history of capitol reef national park

History of Capitol Reef National Park

by | Jul 30, 2023

There’s no shortage of planning that goes into a visit to Capitol Reef National Park hotels. But while you’ll want to research things to do or the hikes you’d like to take during your stay at Chuckwagon Lodge, it’s also a good idea to brush up on some history about the area.

Understanding how Capitol Reef came to be can help you better understand the sights you’ll see, like the historic remains of the town of Fruita, and can help you better imagine what the first humans to arrive in the national park saw.

Ready to start planning your stay in the best Torrey Utah hotels? Keep reading for a brief history of the creation of Capitol Reef National Park.

Humans Arrive in Capitol Reef

If you’ve had the chance to visit Capitol Reef National Park hotels today, it can be tough to imagine what it was like to travel to the region without cars, highways, airplanes, and paved roads. But that’s exactly how the first visitors and settlers to the region arrived.

Evidence of human life in and around present-day Capitol Reef National Parks shows that Native American tribes arrived sometime around 700 AD. The earliest tribe to inhabit or pass through the region was the Fremont People. This tribe of hunters and farmers used the fertile soil near the Fremont River to plan crops like lentils, squash, and maize. They built irrigation systems to water their crops from the river, as well as stone granaries to hold their crops. However, severe drought may have plagued these early farmers, and they are believed to have left the region sometime around 1250.

It’s likely that other tribes lived in or passed through the region over the next several hundred years. But it wasn’t until around 1600 that two more tribes, the Southern Paiute and the Utes, established communities and farms in the area. They remained near what is today Torrey, Utah until the 1800s, when European settlers arrived.

Europeans Settle in Southern Utah

The first Europeans arrived in Southern Utah in the early 1800s. But it wasn’t until near the end of the century that they began to map and settle in the region. In 1872, John Wesley Powell, a surveyor with the U.S. Army, led an expedition to explore and map the region. Settlers soon followed. Throughout the 1870s, settlers created homesteads and farms in the high valleys of the area. They soon established several towns, including Torrey, Fremont, Lyman, and Bicknell.

During the 1880s, Mormon settlers arrived in the Fremont River Valley. They created a town named Junction, which would later be renamed Fruita, which continues to exist as a historical town open for exploring in Capitol Reef National Park. In fact, one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef Naitonal Park today is to pick fruit from the orchards.

These settlers faced many challenges. Though the orchards they planted still exist today, flooding plagued the towns. At its height, no more than 10 families lived in Fruita. By the early 1900s, the town was slowly abandoned. 

Creating Capitol Reef National Park

Just a few years after the town of Fruita was abandoned, a man by the name of Joseph Hickman, and his brother-in-law, Ephraim Portman Pectol, established the Wayne Wonderland Club. This organization was created to help preserve the natural landscapes and beauty of the area. Their hard work paid off when in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation creating Capitol Reef National Monument. 

The monument was originally 37,711 acres, and there were plans to expand it. The Great Depression delayed these plans, and no rangers were assigned to the park for many years. Instead, the new national monument was placed under the control of Zion National Park, which is over 200 miles away from Torrey.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Capitol Reef National Monument began to see some changes. Those included a new campground with more than 50 sites, as well as rental housing for the new staff and the park’s first visitor center.

Then, in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave the park a big upgrade by adding more than 250,000 acres. In 1970, the park had grown to 254,251 acres, and efforts began to turn the growing property into a national park. That dream came true on December 18, 1971, when President Richard Nixon created Capitol Reef National Park.

Planning a Stay at Capitol Reef National Park Hotels

Now that you know a little about the history of the park, it’s time to start planning your stay at Capitol Reef National Park hotels.

If you’re thinking about planning a visit to the region this fall, you’re in luck—fall is one of the best seasons to visit Chuckwagon Lodge! From the changing fall colors to fruit picking in the orchards to cooler temperatures, there are plenty of reasons to visit the best hotels Fruita Utah has to offer this season. 

Book your stay at Chuckwagon Lodge today to see for yourself!

The Chuckwagon Blog

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