The trail was barely visible beneath our mules feet as we rode through the thick darkness of starlight. We watched night steal the red from the canyon walls and repaint them in shades of black and white, as if we were riding in an old western movie. We were climbing out of Hop Valley late Saturday night after a day of riding through the narrows of LaVerkin Creek. A warm breeze changed the Day smells into night smells and hooves falling on rock echoed off the cliffs above us as we swayed in our saddles, without visual reference to help us maintain perfect balance.
Emerging from the canyon to the terraced table tops of Smith's Mesa, we could see a brilliant white blanket laying over the desert savannah far to our west. Our trail disappeared in the sage and scrub oak while our muted sense of direction caused us to wonder how we would find that one gate in the miles of barbed wire fence standing in our way. But the mules knew and we let them pick their own way across the landscape. Suddenly Molly stopped. Like an apparition, the gate came into dark focus just inches from her flaring nostrils.
The white blanket to our West seemed to be moving closer to us. Brilliant as a hard frost in the dead of winter, every tree, bush and towering sandstone rock sparkled with a cold, white luster. The view caused an inevitable sensory conflict with the pleasant warmth of the gentle draft. As we neared the trailhead, we stopped and turned with fascination to face the advancing silvery frost. A distinct line separated our blackness from this faux winter and it began to hasten until we were on the verge of being overtaken by its chill. Abruptly, we were in the light of day as the nearly full moon peaked its edge over the hill whose shadow had kept us in the dark. The world, still painted in shades of gray, was promptly in full view and our mounted silhouettes cut a sharp moon-shadow below our feet... And that physical anticipation of feeling winter's cold was warmly unfulfilled by the silver light of the moon.