Arches National Park is not the Smokies.
Well, that’s obvious, you might say. Arches protects the incredible arches and sandstone sculptures unique to this park. It offers 20 to 25 miles of hiking trail as compared to over 800 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, all its trails are described in the free pamphlet they give out at the fee station. There’s no need to buy Hiking Trails of the Smokies for this park.
Did I say, Fee? Of course. The Smokies is the only major national park without an entrance fee. To get into Arches, you pay $10 a car unless you have a pass. Not much diversity either. I already know all the common trees in the Southwest–juniper, pinion pines, and gambel oak.
Today, we hiked Devils Garden Trail, 7.2 miles, the longest trail in the park, with only 750 feet of altitude gain. But it took us five and a half hours because of the challenging terrain. The first short section to Landscape Arch was easy. Most visitors must stop here.
We continued on what the park describes as a “semi-primitive trail” but the 50 cents map didn’t explain was that meant. All of the sudden the nice, wide trail turned into a rock climb. At every step, I had to decide where to put my feet, my hands, my butt, and my hiking poles. We followed the crowd and got to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. I was upset to see that a group of teenagers led by a disinterested leader tried to climb the walls of the arch to get better pictures.
The trail got worse. People wandered all over the rocks since there were no cairns. A young family convinced us that we had to slide down or jump down to get over the folds in the rock. Lenny decided that it wasn’t for him and I followed. As I turned around, I noted Double O arch and a nice trail to reach it. Where was the sign? Every other arch has a sign. We quickly followed the trail to Double O arch.
There we found a sign to Dark Angel on a trail designated Primitive. I don’t understand their trail categories. The trail was perfectly defined with cairns. On the way back, we had a choice to go back the same way and fight the ups and downs of the rocks or take a loop on a primitive trail of unknown quality. In this case, the devil we didn’t know was a better choice. Again, the cairns were well placed and easy to follow.
By midday, the sun was brutal. The wind picked up and I just couldn’t keep my hat on. I walked without any protection on my head. It’s a good thing I had plenty of water.
Lots more arches to discover in this park.