This story takes place early October in Northern Arizona. We went to bed listening to elk bugle and coyotes yipping. Shortly after settling down in our rooftop tent we heard a pack of coyotes circling the Jeep. Our French Bulldog puppy, Charlie stayed extra quiet nestled down in the sleeping bag. It was like she knew they were hunting her. Since we were suspended more than five above the ground atop my Jeep, we were reasonably sure we were safe and drifted off to sleep.
At 3am strange noises outside our tent woke me up. I held my breath as I listened. Mike was sleeping right next to me and Charlie was still quietly hunkered down. About 50 yards from where we were camped sat an old abandoned airplane hanger, rich in history. I could hear someone or something moving around inside the metal and wood structure. Something was moving the twisted metal. Something was pounding on the hard dirt floor. It definitely sounded bigger than a coyote.
I placed a shaky hand on Mike’s shoulder. He didn’t stir so I gave him a couple of shoves. The second that he awoke I whispered a quivering, “Shhhh….. there is something really big moving around outside.”
Mike understood my fear and reached for his gun. We carefully listened, trying to figure out what kind of murderous creature or creatures were lurking just beyond the nylon material of our rooftop tent. Whatever it was had moved out of the hanger and was slowly making its way toward us. The footfalls were heavy. Very heavy. Then we unmistakably heard similar heavy footfalls coming from the opposite direction. Then another and another. We were surrounded. My heart pounded hard within my chest as I barely breathed. Mike quietly released the safety on his gun. Charlie was awake but sat stone still. Then something touched the bottom corner of the tent. It explored the thin nylon material. Holy shit! This was it. We were gonna die.
One millisecond before Mike pulled the trigger we heard it…. a sharp squeal followed by hoof stomps, a fart and a snort. “Horses!” I gleefully whispered. We tried to guess how many were out there. I could no longer contain my excitement. I had to see them! I slowly unzipped the tent worried that the zipper noise was going to spook them. I took a deep breath and poked my head outside. To my surprise and excited relief, I found myself eye level with a curious horse. Because of the light from the Super Moon, it wasn’t hard to see not one but seven horses! With as much excitement and anticipation as a small child, I shoved my boots on and scurried down the ladder to play with a strange herd of horses at 3:30am under moonlit skies near the Grand Canyon. A fantasy come true! One by one, I greeted my new friends. Even though I only had the moonlight to see them, it was unmistakable they were led by an alpha mare. Horse people will understand. They were clearly not wild but most likely ranch horses that are commonly grazed on public lands. Meanwhile, Mike stayed snuggled in his sleeping bag, not bothering to look outside at the most magnificent herd of ponies ever.
One long-eared figure lingered on the outskirts and only approached when the others had moved on. “Honey! There’s a mule!” I whisper shouted towards the quiet tent. An unimpressed, “Oh that’s nice.” came from inside. The danger was over and he was going to get a few more hours of shut eye while his crazy middle-aged wife played with horses that aren’t her’s at 3:30am, in the middle of nowhere. I gently kissed each nose and begged them to come back in the morning. The little herd slowly walked off and disappeared into the darkness. Sadly, they did not return for breakfast and I would have thought it had all been a dream if I hadn’t snapped this one picture when I peaked my head out of the tent in the wee hours.