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A History of Native Americans in Capitol Reef National Park

Dec 21, 2023 | National Parks, Our Blog | 0 comments

If you visit Capitol Reef National Park’s Fruita section, you’ll have a chance to take a step back and time and experience what it was like for the early settlers who once lived in the park.

You can stop by the Gifford Homestead, a farmhouse that was built in 1908 by a Mormon settler by the name of Calvin Pendleton. Learn about the history of Pendleton and other settlers, and pick up some tasty souvenirs. Nearby, you can wander the orchards, perhaps the park’s most unique feature. These fruit orchards were also planted by those Mormon pioneers, and continue to produce fruit today that park guests can pick and enjoy.

But while there are a lot of visible relics of the European pioneers who settled here, they weren’t the first people to call Capitol Reef National Park home.

If you’re planning a stay in Capitol Reef National Park hotels like Cougar Ridge, keep reading to learn about the park’s first inhabitants and the long and complicated history that they’ve left behind.

The Earliest Inhabitants of Capitol Reef

Long before Mormon settlers founded Fruita, Native Americans lived in, farmed, hunted, and gathered in Capitol Reef and the surrounding area. In fact, Native Americans have inhabited the area that we now call Southern Utah for thousands of years. 

Evidence suggests that the first people arrived in Utah as early as 10,000 years ago, with the earliest evidence found in the Escalante Valley in Southern Utah and in the Great Basin, located near the border between Utah and Nevada. 

While little evidence of the earliest existence of humans in the region exists, there is enough to tell that these individuals foraged for wild food and hunted for deer, beaver, ducks, and turkeys in the area. 

Farming would arrive in the area around 300 C.E. Around that time, two tribes of Native Americans moved into Southern Utah; the Fremonts and the Anasazis. The Fremont people arrived first, and mainly continued hunting and gathering in the area, though they also later began growing maize, beans, and squash and built masonry structures. The Anasazi arrived in Southern Utah next. They were farmers and built large complexes of apartments and homes, some of which still exist as ruins even today.

Sometime before 1300 C.E., other tribes of nomadic Native Americans, including the Ute, Paiute, and Navajo also passed through the area. Some tribes would settle seasonally within the park’s modern boundaries. 

The Signs and Artifacts Left Behind

It’s been just a little over 100 years since those early Mormon settlers arrived in Capitol Reef. So it’s not surprising that far more artifacts exist today from that time period as compared to ancient times. But there are still some signs in the park of the early Native Americans who lived in or passed through the area. And guests of our Torrey accommodation can still view them today.

One of the biggest signs of these early Native American tribes is the Capitol Reef petroglyphs.

The Capitol Reef petroglyphs are a set of carvings made on red stone surfaces within the park. The Fremont Culture petroglyphs are the park’s best-surviving example of the Native American form of art and communication. They are located along Utah State Route 24 and can be viewed from two raised wooden boardwalks.

These petroglyphs can sometimes be hard to see, depending on the time of day you visit and the light. Packing a pair of binoculars for your stay in Capitol Reef National Park hotels can be a great way to get a closer look.

The shorter of the two boardwalks will take you to a set of petroglyphs that feature large anthropomorphic (human-like) carvings, as well as bighorn sheep and other animals. On the longer boardwalk, the petroglyphs are closer to the boardwalk but are more worn and difficult to see.

Planning Your Stay in Capitol Reef National Park Hotels

If you want to learn more about the history of the first inhabitants of Southern Utah during your stay in Capitol Reef National Park hotels, stop by the visitor center on your way into the park. Here, you’ll not only find displays depicting the history of the park but also a gift shop where you can pick up books with even more information. Park rangers are also a great resource if you have questions about the park or its former inhabitants.

Ready to start planning your next visit to Cougar Ridge? Check out our private villas today to start planning your next adventure.

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