Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Natural World

The Waterpocket Fold defines Capitol Reef National Park. A nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust, the Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline: a regional fold with one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. A monocline is a "step-up" in the rock layers. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east. Major folds are almost always associated with underlying faults. The Waterpocket Fold formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a major mountain building event in western North America, the Laramide Orogeny, reactivated an ancient buried fault. When the fault moved, the overlying rock layers were draped above the fault and formed a monocline.

More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface only within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name Waterpocket Fold reflects this ongoing erosion of the rock layers. "Waterpockets" are basins that form in many of the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout the fold, thus giving it the name "Waterpocket Fold". Erosion of the tilted rock layers continues today forming colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches.

Biological soil crusts are found throughout the world. In arid regions, these living soil crusts are dominated by cyanobacteria, and also include soil lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria. These crusts play an important role in the ecosystems in which they occur. In the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau (which includes parts of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico), these knobby black crusts are extraordinarily well-developed, and may represent 70 to 80 percent of the living ground cover.

Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in the slickrock country of Utah. Plant and animal life is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.

In these next few pages, you will be able to learn about the many geological features and the indiginent plant and animal life forms that are found in Capitol Reef National Park.


Many plants are found throughout Capitol Reef, both common and exotic.

Rare and Protected

Capitol Reef is home to many plants. Here are just a few of the rare and protected plants found in the park.

Wright's fishhook cactus
Sclerocactus wrightiae
(Cactus Family)
Wright's fishhook cactus is listed as a federally endangered species.  It occurs primarily in the Morrison Formation and Entrada Sandstone in Emery and Wayne counties, Utah.  Capitol Reef National Park contains about one-third of known Wright's fishhook cacti.
Rabbit Valley gilia
Gilia caespitosa 
(Phlox Family)
Rabbit Valley gilia is currently a candidate for federal listing.  A Conservation Agreement between the National Park Service and other federal agencies who share responsibility for this species was signed in 1997.  It states that each agency will conduct the necessary surveys and monitoring, and ensure adequate protection for Rabbit Valley gilia so that it will not need to be listed.  This Expedition into the Parks grant is enabling Capitol Reef to meet its goals of surveying and establishing monitoring plots in a timely manner.  Rabbit Valley gilia is restricted to the Navajo Sandstone, growing in cracks in sheer sandstone cliffs or talus slopes composed of Navajo sand and boulders.  About one-quarter of known Rabbit Valley gilia occur in Capitol Reef National Park.
Maguire's daisy
Erigeron maguirei
(Sunflower Family)
Maguire's daisy is listed as a federally threatened species.  It grows only on Navajo Sandstone.  About half of all known Maguire's daisies are in Capitol Reef National Park.
Harrison's milkvetch
Astragalus harrisonii 
(Pea Family)
Harrison's milkvetch is a National Park Service Sensitive Species which was considered for listing as a federally endangered species in 1976.  Since the only known populations occur within Capitol Reef National Park and are thought to be adequately protected through NPS policy, listing of Harrison's milkvetch was not pursued.  It occurs in the Navajo Sandstone in only a few locations within Capitol Reef National Park.
Pinnate spring-parsley
Cymopterus beckii 
(Carrot Family)
Pinnate spring-parsley is a National Park Service Sensitive Species which occurs in only two locations; one in Capitol Reef National Park and one in the Manti-LaSal National Forest, in southeastern Utah.  Pinnate spring-parsley is a Pleistocene relic which occurs in four geologic layers; Cutler Formation, Wingate Sandstone, Kayenta Formation, and Navajo Sandstone.
Barneby reed-mustard
Schoencrombe barnebyi

(Mustard Family) 

Barneby reed-mustard is listed as a federally endangered species.  Capitol Reef National Park contains the largest known population of this species.  It is a Pleistocene relict which occurs only in two geologic formations; Moenkopi and Kaibab Limestone.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions (Felis concolor) are also called cougars, pumas, panthers, painters, and catamounts. They roam throughout this area in both desert and mountain country, and are usually quiet and elusive. Although your chances of seeing one of these secretive animals is slight, they have been observed in and around Fruita in the campground, picnic areas, orchards and housing area. Typically, mountain lion sightings occur from a distance and usually around dawn or dusk. However, lions are unpredictable and can be dangerous.

Mountain lions are solitary animals, traveling alone except during mating season or when a female is supporting you. They can be seen at any time of the day or night, but are most active at dawn and dusk, corresponding with deer activity.

Mountain lions are carnivores (meat eaters) and prey mostly on deer. They also eat small animals like porcupines, rabbits, squirrels, marmots, and skunks.

The orchards in Fruita host a large deer population which in turn attracts mountain lions. Do not feed deer. Feeding deer encourages them to remain in close proximity to the campground. Avoid carcasses as lions will occasionally return to their kills to feed over several days. Do not leave pets outside at night.

If you encounter a lion, remember the goals is to convince it that you are not prey and that you may be dangerous. Follow these safety tips:

Please report all mountain lion sightings to the ranger at the visitor center.

Mammal Checklist

Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in the slickrock country of Utah. Wildlife is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.

We solicit details of the wildlife seen by visitors because such information adds immeasurably to the value of the park records. Those species with an asterisk have been identified in or near the park. For others, Capitol Reef National Park lies within their known range. Mammals marked with an (E) are considered extinct from the park. The listing follows the format order of Burt and Grossenheider.



  • Vagrant Shrew (Sorex vagrans) - nearly statewide in range, found in marshes, bogs, wet.meadows and along streams in forests; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Northern Water Shrew (Sorex palustris) - confined to cold, small streams with cover on the banks and in bogs in this area; possibly exists in North District; recorded in Fruita.
  • Dusky Shrew (Sorex obscurus) - found in marshes, coniferous forests, and dry hillsides; may exist in North District; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Gray Shrew* (Notiosorex crawfordi) - found in dry alluvial fans, sagebrush and other low desert shrub habitats in and areas; reported in South District.


Common Bats

  • Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) - statewide in range; flies from dusk to dawn; erratic flight; migrates from north in fall; not reported from Capitol Reef.
  • Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis) - statewide in range; late flier, usually close to ground; one of the most common of western myotis.
  • Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis) - statewide in range; flies late in low elevations and early at higher elevations; frequents thinly forested areas.
  • Long-legged Myotis* (Myotis volans) - statewide in range; flight less erratic than most myotis; frequents buildings, small pockets and crevices in rock ledges; confirmed in Fruita.
  • Small-footed Myotis* (Myotis leibii) - statewide in range; only slightly larger than California myotis; flies early in evening; recorded in Fruita and along east boundary near Utah 24.
  • Western Pipistrel* (Pipistrellus hesperus) - statewide in range; flies early in evening, sometimes before sundown; flight erratic; feeds near watercourses; observed in Fruita.
  • Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) - statewide in range; one of the most common and widely distributed of the bats; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Western Big-eared Bat* (Plecotus townsendi) - statewide in range; frequents caves and buildings; may be solitary; recorded in Fruita.
  • Pallid Bat* (Antrozous pallidus) - nearly statewide in range; flies late (10 p. m. or after in summer at Capitol ReeQ; feeds near the ground; females may carry young while feeding; confirmed in Fruita and along east boundary on Utah 24.

Other species of Myotis that may exist in Capitol Reef

  • Cave Myotis (Myotis velifer)
  • Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes)
  • California Myotis (Myotis califomicus)
  • Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans)
  • Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)
  • Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
  • Spotted Bat (Euderma maculata)
  • Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus phyllotis)


Freetail Bats

  • Mexican Freetail Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) - nearly statewide in range; flies at dusk and flies high and fast; most common and smallest freetail bat in its range.
  • Big Freetail Bat (Tadarida macrotis) - nearly statewide in range; flies when dark; not reported in Capitol Reef.



  • Black Bear* (Ursus americanus) - ranges throughout mountainous areas of the United States; infrequently reported in mountainous areas of central and southern Utah; reported rarely in Capitol Reef.
  • (E) Grizzly Bear (Ursus horribilis) - originally statewide in mountainous areas of Utah; now thought to be extinct.


Raccoons & Ring-tailed Cats

  • Raccoon (Procyon rotor) - ranges in riparian habitats along the Colorado River and tributaries; recently raccoons reported near Green River and Caineville and seem to be expanding their range; not yet reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Ringtail* (Bassariscus astutus) - ranges in all but the northwestern corner of the state; found in rocky ridges and cliffs, usually near water; observed in Fruita and along Pleasant Creek.


Skunks, Badgers, Weasels, & Otters

  • Shorttail Weasel* (Mustela erminea) - ranges in all but extreme south of Utah; prefers brushy or wooded areas not far from water; may occur in North District; reported on Chimney Rock trail.
  • Longtail Weasel (Mustela frenata) - statewide in range; found in all land habitats near water and common in irrigated areas; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Mink* (Mustela vison) - ranges in Utah restricted to stream drainages or lakes near mountains; reported from Fremont River near east boundary; recorded in Fruita along Fremont River.
  • (E) River Otter (Lutra canadensis) - otters were observed on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon as late as 1938, possibly a few remain on isolated drainages; considered extinct in this area.
  • Badger* (Taxidea taxus) - statewide in range; prefers open grasslands and deserts; relatively common; reported from South District and near east boundary along Utah 24.
  • Spotted Skunk* (Spilogale putorius) - statewide in range; prefers brushy or sparsely wooded areas along streams and among boulders; observed in Fruita.
  • Striped Skunk* (Mephitis mephitis) - statewide in range; prefers semi-open country, brushland and open prairie within 2 miles of water; common in Fruita.


Wolves & Foxes

  • Coyote* (Canis latrans) - statewide in range; prefers open woodlands, prairies, and brushy or boulder-strewn areas; reported from Fruits and other park locations.
  • (E) Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) - formerly statewide in range except for the western desert regions of the state; now thought to be extinct.
  • Red Fox* (Vulpes fulva) - thought to be statewide in range but some consider rare in Utah and occurring only in southern and southeastern parts of state; ranges seem to be expanding; reported from Capitol Reef in North District.
  • Gray Fox* (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) - ranges in all but extreme northwest of state; prefers open forests and rimrock country; abundant in Fruita.
  • Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis) - range is in extreme western Utah and into desert areas of Nevada and Arizona but reports and indications are that this species is expanding its range; may rarely occur near Capitol Reef.



  • Mountain Lion* (Fe x concolor) - statewide in range; infrequently reported or tracks observed in Fruita area.
  • Bobcat* (Lynx rufus) - statewide in range; reported from Muley Twist Canyon and Fruita.


Squirrels & Marmots

  • Yellowbelly Marmot* (Marmota flaviventris) - generally confined to mountainous areas of the state to 3,650 meters (12,000 ft.) msl; hibernates 7-8 months of the year; abundant in Fruita area.
  • Whitetail Prairie Dog (Cynomys gunnisoni) - ranges are shown as eastern half of Utah but probably doesn't occur west of the Colorado River.
  • Utah Prairie Dog (Cynomys parvidens) - isolated populations west of Capitol Reef; on Rare and Endangered Species List; occurs in or near to the park in North District. (Spillet)
  • Rock Squirrel* (Spermophilus variegatus) - nearly statewide in range; prefers rocky canyons and boulderstrewn slopes; abundant in Fruita.
  • Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel* (Citellus lateralis) - generally confined to mountainous areas of the state; reported from Thousand Lake Mt. and North District.
  • Whitetail Antelope Squirrel* (Ammospermophilus leucurus) - nearly statewide in range; prefers low desert and foothills, sparse vegetation and scattered juniper trees; abundant throughout lower areas of park.
  • Least Chipmunk (Eutamias minimus) - statewide in range; prefers low sagebrush deserts, high mountain coniferous forests, probably in North District.
  • Cliff Chipmunk (Eutamias dorsalis) - ranges in all but southeast corner of the state; prefers pinyon pinejuniper slopes and lower edges of pines; probably occurs in North District; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Colorado Chipmunk* (Eutamias quadrivittatus) - ranges in southeast corner of the state; prefers coniferous forests, rocky slopes and ridges, commonly seen in pinyon-juniper associations; abundant in some years in Fruita.
  • Uinta Chipmunk (Eutamias umbrinus) - ranges generally throughout mountainous areas of the state; prefers coniferous forests up to timberline and rocky slopes; not reported from Capitol Reef.
  • Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) - statewide in range except for extreme western area; prefers spruce or hardwood forests; probably occurs in North District.
  • Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) - ranges through central mountainous areas of the state; prefers coniferous and mixed forests; nocturnal; may eat meat; reported from Boulder Mountain.


Pocket Gophers

  • Valley Pocket Gopher* (Thomomys bottae) - statewide in range; prefers loam soils but may occur in sandy or rocky situations of valleys and mountain meadows.
  • Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides) - ranges over eastern half of state; prefers grassy prairies, alpine meadows, brushy areas and open pine forests; probably occurs in North District; not reported from Capitol Reef.


Kangaroo Rats & Pocket Mice

  • Great Basin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus parvus) ranges in western Utah and up the Colorado River; prefers sagebrush, pinyon and yellow pine areas; not reported in Capitol Reef, but probably occurs along Fremont River.
  • Ord's Kangaroo Rat* (Dipodomys ordii) - statewide in range; prefers sandy soil, but sometimes found on hard soils; recorded along east boundary.



  • Beaver* (Castor canadensis) - ranges statewide except for deserts of northwestern part of state; prefers streams or lakes with trees or willows on bank; observed in Fremont River and Halls Creek.


New World Rats, Mice & Muskrat

  • Western Harvest Mouse* (Reithrodontomys megalotis) - statewide in range; prefers grassland, open desert, weed patches, and dense vegetation near water.
  • Canyon Mouse* (Peromyscus crinitus) - ranges statewide except for mountainous areas; prefers rocky canyons and slopes in and environments; most abundant mouse in park.
  • Deer Mouse* (Peromyscus maniculatus) - statewide in range; prefers dry-land habitat; most widely distributed and most variable member of white-footed mouse group.
  • Brush Mouse (Peromyscus boylei) - ranges statewide except for desert areas of extreme west; prefers chaparral areas of and and rocky situations.
  • Pinyon Mouse (Peromyscus truei) - ranges statewide except for mountainous areas; prefers rocky terrain with scattered pinyon pines and junipers.
  • Northern Grasshopper Mouse* (Onychomys leucogaster) - statewide in range; inhabitant of prairies and desert areas in low valleys where vegetation not too sparse; common in park.
  • Desert Woodrat* (Neotoma lepida) - ranges in western deserts of state and up Colorado River drainage; prefers desert floors or rocky slopes with scattered vegetation.
  • Bushytail Woodrat (Neotoma cinerea) - statewide in range; usually not found below the pines; probably occurs in North District; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Boreal Redback Vole (Clethrionomys gapperi) - ranges in central mountainous areas of the state; prefers coniferous, deciduous, or mixed forests close to source of water; possibly occurs in North District.
  • Mountain Vole (Microtus montanus) - ranges throughout state except in southeast corner; valleys and mountains of the state; undoubtedly occurs in Capitol Reef.
  • Richardson Vole (Microtus richardsoni) - ranges in central mountainous areas of the state; prefers creekbanks and marshes of the mountains to above timberline; not reported in Capitol Reef.
  • Longtail Vole (Microtus longicaudus) - statewide in range; prefers streambanks and mountain meadows, occasionally in dry situations; probably in North District.
  • Muskrat* (Odatra zibethica) - nearly statewide in range except for small area in western desert of the state; frequents marshes, edges of ponds, lakes, and streams; reported from Fremont River.


Jumping Mice

  • Western Jumping Mouse (Zapus princess) - ranges through central mountains of the state; a mountain species, found near streams and lush growths of grasses; possibly occurs in North District.



  • Porcupine* (Erethizon dorsatum) - statewide in range; usually in forested areas but occasionally away from trees if brush is available; common in park.


Rabbits & Hares

  • Whitetail Jackrabbit* (Lepus townsendi) - nearly statewide in range except for extreme south part of state; prefers open, grassy or sagebrush plains; rarely reported in Capitol Reef (Fruita and on U-24).
  • Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) - ranges in central mountains of the state; a coniferous species in forests and thickets; possibly in North District.
  • Blacktail Jackrabbit* (Lepus califomicus) - nearly statewide in range; found in open prairies and sparsely vegetated deserts; reported parkwide.
  • Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttali) - nearly statewide in range; found in thickets, sagebrush, loose rooks and cliffs, forests and mountains; not reported in park.
  • Desert Cottontail* (Sylvilagus auduboni) - nearly statewide in range except for extreme northwest corner of state; prefers open plains, foothills, and low valleys as well as grass, sagebrush, scattered pinyons and juniper areas; common in the park.


Deer, Elk & Moose

  • Mule Deer* (Odocoileus hemionus) - statewide in range, found from coniferous forests to desert shrub and grassland habitats; common in Fruita orchards.


Pronghorn Antelope

  • (E) Antelope (AntilOcapra americans) - reported from Wayne and Emery counties in 1922 and 1927; current range is east of Green River, Utah, and restored in vicinity of Loa, Utah; considered extinct from park area.


Bison, Sheep, Goats & Cattle

  • (E) Bison/Buffalo (Bison bison) - probably very wide in distribution before 1847, now restricted to an introduced herd that ranges between the Colorado River, Henry Mountains, and north of Hanksville; sometimes seen around Notom Road in park.
  • (E) Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) - very numerous in early historical records, last observation of native sheep in the park was in 1948 in Capitol Gorge; considered extinct from park area, but status may change with restocking.

Bird Checklist

Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres within the slickrock country of southern Utah. The birdlife is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.

Lists and details of the birds seen by visitors are solicited, as this adds immeasurably to the value of the park's records. Common names conform with the A. 0. U. Checklist of North American Birds (Seventh Edition, 1998).

The following is a key to abundance and occurrence:


C – COMMON indicates that the species can usually be seen during the season indicated and in the appropriate habitat.
U – UNCOMMON indicates that the species is seldom or infrequently seen.
R – RARE indicates a very low possibility of encountering the species, although not out of normal range.
I – IRREGULAR indicates that a species may not be seen some years.
O – OCCASIONAL indicates a species seldom found in park and not reported annually.
A – ACCIDENTAL indicates that a species is out of its normal range and is not expected again.


P – PERMANENT RESIDENT: Species remains within the park throughout the year.
S – SUMMER RESIDENT: Species remains within the park during the summer.
W – WINTER RESIDENT: Species remains within the park during the winter.
T – TRANSIENT: A species that migrates through the park in spring and/or fall.


_____ Common RT*
_____ Eared UT
_____ Pied-billed UT
_____ American White RT
_____ Black-crowned Night O
_____ Great Blue US
_____ Green-backed* RS
_____ Cattle O
_____ Snowy UT
_____ White-faced UT
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_____ Canada Goose UT
_____ Snow Goose RT
_____ American Widgeon RT
_____ Blue-winged Teal RT
_____ Bufflehead UT
_____ Cinnamon Teal UT
_____ Common Golden eye UT
_____ Common Merganser US/UW
_____ Gadwall RT
_____ Green-winged Teal UT
_____ Lesser Scaup UT
_____ Mallard US/RW
_____ Northern Pintail RT
_____ Northern Shoveler UT
_____ Redhead RT
_____ Ring-necked Duck RT
_____ Ruddy Duck RT
_____ Wood Duck O
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_____ Turkey Vulture US
_____ Osprey O
_____ Bald Eagle RW
_____ Golden Eagle UP
_____ Northern Harrier UP
_____ Cooper's Hawk US/RW
_____ Northern Goshawk RP*
_____ Sharp-shinned Hawk UP
_____ Ferruginous Hawk RP
_____ Red-tailed Hawk UP
_____ Rough-legged Hawk RW
_____ Swainson's Hawk RS
_____ American Kestrel CP
_____ Merlin O
_____ Peregrine Falcon UP
_____ Prairie Falcon UP
_____ Blue Grouse UP*
_____ Chukar CP
_____ Gambel's Quail UP
_____ Ring-necked Pheasant RP
_____ Wild Turkey US
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_____ American Coot US/RW
_____ Sora RT
_____ Virginia Rail O
_____ American Avocet O
_____ Black-necked Stilt RT
_____ Killdeer US/RW
_____ Common Snipe RT
_____ Greater Yellowlegs O
_____ Lesser Yellowlegs O
_____ Long-billed Curlew RT
_____ Marbled Godwit O
_____ Solitary Sandpiper O
_____ Spotted Sandpiper US
_____ Western Sandpiper O
_____ Willet RT
_____ Wilson's Phalarope RT
_____ Franklin's O
_____ Band-tailed Pigeon US
_____ Mourning Dove CS/RW
_____ Rock Dove RS
_____ White-winged Dove O
_____ Yellow-billed RT
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_____ Burrowing RS
_____ Great Horned UP
_____ Flammulated RS*
_____ Northern Pygmy UP
_____ Northern Saw-whet Owl I
_____ Long-eared RP
_____ Short-eared RP
_____ Spotted RP
_____ Western Screech UP
_____ Common Nighthawk US
_____ Common Poorwill US
_____ Vaux's O
_____ White-throated CS
_____ Black-chinned CS
_____ Broad-tailed CS
_____ Calliope Hummingbird O
_____ Rufous CT
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_____ Belted RP
_____ Downy UP
_____ Hairy US/CW
_____ Ladder-backed O
_____ Lewis' RT
_____ Northern Flicker CP
_____ Red-naped Sapsucker CP
_____ Williamson's Sapsucker US*
_____ Ash-throated US
_____ Black Phoebe RS
_____ Cassin's RS
_____ Cordilleran RS*
_____ Eastern Kingbird O
_____ Gray US
_____ Hammond's RT
_____ Olive-sided RS*
_____ Say's Phoebe CS
_____ Western Kingbird CS
_____ Western Wood-Pewee CS
_____ Willow RS
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_____ Horned CP
_____ Bank US
_____ Barn UT
_____ Cliff US
_____ Northern Rough-winged CS
_____ Tree UT
_____ Violet-green CS
_____ Clark's Nutcracker UP
_____ Pinyon Jay CP
_____ Scrub Jay CP
_____ Steller's Jay UP*
_____ Black-billed Magpie CP
_____ Common Raven CP
_____ Black-capped UP*
_____ Mountain UP*
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_____ Bushtit CP
_____ Juniper Titmouse CP
_____ Brown Creeper UP*
_____ Red-breasted Nuthatch UP*
_____ White-breasted Nuthatch UP
_____ Bewick's US
_____ Canyon CP
_____ House RT
_____ Marsh RT
_____ Rock CS/RW
_____ Winter RW
_____ American UP
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_____ Blue-gray Gnatcatcher CS
_____ Golden-crowned Kinglet RT
_____ Ruby-crowned Kinglet CP
_____ Mountain Bluebird US*/UT
_____ Western Bluebird US
_____ American Robin CP
_____ Hermit Thrush UT
_____ Swainson's Thrush RT
_____ Townsend's Solitaire RS*/UW
_____ Veery O
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_____ Gray Catbird RS
_____ Northern Mockingbird US
_____ Brown RS
_____ Sage US
_____ American UT
_____ Bohemian IW
_____ Cedar IW
_____ Loggerhead UP
_____ Northern RW
_____ European UP
_____ Gray US
_____ Red-eyed O
_____ Solitary US
_____ Warbling US
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_____ American Redstart IT
_____ Black-and-white O
_____ Black-throated Gray US
_____ Common Yellowthroat RS
_____ Grace's RS
_____ Hooded O
_____ MacGillivray's US
_____ Nashville RT
_____ Northern Parula O
_____ Orange-crowned US
_____ Tennessee RT
_____ Townsend's RT
_____ Virginia's US
_____ Yellow CS
_____ Yellow-breasted Chat US
_____ Yellow-rumped CS
_____ Wilson's CT
_____ Northern Waterthrush O
_____ Summer O
_____ Western CS
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_____ Lazuli CS
_____ Indigo RT
_____ Black-headed US
_____ Blue US
_____ Rose-breasted RT
_____ Dark-eyed Junco US*/CW
_____ American Tree RW
_____ Black-throated CS
_____ Brewer's US
_____ Chipping CS
_____ Harris' RW
_____ Lark US
_____ Lincoln's UT
_____ Sage US
_____ Savannah US
_____ Song US/RW
_____ Vesper US
_____ White-crowned CS/RW
_____ White-throated RT/RW
_____ Green-tailed Towhee US
_____ Rufous-sided Towhee CS/RW
_____ Lapland Longspur O
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_____ Bobolink O
_____ Western Meadowlark UP
_____ Brewer's CS
_____ Red-winged CS/RW
_____ Yellow-headed US
_____ Common Grackle RS
_____ Brown-headed Cowbird CS
_____ Hooded O
_____ Northern CS
_____ Orchard O
_____ Scott's US
_____ Cassin's RS
_____ House CS/RW
_____ Rosy IW
_____ Black Rosy-Finch IW
_____ American Goldfinch US/CT
_____ Lesser Goldfinch US/CT
_____ Pine Siskin UP*/CT
_____ Evening Grosbeak UW/UT
_____ Pine Grosbeak RP*
_____ Red Crossbill O
_____ House Sparrow RP



Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in the slickrock country of southern Utah. Wildlife is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.

We solicit details of the wildlife seen by visitors because such information adds immeasurably to the value of the park records. Those species with an asterisk have been identified in or near the park. For others, Capitol Reef National Park lies within their known range.



Mole Salamanders

  • Tiger Salamander* (Ambystoma tigrinum) - 900 to 3,350 meters (3,000 to 11,000 ft.) msi; frequents quiet water ponds, reservoirs, lakes, temporary rain pools, and streams that do not contain predatory fish; dark olive colored in this area; recorded on Thousand Lake Mountain.



Spadefoot Toads

  • Great Basin Spadefoot Toad* (Scaphiopus intermontanus) - 1,500 to 3,050 meters (5,000 to 10,000 ft.) msl; vertical pupils; enters permanent and semi-permanent water in response to rain, in dry weather burrows into the ground; reported from South District near Halls Creek; Indian Gulch; Moki Tanks; reported from South District near Halls Creek, the Fremont River, and tanks in the Waterpocket Fold.
  • Western Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus hammondi) - 900 to 1,800 meters (3,000 to 6,000 ft.) msl; vertical pupils, when handled, may smell like roasted peanuts and skin secretion may cause sneezing; probably does not occur with Great Basin spadefoot, but has similar habits.


True Toads

  • Boreal Toad (Bufo boreas) - 1,219 to 3,350 meters (4,000 to 11,000 ft.) msl; meadows; white or cream-colored dorsal stripes and lack of cranian crests; reported from Torrey.
  • Rocky Mountain Toad* (Bufo woodhousei) - 900 to 2,600 meters (3,000 to 8,500 ft.) msl; white dorsal stripe, prominent cranial crests; riparian species along river courses and ditches; reported from Fruita, Torrey, the Fremont River, Halls Creek, Sulphur Creek and tanks in the Waterpocket Fold.
  • Red Spotted Toad (Bufo punctatus) - 900 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,500 ft.) msl; flattened head and round parotoids; usually associated with rocks; reported from Fruita, along the Fremont River and in the South District.


Tree frogs

  • Canyon Treefrog* (Hyla arenicolor) - 900 to 2,750 meters (3,000 to 9,000 ft.) msl; intermittent streams with rocky pools; prominent toe pads; recorded at south boundary in Halls Creek, and often numerous in Fountain Tanks.
  • Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) - 2,125 to 3,350 meters (7,000 to 11,000 ft.) msl; without toe pads; grassy pools, lakes, and marshes; not reported from Capitol Reef area, probably occurs at high elevations near Capitol Reef.


True Frogs

  • Leopard Frog* (Rana pipiens) - 900 to 3,350 meters (3,000 to 11,000 ft.) msl; oval or round dark spots with pale borders; frequents permanent water areas; reported from Fruita and Torrey; also observed along Fremont River, Grover, south boundary in Halls Creek.


Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in the slickrock country of southern Utah. Wildlife is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.

We solicit details of the wildlife seen by visitors because such information adds immeasurably to the value of the park records. Those species with an asterisk have been identified in or near the park. For others, Capitol Reef National Park lies within their known range.


Trout & Chars

  • Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) - native to Europe but probably introduced into the West before 1900; thrives in the Fremont River because of tolerance to warm water.
  • Rainbow Trout (Salmo gairdnerii) - introduced from the Pacific Coast of the United States; lives well in both cold and warm water.
  • Cutthroat Trout (Salmo clarkii) - native to Utah and the Intermountain Region; hybridizes with Rainbow trout.
  • Brook Trout (Saivelinus fontinalis) - introduced to the West from the Northeastern part of the United States; found in some cold water streams that flow into the Fremont River.



  • Flannelmouth Sucker (Catostomus latipinnis) - native to the Colorado River system; herbivorous; ascends streams in the spring to spawn.
  • Bluehead Sucker (Pantosteus delphinus) - native to the Colorado River system; usually found in riffles of the streams; feeds on algae, slime, and aquatic insect larvae.


Chubs, Dance, Minnows & Shiners

  • Speckled Dace (Rhinichthys osculus) - native to the Fremont River where it is the most abundant fish; prefers rubble-strewn riffle areas; feeds on algae and other plant materials as well as small crustaceans, insect larvae, and small snails.
  • Utah Chub (Gila atraria) - introduced into the Fremont River as bait by fishermen; native habitat is the Bonneville Basin; generalized feeder, consuming higher plants, algae, terrestrial and aquatic insects, snails, crustaceans, and small fish; spawns during July.
  • Leatherside Minnow (Gila copei) - found in the Fremont River; feeding and habits probably similar to the Utah chub.
  • Redside Shiner (Richardsonius balteatus) - introduced into the Fremont River, native to Bonneville and Columbia River basins; feeds on small aquatic insect larvae, crustaceans, and some plant debris; spawns in late June.


North American Catfishes

  • Black Bullhead (ictalurus melas) - occasionally found in Halls Creek near the southern park boundary where it undoubtedly migrates from Lake Powell; black bullhead is adaptable to a wide range of aquatic conditions but shows preference for more quiet and muddier parts of a stream.



  • Bluegill (Lepomis machrochirus) - occasionally found in Halls Creek where it undoubtedly migrates from Lake Powell; feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, insect larvae, and occasionally on small fish and aquatic plants.



  • Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdi) - probably introduced into the Fremont River from the Bonneville system; carnivorous, a bottom feeder utilizing insect larvae, crustaceans, small fish and snails.



The most scenic portion of the Waterpocket Fold, found near the Fremont River, is known as Capitol Reef: capitol for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes, and reef for the rocky cliffs which are a barrier to travel, like a coral reef.

Nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary strata are found in the Capitol Reef area. These rocks range in age from Permian (as old as 270 million years old) to Cretaceous (as young as 80 million years old.) The Waterpocket Fold has tilted this geologic layer cake down to the east. The older rocks are found in the western part of the park, and the younger rocks are found near the east boundary.

This layer upon layer sequence of sedimentary rock records nearly 200 million years of geologic history. Rock layers in Capitol Reef reveal ancient environments as varied as rivers and swamps (Chinle Formation), Sahara-like deserts (Navajo Sandstone), and shallow oceans (Mancos Shale).


The tilt of the Waterpocket Fold dies out at Thousand Lake Mountain near the northwestern boundary of the park. Rock layers in Cathedral Valley have a gentle inclination of three to five degrees to the east and appear nearly horizontal.

Deep erosion has carved Cathedral Valley's free-standing monoliths, or temples, out of the soft reddish-orange Entrada Sandstone, which was originally deposited as sandy mud on a tidal flat. Some of the cathedrals are capped by thin, hard beds of a greenish gray marine sandstone, the Curtis Formation.

The scenery of the Entrada Sandstone temples of Cathedral Valley is complemented by evidence of other geologic processes at work. The flowing and disolving of gypsum, a soluable mineral from the underlying Carmel Formation, created Glass Mountain and the Gypsum Sinkhole. Glass Mountain is an exposed plug of gypsum. The Gypsum Sinkhole formed when a gypsum deposit dissolved. Dikes and sills, which are thin bodies of igneous rock and small volcanic plugs, are found in Upper Cathedral Valley. These features formed during volcanic activity three to six million years ago.


Most of the erosion that carved today's landscape occured after the uplift of the Colorado Plateau sometime within the last 20 million years. Most of the major canyon cutting probably occured between one and six million years ago.

Even in this desert climate, water is the erosional agent most responsible for the carving of the landscape. The pull of gravity, in the form of rock falls or rock creep, plays a major role in the shaping of the cliff lines. Wind is a minor agent of erosion here.

The landforms are a result of different responses of various rock layers to the forces of erosion. Hard sandstone layers, like the red Wingate and the white Navajo Sandstones, form cliffs. Softer shale layers, like the Chinle Formation, form slopes and low hills. The barren slopes found in many areas are due in part to the presence of bentonitic clays in the shale which make an inhospitible environment for plants.

Black boulders, found scattered throughout the Fremont River valley and along other drainages, are recent geologic arrivals to Capitol Reef. These volcanic rocks came from the 20 to 30 million year old lava flows which cap Boulder and Thousand Lake Mountains. The boulders made their way to Capitol Reef during the end of the Ice Age when the high plateaus supported small mountain glaciers. Landslides, debris flows, and possibly heavy stream outwash from these glaciers carried the boulders to lower elevations in the park.

Capitol Reef National Park was established primarily to preserve geologic features, such as the scenic rock domes and narrow canyons. Park boundaries encompass most of the Fold. Capitol Reef is a place to enjoy the scenic majesty formed by geologic processes, and also to appreciate the interrelationships between the Earth and all life found in the varied environments within the park - - from the forested slopes of Thousand Lake Mountain, to the green oasis of Fruita, to the barren Bentonite Hills.

Biological Soil Crusts

Cyanobacteria occur as single cells or as filaments. The most common form found in Colorado Plateau soils are the filamentous type, which are usually surrounded by sticky, mucilaginous sheaths.

When moistened, cyanobacteria become active, moving through the soil and leaving a trail of sticky material behind. The sheath material sticks to surfaces such as rock or soil particles, forming an intricate web of fibers throughout the soil. In this way, loose soil particles are joined together, and an otherwise unstable surface becomes very resistant to both wind and water erosion.

The soil-binding action is not dependent on the presence of living filaments. Layers of abandoned sheaths, built up over long periods of time, can still be found clinging tenaciously to soil particles, providing cohesion and stability in sandy soils at depths up to 10cm.

Nitrogen fixation is another significant capability of cyanobacteria. Vascular plants are unable to utilize nitrogen as it occurs in the atmosphere. Cyanobacteria are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen to a form plants can use. This is especially important in desert ecosystems, where nitrogen levels are low and often limiting to plant productivity.

The sheaths have other functions as well. When moistened, they swell up to ten times their dry size. This ability to intercept and store water benefits both the crustal organisms as well as vascular plants, especially in arid regions with sporadic rainfall.

Sheaths, and the organisms they surround, also contribute organic matter and help make essential nutrients available to vascular plants. Negatively charged clay particles, often found clinging to the sheaths, bind positively charged nutrients, preventing them from being leached out of the upper soil horizons or becoming bound in a form unavailable to plants. Like soil stability, this function is not dependent on the presence of living filaments, but only the presence of sheath material.

Air pollutants, both from urban areas and coal-fired power plants, also harm these crusts.

Tracks in continuous strips, such as those produced by vehicles or bicycles, are especially damaging, creating areas that are highly vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Rainfall carries away loose material, often creating channels along these tracks, especially when they occur on slopes.

Wind not only blows pieces of the pulverized crust away, thereby preventing reattachment to disturbed areas, but also disturbs the underlying loose soil, often covering nearby crusts. Since crustal organisms need light to photosynthesize, burial can mean death. When large sandy areas are impacted during dry periods, previously stable areas can become a series of shifting sand dunes in just a few years.

Impacted areas may never fully recover. Under the best circumstances, a thin veneer of biological soil crust may return in five to seven years. Damage done to the sheath material, and the accompanying loss of soil nutrients, is repaired slowly during up to 50 years of cyanobacterial growth. Lichens and mosses may take even longer to recover.

Crust Tips

More information is available at

Triassic Tracks

Recent discoveries in the Moenkopi Formation (Early Triassic) of Capitol Reef National Park (CRNP), and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA), Utah have revealed important new terrestrial and subaqueous vertebrate track localities. These well-preserved tracks occur on multiple stratigraphic horizons and are the oldest and most laterally extensive track-bearing horizons documented in the Western U.S. Ichnogenera (Chirotherium), (Rhynchosauroides), and (Rotodactylus), are the dominant forms. Rare fish fin drag marks (Undichna) and fish skeletal remains have been identified in the Torrey Member and equivalent strata of the Moenkopi Formation.

Tracks are preserved either as positive relief "casts" filling impressions in the underlying mudstones or on plane bed surfaces as negative relief "impressions". Exposed traces occur on the undersides of resistant sandstone ledges where the mudstone has eroded away and in finer grained sediments such as mudstones and siltstones. The Torrey Member represents deposition on a broad, flatlying coastal delta plain. Both nonmarine (fluvial) and marine (principally tidal) processes influenced deposition. Even-bedded mudstones, siltstones, claystones, and fine grained sandstones, containing abundant ripple marks and parallel laminations dominate lithologic types. Ichnites indicating swimming/floating behavior are associated with the walking trackways. The water depth was sufficiently shallow to permit the vertebrates to touch the substrate with manus and pedes when moving through the water.

Tracks form locally dense concentrations of toe scrape marks which sometimes occur with complete plantigrade manus and pes impressions. Well preserved, skin, claw, and pad, impressions are common. Occasional, well developed, tail-drag marks frequently occur in many of the trackway sequences. Fish fin drag marks and fish skeletal material are preserved with tetrapod swim tracks. In addition to vertebrate ichnites, fossil invertebrate traces Arenicolites, Paleophycus, Fuersichnus, Kouphichnium (horseshoe crab), centipede, and fossil plants of Equisetum are abundant. Lateral correlations of the ichnostratigraphic units identified in the Moenkopi Formation throughout Utah's National Parks will aid interpretations about the paleoecology, and diversity of the Western Interior during the Middle Triassic - "the dawn of the dinosaurs".


There are Three Lines of Evidence of Tidal Influence


The Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation has been the subject of investigation for almost 50 years. However, these studies were more broad based regional studies, and only recently has the Torrey Member been studied in stratigraphic detail with emphasis on the extensive tetrapod track-bearing surfaces of predinosaurian communities present within it. At present, the multiple track-bearing horizons are known to extend throughout much of Utah's National Parks. Currently, the Torrey Member vertebrate tracks are the oldest and most laterally extensive megatracksite horizons ever recorded.

Following the deposition of the Sinbad Member in a clear shallow sea, a change in tectonic and/or climatic conditions caused the progradation of a major delta succession into Utah. This delta complex is preserved as the Torrey Member.

Basal deposits of the Torrey Member include interbedded siltstones, dolomites, and very fine-grained sandstones that were laid down in advance of the prograding delta. This sequence grades upwards into ledgeforming coarser grained sandstones and interbedded siltstones. Several trackbearing horizons are present within this delta-plain facies. The facies includes channel deposits of large-scale trough cross bedded fine to medium grained sandstone that was deposited within the fluvial-dominated reaches of the upperdelta-plain. Multiple tetrapod track horizons have been identified within these deposits.

Channel bodies dominated by ripple to large-scale trough cross bedded sandstones and interbedded mudstones are organized into inclined heterolithic packages. Also present within these sandstone and mudstone-dominated channels are large-scale soft sediment deformational features and clay-draped ripple- and dune-scale bedforms. Tetrapod tracks and fish-fin drag marks are typically associated with these deposits. These inclined barforms are likely pointbar deposits that experienced tidal influence and may represent the more seaward lower delta-plain expression of the sandstone-dominated fluvial channels.

Chirotherium Chirotherium Chirotherium

A threefold lithofacies classification model produced by Smith (1987) was adapted to describe depositional environments of the Torrey Member delta-plain channels. Outcrop measured sections (a west to east trend) are similar to Smith's, (1987) lithofacies classification for meandering river estuarine systems.

Vertebrate Ichnology

Chirotherium Tracks: Relatively narrow, quadrupedal trackways indicating the normal tetrapod walking gait; in the walking gait a small pentadactyl manus impression regularly occur immediately in front of, but never overlapped by a much larger, pentadactyl pes which generally resembles a reversed human hand. Manus and pes are digitigrade, and in large forms the pes tends to be plantigrade; digits I-IV point more or less forward, manus digits IV is always shorter than III being largest; the footprints may or may not show specialized metatarsal pads. Clear impressions often show a granular or beaded skin surface (skin impressions). Associated swim tracks are common and often indicate current flow directions and water depths.


Rotodactylus Tracks: Long-striding, trackways of a medium pentadactyl reptile are well preserved with rare skin and claw impressions. These tracks commonly occur with smaller Rhynchosauroides footprints. The manus is always closer to the midline and in some cases overstepped even in the walking gait by the much larger pes in a moderately narrow trackway pattern; pace angulation (pes) as high as 146 degrees in a running trackway and as low as 93 degrees in a walking trackway. The pes impression indicates a foot with an advanced digitigrade posture, and with a strongly developed but slender digit V rotated to the rear where it functioned as a rotated backward but it has a propping function. Digit IV on both manus and pes is longer than III; digit I may fail to impress; claws are evident and distinct on digits I-IV. Scaly plantar surface (well defined skin impressions) are often preserved in exquisite detail and is characterized by transversely elongate scales on the digit axis bordered by granular scales.

Rhynchosauroides Tracks: Dense concentrations of Rhynchosauroides tracks are commonly associated with the trackways of Chirotherium and Rotodactylus. These small lacertoid footprints are generally characterized by deeply impressed manus and a faintly impressed pes. Trackways exhibit a relatively wide pattern with pentadactyl footprint relatively distant from the midline. The pace angulation is low, below 90 degrees - 100 -120 degrees if figured from the manus pattern. Most often only 3 to 4 digits are preserved with occasional tail drag marks. The digits are slender and relatively longer in the pes than in the manus and both sometimes exhibit distinct claw impressions. Swim tracks are common.


Undichna Fish Trails: The Moenkopi Formation is known for its exceptional vertebrate fossil record. Fish are rare and have been little studied in detail, and fish trails (fish fin drag marks) have never been recorded. The purpose of this study is to describe the first known occurrence of fish trails (fish fin drag marks), Undichna from the Early Triassic Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation. This ichnogenus has been reported in abundance from the Late Paleozoic, Permian, Cretaceous, and more recently from the Eocene. Undichna from the Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation represents the first and only known occurrence of fish trace fossils in the Triassic in the Western U.S.

The fish fin trace fossils are preserved as convex hyporelief sandstone casts with filled imprints preserved in underlying mudstone. Exposed traces occur on the undersides of resistant sandstone ledges where the mudstone eroded away. Undichna commonly occur with locally dense concentrations of swim traces of Chirotherium.

Occurring in clusters, one isolated fish fin trace consists of a single, slightly asymmetrical, sinusoidal trail. The trace is 56 cm. Long and includes 6.5 cycles with wavelengths varying from 9 to 10 cm and amplitudes of 3.5 to 4.5 cm.

The trails were most likely produced by a fish with a large caudal or anal fin able to reach the sediment without any other fin doing so. The low wavelength to amplitude ratio is most consistent with a caudal fin. This occurrence of Undichna is similar to other previous descriptions and it confirms that the preservation of these trails are favored in fine-grained sediments. Importantly, these traces coupled with Chirotherium, and Rhynchosauroides, swim tracks, all indicate fluctuating water depths.

Invertebrate Ichnology

Fuersichnus, Palaeophycus, and Arenicolites: The Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation assemblage studied is considered herein as an example of the Glossifungites ichnofacies and commonly occur with vertebrate swim tracks. This ichnofacies has been restricted to firm but unlithified nonmarine and marine surfaces. The Glossifungites ichnofacies is characterized by low diversity and high density assemblages which include Fuerichnus, Palaeophycus, Arenicolites, and Skolithos.

Fuersichnus, Palaeophycus, Arenicolites

The ichnogenus Fuersichnus is a relatively rare trace fossil that has been documented from Triassic and Jurassic nonmarine deposits and only recently documented in marine deposits from the Upper Cretaceous . The ichnogenus consists of horizontal to subhorizontal, isolated of loosely clustered, U-shaped, curved to banana-like burrows, characterized by distinctive striations parallel to the trace axis. It is interpreted as a dwelling structure probably produced by crustaceans or polychaetes.

The ichnogenus Palaeophycus a common trace fossil that has been documented from Pre-Cambrian to Holocene nonmarine and marine deposits. Branched, and irregularly winding, cylindrical or subcylindrical tubes, that sometimes cross-cut one another. These horizontal galleries most often have vertically striated lined burrows or rarely nearly smooth surface textures. Palaeophycus represents passive sedimentation within an open dwelling burrow constructed by a predaceous or suspension-feeding animal.

The ichnogenus Arenicolites are simple U-tubes (paired tubes) without spereite, perpendicular to bedding plane; usually varying in size, tube diameter, distance of limbs, and depth of burrows; limbs rarely somewhat branched, some with funnel-shaped opening; walls commonly smooth. A common trace fossil documented from Triassic to Cretaceous from marine and nonmarine deposits. The Torrey Arenicolites are very consistent in size, shape, and distance apart from each other and are interpreted as made by annelid worms.

What is Ichnology?

Fossils can be divided into body fossils, preserved parts of the plant or animal, and trace fossils, indirect evidence of their presence. Ichnology is the study of plant and animal traces. The implication of this definition is that the traces made by plants and animals reflect some sort of behavior or in the case of animals their mode of locomotion. The best known trace fossil are tracks but burrows, nests, and gnaw marks on bones or plants are also types of trace fossils. Ichnology can be divided into two major subdivisions: paleoichnology (the study of ancient traces) and neoichnology (the study of modern traces). Most ichnologists are involved in paleoichnology but a considerable number also study neoichnology for the comparison of modern equivalents (and their trace makers) to ancient traces. Technically speaking, wildlife biologists or ecologists who study tracking (identification of animals and their behavior on the basis of their tracks and feces) are neoichnologists, although they probably would not recognize such an designation if you told them.



Several important discoveries have been made during the course of this research in GLCA and CARE. The Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation trackways are first described in detail from this stratigraphic unit and suggest a great potential for finding other footprint sites in this Formation. This unit is widely exposed not only in Capitol Reef, and Glen Canyon Recreation Area, but also, Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches, National Parks. Lateral correlations in Utah's National Parks of the Moenkopi's extensive track bearing horizons provide a good basis for correlation with the entire region.

As a non-renewable resource on public lands, fossil footprints provide an opportunity for public education, scientific research, monitoring programs, and an administrative opportunity and challenge for both scientists and land management authorities.

Additional Reading:

Blakey, R.C., 1973. Stratigraphic and origin of the Moenkopi Formation (Triassic) of Southeastern Utah. The Mountain Geologist 10(1):1-17.

Blakey, R.C., 1977. Petroliferous lithosomes in the Moenkopi Formation, Southern Utah: Utah Geology 49(2):67-84.

Hintze, L.F., 1988. Geologic History of Utah: Brigham Young University Geology Studies Special Publication 7: 202 pp.

McAllister, J.A., 1989. Dakota Formation tracks from Kansas: Implications for the recognition of tetrapod subaqueous traces. pp. 343- 348. in GIillette, D.D., and Lockley, M.G., eds., Dinosaur Tracks and Traces: Cambridge University Press, New York

McAllister, J.A., and Kirby, J. 1998. An occurrence of reptile subaqueous traces in the Moenkopi Formation (Triassic) of Capitol Reef National Park, South Central Utah, USA. Journal of Pennsylvania Academy of Science, 71, Suppl. And Index:174-181.

McKee, E.D., 1954. Stratigraphy and History of the Moenkopi Formation of Triassic Age: The Geologic Society of America Memoir 61:1-133.

Mickelson, D.L., Huntoon, J.E., Worthington, D., Santucci, V.L., Clark, T, 2000. Pre-dinosaurian community from the Triassic Moenkopi Formation Capitol Reef National Park: Geological Society of America (Abstracts) 32(7).

Peabody, F.E., 1948. Reptile and amphibian trackways from the Lower Triassic Moenkopi Formation of Arizona and Utah. University of California, Bulletin of the Department of Geological Sciences 27: 467 p.

Smith, D.G., 1987. Meandering river point bar lithofacies models: Modern and ancient examples compared: pp. 83-91 in Ethridge, F.G., Flores, R.M., and Harvey, M.D., (eds.). Recent Developments in Fluvial Sedimentology Contributions from the Third International Fluvial Sedimentology Conference, The Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special Publications 39.

Smith, J.F. Jr., Lyman, L.C., Hinrichs, E.N., and Luedke, R.G. 1963. Geology of the Capitol Reef Area, Wayne and Garfield Counties, Utah: Geological Survey Professional Paper no. 363:99 pp.

Contributing Author:

Debra L. Mickelson
Department of Geological Sciences University of Colorado at Boulder, UCB 399
Boulder, Colorado 80399
[email protected]

Black Boulders

Large black boulders are strewn along several valleys that cross Capitol Reef National Park. In the Fremont River Valley they cover Johnson Mesa above the campground and scatter the hillsides of Fruita. The boulders are strikingly out of place among the tilted red and white bands of sandstone and shale that form the Waterpocket Fold. They originated in the high basalt and andesite cliffs that top Boulder Mountain and the Thousand Lakes Mountain plateaus west of the park.

Geologists long thought the boulders had moved from Boulder Mountain in Ice-Age glaciers and streams that carried the rocks down valley. Recent studies show that the glaciers were small and the streams lacked the power to move boulders nine feet or more in diameter such as those found around Fruita.

Many of the boulders are angular in shape, whereas rocks rolled by streams become rounded. Large landslides occurred and the remains of these slides (huge chunks of basalt and andesite) mantle the slopes of Boulder and Thousand Lakes Mountains. Some of the slides flowed into the heads of the Fremont and Escalante Rivers and were liquid enough to move as debris flows for tens of miles down canyons, like wet cement in a chute. Such dense flow can raft boulders without rounding them. Some debris flows incorporated enough river water to become floods that spread boulders through Capitol Reef and farther east of the park.

These enormous debris flows and floods dumped their freight of boulders across broad valley floors beyond the mountains. The Fremont and Escalante Rivers have since cut deeply into those valley floors, carving canyons. The old valley floors are now mesas 200 to 600 feet above the present river valleys. Since a river cuts down through sandstone and shale at a rate of only inches per century, it took tens of thousands of years to carve out the valleys. The high boulder-strewn mesas were valley floors 100,000 or even a million years ago.

Boulder-laden debris flows descended along the Fremont River and its southern tributaries, Pleasant and Oak Creeks. Numerous terraces and mesas, perched 100 to 400 feet above the modern valley floors, are capped by coarse black boulders. Similar boulders that originated at Thousand Lake Mountain cap benches high above the northern valleys of the park. Such benches are visible along the Hartnet Road from the Cathedral Valley Campground all the way to the Fremont River.

East of the park, black boulders form flat benches where ancient floods emerged at the mouths of Pleasant and Oak Creek Canyons, i.e.: Notom Bench. These benches are the ancient floors of these streams. Since then, the creeks and the Fremont River have excavated canyons 200 feet deeper into the tilted sandstone of the Waterpocket Fold. Deposits of black boulders extend into Upper Cathedral Valley. Just east of the park boundary along the Fremont River, a prominent flat terrace is mantled by several feet of river-worn black boulders, the ancient floor of Hartnet Draw.

Wet landslides have also slumped off the south side of Boulder Mountain and shed huge debris flows into tributaries of the Escalante River. Large ancient flows cap ridges like the hogsback, seven miles southwest of the town of Boulder, where Utah Highway 12 balances on a bouldery spine 500-600 feet above the canyons. Boulder is built on the youngest large debris flow. A prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan village also lies on this deposit, just north of Boulder. Established about 1050 AD, it shows that the debris flow is older than 900 years.

This bulletin was written by Richard Waitt of the United States Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Stromatolite Fossils

An Unlikely Giant in Capitol Reef National Park

The discovery of giant stromatolite fossils in the Navajo Sandstone is part of a growing body of research challenging some long-held assumptions about the Paleo-environment of the Navajo erg.

The Navajo Sandstone, a prominent and well-exposed rock unit in the Colorado Plateau, was once an enormous, arid sea of blowing sands (called an erg) often compared to the present Sahara Desert. This early Jurassic dune field covered close to half a million square kilometers and reached a thickness in excess of 700 meters making it one of the largest dune fields in the history of Earth.

Although the Navajo erg is generally thought to have been an expansive and lonely desert, new fossils found in Capitol Reef National Park suggest otherwise. During an extended backpacking trip, the senior author stumbled across what he described looked "almost like a giant haystack" or "a giant limestone onion slowly being peeled." This turned out to be the serendipitous discovery of the first known stromatolite in the Navajo Sandstone and possibly the first stromatolite within an erg setting. Eisenberg, an independent geology consultant, spent the next several years researching the occurrence and the discovery was reported in the February, 2003 issue of Geology.

Stromatolites are bizarre fossils whose biological origins were debated until only a few decades ago. Today, scientists generally agree that stromatolites are layered colonial structures predominately formed by cyanobacteria. Stromatolites are the oldest fossils on earth, dating back to more than three billion years ago. They were the dominant life form on earth for over 2 billion years and are thought to be primarily responsible for the oxygenation of the atmosphere. Living and fossil stromatolites are usually no more than half a meter tall and are found in marine environments. In contrast, the Capitol Reef Stromatolites are up to five meters in height and appear in thin carbonate beds associated with interdune deposits.

Please Note: The fossil stromatolites at Capitol Reef are not easily accessible and somewhat hard to find. If you're up for a long day-hike or an overnighter, one of the best locations to see the stromatolites is located along Cottonwood wash in the central-eastern section of the Park. Always check in with the park staff before going on any overnight or extended trips into the back country of the park. As always, removal or vandalism of any fossil is strictly prohibited.

The most important implication of the fossils is the suggestion of large bodies of standing water necessary to sustain the towering stromatolites. "We need to reevaluate the whole Paleo-environment," David Loope of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says. "Until we had the stromatolites the general picture was hyper-arid," he says. Dr. Marjorie Chan of the University of Utah agrees, saying that despite the dry and dusty impression of the Navajo erg, "it in fact had water and lakes."

This is a dramatically different picture of the Navajo than previously thought. The Navajo erg "may not be analogous to the present Sahara" in that it had the "potential for heavy rain and long lived episodes of water," Loope says. Long lived episodes of water would also translate into extended periods of erg stabilization.

Researchers have long "suspected that the Navajo must have stabilized at some point," although this is the first direct evidence of such stabilization. Modern ergs are known to periodically stabilize, a recent example being the "greening period" of the Sahara between four to ten thousand years ago. Using growth rates for modern stromatolites, it can be determined that the fossil stromatolites grew over a period of a few thousand to over ten thousand years, putting them "right in the ballpark, …in the thousands of years range," with the duration of the Sahara stabilization.

If the Navajo erg stabilized for thousands of years, it would mark a major stratigraphic boundary within the Navajo Sandstone. Right now, "the Navajo is a big pile of sand and it's hard to know where you are stratigraphically,"

"The next step is the "correlation of these scattered outcrops" to help "unravel the internal geometry and history of the Navajo erg."

Further correlation of interdune carbonate deposits could also suggest a regional climatic event, helping to improve climatic models of the Early Jurassic.

"There is variability that we never realized that was there," Chan says. "Just when you think you know it all, we discover there's a lot we didn't know." The stromatolites in Capitol Reef National Park have renewed interest in the Navajo Sandstone and provide insight into the biology and environmental history of the Navajo erg, all from a walk in the Park.

Additional Reading:

Caine, J.S. and S.R.A. Tomusiak. 2003. Brittle structures and their role in controlling porosity and permeability in a complex Precambrian crystalline-rock aquifer system in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Front Range. Geological Society of America Bulletin 115(11):1410-1424.

Eisenberg, L. 2003. Giant stromatolites and a supersurface in the Navajo Sandstone, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Geology 31(2):111-114.

Riggs, N.R., S.R. Ash, A.P. Barth, G.E. Gehrels and J.L. Wooden. 2003. Isotopic age of the Black Forest Bed, Petrified Forest Member, Chinle Formation, Arizona: An example of dating a continental sandstone. Geological Society of America Bulletin 115(11(:1315-1323.

Walsh, P. and D.D. Schultz-Ela. 2003. Mechanics of graben evolution in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Geological Society of America Bulletin 115 (3):259-270.

Web sites

National Natural Landmark site

Contributors of this article:

Len Eisenberg 223 Granite Street Ashland, Oregon 97520

Jay Chapman 370 South 36th Street Boulder, Colorado 80305 [email protected]