Hickman Bridge - Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge
Capitol Reef National Park

          The Hickman Bridge Trail is one of the more popular and perhaps the most picturesque hike in Capitol Reef. A few hours of well spent time will allow you to get the feel of the park. You will also be rewarded with remnants of the Fremont Indian culture and a visit to the most famous rock span in the park.

          This hike is suitable for all healthy adults and children. The entire family will enjoy this wonderful stroll in Capitol Reef.

General Information:
Click Here for Google Earth KMZ file.Click Here for Map           The Hickman Bridge trail is not difficult and can be completed by any healthy adult or child. No special gear is required other than footwear suitable for walking over rough ground. The hike involves walking approximately one mile each way over a well maintained trail with an elevation gain of 400 feet. The route will require approximately one to two hours round trip to complete.

          Much of the route is exposed to the sun and there is little shade available. During hot weather an early morning or evening hike is recommended. Every member of your hiking party should carry at least one liter of water. This hike should be easily accessible year round.

          Along the route there are eighteen numbered sign posts that are keyed to an interpretive guide available at the trailhead. I highly suggest that you procure one of these guides. The knowledge and learning experience is fun for all ages. Children also have a great time searching for the next sign post which really shortens the hike for them.

         Navigation for this hike is easy. The route is well marked and signed. A GPS is extreme over kill but I have included the important waypoints for the gizmo junkies. The USGS 7.5' Map titled "Fruita" covers this hike. You should have no problems completing this hike using only commonsense and the interpretive trail guide. The Rim Overlook Trail can be added to this hike for those wanting to add more adventure or create a longer day.

Fremont Granary Sierra & Stormy standing on Nels Johnson Bridge

Trailhead Information:
To reach the trailhead from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center take Highway 24 east for 2.0 miles to the signed Hickman Bridge Trailhead located at mile marker 81.1. The trailhead is located on the north side of Highway 24 just before a bridge over the Fremont River. The trailhead consists of a large paved parking area, kiosk and a pit toilet. Any vehicle can access this trailhead and all roads are paved.

Hickman Bridge - Capitol Reef National Park Hickman Bridge - Capitol Reef National Park

Route Information:
          From the Hickman Bridge Trailhead (N38 17' 19", W111 13' 42"), the trail follows the north bank of the Fremont River downstream a short distance and than begins to switchback up the Kayenta sandstone. At the top of the switchbacks you will notice a short trail branching to the right (east). This trail extends 30-yards to the remnants of a Fremont Culture pit house (N38 17' 20", W111 13' 32"). The pit house foundation is identified by the ring of large black rocks.

          Continuing hiking up the main trail and you will soon come to a signed junction (N38 17' 22", W111 13' 35"). The right (north) fork is the Rim Overlook Trail. Take the left (west) fork signed Hickman Bridge. From the junction the trail leads over a small rise and down into the bottom of an interesting wash.

          Several fascinating items can be found in the wash. Look on the north cliff face about 50 feet above the trail and you will find a small structure called a granary (N38 17' 27", W111 13' 50"). Fremont people used the granary to store beans and corn grown along the Fremont River. Approximately 100 yards beyond the granary the trail passes next to the small Nels Johnson Natural Bridge (N38 17' 26", W111 13' 53"). This bridge was named after one of the earliest homesteaders of the Fruita area.

          From the Nels Johnson Natural Bridge the trail climbs out of the bottom of the wash and up the south bank. A short distance after exiting the wash bottom the trail forks (N38 17' 26", W111 13' 59"). The trail to the left (west) is the return loop. Take the trail to the right (north) which Leads a short distance to the base of Hickman Natural Bridge (N38 17' 29", W111 14' 4").

          Hickman Natural Bridge is one of the largest rock spans in the park. The bridge has an opening of 125 feet top to bottom and 133 feet between abutments. The bridge is named after Joe Hickman, who along with Ephraim P. Pectol are the two men that deserve credit for the preliminary work that led to the creation of Capitol Reef National Monument (later Park).

          From the base of the bridge the trail continues through the opening and loops south to the junction which we passed earlier. Along this short loop you will be rewarded with a view of the orchards of Fruita from a canyon overlook. Fruita was a 19th century Mormon pioneer settlement.

Hickman Bridge - Capitol Reef National Park

Charles Kelly
History Blazer, September 1995

          Two men deserve credit for the preliminary work that led to the creation of Capitol Reef National Monument (later Park) — Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman.

          Pectol was born May 16, 1875, in Glenwood, Sevier County. In 1888 his family moved to Cainesville. In 1910 he bought some land at Grover and that same year worked in a store in Torrey. He built a lean-to on the store building and moved to Torrey, purchasing the business and making that town his home until his death. For three years he taught school while his wife, Dorothy Hickman Pectol, operated the store.

          Pectol was peculiarly blessed with a love of nature. During the 22 years he lived at Cainesville he frequently passed through the section now designated as Capitol Reef. To most travelers it was merely a rough stretch of road, an obstruction to travel, and "a bad place to lose a cow." But to Pectol it was one of the beauty spots of Utah. Long before it became a national monument he had named most of its outstanding landmarks, and those names have been preserved. He originated the name Wayne Wonderland for all of the colorful country lying between Bicknell and the Colorado River.

          Hickman was born at Milford, Utah, on September 28, 1887, a grandson of the noted pioneer Bill Hickman. When he was eight or nine years old, the family moved to Cainesville, passing through what was later called Wayne Wonderland. After returning to Milford for a brief time the Hickman family moved to Loa, county seat of Wayne County.

          His family were cattle ranchers, but Joe Hickman aspired to become a teacher. He attended the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and Utah State Agricultural College, graduating in 1913. On returning to Wayne County he began teaching school in Torrey. In 1918 he was appointed principal of Wayne County High School in Bicknell and the next year became county superintendent of schools.

          Hickman was a brother-in-law of Ephraim P. Pectol who has been called the father of Capitol Reef National Monument. But the two men worked together to promote the scenic values of Wayne County until Hickman's life was cut short, leaving Pectol to complete the project.

          Hickman and Pectol were almost the only men in Wayne County who realized the value of the unusual erosional effects and high color of the cliffs and canyons they called Wayne Wonderland. They were convinced that if the area could be opened to the public it would attract visitors from all over the nation, a belief since proved entirely correct.

          The first effort to publicize Wayne Wonderland occurred in 1921 when a Boosters' Club was organized in Torrey with Pectol as president and Ellis E. Robinson as secretary. Pectol furnished stories and photographs to any newspaper or magazine that would publish them. In this he was assisted by Hickman.

          The Boosters' Club could not properly publicize Wayne Wonderland, so in 1924-25 Hickman organized the Wayne Wonderland Club and included groups from other communities. In time this became the Associated Civics Club of Southern Utah.

          In November 1924 Hickman was elected to the state legislature and immediately introduced a bill to have part of the Wayne Wonderland designated as a state park. His bill passed and 16 acres in the vicinity of Fruita, including a large natural bridge (Hickman Bridge), was set aside. Dedication ceremonies were held in Torrey on July 20, 1925, and Gov. George H. Dern was the principal speaker. A large sign was erected over the Fremont River bridge west of Torrey reading "Gateway to Wayne Wonderland." This sign was later moved to Torrey where it remained for many years.

          In the meantime, Hickman had introduced a resolution in the legislature asking the federal government to consider Wayne Wonderland as a national monument.

          On July 24, only four days after the celebration in Torrey, Hickman went to Fish Lake with a party of friends. A sudden storm threw him out of his boat, and unable to swim he drowned.

          Pectol continued the work almost alone for the next ten years. He was elected president of the new Civics Club. At his suggestion $150 was appropriated for the expenses of Dr. J. E. Broaddus, a well-known scenic photographer in Salt Lake City, to come to Wayne Wonderland to photograph its beauties. For several years afterward Broaddus exhibited his photographs and lectured on Wayne Wonderland. This publicity not only made the area known to the public but eventually resulted in the creation of Capitol Reef National Monument.

          In 1933 Pectol was elected to the state legislature, and almost his first act was the introduction of a memorial to Congress asking for the creation of Wayne Wonderland National Monument. During the next four years he neglected his business to guide federal investigating parties and make a boundary survey, assisted by Arthur Meeks, Arthur L. Chaffin, and George W. Okerlund.

          This great labor of love was finally rewarded on August 2, 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the proclamation that created Capitol Reef National Monument in the heart of Wayne Wonderland, forever setting it aside for the enjoyment of the public. Unfortunately, no funds were provided to develop and operate it, and not until 1950 was it officially opened to the public. In 1971 Congress gave Capitol Reef national park status.

          Pectol died on October 8, 1947, but he had lived long enough to see the creation of the monument for which he had worked so long.

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