Capitol Reef National Park
The hike begins at the Chimney Rock Trailhead, climbs a Chinle slope to the top of the Moenkopi Formation and makes a loop around a mesa top with outstanding views down on Chimney Rock.
From the trailhead, the path winds through the chocolate brown, crumpled hills of the Moenkopi Formation, a complex shale and sandstone deposit laid down by the tidal waters of an ancient sea. Thin, white, parallel bands of gypsum decorate the Moenkopi cliffs to your right and the spire called Chimney Rock.
Ahead is a large, light-colored boulder sitting atop a Moenkopi pedestal. The boulder is uranium rich Shinarump Sandstone, the lowermost layer of the Chinle Formation, whose gray-green and purple slopes rise to the base of the sheer, brick-colored Wingate cliffs in front of you. The Shinarump outcrops are remnants of the bed of a 210-million-year-old stream that once meandered lazily across a broad flood plain. As you trace the course of the Shinarump layer with your eye, it suddenly jumps up 165 feet to the top of the cliff at your right. Enormous pressures deep inside the earth have fractured the layers here, causing the rocks on either side of the split to shift relative to each other, one side thrust up, the other side thrown down. Look for the fault trace, the line along which the Moenkopi and Chinle formations were displaced and now lie alongside rather than on top of one another.
Follow the trail through the field of Shinarump Sandstone blocks and up a series of switchbacks onto the Chinle slopes. Stop at the Chimney Rock loop trail junction sign. If you continue forward, you will soon find yourself in Spring Canyon, another hike for another day. Turning right, the loop begins here and will take you approximately one hour to complete. The path climbs steeply to an overlook of Chimney Rock, where a massive Shinarump capstone keeps the Moenkopi pillar from eroding. The route continues along the cliffline, offering spectacular views of the reef and the warped horizons of the Waterpocket Fold and eventually rejoining the main trail farther down the canyon, where you will take a left to return to the trailhead.
Following the trail, you will find yourself trekking across a cobbled Chinle plain, the rainbow-hued rocks and soil reflecting the complex composition of that formation. To your right, the soaring cliffs of Wingate Sandstone stand like the walls of a fortress. But it is a fortress under siege. A vivid imagination can see heaps of fallen columns sprawled at its base as the walls slowly succumb to the assault of time, weathering, and erosion. At the first Chimney Rock loop turnoff, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Trailhead: The hike starts at the signed Chimney Rock parking area, three miles west of the Visitor Center and is a loop hike.
Maps: USGS 7.5 Minute Series: Fruita, Twin Rocksor Earth Walk Press, Capitol Reef National Park. Available from the CRNHA at the park Visitor Center.
Note: There are no reliable water sources on the trail. Carry at least two quarts of water per person. Wear a hat and sturdy footgear. Be prepared for midday temperatures that may exceed 100 degrees F.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication