Located 170 mi/270 km south of Salt Lake City, Utah's Capitol Reef National Park got its name, in part, from the white sandstone domes that are said to look like the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm). Reef is a term that early explorers gave to the rugged and colorful cliffs of folded rock because they blocked westward movement much as a coral reef blocks ships. Though several roads, including Highway 24, now traverse the reef, you'll have no difficulty understanding the trepidation with which the pioneers approached this obstacle: It's a massive stone wall.
Waterpocket Fold is a reference to the pools of water trapped in the folded rock—you'll see the Swiss-cheese texture of the stone as you drive through the park. The Notom-Bullfrog Road follows the Waterpocket Fold, which extends for 100 mi/160 km. Many of the cliff faces along this route are covered with Native American petroglyphs.
For a really memorable encounter with the fold, try the Burr Trail, a road that runs east out of the town of Boulder, crosses over the top of the fold and switchbacks down the cliffs. Many Utah roads hug steep drop-offs, but for our money, the Burr Trail is one of the most thrilling: We drove it at twilight and wondered if we'd ever reach the bottom. Though parts of the road are gravel, most cars should make it as long as the weather is dry. (The Burr Trail continues past Capitol Reef to Bullfrog Marina, where you can catch one of the seasonal ferries that cross Lake Powell.)
A 10-mi/16-km paved route known as the Scenic Drive gives an excellent tour of the park. The loop begins near the visitors center and takes you past the now-abandoned Mormon town of Fruita. The orchards there still bear fruit, and visitors are invited to enjoy all the cherries, peaches, pears, apricots and apples they can eat (for a fee, you can pick some extra to take with you).
Just west of the park, the All American Road (Highway 12) begins. It takes you high into the mountains of the Dixie National Forest, where hiking trails, fishing, camping and breathtaking vistas abound. Be prepared for snow from fall through late spring on this high-elevation route.
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