Halls Creek Narrows Day 1
Capitol Reef NP - April 1
A high cloud deck covered the majority of the sky upon waking up on the second day of our Reefy Retirement adventure trip. We had decided the night before that we would fit a backpack into the next few days - and one in a remote, wild area - far away from the type of crowds we saw the day before in Bell and Little Wild Horse Canyons. That place? A spot way, way down at the southern end of Capitol Reef National Park, along a watercourse known as Halls Creek. It was a location quite far away from commonly-driven tourist routes.
Halls creek is a fairly major north-south drainage in the southern part of Capitol Reef. It runs parallel to the line of the Waterpocket fold, and much of the water drainage off of the sloping fold runs down into Halls creek. For large sections of its length over most of the year, though, it's a dry wash.
One particular section of the creek has managed to carve its way into the clean Navajo Sandstone of the nearby Waterpocket Fold, creating a length of winding narrows with soaring walls and huge alcoves. And through this section, Halls Creek flows with a clear, burbling little flow -- when it's not in flash-flood mode, of course.
Morning Twilight, Goblin Valley
Our plan was fairly straightforward, and divided neatly into the three days we had allocated for a packpack: Day 1 - drive to trailhead, hike to the start of the narrow section and camp. Day 2 - hike the narrows section and return to camp. Day 3 - hike back to the trailhead.
In addition to being remote and secluded, backpacking in southern Capitol Reef didn't require any overnight backpacking fees, although we did need to register at the visitor center for a free permit. To that end, we drove south from Goblin Valley and then west along Utah 24 to the park's main tourist area, in the historic Mormon locality of Fruita (and where the visitor center is located).
With our permit acquired, we drove back east and out of the park, soon turning south on one of the major "back-ways" of south-central Utah: the Notom-Bullfrog Road. The road is gravelled for most of its length, and crosses into and out of Capitol Reef NP several times as it makes its way south, roughly parallelling the eastern edge of the park. There is a lot of interesting scenery and geology on display as one drives south along this road - primarily a long, long section of the Waterpocket Fold monocline (the more technical name for the "Capitol Reef"). To our left, the strata was flat, forming the more typically-seen mesas and cliffs. One our right, however, was the fold: Miles upon miles upon miles of steeply tilted strata.
After about an hour of driving (from the visitor center), we finally arrived at the turnoff to the Halls Creek Overlook. A bit (perhaps 10 minutes) of very mild 4wd driving brought us to a beautiful open spot on the western edge of the long north-south trench that has formed immediately to the east of the waterpocket fold. In this area, this valley is known as the Grand Gulch (of Halls Creek). Our trailhead started from this point, and wound down to the bottom of Grand Gulch.
Unlike the day before, there were only a handful of cars at this quite remote trailhead, and the dispersed nature of the destinations from here likely meant we weren't going to meet too many people on our travels. We took a good hour to prep our gear, taking care to ensure that we had enough water to make it the approximately 10 miles from the trailhead to our camping area (which has the first good, reliable water source).
Brian at Halls Creek Overlook
The early-morning overcast had given way to intermittent high and wispy clouds. It was a very moderate sort of day, neither hot nor cold. Overall, quite comfortable for hiking.
Starting at the Halls Creek Overlook trailhead sign at about 1:30pm, we began our descent to Halls Creek.
Descening into Grand Gulch