With snow falling in the higher elevations of Colorado, the best hiking opportunities move to lower and warmer southern Utah, including our destination here, Capitol Reef.
The terrain of this national park is so convoluted it is almost impossible to process, and inarguably difficult to navigate. Steep-sided domes and cliffs, slots and entrenched canyons challenge the explorer.
Most domes in Capitol Reef are impossible to scale. Here is an exception:
This half-day hike begins on a popular trail before launching off-trail to the base of a non-technical dome. Most hikers will find the thrilling climb on highly textured Navajo sandstone achievable yet suitably demanding. The panorama from the crest is enthralling and fantastical.
While standing on Navajo Knobs, a popular destination in Capitol Reef, my hiking companion and I were overcome with a desire to climb Dome 6,821, informally referred to as Stegosaur Fin. We returned the next day and ardently tried three approaches to reach the dome platform. The last proved worthy. While The Steg, sadly, was impossible to scale, its neighbor was accommodating and altogether wondrous. I named Dome 6,630 by approximating its elevation; it is not designated on maps.
From the Hickman Bridge Trailhead, elevation 5,400 feet, step onto the most popular trail in the park. Walk beside the Fremont River, the canyon-cutter bifurcating 100 mile-long Waterpocket Fold. The path switches up ledges in the Kayenta formation which breaks horizontally to form the walking ledges gracing this hike. In a quarter mile, the bridge trail veers left. Save energy for this exceptional side trip on your return. Turn right, following the sign for Rim Overlook, two miles distant. At skyline, curvilineal Navajo Dome is typical of such structures in the park. Its namesake sandstone weathers in rounded forms.
Top out on Rim Overlook in 2.25 miles. While it slightly overshoots our route, it is not to be missed. Here the thick Kayenta layer is sandwiched between Navajo and Wingate sandstones. Navajo Knobs are the two small nibs at the horizon two miles north.
Below is The Castle comprised of vertical-fracturing Wingate. The visitor center, campground and Fruita are almost 1,000 feet below. Drop-away cliffs are unforgiving along the edge.
To reach Dome 6,630 from the overlook, backtrack east to the very next north-trending minor canyon. It is unremarkable. Leave the trail here and walk up a small drainage. It is essential to stay in the wash rivulets and off the cryptobiotic soil. Go right to bypass a small pouroff.
The wash directs to an open, sandy area. Stegosaur Fin is straight ahead. Climb the appealing ridge left/west of the drainage slot. The spine on the east side soon cliffs out; avoid it. Keep a bead on The Steg. The rib is deeply contoured but the steep friction pitches are easy enough.
Soon, the saddle between Stegosaur Fin and Dome 6,630 appears. Stay on the ridge until it peters out and then go east to the saddle.
There is plenty of textured cross-bedding to assist the climb. The color spectrum is simply outrageous: turmeric mustard, iron red, sunny yellow, and dusky lavender. From the saddle we investigated Dome 6,821, The Steg, hoping to climb the beast but, no chance. Note the numerous oversized water pockets on the slender saddle.
Walk south to the base of Dome 6,630. Pigmentation and texture will transport you into a state of incredulous reverie.
While this brainrock dome may be scaled however you please, I went up the crack that is lined up with the saddle. The pitch is just steep enough to be fun without being too scary. The rift is well-protected with abundant foot and handholds.
The crest is generous, rounded, and lumpy, the lookout utterly enrapturing. It may not be the tallest, but the dome is well-positioned. There is a precipitous drop to a myriad of Spring Canyon tributaries with convoluted narrows. Waterpocket Fold, the mega monocline, is easy to cypher; it is topped with Navajo sandstone domes. In the valley, the Fremont River flows on and on as the Henry Mountains keep watch.
The adjacent Stegosaur Fin looks like a mathematical function, a three dimensional standard normal distribution curve. It is impossible to look away from such rare perfection.
Retrace your steps to the main trail. A left turn takes you back to the trailhead. Find out why the Hickman Natural Bridge trail is so popular by taking this short side trip. The beautifully shaped arch is 133 feet long and 125 feet high.
For a detailed route map and directions for two very different hike extensions, please consult: email@example.com