Total Miles: 131.3
After two days of what can only be described as sensory overload, my first thought was: did I really just see that? Getting up close and personal with one of the world’s greatest natural wonders will do that to you. My second thought was more akin to wondering what price the trail would now exact in exchange for those past two days.
As it turns out, the terms of our atonement were far less dramatic. As quickly as it had come, the canyon had been yanked offstage, hidden once again behind a curtain of ponderosa pine forest spanning the vast Coconino Plateau. So sudden was the change that, had we not seen the canyon with our own eyes, we might have doubted it had been anything more than a dream.
Following the highlight reel of the last 48 hours, returning to “normal” trail has the effect of forcing you to find the beauty in the ordinary. The sound of the wind as it gusts among the treetops, the cinnamon streaks emerging from furrows in the bark of young ponderosa.
The sun may have taken a day off to hide behind clouds that threatened to make it another damp afternoon and the trail itself might have returned to a mostly level forested stroll, but it wasn’t without its excitement. Around mid-morning, a group of javelinas came ambling out of the forest and onto the forest service road the trail was following, trotting along in front of us as though they were just another group of thru-hikers heading to Mexico.
They paused to inspect small patches of mud and were undaunted by having us so close. One even stepped a few feet away to let us pass, only to stand and watch us quizzically before returning to its mud puddle of interest as soon as we had gone ten feet further up the road. They were an adorably amiable bunch who seemed more like dogs that wanted to play more than anything else.
Not long thereafter, a tarantula came strolling along the trail towards us amid its morning commute. Moving deliberately, it was perhaps 5 inches long and jet black, save for traces of a few rust orange hairs.
Hours came and went, taking the miles with them along with the clouds whose day would have been incomplete had it not been for the brief and half-hearted rain they sprayed down on us. Having fulfilled their obligation, they kindly began to part just as sunset was setting them aglow in shades of orange and pink. Laying down on our soft bed of ponderosa pine needles, all we were missing was a lullaby until it finally came: a chorus of haunted bugling courtesy of nearby elk.