Historic Fruita Tour
Few western national parks combine the splendor of nature with man's handiwork like Capitol Reef National Park. Fruita, the remnant of a 200-acre late frontier settlement, hugs the banks of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek. Mormon pioneers recognized its potential for agriculture and planted orchards in the 1880s. Although Fruita today represents only a small fraction of a large natural step-shrub preserve, this small valley, sheltered by soaring cliffs and domes, continues to enchant naturalist and historian alike. For visitors who can spend only a few hours, it is the portal for the Scenic Drive, a century-old road that draws visitors further into Capitol Reef.
The story of Fruita reaffirms that the history of the land is never complete without the saga of man. Study the detail in turn-of-the-century buildings and orderly rows of trees, and observe the intertwined natural and cultural heritage of Fruita.
There is no trail to follow; historic features remain near several roads and footpaths. This page marks some of these places.
South Fruita Vista
From the top of the Cohab Canyon Trail's switchbacks lies the most compelling of Fruita's readily accessible vistas.
An old barn anchors your attention in the foreground; in the distance, the 800 foot (244 m) high cliffs rise. To the west in the mid-distance lies Johnson Mesa, named for Fruita's first settler, Nels Johnson. Johnson built his pioneer cabin just across the river and acquired title to most of the arable land in this valley.
The meandering, black boulder fences on the slope of Johnson Mesa were built by Calvin Pendleton, a farmer who moved to the valley in the late 1800s. Pendleton, a polygamist, grew fruit and prepared lime for construction purposes in a small kiln near the campground. Subsequent owners of the farmstead were Jorgen Jorgenson and G. Dewey Gifford. Gifford, the last resident of Fruita, lived here for 41 years, leaving in 1968.
At the foot of rocky Johnson Mesa flows the Fremont River, the key to life and agriculture in Fruita. Only a large stream by eastern standards, the Fremont River supplies water to thousands of historic trees.
A gravity feed irrigation system flood irrigates the park's historic orchards. Water moves through a complicated network of pipes and ditches. The irrigation system remains essentially the same as that of a century ago.
Originating on the Fishlake Plateau to the west, the normally tame Fremont River can rise to floodstage with little warning if heavy rainfall over mountains to the west and the Waterpocket Fold itself should occur. Serious flooding of the Fremont has occurred in 1937, 1945, 1985 and 2006.
The Cohab Canyon Trail takes you high into the cliffs overlooking Fruita. Tradition tells that Mormon polygamists found refuge in these cliffs during the Federal government's active enforcement of the anti-polygamy statutes in the 1880s.
This structure was built in 1896 by Fruita settlers. Elijah Cutler Behunin, Amasa Pierce, and Leo Holt cooperated in its construction. Refurnished and appearing much as it did about 1936, the schoolhouse saw its last class in 1941. A decline in the number of school-age children of this still remote settlement resulted in the closing of the Fruita school, after which the remaining students were bussed over dirt roads to consolidated schools in western Wayne County. The Historic Fruita Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Merin-Smith Implement Shed
Built about 1925, this structure's interior changed frequently over the years. Merin Smith wed the daughter of M. Valentine Oyler, a long-term Fruita farmer whose orchard and grape arbors covered much of the northeastern bank of the Fremont here in the 1920s. Merin Smith purchased the first tractor in Fruita. This transitional machine, named the "Power Horse", spanned the periods of horse-drawn and gas engine farm implements.
This orchard is located on the site Nels Johnson's original homesteading claim. The trees replanted here are antique varieties popular before World War I. The orchard has been planted with many different types of fruit and nut trees, and several varieties of each, as early pioneers would have done.
Fruita Mail Tree
These two enormous Fremont Cottonwood trees are more than a century old. The tree nearest the road stood adjacent to residents' mailboxes. The mailcarrier made his difficult journey to Hanksville over the Blue Dugway, unpaved until 1962. The first permanent structure in Fruita, built by Nels Johnson, stood across the way. Now the site is a picnicking area.
Fremont River Trail
A trail guide is available near the amphitheater parking lot for this self-guided 1.25 mile (2.0 km) trail which follows the Fremont River, then climbs to an overlook. The trail stretches between the river on one side and the orchards and horse pastures on the other, providing likely wildlife viewing.
Did You Know?
Capitol Reef National Park has the largest historic orchards in the National Park System, with approximately 3,100 fruit and nut trees. You can pick fruit in quantity in orchards that are officially open for public harvest for a modest charge.