Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Waterpocket Fold and Upper Muley Twist, Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Distance: 1 mile round trip to Strike Valley Overlook
Distance: As long or short as you want for Upper Muley Twist
Difficulty: Easy
Season: Spring and Fall



About 30 miles from Escalante, along the spectacularly scenic highway 12 that climbs over and around amazing Navajo sandstone, is the tiny town of Boulder. From Boulder, the Burr Trail heads off to the west towards Capitol Reef National Park. The Burr Trail is a paved route that for 30 spectacular miles heads into narrow red rock slot canyons, down a staircase of rock formations, and eventually down the Burr Trail Switchbacks that somehow descends nearly 2000 feet down to the valley below the Waterpocket Fold. The road is paved until the Capitol Reef NP boundary and then is a good dirt road until it reaches the Bullfrog-Notom road at the bottom of the fold. This route was used by John Burr to move his cattle from season to season in the 1800's.



But, just before you head down those switchbacks, there is a rough dirt road heading north into the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. For the next 3 miles, the road literally is the stream bed as it enters the canyon. It is a rough road only suitable to high clearance 4x4 vehicles and there are several sections of rough rocks to deal with. Despite the thoughts to stop several times, we continued to the end at the Strike Valley Overlook Trailhead. This trail is an easy 1/2 mile one-way climb along a sandy wash and then bare Navajo sandstone to the top of the Waterpocket Fold and to one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen in my life.


The Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile fault-block launched 2000 feet into the air. Across the valley, the layers remain horizontal. But, on the fold themselves, they are strongly tilted upwards. While the resistant Navajo sandstone and other layers remain high up above, the weaker siltstones and clays below that were exposed eroded away, leaving a deep valley. This is thus a reversed monocline.



It is somewhat ironic that what you are looking at far below should actually be ON TOP of what you are standing on. But, those layers eroded away as they were exposed to the elements.



Across the valley are the 11,500 foot Henry Mountains, which are laccolith volcanic remnants. These mountains were literally the last place in the continental United States to ever be mapped!



What a site to behold! After the Strike Valley Overlook hike, do a little excursion up the canyon to have lunch and check out the sites. The Upper Muley Twist Canyon goes for 9 miles one way and can be done as an exciting backpacking trip. There are narrow slot sections and wider areas as well. But, even a little one or two mile jaunt will be worth it, looking up at the immense canyon walls and seeing the tilted layers of the fold heading down canyon.

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