Climb to the Navajo Knobs
Friday, March 14
We were at a bit of a fellowship-breaking point this morning. Pu and Shannon wanted to head back towards Zion early in order to meet up with friends who were coming to join them for the last few days of the trip; and Phuong and Scott had decided to accompany them, having perhaps had enough of the "Andrew style" of outdoor adventuring. Bob and Brian were keen to continue on with Jenn and I, though, and so we re-organized the vehicles so that we four were in one, and Pu, Shannon, Phuong and Scott in the other.
I wanted to continue for at least a day or two along our original itinerary. That meant heading north and east out of the Escalante area and exploring a bit of Capitol Reef country. Capitol Reef is a quiet but spectacularly beautiful National Park in south-central Utah, and for the last five to ten years, I'd always bypassed the park, either only driving through or stopping at the campground. This year, I wanted to do an actual hike, at the very least.
We all agreed to meet up again in Springdale (i.e. in Zion) on the weekend, and we said our good-byes.
We headed north on super-scenic Utah 12, taking our time and stopping at the high, snowy lookouts on Boulder mountain. Brr.... pretty chilly and snowy up there.
We descended down the north side of Boulder mountain to Torrey, then headed right onto Utah 24 and into Capitol Reef country. I was torn between doing the shorter Chimney Rock loop trail and a longer trail leading to Hickman Bridge and the Navajo Knobs. The day was so nice and the scenery so grand, we had to pick the latter. We drove to the signed trailhead next to the Fremont River and got ready to go. It was after lunch at this point, so we had to maintain a brisk pace in order to get the whole hike in.
The trail was wide and well-marked - quite a difference from the trackless cross-country travelling we had just been doing in the Escalante. We first headed to Hickman bridge, a graceful span of tan-colored Navajo Sandstone that arced across a dry wash (a bridge differs from an arch in that a bridge crosses a watercourse). The contrast of the tan stone and cobalt-blue sky made for great pictures.
We headed back along the little spur trail to the bridge, then continued on up towards the overlooks and the Navajo Knobs. As we climbed, the tilted nature of Capitol Reef became apparent. The whole of the landscape in this area was tilted as a unit towards the east (and the tilt itself is called 'the Waterpocket Fold'). It was like the horizon was titlted, and every time I took a picture with my camera I had to conciously line up the viewfinder with the clouds in the sky, and not the horizon. It was like being in a weird science experiment where they have you enter a room that's been tilted on it's side.
Heading off towards overlook
Even with the tilt, the scenery was superb as climbed higher and higher along tilted strata. Golden sandstone knobs popped up everywhere, textured with criss-cross patterns of joints and bedding. Farther away, the lofty and snowy Henry Mountains provided a very non-desert backdrop. The air was crisp and clear and a strong breeze was blowing. Everything stood out very clearly.
Presently we arrived at a very windy lookout directly over the historic settlement of Fruita (this spot is known as the 'Rim Overlook'). Below us, we could see the little matchsticks of the orchards, the old Mormon schoolhouse and the National Park service campground, over 800 lofty feet below.
On and upwards we climbed. In fact, this was the only hike on our trip that was 'mountain-like' (in the sense that you started low and ended up on a high-point). The orientation of the Waterpocket Fold and the way our trail was working it's way up the western escarpment of Capitol Reef meant that we had to wind in and out of tilted side drainages - which meant going down, down, down into a drainage, then up, up, up, up out of the drainage (note the three 'downs' and four 'ups' - we were climbing higher each time). As we got higher and more directly exposed to the west, the wind picked up from a stiff breeze to a seriously strong gale, and we had to don our wind-gear.
Finally, with the sun reaching a decidedly evening-ish angle, we approached a stout, rounded knob of sandstone, and the trail abruptly turned right and started to traverse up the side of it. This, I supposed, was the 'Navajo knob' that marked the end of the hike. And sure enough, in a few minutes, we had scrambled up a small ravine at its rear and stood atop a small little summit. The wind was blasting at probably 60 mph up here -- note the picture of Brian sporting a very slicked-back hairstyle on the summit. It was still super-clear, and we had superb views -- dizzying views -- down to the highway, which ran like a ribbon very far below. A land filled with reddish sandstone fins stretched away to the north and west, and to the south and east were fantastic views down the escarpment which marked the western end of the waterpocket fold. The late-day light slanted across the landscape, etching everything in contrast-enhancing shadows. Quite a view.
The wind was strong and it was quite late, and we had come almost 9km (about 6 miles) to get to this point - and we had that amount to return. So, we quickly headed back down into calmer air and set about hiking briskly back along our trail. It took us about two hours to get back to the car, which we reached just at sunset. We had packed quite a nice hike into the latter half of today, and I'd finally broken my dry streak with Capitol Reef National Park. Nice place, and very deserving of more exploration.
Henry Mountains at sunset
Saying bye-bye to Capitol Reef
We had originally intended on camping in the orchard-cum-campground of Fruita, but laziness took over and instead we decided to cheap-motel it in nearby Torrey, where we stayed at the quaint and cheap Red Rock Inn. We had dinner at a lively little local pizza place. Decent food here, too (wow, two nights of good food in remote south-central Utah - who woulda thunk it?).
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Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Hickman Bridge - Navajo Knobs Trail - Click map to expand
Hickman Bridge - Navajo Knobs, Elevation over Distance
Hickman Bridge - Navajo Knobs, Elevation over Time
Hike Data - Hickman Bridge-Navajo Knobs
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet