Monday, October 4, 2010


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.

Burr trail switchbacks from the top.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!

Long Canyon on Burr Trail Looking out the top in Long Canyon

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!

At the east end of Long Canyon Along the Burr Trail in Capitol Reef

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.

Bikers and two switchbacksDuring 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)?

Looking back to switchbacksNext 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!

Purple and white hills Purple Hills, blue sky


We drove a couple of miles though rounded hills of purple and cream, then the vista opened again – sweeping ramparts and billowing clouds to the east, the Waterpocket Fold of Capitol Reef National Park to the west.
Ramparts and clouds

Finally, we found pavement!  Fortunately, the surface of the dirt road was mostly decent, apparently graded within the last couple of months.
Back to pavement

We hit Highway 24 in another 10 miles (more or less), and turned west to drive through Capitol Reef National Park back to Torrey.  I took this photo in the area of the cream-colored, “capitol building” domes that give Capitol Reef its name.

The scenery never stops in this part of Utah!
Capitol Reef Domes


  1. Marvelous pictures and great blog today! (as usual) Utah is just jam packed with unbelievable scenery. :)

  2. Beautiful pictures!

  3. Great posts - we are driving the Jeep through that area in December on the way to CO for Christmas...will make a road trip out of it. Last time we did that it was 50 degrees and sunny - spent a day in each of the parks, but will study your posts for more ideas this trip

  4. Waterpocket Fold was our favorite part of the area. Our long-wheelbase truck, however, nearly bent in two coming around some of those switchbacks! But . . . yikes, bikes! Can't imagine it.

  5. Great pictures. Makes me wish I was there.

  6. The post is excellent and I loved the photos.

    Missy and Roy Helton

  7. We are just outside Capitol Reef right now and have been re-reading your posts from last year. We will be here for a week. Tomorrow we are renting a jeep so we can do the 100 mile loop that you describe in this post. Can't wait. Your posts are so helpful to us when we visit places you have been. Thanks!