October 7-14, 2014
Love at first sight!
We arrived at the Capitol Reef campground before 10:00 a.m. and snagged one of the last available campsites. We settled into our site and took a quick look around… and immediately agreed to extend at least four more days. I was definitely suffering from tree deprivation and this campground was just the place I needed to settle in and recharge. It is a little oasis in the dessert and we didn’t want to leave. Our intended quick visit with a two night stay turned into a full week with a promise to ourselves to return.
The beauty of the area is breathtaking. The Fremont River rushes between the campground and the towering red rock walls that surround it. Birds flit from tree to tree singing and calling to companions while little furry critters frolic on the lawn and dart in out of the grass and bushes growing along the river. The red apples hang in wild profusion in the orchard and the large trees sway in the cooling breeze.
While the land around you is hot and dry, the campground area is shady, cool and comfortable. I would lay in my bed and watch the red cliffs fade away into darkness as the stars lit up in the sky and the crickets and river joined together to sing me to sleep. In the morning I would watch the sky start to lighten and silhouette the trees just before the sun would rise over the mountains and set the red cliffs on fire.
The campground is located in Fruita which was a Mormon community long ago. There are a few historic buildings to check out as well as active orchards where you are allowed to go in and pick your own fruit. It was so late in the season that the selection was down to: apples… but very good apples. You can eat all you want for free while in the orchard and it costs $1.25/lb for any you take out with you. They supply ladders, pole/basket pickers, bags and a scale at the self service pay station at each orchard. They don’t spray the plants so you have to watch to pick the non-buggy ones. The park service tries to maintain the orchards as they were in historic times. Depending on the time of year, you can pick: apples, pears, cherries, apricots, almonds, plums, walnuts, mulberries, grapes, nectarines, pecans, and quince.
Camp Sites – The campsites are large with paved parking pads, either a pedestal grill or fire ring, and lots of beautiful shade trees and grass. Many of the parking pads, including ours, was wide enough to fit at least two vehicles, maybe three. The rule was you could have as many vehicles on the site that fit on the pad. We saw several sites with two motor homes sharing the site. If you have a tent, you can pitch that as well. Even when the campground was full, it was not crowded.
Cost – Camping fee is $10.00/night or $5.00 with the senior pass.
Get there early. We didn’t think it would be as popular as other parks since the park is so far out of the way but they have one gorgeous campground and a beautiful park. The entire campground filled every day by 10:00 a.m. and frequently there were campers lined up at 8:00 waiting for people to leave. The camp hosts said they have an average of 30 sites turn over each day but they are claimed very quickly. There are BLM areas just outside the park borders on the east and west where overflow campers wait so they can get to the campground early enough to claim a site and the hosts hang a bag on the gate when the campground is full that lists possible camping areas. So if you can’t get there early enough, get the campsite list, check out the campground AND visit the Gifford house for a snack (more on that below). There is a large parking lot at the picnic area that RVs can sit in when they are visiting and we saw quite a few along the road next to some of the orchards.
Hookups – none. While there are no hookups at each site, they make dry camping easy. The restrooms are very clean and no site is very far from one. They have potable water spigots at each restroom as well as a grey water dump sink. There is a dump station at the campground entrance as well as another potable water spigot. Dumpsters are located there for trash and recycling. Generators are allowed from 8-10 am and from 6-8 pm. The weather was moderate the week we were there so we only needed to run the generator once or twice to recharge our house batteries, which in turn were recharging our computers, phones and Kindles.
Cell phone signal – none. We drove the nine miles into Torrey and were able to get signal and free wifi at the Wayne County Visitor Center at the intersection of Hwy 24 and Hwy 12. They have tables along a wall with electrical outlets. We were also told that the book/coffee shop further up Hwy 24 had free wifi and hosts community events such as a farmer’s market and music night and is a great place to hang out.
History – There are a few buildings left from when Fruita housed a community of up to ten families (only one of the Mormon families living there were polygamists with two wives instead of one). The Gifford House still stands and serves as a mini-museum run by a non-profit that raises funds for the park. They sell coffee, tea, old-fashioned sodas and really, really good pies and cinnamon rolls. Since they open at 8 am, many campers slide over there to have their morning coffee and sugar hit. You can tell yourself that you are only eating there as a benefit to the park. That reasoning worked for us… several times, in fact. There is also a historic barn, blacksmith shop and a one room schoolhouse to check out.
Critters – A wild turkey trotted through our site as we were setting up camp and a decent size herd of mule deer laze around in the orchards and the campground every day. They don’t object to photos at all and it is fun to watch people trying to get the perfect shot (us included). The deer are fat and happy from munching all the apples and other goodies that grow in Fruita. In fact they have it so good there, they have stopped migrating as is the norm for mule deer in that area (hence their inbreeding problem leading to scruffiness). During the summer you should also be able to see yellow-bellied marmots. They were hibernating when we were there but we attended an excellent ranger program on them at the amphitheater (right along the river amidst the orchards and the campground loops – how beautiful and convenient is that?). Up until that night I would have sworn that I had never seen a marmot. I would have been wrong. We learned that Marmots are groundhogs (or groundhogs are marmots, whichever). I’ve certainly seen groundhogs before but I would still like to see the ones that reside at Capitol Reef. They have beautiful golden tummies and scruff around their necks and a little white mark on their muzzles. Like the mule deer, they have it so good here and get so much food that they hibernate more than 8 months of the year. By the end of August they are so fat that their little internal hibernation switch turns on and away they go to blockade themselves into their burrows until spring… or in this case, early summer.
The campground critter show also includes bunnies, chipmunks and numerous birds wandering though to entertain you while you lounge in your camp chair contemplating the wonders of nature that surround you.
Hiking and Biking – there are several hiking trails that start right at the campground or within a mile. There is a dirt trail along the river that bikes are allowed on to get to the visitor center 1 mile away and a lot of people were riding around the camp loops. The campground is on Scenic Road which has about ten miles of paved surface that bikes are allowed on. Bikes are not allowed on any of the hiking trails in the National Park (but there are BLM bike trails nearby). There are many hiking trails with different difficulty levels plus several excellent, easy to get to, overlook areas for those that don’t hike. We will have separate blog postings for the hikes and drives that we took while we were there.
Food – Bring your groceries with you. You can buy snacks, cups of coffee and pieces of pie in the park but the nearest stores are toward or in Torrey, nine miles away. We ate breakfast at the general store in Torrey (good food and bakery) but their grocery selection was minimal. The entire store was probably 400 square feet and it included hunting and fishing gear, drug store items, clothing, souvenirs, and pretty bare grocery shelves. We WERE at the end of the season but even fully stocked, the selection would have been quite small. We were told another 20 miles to the west on Hwy 24 would get us to Loa where we would find a larger grocery store but that the locals stocked up in St. George which is almost 250 miles away. There are at least 5 or 6 restaurants in Torrey so you won’t starve if you are willing to drive out of the park in search of food. We preferred to eat in our little campground paradise but we did venture out twice and made a point of eating in town on our way through. The Wayne County visitor information center at the intersection of Hwy 24 and Hwy 12 has very helpful people with info on all things regional as well as menus from the local restaurants. Some of the places are not easy to find or the sign saying they serve breakfast is easily overlooked so if you like eating out, hit the visitor center in Torrey for assistance. We had an excellent Mexican meal at La Cueva and decent pizza at the Rim Rock Patio. Both are within 5 miles of the park. On our last morning we left extra early, around 5:30, to try for a campsite at Bryce and there wasn’t a cup of coffee (or open gas station) to be found for the next 100 miles or so. Next time we will get up even earlier and make our own coffee before rolling out.