We arrived Friday evening on the Mogollon Rim to take what was supposed to be our last camping trip for the year. The plan for the weekend was to camp off of FR 218, at a campsite we had found two weeks earlier. The site was right on the edge of the Rim, with a beautiful view of the valley below. Then, Saturday morning, we would hike the seven-mile Pine Trail, which begins just south of Pine on Highway 87 (at the Pine Trailhead) and ends at the General Crook Trail near the junction at Highways 87 and 260. John and I planned to do a two-car shuttle, meaning that we would park one car at the Pine Trailhead and leave the other at our campsite, making it a one-way trip.
But it just wasn't going to happen that way. In fact, the whole weekend wasn't going to go according to John's meticulous plans.
As we arrived on the Rim, we were met by vicious winds that chilled us to the bone. Setting up camp was a challenge because the wind kept blowing our things around, and it was too cold to go into the woods to retrieve wood for the fire. The wood we did collect was so dry that it burned too quickly, forcing us to return to the woods often to get more. By morning, the winds had completely extinguished our fire; not even an ash remained in the ring.
The fire did little to warm us up. Bundled in many layers of clothes, we huddled by the fire and drank cheap Chardonnay wine until we finally gave up and retreated to the tent, which gave us at least a little protection from the bitter winds. We slept in our clothes - a rarity for us - and bundled up under our sleeping bags, two Mexican blankets, and a comforter; that was enough to keep us warm throughout the night.
We got little sleep that night because the wind continued to howl, never stopping for a moment. At sunrise, John finally crawled out of the tent and turned on the heater in the van so that we could have some warmth. It took me a while, though, to move out of the tent because I felt like death warmed over; I had one hell of a hangover, thanks to the cheap wine we had drunk. Every move made me more and more nauseous.
The hike was definitely out of the question, so instead of driving to the trailhead, we stopped in Pine to get coffee and Rolaids for me in hopes that they would make me feel better. I told John that what I needed to do was sleep some more, and maybe I would be able to hike the trail. He drove us back to the campsite, where I slept for an additional half-hour in the warmth of the van.
Meanwhile, John tried to gather some firewood so that I would have something to keep me warm once I woke up. However, it was so bitterly cold that he gave up and crawled into the tent to protect himself from the wind. A half an hour later, just as I was waking up, the rain fly blew off of the tent, and he emerged from the tent to chase it. By that time, I was feeling better. John joined me in the van; I could tell he was frustrated with the way our trip had turned out. He told me that he had decided that we weren't going to stay there another night. It was time to go to Plan B: pack up camp, drive into Strawberry, and stay at the Windmill Corner Inn. I was not about to argue with that!
Since check-in time wasn't until 2:00, we decided to do some exploring first to see the colors of the autumn leaves. All over the Mogollon Rim, the leaves had turned to bright reds and yellows and oranges; John stopped often to collect leaves or to take pictures of the foliage.
At noon, we returned to our campsite to have lunch then to pack up our stuff. "But first," John said, taking me by the hand, "you have to see this view." He led me to the very edge of the Mogollon Rim, where we could see Milk Ranch Point. Below the precipice, there was an alcove in which the foliage had turned red, though the rest of the leaves had retained their green color.
We stood there for several moments, admiring the view. John was silent at first; then he said, "Just one adventure after another. I want it to go on forever..."
And then he dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him! Without a second thought, I threw my arms around him and said yes. He then opened up the little white box he had been hiding in his jacket, revealing a beautiful, sparkling diamond solitaire ring, which he carefully placed on my finger.
Suddenly, our camping trip wasn't so miserable anymore. After dropping camp, we checked into the Windmill Corner Inn in Strawberry (where John signed us in as John and Heather Verley). We shared a bottle of Merlot by Mystic Cliffs, and to celebrate our engagement, we would later share a bottle of 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon by Chateau St. Jean, which John had carefully hidden in the van. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to bring wineglasses, so we bought a pair at the Pine thrift shop for $.50 each. For dinner that night, we ate at Giuseppe's, which specializes in delicious homemade Italian food.
Drunk from the excitement and the wine, we fell asleep early but awoke at two in the morning. Neither one of us could sleep, so we got dressed and sat outside to look at all of the stars in the sky. By that time, the wind had died down, and it was no longer bitterly cold. Eventually we fell asleep again.
The next day, we did some more exploring before returning to Phoenix to share our wonderful news with our families. We explored FR 428 to check out the Verde River #11 trailhead; we also took FR 708 all the way to Camp Verde (the plan was to go to Childs, but we missed the turn for FR 504). During the drive on FR 708, while John was trying to downshift, the gear shifter fell off! (Fortunately, it snapped back into place.)
Once we had finished exploring, we checked out of the Windmill Corner Inn and drove back to Phoenix, where we began a new adventure in our lives: wedding plans!
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