Capitol Reef National Park


All Photographs Brian & Nancy Morganti

Capitol Reef National Park 

 Cathedral Valley Loop - Cathedral & Hartnet Roads

October 2017

October 10, 2017

The Cathedral loop drive takes you on a tour through the northern part of Capitol Reef National Park.  The Cathedral District is remote backcountry with no paved roads and features stark landscapes along with a high degree of solitude.  The northern flanks of the Waterpocket Fold give way to broad deserts, tall monoliths, and volcanic dikes and crags.  The 96 mile drive requires a high clearance vehicle at minimum and can be driven in 6 to 8 hours, but best to allow a full day for photo stops and/or short hikes. 

Drilling RigAn artificial oasis can be found at mile 18.7 along Hartnet Road where ranchers drilled a well to provide water for their cattle.


Bentonite Hills:.  Twenty miles into Hartnet Road the rounded multi-colored Bentonite Hills begin.  Bentonite clays originated from mudstone rich in volcanic ash, and were deposited in a wetland floodplain around 150 million years ago.


Bentonite & Hartnet Road Hartnet Road, shown on right, winds its way across hills of Bentonite clay.  When wet, this road becomes impassable even in 4-wheel drive!


Bentonite Hills Vista:  Looking to the west, the gently sloping Bentonite Hills as viewed from a high point along Hartnet Road. 


Bentonite Hills Contours:   A closer look at the multi-colored banding found throughout the clay hills.  The clay's popcorn like surface results from repeated cycles of absorbing water then drying again, and can be easily damaged from footprints and tire tracks...taking many years to heal. 


Lower South Desert Overlook - Hoodoos:   Here the light-gray rock of the Curtis Formation has been eroded into a maze of small hoodoos.  The Curtis Formation forms a harder protective surface over the softer Entrada Sandstone below.


Lower South Desert Overlook - Jailhouse Rock The large Entrada Sandstone monolith dominates the scene and rises 520 feet above the South Desert floor. 


South Desert Overlook - Sandstone Cliffs:   A scenic view looking to the northwest where the sandstone cliffs drop off dramatically to the desert floor. 



Upper South Desert Overlook:  Nancy enjoys the expansive view into the Upper South Desert.


Upper South Desert View:  A wide angle view of the Upper South Desert and Henry Mountains beyond.  From this 6900' viewpoint the valley extends 20 miles to the southeast.


Upper Cathedral Valley OverlookThe fluted cliffs of the monoliths surrounding Cathedral Valley are comprised of soft Entrada Sandstone capped by a thin layer of light-gray Curtis Formation.  Once the Curtis Formation erodes, the monoliths lose their protective covering and tend to erode rather quickly. 


Cathedral JunctionA view from within Cathedral Valley where Hartnet Road (pictured) meets up with Cathedral and Baker Roads. 


Volcanic Dikes - Cathedral Junction Millions of years ago molten magma pushed up through cracks and fissures within the surrounding sedimentary rock layers.  The magma eventually solidified forming vertical walls (dikes) and plugs of black lava. 


Volcanic Dike & Tuff This view can be found on the opposite side of the road from the scene pictured above.   Also of interest is the narrow, horizontal band of gray material with a purplish inner stripe.  Known as "Tuff" a volcanic ash layer that fell from the sky covering the ancient landscape about 161 million years ago and can be seen throughout the park.


Gypsum Sinkhole:   A large void over 50' across and 200' deep was formed when ground water dissolved and drained away a large Gypsum Dome within the underlying Carmel Formation.  Overlying rock layers later collapsed into the underground void, exposing it to the surface. 


Basalt Intrusions - Little Black Mountain:    Many layers of volcanic sills of thick dark lava are evidence of repeated volcanic activity in Cathedral Valley


Volcanic SillsA closer view of thin dark lava sills that intruded the sedimentary rock of this low bluff.


Layer-Cake StrataThe fine layers of softer layer-cake strata in the Entrada Sandstone are protected by layers of erosion resistant lava caps (sills) above....partially visible in the upper right corner of this image. 


Glass MountainA large mound of well preserved Selenite crystals (sometimes referred to as moonstone).  The crystals could be just the tip of the iceberg with a much larger deposit extending underground. 


Selenite Crystals A closer view of the Selenite crystals that make up the "Glass Mountain". 


Temple of the Sun & Moon - North Face The 422" Temple of the Sun in the foreground as seen from "Glass Mountain".  Like many other "Cathedrals" in Cathedral Valley, they have lost there protective covering of the gray Curtis Formation and will erode away at relatively rapid rates.


Temple of the Moon & Sun A partial view of the Temple of the Moon in the foreground with a sunlit view of the Temple of the sun in the distance. 


Temple of the Sun - South Face:  Nancy captured this nicely lit view of the Temple of the Sun while looking north.


Large Mound - Morrison Formation:  This large multi-colored mound at mile 70.3 is similar to what is seen in the Bentonite Hills.  A hard layer of white, cross-bedded sandstone is visible in the foreground.


Caineville Mesa:  The dramatic gray, furrowed slopes of Caineville Mesa, composed of Mancos Shale which formed over a 5-million year period 90 million years ago when a shallow sea covered this area.  Thinner, harder layers of tan colored sandstone appear as erosion-resistant rim rocks separating the softer gray layers.  These sandstone layers formed as the ancient sea level periodically dropped and layers of sand collected on or near the coastal terrain. 


Bentonite Hills - Dry Wash:  Another section of banded Bentonite Hills comes into view near the end of the Cathedral Valley Loop drive. 


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