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High and Low, Arch and Wash
Cohab Canyon / Cassidy Arch / Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park
Wednesday, April 8
Another day, another clear blue sky, as our sunny streak continued into it's 5th day. Compared to yesterday, we had a more leisurely time schedule today. I had planned a moderate-length, very diverse hike in Capitol Reef National Park. Using the flexibility afforded us by our two rental vehicles, I had mapped out a hike that started at the Fruita Campground, climbed into Cohab Canyon, then struck out across the highlands southward towards Grand Wash. High up (before reaching Grand Wash) is an impressive arch named for the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy, who was rumoured to have used the nearby environs as a hideout. Following the visit to the arch, we'd continue down into Grand Wash, and finish off with a walk through it's narrows to the second vehicle, parked on highway 24 at Grand Wash.

The Rim Rock Inn
The Castle
Fruita Stables
We took our time getting ready, and were on our way at a relatively late 10:30 am (late for us, anyway). We headed off steeply up the switchbacking Cohab Canyon Trail, which starts right across from the campground. While it was mostly clear and sunny, it was a cool and blustery day, and it was good to get moving to warm up the blood.
Nearing the Cohab Canyon TH
Cohab Canyon Trail
Fruita and Wingate Cliffs
There were excellent views down to Fruita and across the ramparts of Wingate Cliffs marching off to the north. We then experienced a sudden change of environment as we levelled off underneath these same cliffs, then made an abrupt left turn into a small, nearly hidden draw. This was the upper end of Cohab Canyon (so named, I believe, for polygamist Mormons who were said to have hid here at one point).
Steep switchbacks
Chinle Boundary
Cohab Canyon
Cohab Canyon was very different from the open slopes we had just been hiking up. It was a cozy little environment, with a path that wound among pine trees, bushes of Mormon Tea, Manzanita, and other desert bushes. Bright yellow walls, pocked with solution holes, rose up on either side. We hike down through this pleasantness for perhaps 20 minutes, before reaching the first of several junctions.
Cohab Canyon scenery
Middle Cohab Canyon
Lava Boulders
The first junction (and we took all of the junctions) led up to a spectacular overlook onto the Fremont River's gorge and highway 24. We could see the ribbon of the highway winding it's way west, and a large expanse of the white Navajo slickrock domes of Capitol reef above. We then headed back and over to the second overlook (which, quite frankly, was much the same as the first overlook). It was very gusty and windy here, so after some photography, we retreated a bit to a spot of calmness, and had our first snack break.
Approaching a lookout
Fremont Canyon overlook
Front of the fold
Pu at Fremont overlook
Hiking back to Cohab Canyon
Returning to the first junction, we walked not a minute down-canyon before reaching the junction with the Frying Pan Trail. This trail leads south across the high country of the Waterpocket Fold, connecting eventually with Grand Wash (and along the way, providing access to Cassidy Arch). We walked a short distance up the trail and discovered a piece of paper with 'Trail Closed due to Rockfall' on it, taped onto a trail sign.

Ah, the usual conundrum. We had to decide whether this rockfall was an actual, real danger, or whether this was simply a cover-your-ass, lets-not-get-sued-if-someone-does-something-stupid, abundance-of-caution type situation. By the little map drawn on the sign, it appeared as if the rock fall area was on the other side of Cassidy Arch from where we were. So, if we wanted to see the Arch and avoid the rock fall area, we could do so without having to go through it.

After a bit of consultation, we decided to use the trail and head to the Arch. We could then inspect the rockfall area and make an informed assessment ourselves [of whether it was serious or not].
On the Frying Pan Trail
Rocks and Sky
Heading south across the fold
The Frying Pan trail was pleasant, as it led across the tilted landscape of Capitol Reef's high country. Because erosion has started to etch drainages in this tilted landscape, the trail ends up performing a series of long ups and long downs, all at a constant angle of steepness. We mostly exerted ourselves in silence, stopping only for the occasional picture. The windy day continued, with gusts occasionally strong enough to sting our eyes with blowing sand.
Capitol Reef High Country
South along Frying Pan Trail
Towards the Arch
After climbing up to a high point of land (actually, the highest point on this hike, at 6,500 feet), we started a gradual descent towards Grand Wash (which is the next major drainage to cut through the Waterpocket Fold south of the Fremont River Gorge). Directly ahead of us as we walked was more impressive Navajo Slickrock south of Grand Wash, including the very prominent and appropriately-named Fern's Nipple. Presently, we came to an area of orange-and-white slickrock, and a junction with the side trail leading to Cassidy Arch.

Looking forward to the centrepiece of today's hike, we headed off on the side trail, traversing along sweeping slopes of slickrock. It took perhaps 10 or 15 minutes to reach the Arch.
Distant view of Arch
Cassidy Arch
From atop the Arch
Cassidy Arch is not easily visible from afar (although we did find a good far-away viewpoint, as you can see from some of the pictures), and you don't see it until you are practically right on top of it. It is not a skyline-type arch; rather, it is tucked away below the skyline (I guess you could say it is more in the style of a bridge). Essentially, the arch spans a short but very steep gorge which has eroded into the high slickrock we were standing on. It is very impressive: flat on top, with a huge, graceful arc underneath and a thick, sound-looking structure. Underneath, the gorge it spanned dropped precipitously away towards Grand Gulch.
People for Perspective
Jenn and Bob on Arch
A Zen Moment
Since the top of the arch was flush with the land we were standing on, it was a simple and easy matter to walk around and right across the span of the arch -- good for several puny-humans-in-a-grand-landscape-type shots. Perhaps the only shortcoming of this arch is that you can't really see sky through the opening, since you are above it and looking at a downward angle through it. It may be possible to somehow get around to the terrain on the western side of the arch (because that terrain is down towards Grand Gulch and is much lower), but reaching that from our point would require a major rappel. Perhaps it is possible to reach it from Grand Gulch -- I don't know -- but in any case, that would have taken far too long and would not have fit into our alloted time.
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
Another Zen Moment
Andrew finishes with pics
Cassidy Arch from Afar
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