“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide and so we are found.”
Terry Tempest Williams
The true meaning of the term “painted desert” came to me while driving along the road to Capitol Reef. Mile after mile, the desert colors changed from yellow and golden to white, violet and bluish gray to red, amber and orange. The landscape switched colors before my eyes as the wide open range, at times flat, at times surrounded by hills, rolled by.
Black clouds and blood red rocks greeted all who entered the park that day. The colors were extremely intense due to the dark sky and the rocks glistened as the rain washed away all signs of dust and saturated the tones.
Capitol Reef is often passed by by tourists as most of the park can only discovered on foot or with a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle. Even if you have the proper car the weather has to be stable. Any sign of rain and the dry desert road can turn into a raging river and you’ll be stuck. Even on foot, a gorge can become a trap when flash floods rush through. Still, it’s worth stopping and exploring all it has to offer from lush green pastures to dry washes. The sandstone is beyond fascinating, and I will be making a separate photo book filled with images of sandstone.
One of the interesting hikes to go on is through Capitol Gorge and then climb up to the tanks (water holes). Until 1962, this was the only way to pass through and the old poles used to string a telephone line are still visible. There are plenty of names and dates etched into the sandstone, along with ancient petroglyphs.
Another easy and enjoyable hike is to Hickman Bridge, a natural arch above the valley floor which also offers canyon views.
The weather does what it pleases, even in the desert and although our second full day started out with plenty of sunshine, the dark ferocious clouds rolled in and there was thunder, lightning and rain. And you never want to be out in the desert during a thunderstorm, especially if there is no protection! We hiked and hiked, but had to stop often along the way to take photos of sandstone and before long there was a vista point to detour to to see the valley. By then, the sky was darker and I was wary about continuing the hike, knowing the dangers of a thunderstorm in the desert. Luckily, I was able to convince everyone to turn around and it’s a good thing we did…