Audioposts throughout the Fruita District of Capitol Reef National Park, feature stories from people connected to the area and information about park resources.
Dewey Gifford calls Fruita “paradise” as he remembers his time farming and ranching in the area from 1928 to 1969. He describes growing apples, peaches, and pears in the orchards while his children attended school at the Fruita Schoolhouse. Gifford lived in what is now the Historic Gifford Homestead.
My name is Dewey Gifford, and I was a farmer and rancher in Fruita from 1928 until 1969. For much of that time, we had no running water, electricity, or telephone. There was little cash to be had from farming, so I had to be away when I was young. I worked on the state roads, herded sheep, and ran cattle in the South Desert. But the most pleasant memories I have were those of family, farming and friends here in Fruita. Until 1940, we used all teams and horse-drawn implements, mostly for growing and cutting alfalfa for animal feed. The orchards of course, took a lot of work, but we had beautiful fruit: apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums and cherries. We trucked a lot of it out of Fruita for cash sale or traded for grain with other farmers near Loa and Lyman.
All my children were raised here and attended the one-room school. Life wasn’t much different from 1880, when pioneers first settled here. You had to be very self-sufficient to make it. Most everybody here had been raised as Latter Day Saints, but some weren’t very active. We held Sunday School over in the schoolhouse. The eight or so families here got along pretty good, considering the isolation. Oh, we didn’t agree on everything; I remember Cass Mulford supported Hoover while I was a Roosevelt man, myself.
Both men and women worked hard here, but we took time to play. Our family enjoyed high country hunts and fishing. The women quilted. We read a lot in the winter and enjoyed baseball in the summer. We saw few travelers here until after 1937, when the park came. Most were cattlemen and sheep herders. There were huge herds of sheep trailing through Fruita in those days. For me, Fruita was paradise. I will never forget it.
Being a new teacher at the Fruita schoolhouse wasn’t always easy, as Janice Oldroyd Torgerson reflects on her year teaching in 1934. She was paid $57 a month and moved from her home in Lyman, to live at ‘Tine Olyer’s home. Torgerson describes pranks by her students as well as moonlit walks among the Fruita cliffs.
My name is Janice Oldroyd Torgerson. And I taught here in 1934 as a brand new teacher. I was a native of Wayne County, but Fruita was a rough 25-mile drive from my parent’s home in Lyman. I received $57 a month for a seven-month contract and boarded at ‘Tine Oyler’s home here in Fruita. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing, but Fruita was beautiful. Across the dusty road, were row upon row of grapes, bordered by huge walnut trees. On moonlit nights, the majestic red cliffs seemed gentle and protective.
The school building was badly in need of repair and mud was falling from between the logs. We had only a few old, ragged books. Like many rural children of the day, some of my students were pretty rough-and-tumble. The language I heard was too rugged for me, and I came down hard on that. Then there were the inevitable tricks. One morning I received a dead snake, coiled menacingly on my chair.
I gathered some gentle recollections, too. I especially remember the happy faces of young Lloyd and Fay Gifford, when they gave me a handkerchief at Christmas. It was a pretty rough year for a new teacher, and frankly I was relieved as school end drew near. The folks at Fruita gave me a surprise party the last evening before I left. The Mulfords and Giffords came with food; we played games and danced in the Oyler’s crowded living room. By noon the next day, I was on my way home. Just before Fruita disappeared from view, I stopped, sat down on a rock, and thought about the eventful year just past. I found a lot of happy memories while sitting there, and cried a little, knowing it was over.
Rick Pickyavit narrates the story of the ancient Fremont Culture who farmed among the canyons and Fremont River of the Waterpocket Fold. Park visitors can interpret the stories depicted by these people by viewing the petroglyph panel along Utah Highway 24. From bighorn sheep to trapezoid-shaped human figures, these petroglyphs describe the lifestyle and culture of the Fremont Culture.
(Maik’wuus tuhkoov’un.) Hello my friend. My name is Rick Pickyavit. My Southern Paiute ancestors were roaming and hunting the canyons south of here when white settlers arrived in the 1880s. Long before the Mormon Pioneer, or any tribal memory, other Native American peoples came to know the canyons and cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold. We call them the Fremont Culture, because we don’t know what they called themselves. Unlike my own ancestors, the Fremont people did not move with the changing seasons. They took root in these watered canyons and became farmers as well as huntergatherers. They left few signs, even though they lived here longer than the five centuries between the voyage of Columbus and the present day.
Other people like them lived over the large portion of what is today called Utah. For the most part, the story of the Fremont people can be told only in questions, not answers. How closely these people are related to the better-known pueblo-building Anasazi, no one knows. There are striking differences, as well as similarities. Many archeologists think that Fremont people may be descended directly from ancient nomads called the Desert Archaic. We know a little about the Fremont people’s daily lives from collections of precious artifacts, and something about their hearts and minds from their petroglyphs. We know less, almost nothing, about where they came from or why they left suddenly in the 13th century.
For park visitors, some Fremont Culture petroglyphs can be viewed easily. Caution must always rule in the interpretation of petroglyphs. With few exceptions, we cannot really be sure what the ancient maker of the petroglyphs had in mind. Among serious students, there are some who consider almost all petroglyphs a form of writing, while others consider most of them to be art, not writing. The large trapezoid-shaped human figures excite interest. Many have headgear and horns. Figures are commonly seen with necklaces, earrings and sashes. Animals, especially bighorn sheep, appear in many petroglyphs, and indications are that they were once often hunted and perhaps revered.
Following the disappearance of the Fremont people in the 13th century, no one resided in the Waterpocket Fold country for 500 years. During this time, however; Ute and Southern Paiute hunters and gatherers roamed the region. They lived in close harmony with the natural environment, and left little evidence of their presence. Here in the Fremont River Valley, archeologists first identified the Fremont Culture. As you walk these paths and hidden places, do not even touch the petroglyphs. Protect their legacy, even as I respect it.
Capitol Reef's clear dark skies provide visitors with opportunities to view constellations, planets, asteroids, deep space objects, and more.
Welcome space dwellers. Our address? Capitol Reef National Park, state of Utah, country of the United States of America, Planet Earth, in the Milky Way galaxy – one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Our planet is spinning around 900 miles per hour, rotating on its axis once every 24 hours, and orbiting around the sun every 365 days. Earth is a tiny, fragile exception in the cosmos where life exists. Outer space is only 62 miles away.
By day, we can see the Sun 93 million miles away, don’t look at it of course, and often we can see the moon, only 240,000 miles away. Though the Sun’s brightness illuminates the sky overhead… stars, nebula, asteroids, and galaxies continue to glow in deep space. Capitol Reef’s stellar air quality means we are afforded clear breathable skies where we can see far and wide at our beautiful planet.
By night, the pristine dark skies of Capitol Reef reveal the wonders of the heaven’s above. At times throughout the year, several neighboring planets are visible, namely Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. On a cloudless night, it’s quite possible to see nearly 10,000 stars, while urban dwellers living in light polluted skies may see only a few thousand. Asteroids, comets, constellations, and deep space objects can be seen overhead.
Capitol Reef gives earthlings a place to witness the wonders of our planet and to contemplate our place in the universe.
Learn how Capitol Reef got its name and how deposition, uplift, and erosion has shaped its ever-changing landscape.
Capitol Reef National Park is a geologic wonder that reveals changes to the earth. The park was proclaimed a national monument on August 2, 1937 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to protect “narrow canyons displaying evidence of ancient sand dune deposits of unusual scientific value.” It was established as a national park on December 18, 1971 by an Act of Congress.
Early European travelers referred to the area as “Capitol Reef.” The large Navajo Sandstone dome in the distance, called Capitol Dome, reminded them of the early US Capitol Building, and the overall terrain served as a barrier to travel, much like a reef in the ocean. The name remains, but the landscape has been changing.
The geologic story of Capitol Reef can be summarized in three major events: deposition, uplift, and erosion with change as the only constant.
Today the park is a high desert, but past environments evolved over time from oceans, and river systems, to arid deserts, swamps, and coastlines all due to plate tectonics slowly moving the land from near the equator to its present-day latitude of 38 degrees north of the equator. The result is the deposition of 19 different layers of rock over a 280-million-year timeframe in the Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history.
Sixty-five million years ago an ancient, buried fault line was reactivated and uplifted one side of the rock layers to over 10,000 feet, or 3,048 meters. The pliable layers over the fault folded, creating a monocline. Weathering from water and wind has since eroded away much of the rock, leaving cliffs, buttes, canyons, arches, and domes. The landscape will continue to change. Every flash flood and rock fall continues to shape and erode Capitol Reef. One day what we know as Capitol Reef will be gone. Perhaps other deeper rock layers will be revealed, or new ones will be deposited. As author and historian Wallace Stegner said, “Geology knows no such word as forever.”
Water is essential to life, especially in a desert ecosystem receiving an average of only 8 inches, or 20 cm, of precipitation each year. The lush Fremont River valley is home to Fremont cottonwood trees, red-tailed hawks, beavers, and many other plants and animals.
Water is essential to life. Look around you. Seen from above, this river valley is ribbon of green through the dry, red desert. It indicates water and fertile habitats for animals, seeking food and shelter. In a land that receives an average of 8 inches, or 20 cm, of precipitation a year, this band of green is crucial for many species.
Riparian zones are areas surrounding waterways. They are home to the Fremont Cottonwood, a tree that is integral to many other species’ survival. Tree branches hold birds’ nests, and provide perches for raptors, such as the red-tailed hawk. In the spring, tent caterpillars feast on cottonwood leaves and spin silken tents among the branches, creating shelter from predators. About a month later, the caterpillars make cocoons and metaphorize into adult moths. Young cottonwood saplings are delectable to beavers, which eat the plant, and use parts of it in their dens. Beavers have adapted to the flood-prone Fremont River valley, building dens in the riverbank, instead of dams across the waterway. Even when cottonwood trees are dead, their wood can be a home for insects. Northern flickers and woodpeckers drum up dinner from dead trees.
Listen to the perennial Fremont River on the other side of the path. In the spring, snowmelt from Thousand Lake Mountain fills the river with fresh, cold water. Some water is diverted for agricultural use in local communities and for the orchards of Capitol Reef National Park. Summer thunderstorms bring monsoon rains, heavy downpours that can cause dangerous flash floods. The Fremont River, Sulphur Creek, and even dry washes can flow with muddy brown water, tumbling basalt boulders and trees, carving the waterways ever deeper. Little precipitation falls in autumn, after the end of monsoon season in September. Variable winter snows provide some moisture, but one inch of snow may only offer about a tenth of an inch of available water in this high desert.
No matter what season you visit Capitol Reef, consider how essential water is to life, especially in a desert. Remember to stay hydrated and keep an eye on the weather while you explore the park!
Recorded park information available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered when staff is available. If no one answers, please leave a message, your call will be returned. Questions may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.