Exploration & Relaxation On The Mogollon Rim

What happens when you combine a beautiful lake, the fresh smell of pine, an amazingly renovated cabin and sketchy cell service? Answer: A fantastic getaway full of exploration and relaxation.

Last week, the temperatures in Scottsdale reached 119 degrees so we traded our desert oasis for a cabin rental in the cool pines of Forest Lakes. A friendly little community in Northern Arizona, Forest Lakes sits atop the beautiful Mogollon Rim in the Tonto National Forest. It’s just a few minutes drive to Willow Springs Lake and Woods Canyon Lake and has a small local stocked fishing pond. The terrain on the rim is entirely different from that found in the desert areas of Arizona.  It is covered with lanky Ponderosa Pine and is about 25 degrees cooler than the valley, day and night. The area is full of wildlife like squirrel, bunnies, snake, deer, elk and even wild horses. You can fish for trout and small/large mouth bass, hike and enjoy all types of water sports on the many lakes. It’s so completely different from Scottsdale,  it’s hard to believe the two places are a mere 90 minutes drive apart. This is where we found Sweet October. . . and surprisingly, a lesson on hitting the reset button.

Google Map Showing Location of Forest Lakes, AZ
Click on the map to go to the fully interactive map at Google Maps

We searched for our cabin rental on the VRBO site. We have used VRBO many times, both for vacation rentals in the States and internationally, and always had good luck. When I first saw the pictures of Robyn and Keith Brous’s cabin, Sweet October, I knew it was the perfect rental for our getaway. The story of how Sweet October came to be was so cool, it needed it’s very own blog post. Check it out on the ‘HOME‘ page.

With our cabin secured, we headed out of Scottsdale about midday. My husband’s job has been a little stressful with long hours and we were both ready for a reprieve from the heat. We packed up enough food and drink to survive the month (it was a 4 day trip), several books to read (again, 4 days), our water gear (for kayaking) and 3 bottles of sunblock (yep, 4 days). We also packed our various electronic gadgets that had somehow become a necessary part of our lives. Gassed up and ready to go, we headed down the Beeline Highway listening to the top 100 summer hits of the 1970’s on the radio. Soon the saguaro cacti gave way to scrub brush and, as we climbed in elevation, Pinyon Pine. Once on the rim, the scenery was full of big sweeping views, blue sky and what I call, Arizona clouds – big, puffy and animated. We lost cell phone service somewhere along the way but that was OK, the cabin had wi-fi. We could check on things when we arrived.

Pulling up to the cabin I new we had made a good choice. Sweet October was roomy, beautifully remodeled and had great outdoor amenities. We trucked everything in and began to set up house. I wanted to connect with Michelle who we were renting our kayaks and paddle board from but I couldn’t get cell reception. . . I’d check it again a little later. We hiked up to the fishing pond where we saw a herd (is it called a herd?) of horses with two colts. We came back and enjoyed a beer while watching the chipmunks. I glanced at my phone – still no bars. We played a game of pool, cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up dinner – still no bars. I began to wonder around the cabin with my phone held up in the hallelujah position… one bar! Oh this must be the spot. Two bars, YES – I rapidly typed out a text to Rim Country Recreation. One bar – NO wait… and right before I hit send… no bars. Ughhh. I did this dance half a dozen times throughout the evening until I managed to get and receive enough texts to confirm our plans for the kayak rental. Laying in bed that first night, I had a nervous feeling, almost panicky, like I was missing out on some dire piece of information or crucial contact. I fell asleep assuring myself that we would go to the corner store in the morning and send a message to Robyn – maybe there was a wi-fi password???

Day two at Sweet October was beautiful. The kayaks and paddle board came right on time and we loaded them up on top of the car, eager to start our lake exploration. Once on the main highway I was able to get a message to Robyn about the wi-fi. I’d check for her response on our way back. The lake was beautiful. It was a Thursday so it wasn’t too crowded and we were able to unload and get on the water in 15 minutes. We had never been to Willow Springs Lake before and never paddle boarded before so the first hour was kind of a practice run. It felt so good to be outside and not melting. The breeze felt great. The water felt great. Life was good…and I actually forgot that as I paddled blissfully through the cool lake water, NOBODY could get in touch with me.

Kayaking Willow Springs Lake, AZ

Each morning we took advantage of the great weather and drove the 10 minutes to the lake with kayaks and paddle board strapped atop the car. Sometimes the water was like glass, hardly a ripple to rock the board. Other times, the wind created quite a challenge and we had to use extra effort to complete our lake exploration. For me, kayaking doesn’t give my heart a workout as much as it gives my muscles a work out. It creates that good kind of tired; like when you were a kid and played really hard outside and then came in for lunch – starving! We paddled down all the different ‘fingers’ of the lake, keeping our eyes peeled for any wildlife on the shores. We were limited to sightings of shimmery teal dragonflies and a few fur babies of the canine variety but we did find a massive eagle’s nest perched atop a bare pine tree. We could hear the eagle’s call every once in a while but never got to see it.

Sweet October's Rec Building

By 1:00 each day we were dirty, hungry and tired so we headed back to Sweet October, ate lunch and enjoyed a good nap before the daily pool tournament began. We pulled open the big barn doors of the rec building and in between the gray squirrels’ periodic requests for more peanuts, a neighbor would walk or drive by (or ride their horse) and wave. It was as if the Beeline Highway had led us back in time; before electric garage doors allowed you to elude meeting your neighbors and Netflix Originals left you with bags under your eyes, discussing the plight of Saul or the contriving Underwoods. A time before cell phones and the obligated feeling of being available 24/7.  I realized on day 4 that I never checked for Robyn’s response about the wi-fi password. It no longer mattered because we were enjoying a freedom we hadn’t felt in a long time. The freedom to just BE with nature, BE with my husband, BE with my losing Skip-Bo hand, my meal and glass of wine. JUST BE and enjoy one thing at a time… and it was wonderful!

After four days, 10 miles of paddling, a dozen games of very amateur pool and 5 minutes of actual cell phone use, we headed back to the Valley of the Sun. The lack of internet originally seemed like such an issue but rapidly became one of the best things about the getaway. Don’t get me wrong, upon returning home our phones were not donated nor was our cable TV disconnected BUT, when I remember Forest Lakes and Sweet October, I will remember that feeling of freedom. I will remember that the world, or at least My World, did just fine without me for a few days. Then, I will dare to unplug, even if just for a few hours, and hit my reset button – Ahhhhhhh.

Special thanks to Robyn and Keith Brous for creating such a wonderful getaway and sharing it with renters like us. Click on any of the cabin pictures to find a link to their rental listing on VRBO. 


  1. Karen R. | 29th Jun 17

    Just reading about your getaway made me feel a sense of “Ahhhhh”

  2. Vikki | 29th Jun 17

    How life should be. I hope you remember to “disconnect” more often…and let the world get on without you.

    • JoElle | 30th Jun 17

      I agree. It was an important reminder to unplug and enjoy. Thanks for reading.

  3. Lenneke | 29th Jun 17

    Sounds wonderful…..

    • JoElle | 30th Jun 17

      It was – a much needed reminder to relax and unplug. Thanks for your comment.

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