TJ: For our latest trip we went to Arizona in a converted campervan rental –
Dara: And came back engaged!!!
TJ: It’s true – we are now fiancés!
Dara: It all started back on our anniversary trip to Oregon, where we saw the Total Solar Eclipse.
My gift to Dara that weekend was a trip I’d booked with Escape Campervans, a very cool company that converts large vans into livable RV’s complete with a stove, refrigerators, a 5 gallon tank of water, a picnic table that converts into a bed in the back, and more.
I had been obsessed for a while with posts about vanlife/vandwelling – and had shown TJ photos of people who converted their vans. It was an amazing gift!
I had originally set the trip for Thanksgiving break, which felt perfect because it was such a long vacation. When my family wanted to do a special trip for Thanksgiving, we decided to push the trip back to the weekend after Valentine’s Day, and take a few work days off. So on Valentine’s Day, at 1pm, I went off to pickup the Campervan (the LA location is near LAX in Inglewood) while Dara was tying up loose ends at work. We had booked the cheapest model, the Ventura, but got upgraded to the larger Mavericks model since it was the off season. I texted Dara photos and we chose a van – there were a lot of different, crazy paint jobs to choose from! Every van is hand painted by a local LA artist.
Then after we chose a van, I met TJ back at the apartment, and we packed the van with all of our stuff, plus all of the food for the weekend. After that we zoomed off! We had a lot of ground to cover that first night.
We decided to go to Arizona because Dara had never seen the Grand Canyon, and we had already seen most of Southern California together. It felt like the perfect adventure for the 5 days we had. We also decided that we’d be boondocking every night – meaning that we’d simply be parking the car in the wilderness to sleep, instead of finding RV parks. It’s illegal in a lot of places , but not in National Forests (more info here), and luckily for us, there are a lot of National Forests in Arizona.
The first night we drove 8 hours to the Bureau of Land Management land just west of Sedona, AZ. On the way, we had a very romantic McDonalds dinner in San Bernadino, our first meal at the table in the back of the van. We got there very late – something like 2am due to the one hour time difference, parked and slept.
I gotta say the first night of boondocking was a bit nerve-wracking. Yes, we locked our doors, but it’s still scary being out in the middle of nowhere.
It is, however, spectacular to wake up in alone in the middle of the desert. We made water for oatmeal and tea for breakfast, hung out and enjoyed the views, then drove off to Sedona.
Sedona is a stunning small city, surrounded by spectacular red cliffs and rocks on all sides. It’s a sort of hippy, spiritual place, filled with crystal shops, and rumored to have 4 “vortexes” of positive energy. We spent the morning perusing the downtown shops, learning about the “healing” effects of various crystals, trying different teas, looking at souvenirs.
There was this very cool candle shop we found too whose candles when lit were similar to jack-o-lanterns!
Then there was a nice walk near downtown with informational plaques on the various movies shot in Sedona – which used to be one of the top destinations for shooting Westerns.
After grabbing a snack in the van, we drove over to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was absolutely stunning. Incredible architecture, and incredible views.
It’s definitely busy, as one of the main tourist attractions in the area, but worth a visit. The parking lot can be a struggle! But once you’re there, it’s a beautiful place to see.
I loved the way the windows looked out across the sky, silhouetting the chapel’s large namesake cross.
After that it was about 3pm, so we made our way to Red Rocks State Park nearby. I was planning a special dinner for Dara.
He was not so subtle about it being special.
So maybe she knew something was up.
He made us wear matching outfits and timed the dinner so it would be at sunset!
I had wanted to park us near Lover’s Knoll in the park to cook, but that area was crowded, so we instead found an empty lot in the park nearby, a beautiful secluded area in the red rocks, and set up camp.
Meanwhile I started doing my nails, having absolutely no idea what was about to happen. *wink wink*
I started setting up the table. We had rented a picnic table from Escape Campervans, and I had bought a white table cloth, and had printed a few menus. At the last minute I took one of the cups and made a small bouquet with some red stones, and flowers nearby.
TJ had planned 3 courses for me – and once I saw the menus I instantly started crying because they were so incredibly thoughtful. Every item was a callback to a previous trip we had taken. From the cocktails we drank on our first date to a main course of maple-glazed pork using the amazing syrup we got in Canada, it was extremely touching. Not to mention absolutely delicious somehow despite being made in the back of a van.
She helped me make the first two courses, so she wasn’t just sitting there, and we ate the courses together. After the main course, the sun had started setting so I set up my DSLR on a tripod to take a photo of us.
I told Dara to pose for the camera near the table, before setting a timer for 25 seconds (and 4-second intervals after that). Then I walked up to her, said a few prepared lines, and got on one knee, taking out the ring I had.
It was a perfect moment. And of course I said yes!
She said yes! It was a fantastic sunset, maybe our best yet.
I’m so glad we have the photos because it makes me so happy to look back on! And the ring that I get to wear on my finger every day is stunning! It’s exactly the kind of micropavé band I wanted with TJ’s grandmother’s beautiful diamond at the center.
Post-dinner, we ate desert in the van after cleaning up. It was Yogurtland – a throwback to our first trip together ever where we stumbled across a Yogurtland opening in San Luis Obispo. I had secretly kept it on dry ice in the freezer in the van up until that point, and Dara really loves frozen yogurt (we eat it every Wednesday) so she was very, very excited.
So excited!!! Going to need to start making plans to have froyo at the wedding… 🙂
Ha! After dessert we decided to drive off to Flagstaff and see BLACK PANTHER together since it was so early in the day. Dara had been dying to see it – plus it felt perfect. A day that mixed our two common passions – adventure and movies.
The movie was fantastic, and it really was such a fitting event for the day of our engagement.
After the movie, we drove onwards to Kaibab National Forest, right underneath the Grand Canyon, where we popped some champagne and then slept for the night, getting ready for another day of adventure.
More on that later, in Pt 2!