericho

The author and wife Patricia in front of the Walls of Jericho, a tremendous rock barrier enclosing Upper Cathedral Valley.

Capitol Dome

Capitol Dome

Capitol Dome as soon from the Hickman Bridge trail on the way to The Fruita Overlook and Navajo knobs: an easy trail with rewarding vistas.

Capitol Dome

Behind Capitol Dome

We will now explore the southern section of the park, which is accessed via the Notom-Bullfrog road, an excellent graded dirt road leading all the way down to Lake Powell. This is the view toward the back of Capitol Dome, about 10 mile from the crossing with SB24.

Notom-Bullfrog Road

Down the Notom-Bullfrog Road

Further down, the road twists and turns as it starts dropping into the depression of the Waterpocket Fold, about 220 miles from SB24.

Waterpocket Fold

Lone Rock

I spotted this lone rock curiously sitting on a bed of whitish tuffa, on the Eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold.

Waterpocket Fold

Waterpocket Fold Badlands

These amazingly colorful stripes of tuffa, lining up the badlands on the east side of the road, are found at about twenty miles from the beginning of the Notom-Bullfrog road.

Strike Valley Overlook

Strike Valley Overlook

At about Mile 35, you are deep inside the depression of the Waterpocket Fold, but it is hard to really grasp the true dimensions of the fault from within. This image is taken from a viewpoint called Strikeout Valley, dominating the fault. It takes a 4WD or a long walk to get there, but it's well worth the effort.

Henry Mountains

The Henry Mountains

The remote Henry Mountains was the last mountain range in the continental U.S. to be explored and properly mapped by the U.S. geological survey.. in the nineteen thirties. Even today, these rugged mountains remain remote and unfrequently visited. This picture was taken at sundown from the East side of the Henrys.

Burr Trail

The Burr Trail

Instead of retracing your steps though the Waterpocket Fold, you can exit Capitol Reef via the scenic Burr Trail which brings you back to Scenic Byway 12 near Boulder. This image shows a powerful wind erosion phenomenon resulting in cavernous rock known as Swiss cheese.

Homestead Viewpoint

Homestead Viewpoint

North of Boulder, Scenic Byway 12 traverses Dixie Natl' Forest and climbs above 10,000 feet, affording magnificent vistas of Capitol Reef from strategically located viewpoints. This image is taken from the Homestead Viewpoint with the Burr trail to the right and the Henry Mountains in the background, beyond the Waterpocket fault.

Scenic Byway 12

Aspens in Autumn

Scenic Byway 12 between Boulder and Torrey has to be one of the most scenic roads in the world. Magnificent groves of aspens border each side, opening up from time to time to reveal immense panoramas of Capitol Reef. I shot these aspens in Autumn, choosing to frame them against the sun to accentuate the warms colors.

Aspens in Winter

A more intimate look at the same aspens in Winter, under a cold light.

Larb Hollow, Scenic Byway 12

Larb Hollow Viewpoint

Larb Hollow is the last viewpoint on SB12, affording an even closer view of the South-Western section of Capitol Reef. From there it is only a 20 minute drive to Torrey, where our journey started.

Capitol Reef - the Cstle

Back to the Castle

Back inside the park, we are again greeted by the impressive turrets of the Castle. I hope you've enjoyed this tour and will be inspired to visit Capitol Reef National Park some day.

About the Exhibit:

This month's showcase is somewhat of a departure from the ordinary, as I'm the featured artist.

My preference goes to showcasing the works from other artists/photographers, however I am also eager to educate or satisfy the curiosity of my fellow travelers and photographers so I felt the time had come to take a breather from several months of rather awsome photography of the American West by shifting the emphasis on discovery rather than artistry. Thus this showcase dedicated to the discovery of Capitol Reef Natl' Park.

Whenever people ask me what my favorite parks are and the name of Capitol Reef pops up, I often get a blank stare. Indeed, a surprising number of people have never even heard of it. Personally, I consider Capitol Reef a real jewel, because of its unmatched geological variety, fantastic vegetation and scenery and lack of crowds.

I have been to Capitol Reef many times before, but 1998 was a landmark year with no less than three visits to the Park: twice on my own with photography as the main goal and once in the company of my wife for sheer enjoyment, with very little photography involved.

I also have a particular fondness for a very special area of Capitol Reef National Park, called Cathedral Valley. Located in the Northern section of the Park, Cathedral Valley is a place of silence and solemn beauty, a sanctuary where I seek solace and let my spirit soar.

I have practically made a career of world traveling, having visited or lived extensively in over 70 countries and Cathedral Valley has an extra special place in my heart. I wanted to share this passion for Capitol Reef through a brief virtual tour of the main sections of this very large Park. I hope you'll find it both educational as well as visually attractive.

About the Photographer:

You can find more about yours truly by visiting my personal page. Also, if you'd be interested in seeing different aspects of my photography, check my work on Sumo, from when I lived in Japan.

Find more photos of the Colorado Plateau in Land of the Canyons, the Photo Trip USA landscape photography guide book.

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