“I’ve added a $100 deposit to your bill. It will be returned to you when you check out, provided there isn’t any damage to your room,” says the front desk clerk at the Kohl’s Ranch Lodge in Payson, Arizona.
I reply in a kidding way, “We don’t have any wild parties planned. However, we are celebrating our wedding anniversary. Even so, we’ll probably not damage the room.”
The clerk, a woman in her twenties, smirks as if to say, “We’ll see how well you behave after we check your room upon departure.”
After checking in at the front desk, Jerry and I haul our luggage to room 135. We had thought we would stay in a cabin. Turns out, it’s a cabin-like room inside a log lodge. The room comes with the amenities of most hotel rooms; packets of coffee, tiny shampoo and soaps, and a small bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid in the mini-kitchen. Jerry says, “Don’t touch any of it. The staff might use it against us to keep our deposit.”
We decide to spend the afternoon hiking along the creek in the Tonto National Forest that surrounds the lodge. “I’m not in the mood to hike,” Jerry says. “It’s too hot.”
“We’ll walk along the trail by the creek and not hike,” I tell Jerry. To this suggestion, he agrees.
The mountains in Arizona enjoy a cooler climate than the Phoenix area. When we left our home in the desert, the temperature soared to 111-degrees. The 90-plus temperature we now experience in the mountains is certainly a nice reprieve but still not ideal for hiking.
Before leaving for our “walk” to the creek, Jerry glances out the back window and says, “Wow, did you see the lightening?”
Thunder suddenly detonates so loudly it shakes the log furniture in our room.
More lightening lights up the sky, and rain comes down with a fury. Then, as if to punish us further, it hails. Jerry and I watch marble-sized balls of ice slam into the lawn and leapfrog over one another. Hail pummels the Adirondack chairs on our deck. So much for us lounging outside on the deck, unless we want a painful massage of ice balls.
BUH-BOOM! More thunder, and rain puddles grow into mini-lakes in a matter of minutes.
“I love this rain,” Jerry says. “It’s so much cooler now.”
We relax indoors while viewing the merciless rain saturate the world outside. I laugh and say to Jerry, “We had rain almost every day when we lived in Washington. We weren’t fascinated then. Now we’re sitting here watching it in amazement like it’s a show.”
With our plans derailed, we head for the Zane Grey Steakhouse and Saloon, a restaurant inside the lodge adorned in old rifles from cowboy days and western-themed stained glass windows. The window at our booth depicts cowboys playing (or cheating) in a game of Poker.
Sean, our waiter, wishes us a “happy anniversary” after we tell him we’re celebrating. Sean tells us he moved to Payson four months ago and plans to marry his fiancé on Halloween.
When Sean brings us the bill, he says he’ll see us again at breakfast as he works the morning shift too. I decide to tip extra well so he’s not irritated with us at breakfast and decides to slip hot sauce in our coffee.
After dinner, we decide to go on our walk by the creek since it stopped raining and we still have some daylight. Our shoes squish and gush in red, oozing mud as we head toward the trail leading to the creek. We come to a fenced area where the trail abruptly ends keeping us from going any further.
“I can hear the creek,” Jerry says.
“It appears we’re not going to see it, so we might as well enjoy listening to it,” I say. With the pine-scented forest getting darker as the sun sets, we head back to the lodge.
“Let’s get in the Jacuzzi,” I say. Jerry agrees. We pass by the Jacuzzi all lit up in an inviting neon blue. Wisps of steam rise from the frothing water like smoke signals telling us, “Come in. It’s so nice here.”
“Look!” Jerry says and points to a sign announcing the pool area is closed due to safety concerns.
My imagined vision of strolling in the woods beside a babbling creek while listening to the birds sing vanished when we couldn’t find the trail. Now my hope of relaxing in frothing warm water under the starry night sky has vanished as well.
The quote “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans” comes to mind.
The next day Jerry and I stop at the antique shops in town. One is closed with the sign reading: “Open some Fridays.” We tour a replica of Zane Grey’s cabin (the real one burned to the ground). The tour guide talks about the life of the famed author of Western novels with such suspense and detail, Jerry and I find ourselves sudden Zane Grey fans. Jerry stops at the gift shop and buys one of Grey’s books for five bucks.
Although the tour of Zane Grey’s cabin turned out to be a wonderful surprise, I still felt committed to not returning for any future anniversaries. “Next year Jerry, we’re celebrating our wedding anniversary at The Phoenician in Scottsdale or somewhere in Hawaii,” I say. Of course, these two locations also have rain, so I don’t know what I’m thinking other than more luxury and less cabin.
Jerry says, “I liked coming here. We had a change of scenery. We went from scrubby desert to green trees. We had a change in temperature. We had something new to explore. Plus, I know a lot more history of the area.”
“I guess it wouldn’t be an adventure if everything were predictable,” I say.
When we check out at the Lodge, I ask the young man at the front desk, “Do you want to check our room to make sure it isn’t damaged so we can have our $100 deposit returned?”
He says, “Oh, that $100 deposit is just to make your visit easier in the event you want to charge your meals to your room. I took it off. It’s gone.”
As we roll our luggage out the door, the sun shines a blissful 84-degrees. A family laughs and splashes in the swimming pool’s clear, blue water glinting in the morning light. They’ll probably hike down to the creek later, rest on a rock and listen to the birds sing.
I’m learning, though, that the best moments in life are often the ones unplanned…that is, if we let go of our expectations. And that’s the hard part.
Interesting facts. *Zane Grey’s first name was Pearl (you can understand why he preferred his middle name Zane); Zane Grey was a dentist who became a millionaire writing stories; Tonto means foolish in Spanish and so when Jerry and I visited the Tonto National Forest, we were visiting the Foolish Forest.