Total Miles: 1045.8
When we'd dusted the sleep from our eyes and set off down the trail, the morning sun was ablaze as a scarlet fireball hanging low in the sky. A thick haze seemed to be everywhere, giving the impression that we might be entering an impenetrable fog at any moment. It wasn't until the faint smell of smoke drifted in on the breeze hours later that we knew it wasn't the weather that was responsible for the conditions.
The effect of the clouds having trapped the smoke from some combination of forest fires was that the usual arc of light changing throughout the day had been entirely disrupted. By noon, the soft glow of sunshine filtered by the haze was still what my brain would have interpreted to be 7 or 8 o’clock. It was like dawn had come and time had stood still ever since.
It did make for some excellent photography lighting, especially with a new and beautiful subject: the bright magenta blooms of thistles, growing in tall thickets along the trail and basking in the sun.
We never seem to know when we might see them, but we’re never surprised. With cattle grazing well up into the mountains, it's only a matter of time before a distant “moo” can be heard echoing through the forest. As we emerged onto a grassy knoll primed for grazing, a dozen or more cows stood dumbstruck staring at the two-legged creatures coming towards them and their precious water trough. Surely they wouldn't mind if we made use of the pipe that was gushing clear cold water into it. After bolting in a frenzy as we came closer, one by one they came back to resume their drinking, deeming us a non-threat after all while we sat just feet away taking a break.
There may not have been any postcard-worthy vistas to capture with the world around us being obscured by a scrim of smoke, but what we did have was a pleasant stretch of easy-walking trail. Alternating between forest and almost prairie-like grasslands, the divide in this area is less jagged ridge and more rolling mound.
An afternoon thunderstorm blew through for the second day in a row, driving us under the tarp for a brief continuation of our screening of Jeremiah Johnson. At this rate, we just might finish it before we hit Mexico.
With the rains passed, the sun returned with a renewed effort to cut through the smoke and the effort seemed to be paying off. Patches of blue began to emerge above our heads as we made dinner in a thicket of young lodgepoles, the understory nothing but unripe low bush blueberries, ready to be dinner for some other large mammals in a few short weeks.
Latitude/Longitude: 46.36779, -112.42691