Geological History of Capitol Reef National Park

Geologically speaking, Capitol Reef National Park is all about one thing . . . The Waterpocket Fold . . . the giant wrinkle on the earths crust, almost 100 miles long, a classic monocline, horizontal layers separated by one very steep side indeed. It’s a kind of step up the rocks, the layers of rock on the western side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted an incredible 7,000 feet higher than the layers of rock on the eastern side. This all happened somewhere around 50 to 70 million years ago (what’s 20 million years between friends), when there was a lot of major mountain building activity going on across North America, which reactivated a buried fault, so when the fault moved the rocks draped across it forming the monocline. This has been exposed during the last 15 or 20 million years due to erosion . . . this erosion is still happening every day continually forming the massive domes, the colorful cliffs, the monoliths, the canyons, the arches.

Capitol Reef itself, is by far the most scenic section of the Waterpocket Fold, close to the Fremont River. So named because of the white domes of Navajo Sandstone which resemble capitol building domes, and the reef part so named after the rocky cliff barrier which seems to form a coral reef. Some of the rocks in this area of Capitol Reef National Park are an incredible 270 million years old, but some of them are mere babies at only 80 million years old. The oldest rocks can be seen in the western side of Capitol Reef National Park, with the youngest on the eastern side.

The whole reason for Capitol Reef National Park being established was to preserve these geologic features, the narrow canyons, the rock domes, the park boundaries actually encompass the majority of the Waterpocket Fold.


The Waterpocket Fold . . .