Between Torrey and Escalante on Highway 12, the historic Burr Trail (click here to read the history of the trail) heads east from the little town of Boulder. The road is paved for the first 31 miles, until it reaches the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. From there, you are less than a dozen miles, on a graded dirt/gravel road, from one of the highlights of the drive: the Burr Trail switchbacks.
We set out at 10 am, driving south through – once again – the blazing aspen on Boulder mountain. Today, no tree photos! Many more cars and RV’s traveled Hwy 12 on Sunday than we had seen during the week, many of the vehicles towing ATV’s on trailers.
In Boulder, we turned left, heading east, winding down the narrow curves of the road to The Gorge, then rolling into Long Canyon, seven miles of deep red, vertical rock pressing in on both sides. Our sunroof was vital to the sightseeing here!
The road was narrow, the walls were high.
Sightseeing was easier with the sunroof open!
Once we were through Long Canyon, the vista opened up. We stopped at a pullout just before we descended into a wide, level valley. The colors and shapes were eye-popping!
A colorful gorge from the viewpoint.
Just past the western boundary of the park.
Once we descended into the valley, the spectacular rock formations were a very distant views. Lots of small bushes, a few bumpy dirt roads heading off here and there. As we approached the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long bend in the earth’s crust that is the centerpiece of Capitol Reef National Park (and so named by John Wesley Powell for the basins or "pockets" which collect and hold drainage water), the scenery began to improve once again… and the pavement ended.
During our drive along Burr Trail, we saw fewer than half a dozen vehicles. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the picnic area at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks and found a gaggle of lycra-clad bicyclists, along with their sag wagon and trailer!
They and their bikes were spread over a red rock viewpoint, where they could examine the challenging switchback descent as they enjoyed their lunch. I took the very top photo from the same viewpoint – look closely at it and you can see two of the switchbacks stair-stepping down to the road through the canyon.
We carried our lunch to the single picnic table in the signed picnic area, keeping an eye on the bikers so we could watch their descent. We heard the squeal of their brakes all the way up at the top of the canyon! See the ant-sized bikers in the photo above, left (click to enlarge)?
Next it was our turn. We put the Jeep in first gear and rolled slowly downhill, negotiating the twists and turns of the road while we (well, I – Odel kept his eyes on the road!)enjoyed the incredible view.
At the bottom, I turned around and photographed the descent – unfortunately, poorly lit. In this picture, a tiny car provides a bit of scale – click to enlarge the photo, then look just above the white triangle.
With that descent behind us, we were on the valley floor, the Waterpocket Fold to our west, gloriously colored rock formations – of the most incredible variety - to our east. I thought this would be one of the least appealing parts of the drive – lower, hotter, and less spectacular – but I was so wrong!