The banks of Pleasant Creek, where the Capitol Reef Field Station operates, has a long history as an aquatic sanctuary in the otherwise dry desert climate of south-central Utah. Over millennia, Native American groups used the waters of Pleasant Creek, and the site still contains evidence of native basket making, pictographs, and ruins. A Mormon pioneer established Floral Ranch in 1882 after diverting creek water to irrigate his fields and orchards. For several decades, his descendants maintained the farm until Lurt and Margaret Knee purchased the property in 1940 and built Sleeping Rainbow Ranch in the early 1970s. The Knees transferred the ranch and its properties to the National Park Service in 1995, who incorporated them into Capitol Reef National Park. A few years later, the Park Service partnered with professors at Utah Valley University (UVU) to use the land to develop a biological station. The Capitol Reef Field Station opened in 2008, and it continues to work with UVU and Capitol Reef National Park to promote environmental learning and scholarly research through exploring the richness of Capitol Reef and the Colorado Plateau.
Research at the station focuses on teaching the importance of conserving energy and natural resources while understanding human impact on soil, plants, and animals. Since its beginning, the station consistently invests in recycling and composting, minimizing waste and light pollution, erosion control, water conservation and on-site water treatment, efficient heating and cooling systems, and by using 100% solar electricity for its facilities. Students often explore how regional flora and fauna adapt to desert environments, such as how the pinyon pine’s irregular seed production protects it from predators like birds, deer, and elk or by researching different lichen types, since the plant has properties which can detect pollution in the atmosphere. Other long-term projects include exposing how water flows affect the transportation and distribution of sediments, and optics research. Making use of Capitol Reef’s dark and clear skies, researchers at the station identify meteors, airglow emissions in the atmosphere, and build sensors to analyze levels of air pollution.
The Capitol Reef Station also provides non-scientific studies that one may not expect of a science laboratory. For example, it works with UVU’s English Language Learning Department to help English as a Second Language (ESL) students study the language in immersive situations while gaining knowledge about the Colorado Plateau. It also holds composition courses where students write about what they observe and research land use and wildlife in the area. Math students learn how to develop logarithms to date artifacts, use GPS to calculate hiking rates, and algebra to build parabolic ovens, which use solar energy for cooking. Dancers, choreographers, and photography students also use Capitol Reef’s unique geological landscape as a background and inspiration for their art. More recently, the station also hosts students of parks, recreation, and tourism to learn more about how national parks serve visitor and public needs.