Total Miles: 182.9
The lightning flashed without even a whimper of thunder, so distant was it. The crescent moon that hours earlier had tucked the sun into bed and took its place in the sky was nowhere to be found, obscured by banks of thick, dark clouds that should not have been there. That’s what I thought when I heard the first tentative drops on the tent, recalling that the weather forecast had given exactly zero indication that a storm would be on its way.
Exposed and alone on the wide open plateau, there’s nothing to be done but to batten down the hatches and try to get some sleep. The wind came in waves, pressing the wall of the tent onto the top of our heads. When it finally stopped and the stars had re-emerged, all that was left was a cold that hadn’t been there before.
By dawn, the cold mixed with the storm’s rain had turned the tent into our own personal ice palace. But with the sun peering over the horizon beneath a cloudless sky, the cavalry of warmth was on its way to wipe clean the overnight hours, rendering the block of ice in my pack where the tent normally would be merely a temporary inconvenience.
Having spent the past two days putting distance between ourselves and the Grand Canyon and, in the process, emerging from ponderosa forest into something more resembling the Great Divide Basin of the CDT, I was eager to reach the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks that had been growing larger with each passing mile. There’s something about being surrounded by forest—aspens, pines, firs, you name it—that has always felt like home, and the brightly colored bands that were painted across those San Francisco Peaks promised soon to return me to that home.
Getting there was no speedy matter. The trail spent most of the morning following a dirt road from the wide open land of grass and tumbleweed gaining only the tiniest tantalizing bits of elevation that would be needed to deliver us back to the ponderosa. As the first pines brave enough to tempt the lower elevations began to rise on either side of the road, giving shade to the free ranging cattle that were grazing the area, we caught a glimpse of a master at work. Hopping out of the way of my oncoming footsteps, I at first couldn’t tell what exactly I’d just seen. When I stopped to examine the ground to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things, there it was: a greater short-horned lizard. Resembling a tiny dinosaur, it was a master of disguise, almost difficult to see from even a foot or two away.
When the initial few pines were finally joined by a legion of their brethren, the trail adopted a route like that of a slalom course, slowly snaking its way through the forest as if to maximize the time we’d spend ambling through it. With a bed of pine needles underfoot and aspens on the cusp of their peak fall color beginning to intermingle with the pines, I could think of no more perfect way of ending another long day.
When we passed a large stone with three round potholes each filled with water, I did a double-take before stopping to admire what looked like a face. Looking closer at the largest pothole, the perfectly calm lake it held within its grasp was a like a mirror, reflecting the very forest we’d spent the day returning to.