The premier attraction drawing over 750,000 visitors to Capitol Reef National Park, other than breathing the cleanest air in America and the fact that the nearest traffic light is 78 miles away, is the Waterpocket Fold, one of the largest and most spectacular monoclines in North America.
The centerpiece of Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long fold in the earth’s crust created 65 million years ago by the same tectonic forces that uplifted the Colorado Plateau. Within the Fold are countless “waterpockets,” or depressions, in the sandstone layers that are filled with water. These water-filled basins were important sources of water to early indigenous people, prospectors and Mormon pioneers who lived in this arid environment.
The most scenic portion of the Waterpocket Fold is known as Capitol Reef. The word Capitol as used here refers to the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that early prospectors thought resembled the domes on capitol buildings. Early prospectors, many of which were once sailors, referred to the impenetrable rocky cliffs as a reef because, like a coral reef, they constituted a formidable barrier to east-west travel.
The many layers of horizontal sedimentary rock making up the Waterpocket Fold formed as sediments deposited in ancient seas and tidal flats hundreds of millions of years ago. It took about 35 million years for these accumulated sediments to become rock. The 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock layers and fossils of aquatic creatures found in Capitol Reef National Park are evidence that ancient environments as varied as rivers, swamps, Sahara-like deserts, and warm shallow seas once existed here.
Among the top attractions in Capitol Reef National Park is Fruita, a historic Mormon settlement that typifies the frontier in southern Utah. Early settlers planted the orchards as a cash crop and for subsistence. At its peak, 10 families lived in Fruita and worked together planting apple, apricot, peach, pear, and plum trees.
To water the fruit trees, Mormons dug irrigation ditches to carry water from the Fremont River to their orchards. These ditches are still used by park service employees to water fruit trees now growing in fields abandoned by Indians seven centuries ago. Besides fruit trees, Mormons also planted grapes and built grape arbors. During Prohibition, selling wine proved to be a profitable albeit illegal enterprise.
The National Park Service now maintains Fruita’s 15 orchards and 3,100 fruit trees. A crew works year-round pruning, irrigating and managing the orchards, some of which include historic and heirloom varieties of fruits. Visitors are free to pick and eat all the fruit they want to eat while walking about in the orchards. A fee is charged for fruit visitors take with them. These orchards, and the surrounding three square miles, are preserved and protected as a Historical Cultural Landscape and as a National Landmark.
For more information about this or about any other National Park in the United States, visit nps.gov.
Photo credits: Randy Karr.
©2015 Randy Karr
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