Frequently Asked Questions

1.Why the name "Capitol Reef"?

Early settlers noted that the white domes of Navajo Sandstone resemble the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Prospectors visiting the area (many with nautical backgrounds) referred to the Waterpocket Fold, an 87-mile long ridge in the earth's crust, as a reef, since it was a formidable barrier to transportation.

2. Who planted the orchards? Can we pick fruit?

Mormon pioneers planted the historic Fruita orchards beginning in the 1880s. The orchards are managed to preserve their historic character and are watered with an irrigation system essentially in original condition. Visitors can pick and eat fruit in the orchards in season and purchase fruit and nuts to take along.

3. What makes the rocks red and green?

Iron caused both these colors in Capitol Reef's rock layers. Oxidized iron results in red coloring and indicates a dry paleo-environment and reduced iron, produced in swampy or boggy conditions, gives the rock a green tint. Both oxidized and reduced iron produce different chemical reactions that result in the different colors.

4. What are the rock formations and when were they formed?

Capitol Reef is an excellent place to see many of the geologic strata that make up the Colorado Plateau. White Rim sandstone 275 million years old is at the base of the Fremont River Gorge. Dark red Moenkopi siltstone and mudstone has formed the beautiful Mummy Cliffs. Sheer Wingate sandstone cliffs soar over Utah Highway 24 and are capped by domes of Navajo sandstone. Entrada sandstone has formed spectacular fins in the Cathedral Valley.

5. How did the entire Behunin family live in that one-room cabin?

Elijah Cutler Behunin, his wife Tabitha, and 11 of their 13 children lived in the Fremont River Canyon in the 1890s. The whole family didn't sleep inside the house. The older children slept outside; the girls slept in a wagon box in the yard and the boys slept up in a rock alcove.

6. What are potholes, tanks and waterpockets?

All these names describe natural catch basins formed by the dissolving of calcium carbonate and the erosion of sandstone by water and wind. Waterpockets collect rain and snowmelt, providing water for desert wildlife and habitat for aquatic lifeforms.

7. What defines a desert?

A desert receives less than 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rainfall per year. Capitol Reef averages about 7 inches (17.8 cm) per year (combined rain and snow); however, the park is classified as step-shrub plant and animal community.

8. What are the black boulders and where did they come from?

The rocks are volcanic in origin and came from lava flows that surfaced and capped Boulder and Thousand Lake Mountains approximately 20 million years ago. During the last Ice Age, glaciers capped the mountains and then began to melt. Glacial outwash and mudflows moved the lava pieces into this area. They became rounded from rolling and tumbling during this erosional process.

9. Who made the rock art in the park?

Petroglyphs found along Highway 24 and on the Capitol Gorge Trail were created by Fremont Culture Indians and are 700 to 1,000 years old. The Fremont were hunter-gatherers who supplemented their diet by growing corn and squash. They lived in pit houses dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof.

10. Are there venomous snakes in the park?

The Midget Faded Rattlesnake, seldom reaching 24 inches (61 cm) long, is the park's resident venomous snake. It blends in with the pink sandstone and feeds primarily on small rodents.

Last updated: February 9, 2017

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Torrey, UT 84775


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