Temple of the Moon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 24-09-2023 18:39 | Resolution: 5917 x 3329 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/250s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Temple of the Moon | State/Province: Capitol Reef NP, Utah | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

One of the reasons we have not previously explored Capitol Reef is that although it’s an enormous, diverse park, it’s not particularly well served by either self-drive roads or shared transport like a shuttle service. You can drive through the middle of it on highway 24, and up and down Scenic Drive and Capitol Gorge, and that’s about it.

In the morning we tried the Notom Road, which winds through a mix of public and private land on the East of the park. There are a few good views, but nothing that dramatic. Eventually the paved road gives out and rapidly deteriorates below a level we’re comfortable driving in a road car, even one with 4WD, and we returned to town.

That leaves the Cathedral Valley. This is home to some of Capitol Reef’s best known scenery, but even relatively optimistic guides like Martres make it clear that this is not for road cars or inexperienced off-road drivers. Good advice. I signed up for a jeep tour with one of the local specialists.

The full jeep tour, up the Lower Cathedral Valley and back through the upper part is not for the faint of heart, or the loose of fillings! It’s 58 miles of washboard, sand, deep dips, and the occasional segment where the road surface appears to be constructed mainly of pebbles the size of cricket balls.

Fortunately Backcountry Safaris had provided a Jeep Rubicon, and Alex a young lad who’s driving style on the highway was a bit disconcerting, but which came into its own as soon as we left it. Within 100 yards of the main road we descended a rough slope with about a 30% gradient, and then drove for some distance on the bed of the Fremont River, which brought back memories of getting stuck in a river in Iceland, but this time there was no such issue and the tour got started.

Cathedral Valley Trailhead, Capitol Reef (Show Details)

At the first stop we were somewhat surprised by a group of pretty ladies in nice dresses and inappropriate footwear – see if you can spot one in a pink dress below. Obviously one of the other tour operators does their photo tour with models. Maybe next time…

Bentonite Hills, Capitol Reef, with model! (Show Details)

The scenery is absolutely as dramatic as advertised, but the stretches between the landmarks were maybe longer than I expected. However that’s a small price to pay.

Jailhouse Rock Overlook (Show Details)

We did have a challenge with timing. Alex was obviously unused to dealing with photographers, and even with the best will in the world we probably spent more time at earlier stops than some tours. On top of that by the last week in September sunset at the Temples of the Sun and Moon is before 7. The result was a somewhat hair-raising dash to reach those final landmarks in the last of the golden hour sun, but we made it.

Overall an excellent experience, but I would advise others to discuss the timing of the trip with the outfitter, and maybe run a slightly earlier timeslot towards the end of the season.

Glass Mountain and Temple of the Moon (Show Details)

Sunset Point

We opted for another lazy morning. The reality is that magnificent as it is, unless you are going to do long hikes or drive off-road Capitol Reef only has accessible viewpoints and activities to fill two days. With the jeep tour done our remaining target was to witness a good sunset from Panorama and Sunset Points.

After breakfast we took a short drive which included the gift shop attached to one of Torrey’s camp sites. While not an obvious target there was just something about it which looked hopeful. 20 minutes later we emerged with three of my favourite Mountain t-shirts plus one for Frances, all in the end of season sale at an average price of about £12.

We had a leisurely couple of hours by the pool, then set off mid-afternoon for the final run through the park. This time the weather played ball. We found a couple of additional viewpoints on the Scenic Drive, then hit Panorama Point, The Goosenecks, and finally Sunset Point, timing our arrival almost perfectly.

Views from Sunset Point (Show Details)

Capitol Reef, done. Tick.

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