My quest to visit all 59 American national parks began in May of 2016 at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. I was eighteen years old and getting ready to become a high school graduate (which was super terrifying to me) when my family decided the time had come to visit the five parks in Utah, known as the “Mighty Five.” We were familiar with Salt Lake City and the surrounding ski areas, but we had never driven south to see the parks. On our ski trip in January that year I had convinced my parents that we needed to do a special trip out to see the parks.

I take a picture with the sign at every park I visit. This was my first one!

Capitol Reef was my first-ever national park. The name has two parts: “capitol” refers to a formation of cliffs that are topped with white domes, similar to the dome atop the capitol building in Washington, D.C. “Reef” refers to jagged rock ridges, which this park has many of. The formation that makes this park especially unique is called the Waterpocket Fold, and it is a place in the earth’s crust that rises up out of the ground in a huge, continuous cliff line. The park has been home to people going back to prehistory and was lived in most recently by Mormon settlers.

This is one of the ridges that gives Capitol Reef the “reef” part of its name.

This was my first experience with red rock country, and it honestly seemed to me like I was on Mars. Compared to my life that has been lived completely on the East Coast, this place was otherworldly. It will always have a special place in my heart for being my first park and for showing me how incredible the earth can really be. We spent a day and a half in this park, seeing a huge canyon, hiking through the Capitol Gorge, and visiting the former Morman settlement of Fruita.

This trip came on the heels of a pretty bad knee injury for me–I’d just gotten off crutches a few weeks beforehand. So when my mom suggested hiking a trail called Grand Wash that was short and pretty flat, I was completely on board because it would be a good way to reintroduce my leg to walking. The plan was to hike partway through and turn back (the trail is 2.2 miles one way), but my dad and brother decided we were going to walk the entire thing–round-trip. So I hiked 4.4 miles on a partially functioning leg. Needless to say, that was the only hike I did that day. We drove through the park to see different perspectives of the rocks and on the way out stopped at Fruita.

I love taking pictures in hard-to-get-to places in the parks–this definitely qualified!

Fruita is a tiny little settlement that once was home to a small population of Mormons. The people grew apple trees, and their orchards are still there to this day. There’s a little store there that sells apples pies, and visitors to the park can walk through the orchards and eat as many apples as they want to. This settlement worked because a river runs through the park, allowing them to have water to survive and to grow plants.

Capitol Reef is not the most well-known park in Utah, but it is one that shouldn’t be missed. It has a very unique history and some really cool rock formations that aren’t found in any of the other parks. I’ve visited 9 national parks so far, and if I had to rank them in order of which ones I like the most, this one would probably check in at #5 or #6.