It all began with a coupon. Last December one of the services that e-mails me various deals each morning had something I couldn't pass up. It was for two nights at a cabin in one of our favorite spots for almost 60% off the regular price. About 5 hours driving time from Phoenix, the tiny town of Greer sits high up in the White Mountains of Arizona. It is usually at least 25 degrees cooler than home. There are a handful of restaurants, a few antique stores, forests, trout ponds, and more visible stars at night than any place else on earth. The discount was good for a cabin large enough for everyone, including the grandkids. I ordered the coupon and reserved the first weekend in June. Plans were made and we were looking forward to our first family getaway of the summer.
Our reservations were not in that building but in one of the cabins next to the lodge. Naturally I assumed that our plans had gone up in flames, too. How could the owners possibly stay open after such a disaster? I waited a day and then placed a call. Amazingly, the cabins were untouched and operating without a hitch. Our trip was still on. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
The first morning began with a mini caravan of cars, loaded with food and supplies. In Payson, we all stopped for a bathroom break and breakfast. That was when I noticed a copy of the morning paper on a nearby table. The bold headlines were announcing a major, out of control, wildfire in eastern Arizona, not too far from our destination. I scanned the article but assumed it was nothing to worry about. Summertime in Arizona means forest fires. It is commonplace. We all piled back in the car and drove on.
We continued on, finally reaching the town and the cabins. Several dozen other families were in the process of checking in or moving into their cabins. The clerks assured us we were safe and the fire was quite a distance away. Of course, the fenced-in remains of the lodge were sitting there as a stark reminder of the power of fire.
After a tremendous dinner at a local restaurant, some fun times around one of the trout ponds, and a few hours of card games, we turned in for the night. We weren't really worried about the fire; the smoke seemed to be dissipating. Plans were set for the next day.
At 12:20 in the morning there was loud pounding on the cabin's front door. I was instantly awake and opening the door to a fireman. He calmly informed me the fire was now only 8 miles away, out of control, and heading straight for us. We didn't have to evacuate yet, but we should start packing and be ready to go if he returned.
After about 20 seconds of deliberation, we decided not to wait for the second notice. In less than 30 minutes we had everything and everybody back in the cars and on our way. I left the key in the door, the door propped open, and the porch light on so the police would know we had evacuated. Driving all night, we arrived home just before 6 AM, about 22 hours after we had left. Eventually we learned that all guests were evacuated safely and the resort shut down that same morning.
Greer is literally at the end of the road. There is one way in and one way out through a forest, a forest that was on fire. Being trapped in a town in the middle of an out-of-control forest fire was not an option.
Later that day, the family decided to finish the vacation. A tent was set up inside my daughter & son-in-law's home for the kids to sleep in. We pretended to fish from the second floor balcony. The dinner and breakfast menu was kept intact and we dined on paper plates. We even fixed s'mores over the stove instead of a campfire. The grandkids had a fabulous time in both locations. The vacation was a success.
What could have been a disaster, or at the very least, a huge disappointment became a happy, memorable three days. The strength of family and the resilience of young children made it happen.
I just hope to never repeat the experience.
Weekend Update: as of Saturday afternoon, the main section of Greer has been spared. Unfortunately, two dozen homes on the outskirts of town were destroyed, along with several outbuildings and storage sheds. The fire fighters have done a heroic job of keeping the fires from racing down the center of Greer.