Dan and Hannah Hike in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Can map of five parks

Ever been to the middle of Nowhere?  We have …and are loving it.  After hiking at the Arches and Canyonlands, then playing pickleball in Moab, we come this early June Saturday to Capitol Reef National Park after 24 years away.

In 1993, Hannah and I traveled the American Mountain West with our three kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13) in our GMC Vandura; atop our van were five bikes and a Sears cargo carrier with tents, sleeping bags, and pads.  That one score and four years ago, we camped at Capitol Reef, picked plums from the tree at our campsite, and hiked a forgettable mountain trail of stone, guided by cairns (i.e. stacked rocks to direct hikers).

CR 2A Hickman Bridge

Hickman Natural Bridge

By my calculation, Capitol Reef is the least visited of Utah’s five national parks:  Zion is the rock star with its Angel Landing death-defying climb (71,000 visitors came over this past Memorial Day Weekend);

#2 and #3, no matter the order, are the every populaire Arches and Bryce Canyon;

Number 4 is Canyonlands, for it does get the spill over from nearby Arches, just 25 miles away).

The black sheep is the out-of-the-way Capitol Reef National Park, some 160 miles to the west of Moab, and 125 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon in the little town of Nowhere, Utah (i.e. Torrey).

CR 1AA D and H by river

Trail to the Hickman Bridge begins

The signature family hike at Capitol Reef is the Hickman Natural Bridge.  Arriving by 930A this first Saturday in June, we get the last of the 20 spots in the parking lot.  Never fear if you happen to sleep in; cars and RVs soon are parking on the main road, which is also common practice at busy venues in the Arches and Canyonlands, too.

CR 2B H on trail

The difference between a natural bridge and a natural arch is how they are created.  Arches are wind-blown creations while bridges are formed from flowing water.  With not a cloud in the sky, I lather up with my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen that my dermatologist says he uses, place my wide brimmed hiking hat from Georgia, and complete the ensemble with my Mr. Cool sunglasses.

CR 4B H tucked in rock

The rocky sandstone trail takes us along the roadside stream, but then we soon turn inland toward the mountains.  The one-mile trail to the Hickman Natural Bridge is well-marked and busy this morning, with many of us trying to beat the noonday sun.

CR 2 Hickman Bridge with D

Can you see the Hickman Bridge in the foreground?

Unfortunately, the natural bridge is tucked within the mountain so that there is no dramatic vista beyond to give the bridge depth and perspective.   Check out what I mean in the picture to the left.  The rock formations behind it make it difficult for the bridge to standout.  It’s not a difficult hike and we are back at the trailhead within the hour.

Turning at the Visitor Center, we take the Scenic Drive to the trailhead of Cassidy Arch; now 1030A, with 100F predicted.  For two tenths of a mile, we walk the Grand Wash.  Wash (i.e. dry riverbed) walking is like plodding along on a fire road in the forest.  No personality, just directness and tedium ; the wash trifecta of rockiness, sandiness, and stoniness make it difficult to catch a hiking rhythm.

CR 4C D at CA sign

But…very soon, we turn to the mountains and the lung-heaving switchbacks of the 1.5 mile Cassidy Arch Trail (named for Butch Cassidy who hid out in caves in the area).  The first part of the Cassidy Arch Trail is a tough rock climb, with some stone scrambling thrown in where we need both hands on the boulders to climb the mountainside.

CR 4D H on sandstone trail

The trail is popular but certainly not crazy busy as was the trail to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park days ago.  Twenty-somethings and retirees are the ones we meet along the way.  The sandstone rocky trail requires us to pay attention to where we step.  Later we meet a ranger who hikes the trail by day being “boots on the ground” to be sure hikers are not in heat distress under such demanding conditions.

CR 4E D on stony trail with cairn

Cairns guiding the way to the Cassidy Arch

Just after halfway through our mile and a half assent, we see the Cassidy Arch in the distance.  At this point, we have done most of the 1000’ elevation gain of the hike, so there is less stress on my left knee and our breathing.  Thanks to Tylenol before we began hiking, regular stretching in our motel room, my compression sleeve, and serious icing afterward, I think little of my left knee.


Rappelling from the left at the Cassidy Arch

Within a half mile of the arch, we cross the sloping rock plateau where we are directed by the cairns that I remember from 24 years ago.  They are a godsend and direct us so we have just a bit of rock scrambling to get to the top of the ridge.

CR 5A D and H on CA

Atop Cassidy Arch

At the top, we spot college grads rappelling down from the top of the arch, and meet up with Janis, who turns out to be a fellow Wildcat (University of New Hampshire).  She offers, I’ll take your picture on top of the arch.  It’s not scary.  And right she is.  It’s a 25’ wide stretch above the Cassidy Arch, and turns out to be our favorite photo of the trip.

Descending 1000’ to the trailhead is tougher on the knees than going up, but we use a lot less energy on a cloudless day in central Utah.  We are so loving the out of the way-ed-ness of Capitol Reef and its potential as a hike for our grandsons, Owen and Max.  We look for them to add to the adventurous family legacy of their Mom as well as their Auntie Robyn and their Unkie (Will) here in Nowhere, Utah.

Dan and Hannah Pickle and Pick-up a Hitchhiker one June Friday in Utah

Hitch D and H with paddles

In addition to hiking the trails of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, Utah during this first week of June, Hannah and I also make it a priority to play pickleball when we travel.  Thanks to the United States of America Pickleball Association website, we can find pickleball venues all over the country.  Today we join Moab pickleballers for a morning of play.

Hitch pickleballers

Moab pickleballers

With pickleball paddles always packed in our suitcases, we are ready to play on the taped pickleball courts superimposed on the indoor basketball courts at the Center Street Gym here in downtown Moab.  Throughout the morning we whack the hard plastic pickleball with a school bus driver, a saddle and rope tree trimmer, an Iraqi expatriate, and the pro at the local golf course.

Hitch 80 mph sign

Pickleball satisfied, we leave by noon from Moab for Torrey, the Gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, 160 miles away.  Over our stretch of Interstate 70 in Utah, there is an 80-mph speed limit; I channel my inner Dale Earnhardt, junior for an afternoon!

Arriving at Capitol (with an O) Reef National Park Visitor Center, we pull in this mid-afternoon Friday to learn of two fine trails for our hiking Saturday (i.e. Hickman Natural Bridge Trail and the Cassidy Arch Trail – you guessed it; it was named for Butch).  Returning to our vehicle, an athletic woman, who we later learn is the mother of two college age young men, asks if I can give her a ride to her car.

Hitch thumb 2

Hitchhiking?   That’s a blast from the past.  As a college student who was a part of a generation that didn’t have cars in high school or college as many do now, I had a rich history in hitchhiking.   In the late 1960s, my brother Richard and I would hitchhike from our colleges (he Kenyon and me Wooster) in central Ohio to our Uncle Bill’s and Aunt Carolyn’s in Toledo on the Michigan/Ohio border.   We’d use a large sign that said, It’s Mom’s birthday.  It never failed – though it never was.

Hitch ASU

Transferring from Wooster to Arizona State University in 1969 to start my senior year, I wanted to check out the Tempe campus before my September enrollment as an elementary education major.  Getting a ride with my college roommate Mule (born Jim Francis) to his home in Idaho Falls, I then planned to hitchhike the 870+ miles south to Tempe.

My most memorable ride was very early Sunday morning when two cowboys, who had been drinking all night, picked me up.  Only once in the backseat did I realize their inebriation and my predicament.  I tried to tell them I was only going to the next town, but they were good ole boys and would hear nothing of it; in their happy state, they couldn’t do enough for me and took me an additional 80 miles.  As you can tell, I lived to tell this story.

Hitch Tucson

While a student at Arizona State, with my dormmate, Rich Meyer, I hitchhiked the 120 miles from Tempe south to Tucson for Thanksgiving; as two Jersey boys, it was too expensive to fly home across the country for that November holiday weekend.   Picked up by two dudes and a young woman, we were summarily dumped off on an empty country road when they wanted money and realized we had none.  Hitchhiking from there took some time; while we waited, we were pelted with eggs from a passing car.  None of the rich Arizona hospitality we were hoping for.

Hitch knoxville

At the age of 23 in 1971, I hitchhiked for the last time, from Atlanta, Georgia to Knoxville, TN where I ended up in jail; that saga is chronicled in a six-part series on my blog.   Click here for this link.  https://over60hiker.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/dan-has-some-explaining-to-do-about-being-jailed-in-knoxville-part-1-of-6/

Hitch Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef National Park

My instincts with the young mom this afternoon at Capitol Reef are to say yes and I do.

With Hannah in full agreement, we learn that Rebecka and her family have parked their car at the Chimney Tree trailhead, then hiked the five-mile Spruce Creek trail through a foot of water in places to the visitor center.  Custom is is that hikers than hitchhike back to their car.

HItch Rebecka and Hannah

Arizona Women, Rebecka and Hannah

During our ten-minute drive to her car, Rebecka tells us that her 19-year-old son picked me out as one who would likely give her a ride.  I guess being mild-mannered and unassuming opens doors.  It turns out she is from Tempe, Arizona, the same Tempe where Hannah and I spent the first ten years of our married life.  And get this, she taught at both Holdemann School in Tempe and Nevitt Elementary in Phoenix where I taught.

In ten minutes, Rebecka seems like the cool mom we’d all like to have.  Full of life, setter of boundaries while still making life fun and adventurous for her two sons and husband.  Here is the email she sent the evening after we met.

Dan and Hannah,

Thanks again for taking me back to my car.  It was nice meeting you both.   I’m pretty sure you will be taking highway 12 to Bryce Canyon.  This road is very scenic!  There is a crazy spot in the road after Boulder heading towards Escalante, beautiful scenery but steep on both sides of the highway.  After that part heading down there is a 6-mile hike to a 126-foot waterfall.  The hike is easy and well worth it (lower calf creek falls).  We hiked in and out in approx. 2-2 1/2 hours.    https://utah.com/hiking/calf-creek-falls-lower

Continuing on this road towards Escalante, there is a hike called Zebra Canyon.  You can access this off of the road Hole in the Rock.  5.2 miles round trip. After second cattle guard (approx. 7.4 miles from main road) park on the right and take trail to the left.  Can be tricky to find this slot canyon, and when entering the slot canyon, you get wet up to your waist.  https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/escalante/zebratunnel

Hitch Bryce panarama

Bryce Canyon is one of my favorites!  Drive safe and have a fabulous trip! 



Though we took another road to Bryce Canyon, we now have a 126’ waterfall on our Utah bucket list.

Dixie and Scot, are you in?