This is Paige all fresh faced and ready to go - isn't she so cute! She is wearing double layers (thanks to a dad that thinks ahead).
We originally had decided to drive out to Springerville, AZ (for those of you that are geographically challenged - that equals a 4 hour drive heading East)... But reconsidered that Payson is a lot closer and the permit office was open on weekends. So we were good. After stopping in Payson we learn that the "Happy Jack" office was shut down in October (despite the misinformation on the good ole Internet) and we had to head about 40 miles outside of Strawberry for the next ranger station.
Jeremy & Jen needed to load up on caffeine to deal with our "sweet" family. We were in Payson or maybe Strawberry at this point.
So we get to the next ranger station only to learn that their operating hours are mon-fri. There was a sign up instructing people that they could get a permit from the next ranger station which happened to be in Heber, AZ (again this equals an hour & a half drive in the opposite direction). If you were in AZ over the weekend you would also know the entire state had a lot of liquid in one form or another. It was snowing pretty good and when it stopped snowing it was hailing or sleeting or raining, or all three (cool side note: we did see the end of a rainbow on the way out there - no gold though, dang it!).... at this point we started weighing our options. I mean how much do they really fine you for poaching a Christmas tree...
So we sent the "men folk" out on a scouting expedition. This is a picture of Jen & James all snugly warm hanging out in the truck while it "sleeted" on Jason & Jeremy.
Paige & Maren getting a little stir crazy - while Jeremy & Jason got lost looking for a tree with little visibility and both were turned around, got lost, and actually ran into the truck by accident (?) or fate?
Jen, James & Paige trying to have a snowball fight in some really slushy snow. Paige actually hit me twice. I was quite impressed.
James trying to keep up with Jeremy the coolest guy on the mountain (could be because of the chainsaw) or that Jeremy is an excellent tracker (of potential trees).
Everyone is soaking wet & freezing at this point - with no "holy grail" tree in sight. Jason & Jeremy started having doubts about poaching as well (good thing too... we later learned the fine is $500 - ouch!) Jen & I were ready to settle for a suitable twig.
James eating dirty snow. He is "soaking dirty" - but reallllly happy!
Making tracks in the snow... we can no longer feel our fingers or toes. I stepped in a huge slushy puddle at this point and my feet were throbbing cold and squished when I walked. We decided to give up at this point - go eat some chili at Chili's in Payson and see what other options were available. (Again Jason is thinking ahead) and brought a change of clothes AND shoes for our kids - so they could be nice and warm the rest of the ride home. I squeezed my-ugly-step-sister-feet into an extra pair of Paige's socks, the numbness subsided. Everyone fell asleep except James & Jeremy and James made Jeremy play his favorite game "I Spy" for 20 miles or so using James rules (which means no real rules that we've been able to figure out).
The end result - We decided Home Depot was our best bet. We got a really pretty tree and spent the rest of the night watching "Elf" while decorating it (only 2 ornaments got broken, yay). Afterwards we read "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry and sang a couple Christmas songs (one about a family sitting around their tree that Heavenly Father helped them to find at Home Depot - lyrics courtesy of Paige). Then we opened the first day on our huge birdhouse-ish advent calendar from Target that can fit big ole chocolate in each lil' room. And said our family prayer. It was the perfect night to a really great adventurous day. Thinking about next year I might just want to write a letter to the forest service suggesting that they sale permits online... now that would have been helpful.
I hope everyone else is enjoying the Most Wonderful time of the year!