Sunday, November 9, 2014

Capitol Reef Field Station: Utah Valley University's Connection to Nature

Darrel L. Hammon

 Capitol Reef National Park—Joanne and I experienced a marvelous day on Saturday, November 8, 2014, spending time at Utah Valley University’s (UVU) Capitol Reef Field Station, located strategically within Capitol Reef National Park, an incredible landscape of anciently formed rocks and unique landscapes. 

Just below the Field Station, runs Pleasant Creek, that, according to the record, “breaks free of its narrow canyon walls upstream from the Capitol Reef Field Station and before it cuts through the Waterpocket Fold downstream, it nourishes a small oasis of tall grasses, wildflowers, shady cottonwoods, and aromatic sagebrush. Pleasant Creek has been a sanctuary for a very long time” (

Utah Valley University, the Park Service, a host of professors, donors, and congressmen joined forces and created the Capitol Reef Field Station, a collaborative partnership between the Capitol Reef Park Service and UVU. The Capitol Reef Field Station’s mission, “in partnership with Capitol Reef National Park, promotes and supports engaged learning, research, scholarly, and creative activities, and environmental ethics through the exploration of the Colorado Plateau” (See (

The purpose of our visit was to attend an open house for UVU faculty and staff. Part of the open house was a tour of the facility and ultimately a hike to discover the wonders of the surrounding area. It wasn’t a strenuous hike, but one filled with incredible sights and insights into the history of the former ranch. I don’t pretend to know all of the geology or history.  My fascination with the places was the incredible landscapes and unforgettable natural ecosystem that hasn’t changed much over the years.

The trail was narrow through the canyon with impressive walls of rocks to our right going up and a flat meadow-like opening that lead to another series of large rock formations where Pleasant Creek gurgled its way out of the canyon. Darrell, our guide, told to stay on the trail because of the various flora and fauna that abounded in the stark surroundings. While it seemed like there were lots of sand, rocks, and trees, other “beings” surrounded us. Lizards, various kinds of ants, other bichos, birds, and organisms whose names I cannot even pronounce reside along the sides of the trail and beyond. Literally, it was dream world where biologists, geologists, and naturalists could spend hours, even years studying the vastness of its secrets.

Along the way, I took pictures of cool rock formations, huge rocks with names of some of the surveyors, a broken down fence line that I am sure was constructed to keep animals in or animal out, rock formations along the trail and ahead of us at the mouth of the canyon, and other oddly-shaped rocks that had fallen from some of the rock cliffs.

Perhaps, most impressive were just the rock formations—sheer walls, coves of rocks and outcroppings. On some of the walls, huge holes defaced the flatness. My mind thought, perhaps, the US Army or some armed forces launched shells from across the canyon to see what kind of holes it could make. But, alas, no Army forces launched anything. Rather, nature and wind and deterioration created the holes on the face.

Our jaunt up the canyon revealed rock formations, etchings of past passerbys, surveyors, and families who came to settle the valley. Ephraim Hanks and his family were the early settlers, building their little ranch on the banks of Pleasant Creek and converted some of the water into ditches so they could irrigate the 200 fruit trees—pears, peach, apples—they had planted. History states that when the trees were in bloom, it was a magnificent site. Thus, ranch donned the name of “Floral Ranch.” Over the years, the Floral Ranch passed from one descendant to another until one of them quit claimed it to the national park.

On our walk, we entered a cove of sorts, and were instantly surround by high, colorful walls, replete with a range of oranges and sandstone colors. Our voices echoed! We sat one some of the small ledges the winds had made. High in one corner was an opening, but I could still see even higher slabs of solid rock with the same color strata. I suspect the sun didn’t shine in this cove very often, even during the throes summer.

I took hundreds of pictures, none of the really depicting the actual landscape, created hundreds of thousands of years ago. For me, I was again convinced that this type of beauty and majesty just do not happen ad hoc. Rather, the greater Creator, even God Himself, was the architect of this great plan for our world. How else can one truly explain the incredibleness of it all? In the LDS Hymnbook, #86, the lyrics explain the greatness of God’s creations:

When thru the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze….
How Great Thou art….
How Great Thou art.

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