Capitol Reef National Park
HC 70 Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775
(435) 425-3791 ext. 111
WELCOME to Capitol Reef!
The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle
in the earth's crust known as a monocline, extends from nearby
Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River (now Lake Powell).
Capitol Reef National Park was established to protect this grand and
colorful geologic feature, as well as the unique natural and
cultural history found in the area.
- Burr Trail Switchback
- Studhorse Peaks
- Visitor Center
DEVELOPMENT AND ADMINISTRATION
Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the
1920s by local boosters Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman,
Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful
canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths.
About 75 miles of the long
up-thrust called the Waterpocket Fold, extending like a rugged spine
from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved
within the park boundary. Capitol Reef is the name of an especially
rugged and spectacular part of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont
Only a few decades ago, Capitol Reef and the
Waterpocket Fold country comprised one of the remote corners of the
lower 48 states. Easy road access came only with the construction of
a paved Utah Highway 24 through the Fremont River Canyon in 1962.
The earliest traces of human activity date
from the 9th century when Native American Indian peoples occupied
the flood plains and high ground near the few perennial
watercourses. These people, called the Fremont Culture by
archeologists, were contemporaries of the Ancestral Puebloans of the
Four Corners area. Between 1250 and 1500, evidence of the Fremont
Culture becomes rare and gradually ceased to exist.
combination of environmental and social pressures may have led to
this change, but no definitive explanation has been found.
Not for several centuries did significant
human activity reappear. When the first white explorers traveled in
the vicinity of the Waterpocket Fold, both Ute and Southern Paiute
nomads were encountered.
Despite the fact that numerous expeditions
passed near Capitol Reef, none of them explored the Waterpocket Fold
to any great extent. John Charles Fremont passed through the
Cathedral Valley in 1854, finding the region, as it is now,
incredibly rugged and forbidding.
Following the Civil War, Mormon church
officials at Salt Lake City sought to establish missions in the
remotest niches of the intermountain west. In 1866, a quasi-military
expedition or Mormons in pursuit of Native American Indians
penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers
moved into these valleys, eventually establishing Loa, Fremont,
Lyman, Bicknell, and Torrey. Meanwhile, men from the expeditions of
Major John Wesley Powell had begun to explore the area.
In the early 1880s, settlers moved into
Capitol Reef country. Tiny communities sprung up along the
life-sustaining Fremont River; Junction (later renamed Fruita),
Caineville and Aldridge were created. Fruita prospered; Caineville
barely survived; Aldridge died.
By 1920, the work was hard but the life in
Fruita was good. No more than ten families at one time were
sustained by the fertile flood plain of the Fremont River and the
land changed ownership over the years. The area remained isolated.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL MONUMENT
On August 2, 1937, in Proclamation 2246,
President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef area,
making it a National Monument. This comprised an area extending
about two miles north of present Utah Hwy 24 and about ten miles
south, just past Capitol Gorge. More highly protective federal
regulations now applied in "Wayne Wonderland".
These Depression years were lean ones for the
National Park Service (NPS), the new administering agency. Funds for
the administration of Capitol Reef were nonexistent; it would be a
long time before the first rangers would arrive.
During the 1960s (under the program name Mission
66), NPS areas nationwide received new facilities to meet the
demand of mushrooming park visitation . At Capitol Reef, a 53-site
campground at Fruita, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center
were built, the latter opening in 1966.
Visitation climbed dramatically after the
paved, all-weather road was built through the Fremont River canyon
near Fruita and the old Capitol Gorge road closed. 146,598 persons
visited the park in 1967. The staff was also growing.
During the 1960s, the NPS proceeded to
purchase private land parcels at Fruita and Pleasant Creek. Most
private property passed into public ownership on a
Preservationists successfully convinced
President Johnson to set aside an enormous area of public lands in
1968, just before he left office. In Presidential Proclamation 3888,
an additional 215,056 acres were placed under NPS control. By 1970,
Capitol Reef National Monument comprised 254,251 acres and stretched
southeast from Thousand Lake Mountain almost to the Colorado River.
The action was locally controversial, and NPS staffing at the
monument was inadequate to properly manage the additional land.
THE PARK CREATED BY CONGRESS
The vast enlargement of the monument and
addition of diverse resources soon raised another issue: Whether or
not Capitol Reef should be a national park, rather than a
monument. Two bills were introduced into Congress.
A House bill (H.R. 17152) introduced by Utah
Congressman Laurence J. Burton, called for an 180 thousand acre
national park and an adjunct 48 thousand acre national recreation
area where multiple use (including grazing) could continue
In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate bill S. 531
had already passed on July 1, 1970 providing for a 230 thousand acre
national park alone. The bill called for a 25 year phase-out of
In September 1970, Department of Interior
officials told a house subcommittee session that they preferred that
about 254 thousand acres be set aside as a national park. They also
recommended a ten-year grazing phase-out period, rather than a
25-year period. They did not favor the adjunct recreation area
It was not until late 1971 that Congressional
action was completed. By then, the 92nd Congress was in session and
S. 531 had languished. A new bill, S. 29, was introduced in the
Senate by Senator Frank M. Moss of Utah and was essentially the same
as the defunct S. 531 except that it called for an additional 10,834
acres of public lands for a Capitol Reef National Park. In the
House, Utah Representative Gunn McKay (with Representative Lloyd)
had introduced H.R. 9053 to replace the dead H.R. 17152. This time,
the House bill dropped the concept of an adjunct Capitol Reef
National Recreation Area and adopted the Senate concept of a 25 year
limit on continued grazing.
The Department of Interior was still
recommending a national park of 254,368 acres and a 10-year limit
for grazing phase-out.
S. 29 passed the Senate in June and was sent
to the House. The House subsequently dropped its own bill and passed
the Senate version with an amendment. Since the Senate was not in
agreement with the House amendment, differences were worked out in
Conference Committee. The Conference Committee issued their agreeing
report on November 30, 1971.
The legislation - "An Act to Establish
The Capitol Reef National park in the State of Utah" - became
Public Law 92-207 when it was signed by President Nixon on December
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