The Norman Transcript


June 1, 2007

The sleeping rainbow

By M.C. O’Bryant

For The Transcript

Capitol Reef National Park, located 175 miles or so south of Salt Lake City, Utah, has been labeled by many National Park aficionados as a “Best kept secret.” It is isolated, but, loyalists see the miles of harsh terrain surrounding its boundaries simply as nature’s bridal veil hiding the face of the park’s awe inspiring beauty. It is one of the most spectacular, yet, one of the least visited of the National Parks.

Those relatively few intrepid adventurous enthusiasts who arrive at the park are gloriously rewarded with a vast assortment of cascading colors and fantasyland rock formations. The park’s delightful array of hoodoos and stunning vermillion cliffs has made it a must see, when touring Utah’s much ballyhooed, Standing up country, which encompasses two other National Parks, Zion and Bryce canyon. Hoodoos, stone formations found in abundance throughout the region, have been shaped by the forces of nature to look to the imaginative mind like caricatures of both man and beast.

A ‘young’ park

One of the lesser-known national parks not only because of its remoteness but, also because of its relatively young age (not having been designated as a national park until 1971), Capitol Reef abounds with storied accounts of its early inhabitants ranging from early Mormon pioneers who envisioned building exalted communities where angels might abide, to an impenetrable hideaway for what could well be America’s most romanticized outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid.

In the late 1800s a vein of uranium (the stuff of which atomic bombs are made), was discovered in a mountainside near what is today the north end of the park. Three quarters of a century before Einstein’s formula E-MC2 led to the use of radioactive uranium, from other sources, to build atomic bombs that ultimately ended World War II, local entrepreneurs were busy selling tonics laced with uranium taken from the Capitol Reef mines as a cure for rheumatism. The practice, long since recognized as a very bad idea, was halted and today, access to the mineshafts is barred by iron grating welded into place at the mine entrances. What happened to the arthritic sufferers who imbibed the uranium cocktails remains a mystery.

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