Throughout much of the 20th century, cattle rancher Lesley Morrell owned some of the finest real estate in the West. Though a modest and solitary—comprising just one small room—the cabin was nestled next to stream in the heart of Cathedral Valley, a delightfully remote nirvana of fluted cliffs and striking monoliths now protected as part of Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. Not that Morrell, who built the dwelling in 1932, spent much time there—it was more often utilized as a way station for fellow cowboys as they trailed cattle to and from Thousand Lake Mountain, which rises just to the west. Finally abandoned in 1970, the cabin is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a short trail offers visitors to the remote Cathedral Valley District the opportunity to peer through its dusty windows—or even peek inside—through a portal to a bygone era.
On the Cathedral Valley loop drive, the trail to Morrell Cabin is located at signpost #12 along the Cathedral (a.k.a. Caineville Wash) Road, at the foot of the Cathedral Valley switchbacks that drop several hundred feet from Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook and the Cathedral Valley Campground. Look for a sign marked “Historic Morrell Cabin.”
From this point, a well-defined footpath tracks west from the Cathedral Road across a sagebrush plain, traversing a muddy creek bed around ¾ of the way to the cabin. The entire one-way walk to the destination should take around five minutes.
The scenery around is absolutely splendid. Fluted walls of Entrada sandstone dominate the horizon to the south and east, while a line of monoliths known as the “Cathedrals” fills the space to the north. Thousand Lake Mountain and the Fishlake Mountains rise to the west.
The Morrell Cabin is situated on an elevated flat in view of the Cathedrals. Inside are an old wooden table, kitchen supplies, and a variety of trinkets, left almost exactly in place as they were 45 years ago. True to the tradition of hospitality, the Morrell abode is unlocked, though the risk of hantavirus (a mouse-borne disease) and other nasty diseases makes staying outside a better choice. Interpretive materials, including a sign and pamphlets, provide a summary of the unit’s history.
To the south, a couple dozen steps from the cabin, one can find the remains of Morrell’s old corral, positioned quite tenuously on the edge of a cutbank.
Stepping out of the 1930s and back into the present day, return the way you came. Allot around 20 minutes for this short hike.
Two years ago we did the drive and stopped at the cabin. I love that so many artifacts are still there. Thank goodness people have left things alone. We saw several bones out near the old corrals. Neat stop!
Wow, I didn’t see the bones!
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Hi! I’m looking for a photo of Morrell Cabin for our new guide to Capitol Reef — would you mind if we used yours?
Sure thing. Will there be attribution? When will the guide come out?