When I visited Utah last March, I knew there was one place that I absolutely wanted to visit, called Cathedral Valley, in Capitol Reef National Park. The problem and the beauty of Cathedral Valley is that it’s a remote place, reachable only via a long dirt road that crosses several sandy washes and requires fording the Fremont River.
Getting there with my rental car was out of the question, so a few weeks before the trip I scouted the Interwebs, looking for some guide that would bring me there. My research led me to Redrock Adventure Guides where I got in touch with Steve and Jennifer Howe, the owners. We set up a morning photo tour of Cathedral Valley, so at 5.30AM on the scheduled day, Jen showed up at my hotel with her truck. We drove to the valley and spent the whole morning visiting and photographing the best spots and having great conversation.
Our day started with a stop in the dark for savoring the hot coffee and cookies that Jen had brought, then we drove off in the direction of the Temples of the Sun and of the Moon. Our plan was to get there by sunrise and photograph the monoliths as their face started getting hit by the light of the rising sun. Unfortunately, when we got there it soon became apparent that there wouldn’t be much of a sunrise, as the sky was overcast.I tried shooting some long exposures, without much success, and I finally settled on a black-and-white, wide-angle composition that would emphasize the textures of the rocks and of the clouds.
Heading north, we stopped at various places to admire the astounding geology of the place, until we reached the northernmost part of the valley, which is dominated by huge orange-colored monoliths topped by a greenish cap of rock. The snow-capped mountains acted as a great backdrop, while the winding track provided a suitable introduction to the scene.
From there, the road starts climbing up the steep sides of the valley, to reach a beautiful overlook, with wide views of the valley below.
The road now bends southward to bring us back to the park’s main road. Before reaching the latter, we stopped at what was for me the highlight of the trip: South Desert Overlook. By that time, the sky had begun clearing up a bit and the blue patches between the white clouds provided a great contrast with the orange tones of the desert.
The final highlight of the tour was a visit to the Bentonite Hills, with their purple stripes and boulders strewn across them by an ancient volcanic eruption.
To exit the valley, it is necessary to cross the Fremont river at a ford. Even though the river’s level was higher than average, due to recent rains, Jen drove her truck across it with skill. Jen is an exceptional guide and a fantastic companion. I absolutely recommend Redrock Adventure Guides to anyone wanting to visit Capitol Reef NP, whether they want to do a photo tour, camping, hiking, or canyoning. You won’t find better guides there.
Cathedral Valley is truly an astonishing place in one of the most beautiful and less known parks of the Southwest. What’s even better is that, being not easy to reach, you’re not likely to find many people up there. During the whole morning, we only saw three or four other vehicles.