We found the perfect dispersed camping spot. It was a clear area, with an epic view. One of the best spots on the Mogollon Rim. Imagine the sunset and the sunrise! In front of us were layers of mountains and valleys. Behind us was the forest. Complete solitude. We couldn’t believe this was in Arizona, only two hours away from the city.
We parked and started unloading the jeep. We set up the tent first. “Let’s just stake it down later”, we said, “the forecast said it’s going to be a calm night”. “Let’s make dinner first”, we said. It had been a long day, we just finished hiking and swimming at West Clear Creek and we were pretty hungry. Mistake #1, should’ve staked the tent down first. So we threw our backpacks and sleeping stuff in the tent and started prepping dinner.
As we were prepping the stove and turning on the fire, I looked at up the sky. The sun was setting, casting an orange glow, and there were clouds moving in surrounding the mountains around us, covering the sky with dark gray storm clouds. “This doesn’t look so good”, I said. “There are storm clouds”. “Oh, we’ll be fine”, he said. “It would probably only be light rain.”
Alright, so I shrugged it off. Mistake #2, don’t ignore your obviously smart observation because you’re hungry and tired. We started prepping the food, the weather was calm. Rain started to sprinkle, so we put a tarp up over the food prep area. It was still calm. I went to the front seat of the jeep to grab the rest of the cooking utensils.
I heard the sound of wind blowing than felt a force tugging at me. A strong gust of wind had come over the edge. “The tent! Grab the tent!” I turned around and the tent was tumbling towards the rim. I ran over and grabbed the tent, trying to keep it down. He was holding onto the flapping tarp and cooking supplies. The wind dropped for a moment. I dragged the tent away from the rim, still holding it down. Woosh! Another strong gust of wind came over the edge. This time, it picked the tent up from the ground. I was holding onto the tent while it was literally, flapping in the air like a kite. This time, the wind didn’t stop. It kept coming and howling. I managed to get the tent close to the ground and dragged it to the side of the jeep, hoping the jeep would break some of the wind. At least enough for me to disassemble the tent and flatten it. But no, the wind changed direction and I wasn’t protected anymore.
The rain started coming down harder. The sun was setting faster. The temperatures were dropping. “Put the cooking stuff away and come help me!” I yelled. He put the cooking stuff and tarp away in the back of the jeep. I was crouched down, on the side of the jeep, holding onto the flapping tent. He ran over to me. “Let’s get this tent under the trees for protection!”, he said. “No!”, I said, “There could be lightning!”. The nearest grove of trees to us were the tallest trees in the area and you should never take shelter under a tree when there is lightning. After a moment of yelling back and forth, we decided to take the tent deeper into the forest, where at least it wasn’t under the tallest grove of trees so maybe less chance of lightning striking our spot? We were low on options, it was either that or keep crouching down holding onto the tent while the rain keeps pouring.
We started making our way under the trees for protection, both of us now holding onto the tent, the tent flapping wildly between us. As we were approaching the trees, lightning striked. Not too far ahead of us. Near the first grove, the one with the tallest trees. I stopped. “Lightning! There’s lightning!” I yelled. (We had to yell to hear each other over the howling winds). “We have to keep going! Stay away from the trees!” He yelled back. It was dark now. The sun had set. We had no flashlights or headlamps with us. We were navigating in complete darkness.
More lightning. More wind. More rain. We got under the shorter grove of trees and set the tent down in the middle where there was a small clearing and as far away from the base of the trees as we could. The force of the wind was broken up by the trees here. We disassembled the tent and flattened it. “Stay here! I’m going to go grab our headlamps and the other tent!” he yelled. I stayed, on top of the tent, taking in the rain, watching for lightning, in pitch darkness. He came running back with a headlamp (my headlamp was missing, it had flown somewhere) and our heavy duty tent (We brought two tents because we had room).
“We need to pitch this tent up for shelter!” he said. We left the flattened tent where it was. It was protected from the wind among the trees and with our stuff in it, it wasn’t going anywhere this time. We stepped out of the trees into the clearing. More wind. More rain. More cold. We found a spot far enough from the rim where there were a small stand of trees between us, the wind, and the edge. We threw the heavy duty tent down, unrolled it, and started setting it up as fast as we could. Once it was up, we attached the tarp and jumped inside. Shelter. Shelter from the wind, the rain, and the dust. We could see the elements raging outside, we could feel the elements raging against our tent, but finally we had shelter and in our shelter, it was calm. We sat for a few moments. Then we had to go back outside to finish up what we had left undone.
We ran to where the other tent was, grabbed our stuff out of it, threw the tent in the jeep, and ran back inside our heavy duty tent. Shelter. Calm. I had water and hiking snacks in my backpack. We sat and ate granola bars and dried fruit. It wasn’t what we had intended for dinner but it was better than nothing. We listened to the storm outside, waiting for it to pass through. We watched a spider crawl on the outside of our tent. And then another spider. And another. In our haste, we had set up our tent on a spider nest. Not really, it was just a grassy area. We were safe from the elements now. All we had to do was wait out the storm, and check out the damage when it was over (we had a couple other stuff laying around outside, our shoes and wet clothes). The storm started to calm and in that moment, waiting out the storm inside of the tent, we appreciated shelter again. Something that’s so easy to take for granted because it’s so easily available to us.
The rain was getting lighter, the winds weaker. We left the tent, walked to the jeep, jumped into the back and started organizing everything we threw in there. We set up the cooking supplies in the back of the jeep, and started making the dinner we intended to make. A delicious serving of freeze dried curry and rice! As we ate we looked at each other and laughed. “That was crazy.” we said. We laughed again, grateful that we were safe and that the storm had passed through. The next morning we woke up to clear, happy skies.