The desert is a dark, foreboding place at night, one that requires four wheel drive to trace the silver, starlit veins of Capitol Reef National Park to its heart.

An hour from any paved pipelines to civilization, the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon await adventurous passersby. The freestanding shadows of these geologic monoliths blot out the Milky Way as they have since the Jurassic. Here—beneath the bewildering conjunction of starlight and father time—you’ll find one of Joshua Rowley’s favorite Capitol Reef haunts, Cathedral Valley.

This place is one of the most famous sections of the sprawling, 377-square-mile national park. The temples grace local merchandise, murals and even the official park map of the place. But unlike cousins at Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef’s greatest treasures lie far off of the beaten path. That, Rowley reckons, is part of the appeal. Capitol Reef typically receives a fracture of the number of visitors that its neighbors attract. And for Rowley, that’s just fine.

In March of this year, Rowley and partner Nicholas Derrick flung open the doors of a waypoint for travelers making their way through one of America’s most darkest dust lands. The Skyview Hotel sits about 30 miles from the Temple of the Sun and Moon in nearby Torrey, Utah. Perched on the side of State Route 24 beneath the rippling, red sinews of a mesa dubbed the Velvet Ridge, The Skyview is the culmination of a dream the two co-owners conjured on their first date a little more than a decade ago.

“Nick and I wanted to have a small hotel that was geared towards outdoor adventurers,” says Rowley. “We have this beef with hotel chains that will put the exact same layout of a building in a suburb as they will a really beautiful place like this. So, we designed everything here around the town of Torrey and Capitol Reef—down to the last detail.”

Rowley and Derrick each hail from Utah. They both have a passion for architecture and design; and the attention to detail shows inside their oasis. The hotel is designed for adventurers ranging from desert trekkers bumbling in with dusty, well-worn boots in the middle of the night to road trippers making a cleaner, faster circuit of Utah’s “Big 5.”

In the parking area, glossy Range Rovers armored in unspoiled overlanding gear mingle with trail battered pickup trucks and luxury rental cars looking a little dinged up and maligned. “Adventure means something different to each guest,” Rowley explains. “For some people, adventure is backpacking for a week. For others, it might literally be just taking a scenic drive.”

On the exterior, the Skyview itself looks plucked from a Wes Anderson film. a floating slot canyon of faded, vermillion ropes guards the passage to a single row of 14 rooms. Some feature patios with burbling spas beneath the cliffs. All feature artwork inspired by geologic wonders located throughout the park.

The artwork, Rowley says, is meant to play on the inspirational empty unique to this corner of the country. When guests come in, he says mental light bulbs often start to flicker. “I had someone the other day from New Hampshire that was stunned to be able to see 15 miles away. They said they’d never experienced that before.

“So much of Utah is public land that it’s just empty. But it’s empty in a wonderful way. It’s National Forest. It’s Bureau of Land Management. It’s national monuments. It’s largely undeveloped and we see a lot of people experiencing that for the first time.”

Up top, a roof deck with dark sky-certified lighting allows visitors to lounge in comfort beneath the stars.

As of 2021, the town of Torrey held just 272 citizens. Rowley thinks the numbers may be slightly higher today, noting a smattering of luxuries available to travelers: a coffee roaster, a cider distillery, emerging upscale eateries that float in and out just down the road. In 2018, the town became Utah’s first International Dark Sky Community.

For Rowley, it’s the perfect mix of rural solitude and creature comfort. “I’m someone that finds New York to be cozy,” Rowley adds, noting the town has felt like a welcoming place for LGBTQ community. “I love it here.”

Though the bulk of this upscale, boutique hotel rests indoors, the undeniable stars of the show loom like lunar outposts outside. Here, Rowley and Derrick have installed six glamping domes that pull more than a few onlookers off of two-lane highway they sit alongside. People often pull over for a “looky-loo” at the Martianesque geodesic desert domes with sweeping views of the night sky.

Those choosing to “rough it” for the night find themselves with an unfettered dreamscape of the Milky Way on moonless nights, though Rowley admits the domes aren’t truly camps—they each come with a keycard and a fully furnished bathroom attached to the hotel.

Rowley says guests are often curious about staying in both a traditional room and a glamping dome; but just a few months after doors opened he’s still waiting on more data to determine a demographic swing either way. What he does see, for certain, is a clientele that is actively seeking their own adventure.

To help travelers maximize their time in Capitol Reef, the hotel partners with Get in the Wild Canyoneering Adventures for outdoor activities like family adventure trips and even wilderness yoga. They also tap local shutter fly Hunter Page Photography to connect guests with a master of capturing the national park in its best light.

In the 1960s, visitor figures at Capitol Reef National Park tallied about 160,000 people per year. Today, as those numbers climb to more than 1.2 million, small hotels like the Skyview still have the power to offer intimate experiences with the outdoors that Rowley says don’t have to be left to days of old. “It’s a great park to see in two hours if you just want to drive through,” he adds. “You can go to Gifford’s and grab a pie. You can go to the orchards and take a stroll and have a lovely experience. But I think Capitol Reef really caters to those who off-the-beaten-path travelers who want to stay a while. Take your truck. Go out to Cathedral Valley. Find the desolate places that make you feel alive.”

published 2023-07-23 12:26:38