Total Miles: 249.5
Deep in the heart of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest is not the place one might typically think of evoking imagery of the ocean. In every direction, a uniform pattern of trunks and canopies extends toward all points of the compass in such a way that it’s difficult to imagine the forest ever coming to an end. The trail snakes its way through a labyrinth of sameness that makes it feel almost disorienting. High above, a ceaseless wind gently moves through the branches tipped by long-needled pompoms, making them wave with the fluid grace of sea anemone being tickled by the current.
Against this consistent backdrop, anything that happens to break the uniformity stands out. A pincushion cactus. Elk, oddly skittish considering their size, trotting away. The remnants of a century old timber railroad.
Sunny as it might have been sailing along through the sea of pines, the rays lacked their usual warming quality. Considering the lingering patches of snow and that most of the day was in the mid-40s, the fact that the sun didn’t appear to be doing its job despite there being not a cloud in sight meant that our mittens and outer layers were either on or at the ready from dawn til dusk.
Only two days removed from Flagstaff, we took a detour from the AZT to nearby Mormon Lake Village, just more than a mile from the trail to collect a resupply package for the next three days. To call it a village is to revise the definition of village. Consisting of an RV park/campground and a single building that houses a lodge, saloon, general store, and post office, the “village” stretches for perhaps a few hundred yards.
Like the ocean-evoking forests that abut it, the lake of Mormon Lake is a mirage. Behind the lodge building, a vast and flat grassland races toward the horizon where water has indeed formed a lake in the past. Outside of extended periods of drought like the one much of the American West is still mired in, Mormon Lake can grow from its current nothingness to be the largest natural lake in the state of Arizona.
We saw not one other AZT thru-hiker—keeping our current count at 8–while we collected our resupply box and organized ourselves for the next stretch on the sunny porch of the lodge. Not wanting to leave the tiny village without indulging in at least one luxury of town, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the saloon. Rustic and classically “old west”, I was immediately at home when we settled into two seats at the end of the long bar, the only customers around.
Chatting with the bartender over first a coffee, then a satisfyingly salty plate of fries, and finally a glass of whiskey—why not?—the warmth of the roaring fire behind us transported us to a place far away from the blustery and cold ocean of ponderosa that had delivered us here. The next part was as simple as it was hard: close the door on the creature comforts we now enjoyed, shoulder our packs, and set out to find our next home among the pines.