Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park




Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the 1920s by local boosters Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman, Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. About 75 miles of the long up-thrust called the Waterpocket Fold, extending like a rugged spine from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved within the park boundary. Capitol Reef is the name of an especially rugged and spectacular part of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont River.


Only a few decades ago, Capitol Reef and the Waterpocket Fold country comprised one of the remote corners of the lower 48 states. Easy road access came only with the construction of a paved Utah Highway 24 through the Fremont River Canyon in 1962.

The earliest traces of human activity date from the 9th century when Native American Indian peoples occupied the flood plains and high ground near the few perennial watercourses. These people, called the Fremont Culture by archeologists, were contemporaries of the Ancestral Puebloans of the Four Corners area. Between 1250 and 1500, evidence of the Fremont Culture becomes rare and gradually ceased to exist. A complex combination of environmental and social pressures may have led to this change, but no definitive explanation has been found.

Not for several centuries did significant human activity reappear. When the first white explorers traveled in the vicinity of the Waterpocket Fold, both Ute and Southern Paiute nomads were encountered.

Despite the fact that numerous expeditions passed near Capitol Reef, none of them explored the Waterpocket Fold to any great extent. John Charles Fremont passed through the Cathedral Valley in 1854, finding the region, as it is now, incredibly rugged and forbidding.

Following the Civil War, Mormon church officials at Salt Lake City sought to establish missions in the remotest niches of the intermountain west. In 1866, a quasi-military expedition or Mormons in pursuit of Native American Indians penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers moved into these valleys, eventually establishing Loa, Fremont, Lyman, Bicknell, and Torrey. Meanwhile, men from the expeditions of Major John Wesley Powell had begun to explore the area.

In the early 1880s, settlers moved into Capitol Reef country. Tiny communities sprung up along the life-sustaining Fremont River; Junction (later renamed Fruita), Caineville and Aldridge were created. Fruita prospered; Caineville barely survived; Aldridge died.

By 1920, the work was hard but the life in Fruita was good. No more than ten families at one time were sustained by the fertile flood plain of the Fremont River and the land changed ownership over the years. The area remained isolated.


On August 2, 1937, in Proclamation 2246, President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef area, making it a National Monument. This comprised an area extending about two miles north of present Utah Hwy 24 and about ten miles south, just past Capitol Gorge. More highly protective federal regulations now applied in "Wayne Wonderland".

These Depression years were lean ones for the National Park Service (NPS), the new administering agency. Funds for the administration of Capitol Reef were nonexistent; it would be a long time before the first rangers would arrive.


During the 1960s (under the program name Mission 66), NPS areas nationwide received new facilities to meet the demand of mushrooming park visitation . At Capitol Reef, a 53-site campground at Fruita, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center were built, the latter opening in 1966.

Visitation climbed dramatically after the paved, all-weather road was built through the Fremont River canyon near Fruita and the old Capitol Gorge road closed. 146,598 persons visited the park in 1967. The staff was also growing.

During the 1960s, the NPS proceeded to purchase private land parcels at Fruita and Pleasant Creek. Most private property passed into public ownership on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis.

Preservationists successfully convinced President Johnson to set aside an enormous area of public lands in 1968, just before he left office. In Presidential Proclamation 3888, an additional 215,056 acres were placed under NPS control. By 1970, Capitol Reef National Monument comprised 254,251 acres and stretched southeast from Thousand Lake Mountain almost to the Colorado River. The action was locally controversial, and NPS staffing at the monument was inadequate to properly manage the additional land.


The vast enlargement of the monument and addition of diverse resources soon raised another issue: Whether or not Capitol Reef should be a national park, rather than a monument. Two bills were introduced into Congress.

A House bill (H.R. 17152) introduced by Utah Congressman Laurence J. Burton, called for an 180 thousand acre national park and an adjunct 48 thousand acre national recreation area where multiple use (including grazing) could continue indefinitely.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate bill S. 531 had already passed on July 1, 1970 providing for a 230 thousand acre national park alone. The bill called for a 25 year phase-out of grazing.

In September 1970, Department of Interior officials told a house subcommittee session that they preferred that about 254 thousand acres be set aside as a national park. They also recommended a ten-year grazing phase-out period, rather than a 25-year period. They did not favor the adjunct recreation area concept.

It was not until late 1971 that Congressional action was completed. By then, the 92nd Congress was in session and S. 531 had languished. A new bill, S. 29, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank M. Moss of Utah and was essentially the same as the defunct S. 531 except that it called for an additional 10,834 acres of public lands for a Capitol Reef National Park. In the House, Utah Representative Gunn McKay (with Representative Lloyd) had introduced H.R. 9053 to replace the dead H.R. 17152. This time, the House bill dropped the concept of an adjunct Capitol Reef National Recreation Area and adopted the Senate concept of a 25 year limit on continued grazing.

The Department of Interior was still recommending a national park of 254,368 acres and a 10-year limit for grazing phase-out.

S. 29 passed the Senate in June and was sent to the House. The House subsequently dropped its own bill and passed the Senate version with an amendment. Since the Senate was not in agreement with the House amendment, differences were worked out in Conference Committee. The Conference Committee issued their agreeing report on November 30, 1971.

The legislation - "An Act to Establish The Capitol Reef National park in the State of Utah" - became Public Law 92-207 when it was signed by President Nixon on December 18, 1971.

Fruita Schoolhouse

In 1896, Elijah donated land for a school building that he and other early Junction settlers built. Even though only eight families lived in Junction, these farmers had large families. The Behunins raised 13 children. Nettie's first class had 22 students, three of whom were her siblings: two brothers, seven and 12 years old, and a sister, ten years old.

In 1880, Nels Johnson became the first homesteader in the lush Fremont River valley. He built his home near the confluence of Sulphur Creek and the Fremont River. Soon, other Mormon settlers followed, establishing small farms and orchards near the confluence, creating the village of Junction, Utah. The name was changed to Fruita in 1902, and the site is now part of the Fruita Rural Historic District in Capitol Reef National Park.


Originally, there was a flat, dirt covered roof on the school. A peaked, shingled roof was added in 1912 or 1913. The interior walls, originally bare and chinked logs, were plastered in 1935.

The first desks were homemade, constructed of pine, and seated two students each. These were sometimes used to quiet unruly students. The teacher would seat a troublesome boy with a girl, and the resulting blow to his ego would often bring him under control.

Teachers taught the "three-Rs" to the eight grades at the one-room school. If a teacher felt qualified and had enough textbooks, other subjects such as geography, were added.

Students were full of pranks. To delay the start of class, they often hid the teacher's alarm clock in the woodpile. Lanterns used during night meetings were stored in the school, and a few enterprising students found that dropping a small piece of calcium carbide, taken from a lantern, into an inkwell produced a reaction that would cause the ink to overflow. If the inkwell was tightly capped, it would explode and spatter ink all over the room.

The log building also served as a community meeting house and church. Desks were not bolted to the floor, so the room could be cleared for different needs. As late as 1924, the building was also used for dances, town meetings, elections, church youth activities, box suppers, and celebrations.


In 1900, the building was loaned to the Wayne County School District for the first county approved classes. Nettie, then 22, was the first authorized teacher. She was paid $70 a month while her male counterparts received $80 per month. Classes, of varying sizes, continued until 1941 when the school was discontinued for lack of students.

In 1964, the National Park Service nominated the school to the National Register of Historic Places and subsequently restored the structure to the 1930s period. Today, the school stands in its original location alongside Utah Highway 24. Visitors may peer through the windows into the furnished structure and imagine what school was like, so long ago. Those with a good imagination can still hear that old school bell ring.

Fremont Culture

The prehistoric Fremont people lived throughout Utah and adjacent areas of Idaho, Colorado and Nevada from 700 to 1300 AD. The culture was named for the Fremont River and its valley in which many of the first Fremont sites were discovered.

The Fremont were an Ancestral Puebloan people who had strong cultural affiliations with their better-known contemporaries, the Anasazi. The Fremont often lived in pit houses (dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof), wickiups (brush and log huts) and natural rockshelters. Their social structure was composed of small, loosely organized bands consisting of several families. They were closely tied to nature and were flexible, diverse and adaptive -- often making changes in their lifeways as social or environmental changes occurred.


The Fremont maintained a hunting and gathering lifestyle and supplemented their diet by farming; growing corn, beans and squash along the river bottoms. Edible native plants included pinyon nuts, rice grass and a variety of berries, nuts, bulbs, and tubers. Corn was ground into meal on a stone surface (metate) using a hand-held grinding stone (mano). Food was stored in pottery jars or baskets inside small masonry structures, called granaries, which were tucked under small overhangs on narrow ledges. Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, bow and arrow, and the atlatl or spear-throwing stick.

Unique Artifacts:

Archeologists have identified several kinds of artifacts that are distinctive to the Fremont people.One was a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, which incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. They also created pottery, mostly graywares, with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.

Unlike the Anasazi who wore yucca fiber sandals, the Fremont made moccasins from the hide of large animals, such as deer, bighorn sheep or bison. The dew claws were left on the sole, possibly to act as hobnails; providing extra traction on slippery surfaces.

The most unique and mysterious artifacts left by the Fremont were clay figurines. The small figures resemble people, often showing intricate details such as ear bobs, necklaces, clothing, hair and facial decorations and sexual characteristics. The purpose of figurines is unknown, but archeologists suggest that they had religious significance or were associated with fertility rites.

Rock Art:

Figurines resemble Fremont rock art. Pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (carved or pecked) are depictions of people, animals and other shapes and forms left on rock surfaces. Anthropomorphic (human-like) figures usually have trapezoidal shaped bodies with arms, legs and fingers. The figures are often elaborately decorated with headdresses, ear bobs, necklaces, clothing items and facial expressions. A wide variety of zoomorphic (animal-like) figures include bighorn sheep, deer, dogs, birds, snakes and lizards. Abstract designs, geometric shapes and handprints are also common.

The meaning of rock art is unknown. The designs may have recorded religious or mythological events, migrations, hunting trips, resource locations, travel routes, celestial information and other important knowledge. Many archeologists propose that rock art uses symbolic concepts that provide the observer with important information and that was notsimply artistic expression or doodling.

Some day, we may understand rock art better; but only if these sites are not destroyed. The slightest touch removes fine granules of sand and leaves behind a residue of sweat and oil. Please refrain from any activity that involves touching the panels. If you see anyone damaging rock art or any archeological site, report it to a ranger immediately.

By 1500 AD, archeological evidence of the Fremont ceases to exist. A combination of pressures may have caused this. First, Fremont people tended to live in very marginal, high- altitude environments, and their population densities (with few exceptions) were low even in peak years. Second, the disruption of the nearby Ancient Puebloan cultural centers, with their long-distance trade systems and huge population centers, upset interactions between the two cultural groups. This possibly lessened the availability of trade goods and marriageable partners. Finally, the arrival of ancestors of Numic-speaking groups (Navajo and Apache) may have caused new competition for wild resources and territory rights here in the Fremont heartland. Armed conflict may have resulted, as well. It also seems likely that at least some of the Fremont people were displaced and moved southwest probably intermarrying with other groups.

No archeological studies support the idea that fast and extreme climate change is responsible for the "disappearance" of Fremont artifacts from the archeological record. That's the puzzle: Fremont cultural diagnostics don't abruptly disappear; they scatter and gradually become increasingly rare between 1250 and 1500, until they are no longer found. A single, simple explanation for events like this would be preferable; unfortunately, this issue is complex, and remains to be solved.

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Redrock Eden

The origin of the little community at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek is obscure. The first resident may have been an 1879 squatter by the name of Franklin Young, but the first landholder of record was Nels Johnson. Others soon followed, and the community that sprang up became known as Junction.

The Fremont River was the key to life; without irrigation, farming would have been impossible. Unlike some of the other small settlements that grew up further downriver - Aldrich, Caineville, Blue Valley - Junction was usually spared the more extreme devastation caused downriver by frequent flooding. The orchards of her residents prospered and before the turn of the century Junction was know as "the Eden of Wayne County". In 1902, the name of the little settlement was changed to Fruita.

The settlement never incorporated. Local authority - such as it was - was vested in the Mormon Presiding Elder. The population never exceeded ten families.

Although it became widely known in south-central Utah for its orchards, Fruita residents also grew sorghum (for syrup and molasses), vegetables and alfalfa. Fruit growers usually picked the fruit prior to maturation and hauled it by the wagon load to bigger towns like Price and Richfield - and beyond. This was a formidable undertaking when one considers that in 1901 it took the Mormon Bishop of Torrey more than an hour and a half to travel the ten miles between Fruita and Torrey in the best weather. If the road between Torrey and Fruita was difficult, the route between Fruita and Hanksville - 37 miles east - was nearly impossible.

In 1884, residents of Fruita (then Junction) had built a passage through Capitol Gorge that extended to Caineville and Hanksville. This primitive roadway was called the Blue Dugway and it served to connect the river settlements with the rest of Utah until after World War II. This narrow wagon track was so difficult, however, that the little communities remained some of the most isolated in America until the mid-20th century.

Along the Fremont River, barter served as the means for acquiring goods and services; cash was in short supply. Although some Fruita men worked on state roads, annual fruit sales remained the major source of cash income.

The one-room schoolhouse, constructed by residents in 1896, also served as a community center. The desks were movable and the community enjoyed dances and box socials in the little building. Residents also held church activities there, as well as in private homes. Women often quilted together and men and boys were especially fond of baseball. "Putting up" foods was not a hobby in Fruita; it was essential for survival through the winter.

Well into the modern era, farming techniques in Fruita remained as they had been in the 19th century. It was not until World War II that the first tractor was purchased.

Fifty years ago, Fruita was spared much of the anguish that the Great Depression brought to other communities in America. Long reliance on barter as the main method of obtaining basic life needs shielded the Fremont River settlers from the cash drought that plagued the nation. Contrary to what one might imagine, Fruita sheltered passionate supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as more conservative "Hooverites".

Although it wasn't recognized at the time, the establishment of Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937 would become a tolling bell for the Fruita community. After World War II, visitors began to arrive in increasing numbers; the road from Richfield to Torrey was paved in 1940. In 1952, the pavement was extended to Fruita; the world had found the Capitol Reef country.

As visitation to the monument increased in the post war years, the National Park Service (NPS) determined to purchase all Fruita property still in private hands. By the late 1960s most of this had been accomplished on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis. Many residential structures and outbuildings were razed.

Although most of the structures of the Fruita settlement are gone (with the exception of the restored schoolhouse, the Gifford house and barn, and a few others), the orchards remain and dominate the landscape. The current general management plan for Capitol Reef National Park cites the value of the orchards as a "historic landscape" and affirms the resolve of the NPS to preserve them.

The orchards - all owned by the National Park Service - are maintained at a level of about 2,600 trees. A small crew is kept busy year-round with pruning, irrigation, replanting, and maintaining the health of the orchards. Although the historic gravity-feed irrigation works are still used, the park employs a modern Integrated Pest Management Program, which utilizes mechanical, biological and chemical means to keep the orchards healthy.

As each fruit crop comes into season, fruit becomes available to the public on a pick-your-own basis. Fruit consumed in the orchards is free; there is a charge for fruit taken out of the orchards.

Management of the orchards, especially during picking season, presents some challenges. Because the trees were originally planted in small family orchards - each with a wide variety of fruit - fruit ripens at varying times. Visitors are asked to consider the historical nature of the trees and treat them gently - picking only ripe fruit and not damaging tree limbs. Protection of the trees as well as visitor safety are priority considerations.

An Orchard Management plan, under development, will guide the preservation of individual historic trees in balance with the vigor of healthy, productive orchards while maintaining the spirit and character of Fruita's historic period. For both regional neighbors and visitors from throughout the world, Fruita will continue to be the "Eden of Wayne County".



Ephraim Portman Pectol was born in 1875. As a child he lived in Caineville, a Mormon settlement 20 miles east of Capitol Reef. In 1910, he went into business in Torrey and operated a store there for many years. He served as Mormon Bishop of Torrey from 1911 until 1928.

Pectol was sensitive to the rugged beauty of the Capitol Reef area and was an avid Fremont culture relic hunter. A private museum in his Torrey store was widely known.

Pectol was anxious that others should come to appreciate the beauty of the area. In 1921, he organized a Boosters Club in Torrey. Pectol pressed a promotional campaign, furnishing stories and photos to periodicals and newspapers. In his efforts, he was increasingly aided by his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Hickman, who was Wayne County High School principal.

Pectol was elected to the presidency of the Associated Civics Club of Southern Utah, successor to the Wayne Wonderland Club. The club raised $150.00 to interest a Salt Lake City photographer in taking a series of promotional photos. For several years, the photographer,J.E. Broaddus, traveled and lectured on "Wayne Wonderland".

In 1933, Pectol himself was elected to the legislature and almost immediately contacted President Roosevelt and asked for the creation of Wayne Wonderland National Monument out of the federal lands comprising the bulk of the Capitol Reef area. Federal agencies began a feasibility study and boundary assessment. Meanwhile, Pectol not only guided the government investigators on numerous trips, but escorted an increasing number of visitors. The lectures of Broaddus were having an effect.


Charles Kelley was a man of diverse interests and great talent. Born in 1889, "Charlie" made his living as a linotype operator and printer. As he matured, a talent for writing, as well as printing, emerged.

Moving to Salt Lake City in 1919, Kelly began a love affair with the deserts and canyons of Utah that would last a lifetime. He concentrated his exploration energies on southern Utah and the Colorado River area. His interest in archeology, as well as more recent history, grew.

He published his first book in 1930 - Salt Desert Trails. Five more books followed, the most well-known being Outlaw Trail, the story of Butch Cassidy. Scores of his articles were published by Deseret Magazine, The Utah Historical Quarterly, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Kelly developed an intense interest in Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan rockart. On several trips, he passed through Fruita and came to know a colorful resident, Dr. Arthur L. Inglesby, a dentist retired from practice. "Doc" Inglesby was an avid rockhound who had come to know Capitol Reef intimately.

Inglesby and Kelly became friends and made numerous trips into the rugged butte and canyon country around Fruita. Kelly decided that he, too, would retire in Fruita.

Meanwhile, not much was happening with the administration of Capitol Reef National Monument, which had been placed under the administration of Zion National Park. However, a stone ranger cabin and the Sulphur Creek bridge were built and some road work was performed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Works Project Administration). Kelly came to know NPS officials at Zion well and volunteered to "watchdog" the park for the NPS. In 1943, he was officially appointed "custodian-without-pay".

The Kelly Years

Life was challenging for Kelly; he continued to write, mostly about Capitol Reef. During the 1950s, he was deeply troubled by NPS management acceding to demands of the Atomic Energy Commission that Capitol Reef National Monument be opened to uranium prospecting. He felt that the decision had been a mistake and destructive to the long term national interest. As it turned out, there was not enough ore to be worth mining in the monument.

It was not until 1958 that Kelly received additional permanent help in protecting the monument and enforcing regulations; Park Ranger Grant Clark transferred from Zion. The year Clark arrived, fifty-six thousand visitors came to the park and "Charlie" Kelly retired for the last time, full of years of experiences.