Saturday, October 8, 2011

Navigating Capitol Reef - Navajo Knobs

Vertical relief is a wonderful thing. Since humans began walking the earth, people have always sought out higher ground. Standing atop a summit, the rumpled pleats and creases of the terrain unfold before you, revealing much that cannot be descried from ground level. Aside from the advantage of far reaching vistas, there is also a sense of accomplishment that derives from scaling massive geographic features, as though somehow we can conquer stone and rock that dwarfs us in every other way.

An excursion to the Navajo Knobs provides the perfect opportunity to elevate above the impressive geologic feature known as the Waterpocket Fold, a massive monocline showcased in Capitol Reef National Park. This somewhat strenuous trail offers the highest vantage point of any established hike in the Park, as well as inspiring views along the way. Round trip distance is about 9 miles, with an elevation gain over 1700 feet. The first 2.25 miles of the trail follows the same path as the Rim Overlook, beginning on the north side of Utah Highway 24 at the Hickman Bridge Trail.

Since I covered the hike to the Rim Overlook in a previous post linked above, we'll continue the journey from that point. By now the hiker will be familiar with the trail layout - long, moderately steep sections across slickrock benches alternating with contours along the edge of the Fold.

The route is easy to follow, thanks to extensive cairns along the way and the obvious lay of the land. Although significant elevation was gained to reach the Rim Overlook, some of that will be lost and recovered as the trail drops into a long bay before climbing back up to the Knobs. The good news is that the magnificent views keep the hiker entranced, oblivious to tired legs or the incessant climb.

The Knobs are named for the formation they are sculpted out of - the Navajo Sandstone. This beautiful white rock is found in the upper reaches of the Reef, forming domes, pinnacles, and spires throughout the Park. In some cases the rock is stained a golden brown from the remnants of the overlying Carmel formation, like in the case of the Golden Throne. Below the Navajo is Wingate sandstone colored in deep reddish orange, with the Chinle further down mantling the base in purples, reds and pale greens.

After dipping back and down along the edge of the fold, the trail begins a final approach to the Knobs.

At the Knobs the path takes a loop around the base, with a rugged scramble up the north side to access the summit.

Once on top of the Knobs, it is time to enjoy the reward earned by the effort to get here - the amazing 360 degree views of the rugged land below and beyond.

From horizon to horizon, the views encompass all the landmarks of the region: the plateaus of Thousand Lake and Boulder Mountains rising to near 10,000 feet, the laccolithicHenry Mountains to the east at over 11,000 feet, the upwarp of Miners Mountain to the south, and the full northern expanse of the Waterpocket Fold curving from northwest to the south.

On a clear day it is even possible to get a good look at another monocline on the northern skyline, the jagged upthrust of the San Rafael Swell.

There is a publication based in Colorado whose banner phrase is "When in doubt, go higher" This is good advice on so many levels, but it is particularly apt when hiking in Capitol Reef. Of course in this case I had no doubt, just a strong urge to survey as much of the incredible landscape as possible. Veni, vidi, vici.

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