Road Trip Diaries: From Escalante National Monument to Capitol Reef National Park: AKA, The Day We Met The Thirsty Spirit (Part II)

(Continued from my previous post about our trip through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

After our fairly “exciting” adventures in the slot canyons, we said goodbye to Escalante and headed out on Highway 12 toward our next destination – Capitol Reef National Park. However, I had heard that the BLM campground at Calf Creek was pretty nice (it also contains the trailhead for the gorgeous-looking “Calf Creek Falls hike“), so we did a short pit stop to check it out.


A site at Calf Creek campground

Oh man. It was pretty dope. The campground was small and so scenic. Almost every site was secluded and surrounded by trees and tall carved rocks. If you’re able to secure a spot (the campground seems to be pretty popular), that seems to be one of the best campsites to stay at in the Escalante area.


Highway 12 to Capitol Reef

The sky darkened overhead as we tried to race toward our next destination before nightfall. As a light rain pelted our windshield, we watched as our surrounding scenery progressively changed around us. Instead of bare dry rock for as far as the eye could see, we were now surrounded by a mixture of tall dark pine and glowing white aspen trees along the highway. It was refreshing.


As we began to approach the park, we could see tall, brightly colored rock formations rise up around us like sculpted rainbow mountains. I haven’t heard much about Capitol Reef, but it looks like a photographer’s playground…


capitol reef P1110082

The aptly-named Fruita campground doesn’t have much to see outside of a large orchard of apricot trees on the side (Capitol Reef, by the way, allows visitors to come and pick fruit during the harvesting seasons!). The campground has a very basic “parking lot”type layout with just a few trees at a lot of lawn at each site – and absolutely no privacy. Despite the occasional patch of rain, timed sprinklers were still watering the lawns around us. I was tired, sweaty, and desperate to take a bath. Since there were no showers (just bathrooms) in our campground, I wandered over to a sprinkler with a rag and a towel to rinse my sweat-covered skin off


Our “oh so scenic” site at the Fruita campground

Right after we arrived, Joy started to cook our pasta dinner (we took turns cooking each meal). The rain was still a bit of an issue, however. Since our site’s table and benches were cold and wet, I stayed in my tent and rested as she filled up our jugs with water and prepped our meal.

About two hours later, I heard her go into her tent and say, “OH MY GOD”.

She came out. “Did you use any of my water?” she asked me incredulously.

“Nope”, I replied.

“What the HELL!!! My water bladder is completely dry!!”

“It was probably a ghost”, I said dryly

At first she didn’t believe me when I told her I hadn’t taken her water – and I didn’t believe her when she mentioned that her empty water bladder was a problem to be analyzed. I got out of my tent and went over to see what the fuss was about.

She told me that right before she started to cook dinner, she had gone over to the bathroom to fill up her bladder and our jug of water. She said that she distinctly remembered putting her bladder on a nearby boulder as she filled up the other jug. Joy’s not really the type to have gaps in her memory, so I was a little confused.

“Are you SURE you didn’t just THINK that you filled up your bladder, but actually forgot to do it when you were by the fountain?” I asked skeptically.

“Are you fucking with me?!” she replied.

“C’mon. Of all the jokes that I could play on you, why would I go into your tent and take your water? THAT’S SO RANDOM!!!”

(To be fair, I used to pull A LOT of jokes on her when we lived together in our apartment, so she had a reason to be a little skeptical of me)

We pretty much spent the next hour or so trying to think of an explanation for what might have happened.  The weird things about the situation were the following facts:

  1. When we arrived at Capitol Reef, Joy looked at her bladder and saw that it was a little over half a liter full.
  2. She was positive that she had filled up her hydration bladder with water (it’s a 2 liter bladder)
  3. The time between when she had filled up her bladder and had found it empty was about two hours
  4. The area below her water bladder was  completely dry, so she doubts that it could have leaked out
  5. The climate was wet and rainy, so the water wouldn’t have just “evaporated” somehow
  6. When we inspected the bladder closely, we found that the sides of the bladder were stuck together like a vacuum seal. That means that the water didn’t just get poured out, it would have to have been sucked out.

That last one was the weirdest one. “Maybe the lady who died in Escalante’s slot canyons yesterday…followed us here to Capitol Reef…and drank all of your water, because she had died of dehydration!” I hypothesized.


Did the thirsty spirit follow us from here?

It was the only explanation that would make sense to us. Who else would go into a tent (unseen) and drink up two liters of water by themselves?! Only a spirit, right? No one else had approached our site while we were there.

Joy was a bit beside herself. Before this experience, she didn’t really believe in spirits. After that moment however, she began to suspect that this was the only plausible explanation for what had happened to her water bladder.

“Maybe THAT’S WHY I found water leaking out of my  bladder as we hiked back to the car today – that never happens to me! She must have been really thirsty…” I thought out-loud.

* * * * *

Later that evening around 9 PM, a local Capitol Reef ranger presented a slideshow and talk about Capitol Reef. We went over there to learn more about the history – both geological and anthropological – of the area. Besides learning more about the gorgeous layered rock formations surrounding us, we had hoped that maybe the ranger might be able to clue us in to whether or not there was a spiritual history to the area.


Layers of colorful rock in Capitol Reef

After the slideshow and talk, the (very enthusiastic) ranger (who must have been about 23 or 24 years old), lingered a bit afterwards to answer visitors’ questions. After almost everyone else had gone, Joy approached him and asked him whether or not he had heard of any spirits or any ghost stories about the area. The surprised ranger (and another family sitting nearby) laughed. He said he hadn’t heard of any. I thought that would be the end of our inquiry, but Joy continued on to explain the FULL STORY of what had happened to us – from the trips to the water fountain, to our list of evidence, to the lady who had died out in the slot canyons of Escalante. I was HYSTERICAL. To a person who probably doesn’t really believe in ghosts, the story probably sounded both banal and absolutely fucking insane at the same time. Or rather, we were looking mighty nutty at that moment.

“Didn’t you say that this area was once pretty dry?” Joy asked the ranger.

“Yeah,” he replied, “like during the Ice Age.”

OH MAN, the whole situation was way too fucking comedy. I was beside myself laughing the entire time she talked to that poor young ranger who listened patiently and probably thought we were out of our fucking minds.

We walked away that night feeling a bit ridiculous but pretty awestruck by the experience. Hopefully, the lonely thirsty spirit – perhaps the lady who died from the midday heat of Escalante National Monument – finally felt refreshed and at peace at the end of her journey.


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