Colorado Plateau Photo Odyssey 5: Grand Staircase-Escalante & Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef SP13-7

From Bryce Canyon I next ventured to Grand Junction, in western Colorado. The quickest route is to backtrack to U.S. 89 and head north to I-70. That’s about a five hour drive. But I decided to take the scenic route along Route 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Capitol Reef, and then onto I-70 and Grand Junction. It’s about a six hour, 330 mile drive:

From Bryce Canyon you descend to the hamlet of Tropic and then after driving north and east for a bit you climb to the first overlook of the monument:

The road is a bit slow and windy in this section, as you head toward the canyon formed by Escalante river:

After crossing the river, you again start to climb, finding more vista views of the rugged high desert scenery along Calf Creek:

The last major portion of the trip before reaching Capitol Reef involves a traversal of Boulder Mountain, which consists of steep slopes and cliffs with forest and meadowlands on the 11,000 foot top. It is the highest timbered plateau in North America. Route 12, which was only completed in this section in 1985, only gets as high as 9,600 feet, but that’s plenty high enough. It’s 120 miles between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, yet it takes nearly three hours to traverse those miles thanks to hairpin turns through steep canyons and rugged terrain.

Capitol Reef doesn’t get as much attention as either Zion, Bryce, or Arches National Parks, but it’s just as scenic. I only had time to stop and get a few quick snaps before moving forward:

East of Capitol Reef there was some interesting scenery along the Fremont River. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any place to stop. But the gray ashen hills really did seem almost kind of spooky in the afternoon sunshine. I got this quite snap while moving at about 55 mph:

From here it’s a little more than an hours drive to I-70, and a few hours more to Grand Junction. The scenery is not so interesting as one leaves Fremont River section of Route 24 and heads north toward I-70. But there’s some fascinating places close-by, such as Goblin Valley State Park.