National parks offer a cornucopia of gorgeous landscapes, rich history, spectacular recreation, and, during this time of year, a rich harvest if you know where to head. If you happen to find yourself in Utah, head to Capitol Reef National Park (www.nps.gov/care) where in September and on into October you'll find the peaches, pears, and apples are ripe for pickin'!
The orchards, only about 1 mile from the park's visitor center and rimmed by beautiful red-rock cliffs, date to old Fruita, a community settled by Mormons in the church's effort to populate southern Utah. These trees are among the most obvious remnants of the pioneer community, which was settled in 1880. Usually no more than 10 families lived in Fruita at any one time, and the last resident moved away in 1969, according to the National Park Service. Early settlers planted the orchards to ensure subsistence; come harvest time they would head to surrounding communities to sell apples, peaches, various nuts, cherries, pears and apricots.
According to the folks at Capitol Reef, today the orchards are preserved and protected as a Rural Historic Landscape. The orchards hold approximately 2,700 trees and are composed of cherry, apricot, peach, pear, and apple, as well as, a few plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees.
Now, unfortunately we've already passed the harvest seasons for cherries (mid-June to early July), apricots (late June through mid-July), and are on the tail-end of the peach and pear harvest. However, apples should be ripe through mid-October. Best of all, these fruits are yours for the taking (for a modest fee).
You are welcome to stroll in any unlocked orchard and you may consume as much ripe fruit as you want while in the orchards. However, you can't start picking fruit in quantity until the designated harvest begins. Orchards that are open for picking are signed as such. A fee is charged for all fruit picked and removed from the orchards. Signs listing fruit prices, scales, plastic bags, and a self-pay station are located near the entrance of open orchards.
Capitol Reef isn't the only park where you can harvest fruit. At Shenandoah National Park (www.nps.gov/shen), where many old homesteads can be found thanks to both their rock boundary walls as well as their now-untended orchards, you're allows to pick up to one bushel of apples per person per day.
The Call of the Elk
This time of year also produces one of the oddest sounds you might encounter in a national park -- the high-pitched squeal of elk. Better known as "bugling," to me this sound is as magical as that of a wolf howl hanging in the air. It's auditory "wildness."
Among the many parks where you can hear bugling elk are Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and a park perhaps better known for its subterranean wonders -- Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. In fact, head to Wind Cave this month and the rangers will even lead you out into the park to listen to the elk.
Wind Cave rangers are giving brief interpretive programs about elk before leading a caravan to a nearby pullout to listen for them. These programs are offered Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings through September 26. Participants meet at the aptly named Elk Mountain Campground Amphitheater at 7 p.m. and are encouraged to bring a flashlight, a blanket to sit on, and to dress warmly.
"Even if you have heard elk bugling before, there is something about listening to this eerie sound echoing out of the darkness that makes a repeat trip worthwhile," says Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Davila. "It is truly one of nature's wild sounds."
You can listen to an elk bugling at this site: http://www.nps.gov/archive/wica/Sounds/Elk_Bugling.wav
Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting www.nationalparkstraveler.com. This site tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at www.twitter.com/parkstraveler.
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