Capitol Reef National Park is characterized by sandstone formations, cliffs and canyons, and a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust called the Waterpocket Fold. It extends from nearby Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River (now Lake Powell). Erosion has carved the rock into marvelous shapes. This is an inviting wilderness of rock with descriptive names such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash and Cathedral Valley."
Capitol Reef National Park was established to protect this grand and colorful geologic feature, as well as the unique natural and cultural history found in the area.
The most scenic portion of the Waterpocket Fold, found near the Fremont River, is known as Capitol Reef: capitol for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes, and reef for the rocky cliffs which are a barrier to travel, like a coral reef.
Visitors to Capitol Reef National park are often curious about the fruit trees that lie within a mile or two of the Visitor Center. These trees - apple, pear, peach, cherry, apricot, mulberry, even Potowatomee Plum - are the most obvious reminder of the pioneer community that once prospered in the narrow valley of the Fremont River. Other places of interest include the Fruita Schoolhouse and the Gifford Homestead.
Here's a schedule:
Stop at the visitor center and view the displays and orientation slide program. Pick some delicious fruit when in season. Hike one of the shorter trails in the Fruita area. Tour the Scenic Drive (approximately 90 minutes round trip). Visit the petroglyphs, historic schoolhouse, or the Behunin Cabin (along U-24), or the Historic Gifford Homestead or the blacksmith shop (on the Scenic drive). Join a ranger-guided program, if available.
The Waterpocket Fold defines Capitol Reef National Park. A nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust, the Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline: a regional fold with one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. A monocline is a "step-up" in the rock layers. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east. Major folds are almost always associated with underlying faults.
The Waterpocket Fold formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a major mountain building event in western North America, the Laramide Orogeny, reactivated an ancient buried fault. When the fault moved, the overlying rock layers were draped above the fault and formed a monocline.
More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface only within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name Waterpocket Fold reflects this ongoing erosion of the rock layers. "Waterpockets" are basins that form in many of the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout the fold, thus giving it the name "Waterpocket Fold". Erosion of the tilted rock layers continues today forming colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches.
Nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary strata are found in the Capitol Reef area.
These rocks range in age from Permian (as old as 270 million years old) to Cretaceous
(as young as 80 million years old.) The Waterpocket Fold has tilted this geologic layer cake down to the east.
The older rocks are found in the western part of the park, and the younger rocks are found near the east boundary.
This layer upon layer sequence of sedimentary rock records nearly 200 million years of geologic history. Rock layers in Capitol Reef reveal ancient environments as varied as rivers and swamps (Chinle Formation), Sahara-like deserts (Navajo Sandstone), and shallow oceans (Mancos Shale).