Take The Scenic Byway 24 To Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef
On the transit day from our stay in Moab to a short overnight stop in Richfield, we took the Scenic Byway 24 to Goblins Valley and Capitol Reef.
The drive itself was fascinating with many places along the road for interesting sights. A short stop in Goblins Valley State park provided us with a fun and whimsical view of the work of Mother Nature on sandstone, siltstone and shale sediments. And a drive through Capitol Reef National Park provided stunning views.
Planning Our Visit To Capitol Reef National Park
We spent 4 days in Moab, Utah. It was easy to do a day trip to Arches National Park and to visit Canyonlands National Park with Moab as our home base. But a visit to Capitol Reef National Park took us further out. So we planned our visit to Capitol Reef on a transit day on the way towards Bryce Canyon National Park.
We headed west on I70 from Moab and turned onto the Scenic Byway 24. We soon found out why it was considered a Scenic Byway. Since we passed right by, we planned a stop at Goblin Valley State Park. We loved when we visited the Dead Horse State Park on our exploration of the Utah National Parks. And the rock formations at Goblin Valley looked so interesting.
Capitol Reef National Park was a one way drive in. With lots to see along the way. The drive back out was much faster. Had we planned for a longer day, there were many hiking paths inside the park.
Scenic Byway 24 was a loop road that took us back to I70 right at Richfield. It was the perfect road to travel one way as we explored Goblins Valley and Capitol Reef. A one night stop in Richfield gave us a break before we headed south to Bryce Canyon.
Scenic Byway 24 Was Indeed Scenic
When we got on the Scenic Byway 24, we were not quite sure why it was called a Scenic Byway. We figured it was because both Goblins Valley and Capitol Reef were accessed from this road. But we soon learned that there were so many other sights along this route.
It was still fairly early on our exploration of the Utah National Parks. And we were still enthralled with the stunning variety we saw in the rock formations. Every turn along Scenic Byway 24 seemed to bring yet another fascinating sight.
In early October, the roads were quiet. And it was easy to pull over to gaze at the rock formations. And take some pictures. There were many of the red rock formations that characterized much of this part of Utah. Some towered up and looked like castles or forts. The cascading rocks below the top formations continued to draw our attention. And the change in colour from red to grey was interesting. At one point we saw the Henry Mountains far off in the distance.
When we got close to some rock formations, the layers in the rocks were clearly visible. The rock colours changed colour. And some of the layering was so thin that we imagined the changing weather that caused those layers to form.
Even if we had not stopped at Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef, the drive along Scenic Byway 24 was a great treat.
A Short Stop At The Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs
Most of our stops along Scenic Byway 24 were quick photo stops. We pulled into the parking lot for the Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs. We planned to take a short easy walk before we continued on to Capitol Reef. After we looked at the information sign, we knew we would not make it far on this visit.
There were two different paths – one to the Hickman Bridge and another to Navajo Knobs. The path to Navajo Knobs was about 5 miles with a viewpoint at 2.5 miles. But the path wound steadily up over 2,000 feet.
We started along the path to the Hickman Bridge which was about a mile long. But very quickly we found that this was not an easy stroll. The path quickly narrowed as we climbed up rock stairs. There were fallen rocks everywhere. It was one place where we paid attention to the “Falling Rocks” sign. The path headed steadily upwards until we came to a steeper climb.
At this point, we were not sure how far we had to go. And our day had quickly passed with stops along the Scenic Byway 24. So we decided not to finish the climb to Hickman Bridge. After we retraced our steps, we stopped for a quick look at the petroglyphs on the rock face.
The stop at Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs was definitely a spot we wanted more time at. Not something you do on a busy day visit to Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef.
A First Look At Rock Goblins
We were excited when we saw the sign for Goblins Valley State Park. We knew we did not have time to explore all of this park. There were hiking areas at several spots along the road.
We knew it was a long drive in from the road, so we were delighted when we saw a stop for an early grouping of goblin-like structures. Far off the distance we saw the Wild Horse Butte.
As we climbed the sand, we got a first closer view of the interesting shapes that had formed. The shapes changed as we walked around and looked back from a different perspective. Fancy filled out heads and we imagined shapes carved over time. We saw faces, animals, mushrooms and people engaged in conversation. What do you see?
It was a cloudless day. And we continued to be stunned by the deep blue skies we got as we explored Goblins Valley and then went on to Capitol Reef. But then, as we travelled in the Utah National Parks, one of our key observations was about the high altitude and resulting blue skies. And in Goblins Valley we were at an elevation of almost 5,000 feet (over 1,500 meters).
Our first stop to see the goblin-like carved rocks was fascinating. It drew us on to explore more.
We Looked Out Over Goblin Valley 1
As we approached Valley 1 of 3, we saw a small set of wind-carved rocks standing in an empty field. And off in the distance, we saw Molly’s Castle. On this trip, we only saw Molly’s Castle from afar.
Our first view out over Valley 1 at Goblins Valley State Park was stunning. The sign at the top noted that this area at one point used to be a muddy tidal flat which deposited layers of sand, silt and clay that ultimately created the Entrada Sandstone formation. The formation eroded in this area and created the fascinating scene in front of us. While Arches National Park was part of the same formation, the harder sandstone there created very different patterns.
We loved the view from above. When we looked closely, we saw people as they walked down through the valley. The tiny size of the people gave us a sense of the size the formations in the valley. We found the path and headed down to the valley floor.
Walking In Goblin Valley 1
When we walked down the path, we stopped to look at the formations. Some stood as solo statues. And others formed scenes along the rocks.
We moved closer to get better views of individual sections of the rock formations. Again we imagined what the rock formations reminded us of. When we looked back at the photographs, some of our imaginings were clear. And others just faded into indistinct shapes like an eye test we could not see.
It was fascinating to walk on the base level at Goblins Valley State Park. On this visit, we only had time to explore Valley 1. But there were two other valleys filled with fascinating formations that we could have hiked on a full day at this wonderful state park. The work of Mother Nature would continue to shape Goblins Valley State Park. So every visit would be a bit unique.
A Final View Of Hoodoo-Like Formations
After we left Goblins Valley State Park, we continued to see fascinating rock features that showed the effect of the wind. Free standing rock formations sat in the middle of open ground. The pillars looked more like the hoodoos we were excited to find when we visited Bryce Canyon National Park.
Every part of our drive along the Scenic Byway 24 when we visited Goblins Valley was a treat. We were even more excited about what we would find when we reached Capitol Reef National Park.
A Bit About Capitol Reef National Park
We got back on Scenic Byway 24 and headed towards Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold was a rock feature about 100 miles long that was created by a shifting of the tectonic plates. Overlying sedimentary rocks then created a classic stepped monocline.
The easiest part of this to visit is the Fruita area of the Capitol Reef National Park. The park was named for the white domes of Navajo sandstone that looked like capitol building domes (“capitol”) and for the rocky cliffs that formed a natural barrier (similar to coral reefs).
The tilted rock layers continue to erode and formed a stunning vista of cliffs, domes, canyons and colourful layered geology.
The paved road through Capitol Reef National Park was about 8 miles long. At the end, there was another long section of dirt road through the Capitol Gorge. It is a one way route with many viewpoints along the way. But once we were finished, we had to turn around and drive back out. Several areas were trailheads for hikes further into the park.
Driving Along The Scenic Path in Capitol Reef National Park
We entered Capitol Reef National Park from Scenic Byway 24 and stopped briefly at the Visitor’s Centre. This gave us a little more information on the park and its geology.
The speed limit on the paved roadway was low enough that we took in all the amazing sights as we drove. The Waterpocket Fold ridge was clearly visible as we drove along to the turnoff for the Grand Wash. This sign for this narrow dirt road warned about flash floods.
When we stopped to get a closer look at the rocks, we were constantly amazed. The layers and colours in the rocks were so varied. The top of the rocks were vertical and steep and appeared to have slumped out from the cliffs. We understood why people said they looked like coral reefs.
In other parts, the red rock resembled the formations we saw at Goblin Valley State Park earlier in the day. Some of the large rock faces and individual rocks looked like swiss cheese with holes nibbled out. Sharp peaks showed in many places. This was a preview of the steep rocks we found when we visited Zion National Park.
The drive along the scenic roadway gave us such amazing views of Capitol Reef National Park.
Heading Off Road At Capitol Gorge
The paved road finished at the entrance to the dirt road going into Capitol Gorge. We debated whether this road would be safe for our rental SUV. While the early part of the road seemed quite flat, it soon became evident that you needed to be concerned about what kind of vehicle you took off road.
The road had large rifts. And as we drove in, the road narrowed and was only one lane in many places. This made avoiding the potholes a bit tough. At times we inched our way through blind corners to watch for traffic that came the other way
Along the road, the rocks continued to amaze us. There seemed to be a greater variety of rock faces. And at one point we saw the section named Tapestry Wall with vast sections of Navajo sandstone. We saw this nature’s art again when we took a speedboat through Navajo Canyon on Lake Powell in Page, Arizona.
The dirt road stopped at the trailhead at Petroglyph Narrows. There were number of hiking trails from this point to explore the narrow gorge.
But we were done for the day. We paused to look at the fascinating rock structures and imagined what lay beyond. We wondered if there really were walls of petroglyphs ahead. But we did not find out on this trip as we explored Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef.
A Stop At Gifford House
We had one final stop on our day exploring Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef. Gifford House was a historic homestead located just inside the park. They sold a wide selection of goods. When we arrived late in the day, there was a meagre selection left. They said that their cinnamon rolls usually sold out in the first few hours after opening. But we did find a great apple crumble pie to take out.
As we drove out of the park, we stopped at the Johnson Orchard. We understood why this area of the Capitol Reef National Park was called “Fruita”. This was a sweet finish to our day!
A Great Day On The Scenic Byway 24 To Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef
What a fascinating day we had as we explored Goblins Valley And Capitol Reef along Scenic Byway 24. It was a great route to travel between Moab and Bryce Canyon National Park. There was so much to see as we drove along or stopped to explore.
We again were glad we added in a state park to our exploration of the Utah National Parks. Goblins Valley State Park was a fun detour that added another dimension to our understanding of the geology of Utah.
Capitol Reef National Park was a very different formation from many of the other Utah National Parks we visited. We were glad we chose to drive both the paved scenic route and went off road in Capitol Gorge.
Have you taken the Scenic Byway 24 to Goblins Valley and Capitol Reef? What was your favourite part of this drive?
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