The first time I heard of Fruita was when I was looking for sites for our RV. Capitol Reef’s little historic village has a campground, and you can see a little corner of it next to the horse pasture. There are orchards with 2,000 apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherrry and plum trees all over Fruita, and in the summer, anyone is free to pick the fruit. Now that sounds like fun!
Of course, it wasn’t summer yet and the trees didn’t even begin to have fruit on them. The campground doesn’t have any hookups. We drove through it. The sites were wide but right next to each other, and seemed a little more crowded even than ours at Wonderland. I liked that the campground was in the trees, with one of the orchards right next door. It would be fun to stay for a couple of days in the summer and just go over and pick the fruit.
The Mormons settled Fruita in the 1880’s. The fields were already there, abandoned by the Fremont Indians 700 years ago. The Mormons built irrigation systems to bring water from the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and they’re still used today to water the pastures and orchards. In its heyday, in the early 1900’s, there were as many as 10 families here. The town still had residents as recently as the 1960’s, but by then most of the Mormons had moved on.
The Gifford house, which you can see behind the horse above, is the last one remaining in Fruita. The Gifford farm lies in the heart of the Fruita valley, a desert oasis described by Wallace Stegner (a Western novelist) as “…a sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, opulent with cherries, peaches, and apples in season, inhabited by a few families who were about equally good Mormons and good frontiersmen and good farmers.” The home was originally built in 1908 by Calvin Pendleton, a polygamist with two wives. The Gifford family purchased the home in 1928 and lived and farmed there as recently as 1969.
Today the Gifford House has a bakery and small gift shop with locally produced items, and only one small room has a tiny museum about the family who lived there. These are the things I like to look at from families long gone: the mundane stuff of daily life, and the family photos.
In the shop, there are cinnamon rolls every morning, which were gone by the time we were there, close to noon. They also sell fresh pies, which are conveniently sized for 2 or 3 people to feast on. We were able to purchase a couple of those, one of which we devoured with our picnic lunch. We also loaded up on specialty food items, which are great for gifts and to have in our pantry: jars of cherry salsa, jam, soup, and pancake syrup.
Capitol Reef’s visitor center lies at the entrance to Fruita. There is also a blacksmith shop that can be seen. We made a stop at the village schoolhouse, which sits on Route 24. A typical class would have been around 8 to 26 students, and the classes grew smaller as the years went on. The children were needed for the farm, so school was in session only from November to April.
A small orchard sits next to the schoolhouse.
Not in Fruita, but on the far eastern side of Capitol Reef as you enter the park, lies the Behunin Cabin. In my previous post, I noted how Elijah Behunin had led a team of men to clear the boulders in Capitol Gorge. Same busy guy. He tried to start a farm next to the Fremont River, and built this cabin for his family in the early 1800’s…with no less than 11 of his 13 children. It was only big enough for he, his wife, Tabitha Jane, and the two youngest to sleep in. The boys slept in an alcove in the rocks above the cabin, and the girls slept in the wagon bed. What did they do when it got really cold? I’d like to know what Tabitha thought about this cabin.
Unfortunately, the close proximity to the river caused the crops to flood. After only a year, the family moved to Fruita and became one of the first settlers to live there. I hope he built Tabitha a bigger house.
There is certainly more to Capitol Reef than I had originally thought, and what Fruita had to offer made for an interesting – and delicious! – diversion from the gorgeous scenery all around.
Next time – Goblin Valley State Park