Utah’s Capital Reef

by Darley Newman

It’s amazing that on a ride in Utah of all places, I can be reminded of my home on the east coast.

While sitting atop Sawdust, my eight-year-old buckskin mount for this trip, I starred at the towering white rock cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park, which look remarkably like the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. As they rose around me, I could imagine the challenges faced by the pioneers who settled this land in the 1800’s. The tall canyon walls can be like the walls of a gigantic maze, and once in, it can be difficult to climb out. 

Capitol Reef is located on a Waterpocket Fold, a section where layers of earth were thrust up tens of millions of years ago, forming its high cliffs and contrasting terrain. This difficult terrain grants the park the other half of its name – “reef”.  These stunning reef-like formations are a barrier to travelers on land just a reefs are a challenge for sailors. Roamed and settled by ancient Native Americans, Mormon pioneers and famous outlaws like Butch Cassidy, Capitol Reef National Park is a great place for those who want to relive history on horseback. 

The spectacular pallet of impossibly vibrant colors prompted the Navajo to call this “the land of the sleeping rainbow,” and are alone worth a visit. I rode with Pat Kearney of Hondoo Rivers and Trails. She has explored this area for over 30 years. As we battled the windy conditions, we made it to the highlight of my ride. What Pat calls the “newspaper rock”, is a rock wall covered in ancient petroglyphs and pictographs from the Fremont people, a pre-historic group of hunter-gatherers, and more recent pioneer graffiti. This wall tells many stories, some of which have yet to be understood.

I felt like I was starring at an ancient art gallery, humbled by the thought of all who have ridden here before me.

Learn more about riding in Utah with Pat on an EquitrekkingTravel.com featured equestrian vacation.