My first destination was Cathedral Valley. It is a part of Capitol Reef National Park, yet quite different in experience from a central part of the park that most people visit. Cathedral Valley is accessed by a 57.6 mile long, dirt, loop road that, at least in places, would be quite hard to negotiate without a 4WD vehicle with a decent clearance. This keeps most people away, making for a bit more of a wilderness experience. There is no wireless signal, there are no services, and you may not meet another car for hours.
I started driving the Cathedral Valley loop clockwise, on a section known as Hartnet Road. Shortly after leaving the pavement, it requires fording a small river which my rental Dodge Durango took in stride. As with any car, over the course of next miles, I got to learn its off-pavement capabilities, and became comfortable that it will take me where I wanted to go...
Soon after passing the river, the road crosses a colorful section of badlands, known as Bentonite Hills, and then continues over a higher terrain, covered mostly by grassland and later by juniper/pinyon pine forests. There are lookouts into the South Desert to the left of the road. After 28 miles I reached my home for the night, the Cathedral Valley Campground, at roughly 7,000 ft in elevation. Only a couple of the six sites were occupied.
|Highway 24||Fording the Fremont River||Go Durango||SUV commercial||Bentonite Hills||Bentonite Hills|
|Truck remains along Hartnet Road||Bentonite pink road||Driving Hartnet Road||Driving Hartnet Road||Flora in a sea of bentonite|
|South Desert Overlook|
After setting up my tent, I returned about a mile to take a look from the Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook. Later, I continued along the loop, down a series of rough switchbacks into the Cathedral Valley itself itself. The setting sun made for a magical atmosphere.
|Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook||Cathedrals||Cathedrals from the Overlook||Upper Cathedral Valley|
|Durango on Cathedral Road||Shadows play||Shadows play||Dodge in Cathedral Valley||Last light|