The Waterpocket Fold is the definitive feature of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. A nearly 100-mile (160 km) long warp in the Earth’s crust, this 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 7,000 ft (2,134 m) higher than the layers on the east.
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. Major folds are almost always associated with underlying faults. Photo taken by Chuck Strickland.
CAPITOL REEF – THE WATERPOCKET FOLD
The Waterpocket Fold runs north-south from Thousand Lake Mountain all the way to Lake Powell. Scenic Highway 24 runs through the heart of the park, and is the only paved road that crosses the rugged terrain of the Waterpocket Fold. The incredibly scenic Burr Trail also crosses the Waterpocket Fold, from Boulder to Notom-Bullfrog Road; in fact, the Notom-Bullfrog Road/Burr Trail/Scenic Highways 12 and 24 loop is pretty popular. But Notom-Bullfrog Road is the only road that runs parallel to the Fold. It winds along the east side for more than 60 miles, giving great access to the scenic southern section of Capitol Reef National Park, plus views of the Henry Mountains. Although sections of Notom-Bullfrog Road are rugged, sandy and muddy, the road is pretty accessible without a four-wheel-drive vehicle under normal conditions. There are tons of slot canyons and trails just waiting to be explored in Capitol Reef NP. Three of the most popular slot canyons that can be accessed from Notom-Bullfrog Road are Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash and Sheets Gulch. These open washes quickly narrow into rugged slot canyons carved right into the landscape of the Waterpocket Fold. Lower Muley Twist Canyon is another deep and narrow slot canyon of the Fold, accessible from the Burr Trail Junction switchbacks. Upper Muley Twist Canyon provides some of the most dramatic views of the Waterpocket Fold’s eroded Wingate sandstone and massive arches. The Post and Hall’s Creek Overlook are spur roads that lead to some more distinct and well-known features of the Waterpocket Fold, including Brimhall Natural Bridge.
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