Capitol Reef NP, UT

Posted January 15, 2011 by User 1


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Capitol Reef National Park, in central Utah, is one of the most remote national park in Utah. Within park boundaries, there is absolutely no significant source of light pollution. Any which may exist would require highly sensitive equipment to detect.

The "Capitol Reef" is another name for the Waterpocket Fold, a massive, 175 mile long stretch of uplift. This fold, now carved by erosion, held features resembling the Capitol building in D.C. The term "reef" referred to it being a barrier to overland travel much as coral reefs are a barrier to ships.

The park is massive and is divided into three distinct districts. The central
district is the only one accessed by paved roads. Utah Route 24 runs through here and is the only paved road to cross the reef. A scenic drive forks out from Utah 24 at Fruita and the visitor center. A picnic area just down the road makes a good place to put a large telescope. Fruita Campground is nearby and makes an excellent place to spend the night. At the west entrance, there is another road leading out from Utah 24 to Sunset Point. Sunset Point offers a panoramic view of the reef plus a good view of the sky. The point is 0.15 miles from the parking lot.

In the south is Strike Valley, a long valley created by the uplift of the fold. The easiest access is from Boulder, UT on Utah Route 12. The park is about 30 miles to the east on Burr Trail Road, a road that is paved to the park boundary where it becomes dirt. A series of switchbacks leads down into the valley. The access from Utah 24 is down Notom-Bullfrog Road just east of the park down south past Notom. The road becomes dirt sometime before entering the park. The third and final option is from Bullfrog in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From there, Notom-Bullfrog Road heads north into the park where the road becomes dirt. This area is extremely remote and sees very few visitors. Anywhere along the roads is suitable for telescopes with no particular "best spot".

Cathedral Valley is in the north. A high-clearance vehicle is needed though 4WD is not required. The primary access is from the south, east of the park entrance. A 60-mile loop begins by fording the Fremont River at Utah 24, heads north over a large mesa, the Hartnet, then drops into Cathedral Valley before curving back towards Utah 24. The ford may be dangerous, especially during the night and during wet weather. The Hartnet has a good number of viewpoints suitable for telescopes. Those doing nighttime landscape photography will find endless opportunities along the loop. The "cathedrals" in the valley are eroded buttes which make for interesting composition.

Those looking for steady skies should look just west on Thousand Lakes Mountain, accessed by a dirt road leading out of the park. The road climbs up to a network of other roads at over 10000' above sea level. Anywhere (with a decent view of the sky) makes a good spot to setup the telescope. The road is closed in winter. Thousand Lakes Mountain can also be accessed from the west by Utah Route 72 for low-clearance vehicles. A similar mountain to the south, Boulder Mountain, makes a good alternative in winter as it is traversed by a paved road, Utah 12 which climbs up to 9600'.

The lack of global recognition coupled with its location has prevented a tourism boom as the other Utah parks have had. Therefore, services are limited. The nearest town to the park is Torrey, UT at the junction of Utah Route 12 and 24 to the west of the park. The actual town is to the west of the junction but services are scattered around. The towns and cities grow increasingly larger heading west on Utah 24 with Bicknell, followed by Loa then Richfield. Boulder, UT, for access to Strike Valley and Boulder Mountain, has very few services.

Capitol Reef has a high desert climate. Summers can be warm with highs in the 70s and lows near 40. Thunderstorms are common. Avoid dirt roads, especially washes, when one threatens. Snow falls on occasion but usually melts quickly after it falls. Winter highs are in the 40s and lows are near 20.

There is no entrance fee charged though there is a $5 fee (per vehicle for 7 days) to use the Scenic Drive beyond the picnic area. Neiher Fishlake National Forest (Thousand Island Mountain) nor Dixie National Forest (Boulder Mountain) charges a fee.

Capitol Reef National Park: http://www.nps.gov/care

Statistics - Sunset Point (December, 2010):
Limiting magnitude: 7.0-7.5
Bortle class: 2
Elevation: 6350 ft (1935 m)
Biggest source of light pollution: Torrey, UT (almost unnoticeable)
Visibility: 60+ miles (potentially 200 with a clear horizon)



This is part of a series called "Dark Skies, USA" covering locations in the United States and elsewhere where the night sky is much as it was before the light bulb.


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