Fave Caves and Fun Guns

Start with a morning of massive live caverns beneath the earth with stalagmites, stalactites, helicites, totem poles, bacon-looking rock waves, shields, and the world’s longest soda straw and finish the day with famous tombstones above the earth, and a shoot-out to boot (hill)!  Sign me up! Weave in three spectacular Saturday menus, a flag retirement ceremony, and the 6 scouts and 2 adults had plenty of opportunities to make this trip exceptional.  As this month’s edition of our scout expedition got underway, it was with high hopes of an uneventful trip to be followed by an equally eventful fantastical outing.  Inauspicious as we again began with yet another freeway blockage getting us to our campsite late, multiple scouts ultimately rated this trip their favorite with our troop ever – high praise indeed for a crisp weekend under and around southern Arizona.  The food was spectacular, in that even without the Nachtrab’s steadying influence in Dutch oven cooking, the boys tried two Dutch meals and hit both out of the park. Kartchner State Park camping was excellent, although we quickly became wryly known throughout as ‘Tent City.’  Because we came in late, we weren’t sure of official policy on our setting up tents on the fragile desert grass, so we parked on the pavement in one site which also held our kitchen, and setup six tents on the driveway next to our campfire on the second site.  One young scout was not too satisfied with his first night on the pavement, but was creative the second night.  He was extremely comfortable covered by his sleeping bag in his camp chair roasting marshmallows at the campfire, so he simply moved indoors, and slept soundly upright in his chair all night in the tent.

Every other site was filled with an RV the size of a greyhound bus, or a fifth wheel competing be larger than their neighbor.  The amenities fit the targeted clientele, so water and power in every site, and a spotless heated shower / restroom were niceties us normally at-large forest campers appreciated.  The caverns were totally out of this world and a humorous rendition of the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone were great high points to an awesome weekend.  Scientific questioning of our scouts by our spunky Kartchner tour guide in the morning as to their favorite carbonic acid led to rampant desires all afternoon in Tombstone for the boys to find their favorites – Dr Pepper and Sprite.  One downside was not being able to take cellphones / pictures at the Caverns, so we have less documentation of our memories this trip.  Fun with s’mores, blowtorches, gun and knife purchases, riding shotgun, breathing smoke into the crisp air in the mornings, and sparkling camping restrooms were additional day brighteners.  Memories of carbonic acid, bat guano, Kubla Khan columns, blazing gunfights, the Bird Cage Theater and the OK Corral danced in our heads all the way back to Phoenix. Let’s see if we can top this in Sedona next month!

Mountain men making a mountain man breakfast
Rough riders in the ‘Town Too Tough to Die’
Choice seats and high anticipation for the main event
The Earps and Doc … where are the Clantons/McLaurys?
The Clantons/McLaurys are in hiding from these motley desperados
Surveying Tent City
Another T648 trip with very few thorns, and bushels of roses

648 Staffing Outing at R-Boo-C

Enroute with a quick stop at Wendy’s for fortification, the spooky 13 T648 staff members arrived at R-Boo-C right as promised just as they closed registration and the camp gate at 8pm. Setting up tents in the dark grassy field down the hill next to the pond, troop members were mostly successful in avoiding fresh cow deposits, although there were a few complaints of sleeping on rocks during our subsequent closing ‘Thorns & Roses.’  The next day dawned early, and T648 ate quickly so that we could work the kitchen for the 400+ cub scouts, families and staff. Our scouts loved working in the dish room with the auto refill three basin wash, rinse, sanitize, the hanging sprayer, and the super spin pan dishwasher. They want to outfit our trailer with the equivalent as part of Mr. Murphy’s trailer remodel. Their dads ponder why they don’t have the same motivation at home?

This Pre-Halloween event at R-Bar-C cub scout camp was a total volunteer event, brainchild and organized by a scoutmaster of a large troop in west Phoenix.  Activities run throughout the day by our scouts and others were envisioned by a mad scientist high school science teacher who wore a wig and looked like Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future.  Periodically he would stage exhibitions in the middle of camp of ‘elephant toothpaste’ streams high into the sky or sodium-in-water explosions.  Our scouts ran many of the stations throughout the day, including Dry Ice Bubbling Acid, Screaming Balloons, Crystal Ball Bubbles, Doctor Slime, and Giant Smoke Cannons. Add Archery, BB Guns and a dozen candy games, and our troop ran out of gas before the cub scouts did. Serving food, cleaning dishes and bathrooms, cleaning up decorations and trash – this weekend often felt more like work than an outing in the Tonto Forest. But seeing the joy on the faces of little scouts in costume from packs that had even more struggles during the pandemic than troops did, made us vow to coordinate a return trip next fall to help put this blast of a spectacle on once again!

Notable moments included:  We were so busy all day running games for the cub scouts and working the dining room that one of our sleepy scouts fell asleep during Saturday campfire, and almost couldn’t be awakened to return to camp for a double round of birthday cookies for a second scout celebrating his 14th birthday. A third scout’s first outing as a cub scout had been to R-Bar-C, and now years later he did the perfect bookend by finishing up his boy scouting journey as an Eagle two weeks before his 18th birthday at the place it all began. He was often heard to be saying the long-time camp motto – ‘Drink and pee, Drink and pee, that’s what we do at R-Bar-C!’  During a surprise rain shower in the late afternoon, there was a beautiful double rainbow in the sunny sky to the east.  But true to the Halloween theme, looking straight down the lawn from high on the deck there was rain in the camp pouring down into the trees to your right, and no rain in the camp in the trees to your left – spooky!

As we finished up with some fun with crawdads from Christopher Creek, we also rued neglecting to bring the troop first aid kit, and the requisite bone saw which would have been useful in addressing multiple scrapes and bruises.  There was joy that being on staff meant we could have Saturday leftovers for breakfast (‘You want some Ruffles?’ ‘Nah, I’ve got Fun’yuns!’)  There was awe and amazement as Scoutmaster Blair’s tent resembled a clown car as creature comforts continued to emerge until they dwarfed his bubble tent when piled beside it.  As usual, we left the camp cleaner than we had found it, although all were aligned that cow patties were not within leave no trace scope.  As we all loaded up after tearing down what remained of R-Boo-C, transforming the camp back to R-Bar-C, we all agreed that we would ‘check out, but never leave.’ See you again at R-Boo-C 2023!!

R-Boo-C parking lot planning 101
Pickles and Sasquatches Ready to Go!
Getting Assignments from Doc Brown
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Father!
3-Bin Auto Wash, R-Bar-C Style
Why we were here – Hundreds of Cubs in Halloween costumes
Bubble Wand Station and More!
Ahhh – Crawdad Snack Time!
Storing R-Boo-C in the Catacombs Underground for Another Year
We Did Check Out – But We’ll Be Back!

Zion National ‘Pivot’ Outing

A dozen and a half of T648’s finest headed out early with high hopes of beating holiday traffic, and getting to our North Rim campsite before 10PM.  Those hopes were soon dashed. A trailer tire blow and shred sent tire and fender shrapnel flying all over the 51, leaving black smudges all over the trailer wall and a nasty mark on the troop escort vehicle (sorry Dr. Blair!).  Time to pivot!  Driving on the rim to the edge of the freeway, our dynamos changed the tire in 20 mins – not NASCAR, but dang good, considering all the obstacles of getting to tools with gear everywhere.  With the spare now on, and a gas station right there on Bell to air it up, what do we discover, but dry rot.  Not to worry, we pivot again, and Discount Tire is but a mile down the road.  An employee came out with his best scout sign while citing the scout law, and hooked us up with 3 new tires (take that, dry rot!). Since us 9 guys (and a gal) with those two vehicles filled up at 5 Guys in the meantime, Mr. Benyi calculated that the entire adventure had only cost us 45 minutes up to that point.  However, the semi with its wheels in the air at Sunset Point conspired to slow us back down again, and despite side tours through downtown New River and Black Canyon City, the majority of us didn’t get to our destination of Jacob Lake until after midnight.

With enthusiasm undeterred, our 12 T648 scouts had an uproarious time in the circus tent, and still managed to roll out of bed and begin the breakfast burrito brigade at 6AM. Then it was on to Zion, of the magnificent red rocks and limestone cathedral rock formations. But first, a side trip to another natural wonder, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Vast expanses of fine powdery sand swirled up into mountains beckoning to be conquered. And the methods of scout conquest were equally vast – boogie board, luge (single, two man and even four-man utilizing a Costco box), surfing, sand boarding, full body rolling, striding, high stepping, running, and then sprinting, trudging, and even crawling back up the mountain to try it again. When the temps hit 105, it was time to head to Zion of the magnificent red rocks, and white limestone cathedral-like rock formations. On the way, we encountered the narrow, windy 1.1 mile tunnel carved through a mountain in 1930. After ranger machinations with a tape measure, it was determined that the tunnel needed to be closed down to one way traffic for our little troop trailer to safely make it through. A late lunch, playing in the Virgin River, football, cards, advancement, and a late dinner of four types of Dutch oven chili brought a wonderful hot day of pivots to a close in the troop Big Top tent for much needed slumber.

A windy Sunday morning started even earlier, with the scouts beginning with a terrific Dutch oven mountain man breakfast started shortly after 5AM Phoenix time. To make the most of our day, lunches were squirreled away in day packs. Then it was on with the water shoes, and off to the shuttle to the world famous ‘Narrows.’  Under the shadow of the spectacular Angels Landing, the scouts plunged into the Virgin River, and splashed our way upstream, over rocks, through white water, beneath towering canyon walls.  We water-walked 7 ½ miles round trip, making it all the way to the split, where permits would be needed to continue further upriver. After lunch, we headed back down river.  The sun was blazing, the river was cold, so being half in and half out of the water, in the words of Goldilocks, we were all ‘just right.’  Back in camp, we had a personal ranger lecture in our campsite on the benefits of conservation in the desert, followed by a football game on the road.  As the sun set on Watchman Mountain, beef stroganoff and cobbler cheesecake were spectacular ends to an almost perfect day.

Labor Day morning started in the dark, as the scouts determined that this time we would beat most of the traffic back to Phoenix.  Unfortunately, Murphy was back at work with his law, however, and as we waited outside the tunnel for it to open for trailer escorts, we discovered a 5 inch steel spike in a tire on Mr. Nachtrab’s trailer-pulling truck.  With no spare (used the previous week), we pivoted yet again.  Dr. Gimbel magically created three more seatbelts in his vehicle by cramming all his gear in the overfull trailer, we hooked the trailer to Dr. Blair’s car, and in the two remaining vehicles went in search of open tire stores in the desert on Labor Day.  After 2 hours to Page, we determined that Mr. Nachtrab would grab a rental and spend the rest of the day arranging a tow from St. George, finding a tire (which finally ended up being in Flagstaff on Tuesday), and the rest of us would head for home.  Thanks to construction barriers on I-17 and a typical holiday afternoon mess down the hill, we managed to use the remainder of Labor Day getting home.  In the final analysis, the scouts were all in agreement.  A trip that never had us getting where we wanted to be on schedule, that had two tire failures resulting in the purchase of 9 new tires, driving back and forth all over northern Arizona is a spectacular time if it is in the company of each other, with great food, and the 5th rated top adventure location (Zion’s Narrows) in the world as our playground.  In the words of Mr. Nachtrab, who finally made his grand entrance back into town by bursting into our Tuesday night troop and committee meetings finishing up at 8:30PM – “When’s the next outing?  Let’s go!’

‘Thar she blows, Captain!’ – Pivot #1 right out of the gate
Heard around the breakfast table – ‘That’s a heck-ton of eggs!’
Ready to conquer Coral Pink Sand Dunes – temperature of the sand at 10AM – 95 degrees
Heard around the sand dunes – ‘When I hit bottom, I tried to breathe and sand came out my nose!’
Overheard – ‘Look! – when you spit, it turns into a brown ball and rolls down the dune!’
Who needs a disco ball when you have a circus tent?
Finally! Heading into the Narrows.
Our river walking pace setters
A common view of the towering canyon walls, shielding us from the 103+ degree weather
The Narrows end – from here on would require a permit
Starting a new dessert tradition? Delectable sopaipillas if you pleeazzz
The brain trust working on yet another tire-related pivot event. ‘Ready? Let’s go!!’

Rain at Spillway? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!

The weekend on the Rim looked daunting, with forecasts of rain more than 50% every hour all three days, but the scouts had planned accordingly for activities and food. Cactus Road was flooded over the curbs, and 65th Street was a flowing river making it difficult to get to church to load up, but we caught a break in the weather to load the trailer. The rain started again, cutting short any parental hopes of hugs or long goodbyes, and off we headed into the dark clouds covering the Tonto.

Despite a long traffic backup due to a very soggy rodeo in progress on the south side of Payson, we made good time in arriving at our camping spot just as the all-afternoon rain stopped. Assessing the lakes existing in the sites usually best suited for pitched tents, there was some wishing we had brought our canoes and PFDs after all. Mr. Benyi waded to a spot to erect his tent-within-a-tent creation, but the rest of us decided the best bet for the rainy weekend would be to setup on the pavement. After a quiet night with no rain, we were awakened to our Saturday by an enthusiastic but confused crow who thought he was a rooster. Upon further review, it was a whole family of ravens happily making mincemeat of a neighbor’s garbage left out overnight. As we assessed the many vacant spots around us while greeting the glorious cool morning, we agreed that the Kerr, Muller, and appropriately named Flood families who didn’t show up for their reservations were going to miss out on a great adventure. Any day that Mr. Benyi is the last one to awaken is going to be an awesomely productive day!

After meeting the camp hosts’ beagle Bagel, the scouts collaborated on creating the best Dutch oven ‘mountain man’ breakfast ever – crunchy on the edges, done in the middle, and cheesy on top! Yum! After learning sterilized cleanup and Dutch oven seasoning, scouts’ thoughts turned to getting fishing in before the forecasted afternoon deluge. A short walk to the south side of Woods Canyon Lake resulted in awesome shoreline rocks from which to fish.  Casting with spinner bait and garlic-laden hooks, bobbers bobbing led to a couple of nibbles, and a bunch of caught rocks, resulting in no fresh trout for supper. Our camp host, Nick, had told us the storm would be pounding us by noon, but there was so much sun, we moved our lunch location to an adjacent vacant site in the shade, and the 6 of us now consumed four sites and about 35 acres of campground space. All those cancellations were missing a spectacular weekend!

The afternoon was spent variously in hammocks, walking the trail around the lake, 3-man football, and advancement. The scouts of course advanced by working on scout skills. The adults, however, were now the proud owners of the valuable knowledge of how much a super dark monkey in the game Bloons Tower Defense 6 is worth.  This advancement by the adults was certainly every bit as key to functioning in today’s life as cooking, first aid or knot tying! A dinner of stew and cobbler under blue skies was a beautiful capper to a gorgeous day. Never trust a weatherman (thank goodness!). The rain didn’t resume until 2AM Saturday night, and when we were awakened on Sunday by a band of happy coyotes and a brilliant orange sunrise, we had wet tents, but held grateful memories of the rainy weekend that wasn’t.

The few, the brave, the ‘We ain’t afraid of no storms!’
Mr. Benyi’s 7 layer burrito tent, designed to counter the forecasted soupy weekend
T648 mountain men creating breakfast of Mountain Man scramble
Magazine covers collide – Gentlemen’s Quarterly meets Fisherman Today
Whatdya know! Not a drop of rain all day.
Hey! He keeps hitting me with a football!

Camp A (for Awesome!)

It was challenging for the 9 scouts and three adult leaders to get to their midway stop at Kirtland Air Force Base on the way to summer camp at Camp Alexander under Pike’s Peak. A gas stop traffic jam in Gallup, and I40 single lane backup due to culvert rebuilds didn’t help, but we managed to make the appointed time window to eat at the officers’ mess, and to locate our overnight accommodations – the Kirkland Scout Hut.  It is wisely located remotely from most of civilization on the massive air base to save the service men and women from the constant roar of scouts, which of course can generally drown out the sounds like those of the nearby airport. The hut contained unusual donated accommodations including very short church pews, a bit too tight for growing scouts to sleep on (the alternative was a red brick floor or a carpet from the early 80’s). Their indoor spiders were the friendly type, unlike the neighboring black widows on the porch outside with the adults.

Next day, arriving at Camp A, we met our staff troop guide – Hi Kyle!!! In our “Miles to go before I sleep” strategically placed Crow Camp site, we had as a camp-mate a short-eared resident bunny, a chipmunk and two deer, who were only slightly shyer than the other two.  It was absolutely gorgeous in camp, and with the animals, felt like we’d stepped into a Disney flick – we kept looking for Flower and Thumper to join Bambi and her friends. Temps overnight were perfect in the high 50s, but a Texas dad/leader in the shower that morning was complaining of getting no sleep due to the cold – not us Arizona campers! We were prepared!  Camp food was the best we’d ever had, and staff was very accommodating even at 80% with a full camp.  Adult leaders appreciated the daily 6AM coffee thermos delivery from the camp program director, but immediately thereafter out came a certain leader’s own stash of ‘Death Wish’ coffee as a chaser – world’s strongest coffee w/ 8X the caffeine.

First day of classes brought torrential rain at dinner, at 8PM, and after midnight. Our tents held up beautifully, and everything was dry. Largely the boys were too, taking rain gear everywhere after Monday afternoon. Tuesday was the day when lectures were largely behind them, and activities were underway. Lives were being saved, pots formed, bullseyes and traps hit, and orienteering, hiking, and casting performed. Qualifying scores in archery and shotgun were accomplished by first timers. Day 2 also brought another torrential downpour, ruining the scheduled outdoor carnival for the boys, but the adults bravely completed their steak dinners at the scheduled leader meeting indoors. Later at camp, hail followed by torrential rain, followed by more hail.  Troop Guide Kyle came running in his trademark hoodie and bandana through the storm to see if all the boys had gotten dinner in the midst of the hailed-out carnival, or if we had encountered tent leaks. None so far!

Midweek, another day of rainstorms, including flooded roads taking an adult leader to the Colorado Springs airport. While there is now some longing for home by the scouts, mitigating factors include showers, awesome food, great camaraderie, and new friends in staff and merit badge classes – everyone is having an absolute ball.  The boys did a great job serving and bussing Wednesday night dinner, and then, Thursday morning T648’s scouts demonstrated with absolute conviction how a flag ceremony should be performed. Practice definitely makes perfect, and they practiced on the parade grounds the day before, and got up the day of at 5:45 to practice some more. Two leaders took videos from different vantage points, and have shared them on the website under the Camp A photos.

During free time, one of our archery qualifiers took a shot at a fake bear 50 yards downrange and stuck it dead center broadside – in a bit of foreshadowing, we could have used him in camp at 4AM the next morning.  We had put care packages received from home in Igloo coolers with the lids on tight, since we couldn’t have cars or the trailer in camp.  Two of our scouts left for a sunrise hike to the top at Blue Mountain at 2:45AM, so when an adult leader heard rustling out by the picnic table, he thought it was the mountain climbers and rolled over. A bit later, hearing it again, he slipped on his hiking boots, and emerged into the moonlight to see a massive mound of furry black non-human in the dark at our picnic table, coolers on their sides with the lids pulled off, and a blanket of shiny wrappings and treats everywhere underfoot.  Trying not to wake everyone, he waved his arms wildly and stomped down the hill toward the table, as two wide eyes in the midst of all that black surrounded by cellophane gleamed back at him.  There was that crucial moment where the bear weighed options, and he wondered if he should stop his forward motion toward the bear, and then our uninvited guest turned, and lumbered down the hill.  In the ensuing assessment of the damage, he was likely full anyway, as there was very little left unconsumed of the Red-vines, fire hot Cheetos, Nerds, Cheez-its, Doritos, Pringles, Oreos and everything else that is high on the major food groups for teen boys and bears. Overheard in camp – Hah! My chicken in a biskit is bear-proof – he didn’t eat it! – Oh yeah, that’s how you know chicken in a biskit is toxic!

That same night, after a day of lightning and hail, a scout had wilderness survival, and somehow managed to sleep 5 hours in a shelter he built himself. In the camp Iron man competition the next day, our scouts ‘podiumed’ by coming in third in the 10 event relay, with a number of amazing individual performances.  The anchor leg scout, who had also performed the starting leg of the race collapsed at the finish line, vomited and began shaking as the camp pumper fire truck sprayed him and everyone on the flag grounds with water in celebration.  After real fire trucks and ambulances came and diagnosed him for altitude over-exertion and dehydration, an adult leader took him into town to the ER to be absolutely sure.  After a couple IVs, he was back to being himself, and on the return to camp, his actual, certified reaction was – “What a great day!”

It truly was universally unanimously declared a most awesome overall summer camp by our T648 participants.  The return to Phoenix was similar to the week before, but in reverse – long miles, Kirtland, officers’ mess, card games, church pews – but this time the black widow hung out by the boys on the porch, now with a dead lizard in her web, and this time every place we pit-stopped on Sunday had restrooms out of order.  That led to multiple scrambles, each successfully executed, but as we hit town, the scouts were happy to be back home, and looking forward to their own beds, bathrooms, and kitchens.

Trying not to make a mess of the Officers’ Mess
On my honor I will do my best to bluff my neighbor!
Remember everybody, drink plenty of sunscreen, and wear water!
How’d you sleep? Pretty good except for my fingers. Huh, your fingers didn’t sleep??
The hail hurt my knuckles. It actually hurts like ‘hail’
Practice, Practice, Practice – absolutely nails events like flag ceremonies and closing campfire skits.
And there they are – Your T648 75th Anniversary Camp A campers from 2022!

The little ‘Big Lake’ that could..

Blasting out of Heatsville on time, pausing for a roaring car fire on the Beeline, and a dining engagement at Payson Culvers, the scouts arrived at Big Lake after 10PM in the dark.  But with a new day dawning, the scouts arose to awesome beauty at 9000 feet, chilly in the shade, warm in the sun, with our campsite under a canopy of quakies, surrounded by mature pines.  The boys had planned to fish and go swimming, but quickly found this is not a desert lake. Pat, our camp host, told the boys that his campsites opened late in May this year due to multiple feet of snow on the ground and 20 inches of ice on the lake. When he mentioned that a couple capsized their boat, and had hypothermia when rescued, the boys decided that advancement and more fishing would replace swimming on the agenda.  Another adjustment we made this outing was to be very careful about locking up all food, deodorants, toothpaste and any other fragrant items overnight or while we were not in camp.  There had been two confirmed bear sightings in camp in the last few weeks, with only one of them being captured and removed to a more remote area than ours.  Although secluded, we had some friendly neighbors who came over to the boy’s campsite as they had a breakfast of eggs and bacon frying and offered them their leftover worms. Our SPL politely declined before realizing that the worms were to be used for fishes’ breakfast, not boy scouts’.  Now happily accepting the gift, the boys discovered that cutting big squirming worms in half resulted in two smaller squirming worms, and there were more than enough remaining for everybody. After a morning of learning the nuances of bobbers, weights, hooks, casting, fishing line snarls, and the capture of three fingerling rainbow trout that were returned to finish growing, the excitement of fishing began to wane, and it was back up to camp for lunch.  After a rousing compass orienteering, distance and height estimation, and GPS session all over the northeast part of the lake, and some enthusiastic requirements sign offs, it was back down to the lake to try and catch the elusive ‘big one’ of Big Lake before dinner.  After more advancement, and a brief football throwing contest, the evening meals were fantastic, and consumed in short order.  Heard from the scouts’ side of camp: ‘‘That burger is shaking in the grease, is that a good thing?’  ‘Bun me up, Scottie!’  ‘You know that movie ‘Free Willie?’ – let’s ‘Free Wormy!’  After a full day of fishing, hiking the lake, orienteering and other advancement, and filling, delicious food, folks happily crashed in their tents by 8PM ready to get an early start tearing down, and back down the hill. 

Four set sail that day, for a 230 mile tour, a 230 mile tour
Mmmmm – literally dividing up the fresh worms
No fish for dinner, but three tiny rainbow were returned to the deep to grow for next time
With Mr. Benyi’s excellent help, we can now more than orient ourselves out of a wet paper bag
Scout previously planned surf and turf dinner becomes Burger Mania at Big Lake!
Add fresh cherries and chocolate chip cookies to that beautiful NY Strip surf & turf, adults ate like STARRS
Sharpening up the ax during totin’ chip advancement, so if that bear comes back…..

‘Twas very Pleasant, At the Lake, that is…

An eager-beaver gang of 5 boy scouts and a cub scout sallied forth this time, and eating before departure resulted in an arrival before the sun set, allowing us to clearly see the three wild burros giving us the once over as we drove by on the way to our campsites.  Hmmm, foreshadowing of craziness to come?  We quickly established that we actually CAN set up tents while it is still light out, and in this case, it was especially useful in constructing the newfangled double-bunker cot in one of the boy’s 4-man tent.  Once fully assembled, we enjoyed a leisurely evening chatting as the sun set and lights twinkled on the lake.  A key topic was favorite campfire skits of old – two of interest had to do with ‘Great Big Hairy Men’ pounding their chests and saying UHHH, and ‘Short-necked Buzzards’ sitting in a dead tree.  Upon retiring around midnight, the calm of a beautiful night was periodically shattered thereafter by coyotes and burros having multiple differences of opinion – loudly.

The next morning, after assembling and consuming amazing breakfasts, the scouts were at the water’s edge with the canoes shortly after 9AM for safety training. Adventures on the water at times resembled Captains Courageous, and between canoe races, pretend games of ‘canoe chicken’ and other derring-do, the boys wore themselves out to the point it was a relief to halt for lunch.  Except, at that point it was discovered that squirrel thievery of their hamburger buns had occurred, and the adults were dismayed to discover a raven had creatively absconded with the extra bacon left over from breakfast that was to grace our steaks later that evening.   The boys found it was a chore to psych themselves up to go back down to the water after lunch, but enthusiasm again soon reigned.  Between rock skipping (‘I gotta find the pot-of-gold skipping rock’, singing loudly back to the girls who sang sweetly in the water not too far away ‘When you hear this song, your ears will explode!’ and playing fetch ‘Throw a rock, and I’ll swim to it,’ the afternoon flew by.  There were birds everywhere – buzzards circled, waiting for the bacon-eating ravens to keel over, ducks came up into the EZ-Ups we had in the water, a large egret kept checking us out, and there were even seagulls dive-bombing the rock-skippers.  Mr. P observed there were no turkeys on this outing, not a single gobbler – but plenty of cobbler!  After even more remote-control car running, football throwing, rock-skipping, and boomer-shoe, it was finally time to haul the canoes back up the cliff to the parking lot for the day.  After the most amazing dinners ever, we set up a lantern campfire in the stiff breeze, and did an evening around the light (can you say ‘lampfire!?’).  The highlights were the goofy scout skits, the adults doing ‘If I weren’t a Scoutmaster’ song, a scout telling a long, spooky purple hairy gorilla story, and topping it all off with a lovely rendition of Scout Vespers.

Then to bed, to be burroed again all night. This time they didn’t have anything to say to the coyotes, they were too busy rustling our camps.  The pesky critters spent the night trying to open an ice cooler (video evidence in the middle of the night obtained, and not from a doorcam, but an indignant scout’s cellphone!) and later, even a remote controlled startup of the pickup truck was only mildly interesting but no interruption of a burro’s consuming the content of the trash can accidentally left outside of the troop trailer.  Peering out of his tent, an assistant scoutmaster got a closeup of the hind end of a burro, with its entire head and neck buried in the bottom of the can eating remnants of the garlic butter and assorted other delicacies from dinner!

No palms to speak of on the way home, but plenty of saguaros to lead the way, and the troop hit the church early, well before Palm Sunday services started, closing out another successful chapter in the book of T648 history.

It’s a looong way to lakes in a desert
Bon Voyage – We have canoe lift-off!
C’mon adult leaders, the H2O is not THAT cold!
Well, maybe it is a wee bit chilly….
The great T648 2022 boat races
The ingenious double decker cot contraption
A bit too windy, but can you say Lamp-fire?
Yet another rousing rendition of the Invisible Bench skit

An Awesome Troop Family of Campers

As the brilliant orange full moon rose over the surrounding hills, our troop family gathered Friday night in McDowell Mountain Regional Park for our annual Family Camp.  It was not a ‘bad moon on a’ rise’ as Creedence Clearwater used to sing, but a bright beacon beneath which late arrivers could set up in our youth group campsite weekend home.  After tent setup, as the chill overcame the evening, scouts coaxed and then endlessly prodded a small crackling fire for us to converse around until it was time to douse it dead out and head to bed.

After arising to a call of coyotes at 4:45, it was a balmy 50 degrees and beautiful at sunrise. Before breakfast the scouts hit the trail to the top of Eagle Mountain next to our site. After beautiful breakfast pockets built by some of the scouts (they were supposed to be burritos, but filled to overflowing, could only be slightly folded over into pockets), and other delectable creations, the day’s events began.  Advancement ensued as younger scouts practiced flag raising, folding and marching next to the parabolic shaped flag pole provided by our hosts, and other scouts did first aid.  The highlight of the day (at least for some) was a six-mile nature hike beginning along the North Trail.  One of the scouts identified 10 native plants which grow in the surrounding Sonoran Desert, and others alternated between providing a blistering pace or watching for wildlife – ‘watch out for hyenas!’ ‘You mean javelinas??’  An out-of-town cub scout participated fully in the long, brisk hike, and then later took turns leading a rousing football toss game of 500, providing great hope for the next generation of boy scouts in our fair country.

After another run to the top of Eagle Mountain, an incredible taco bar followed for dinner with fabulous desserts (can you say peach cobbler and O’Henry Bars?).  After mounds of dishes, we launched into a dusk filled with slapstick campfire skits – including Invisible Bench, The Smartest Man in the World, I keep my Worms Warm, and the Biggest Loser Game Show.  Then it was more fire – if there only were a fire-poking merit badge, we certainly had some qualifiers, and then lights out on some tired but happy campers.

Awakening at 5:00 to the mournful sound of a hoot owl, the breakfasts produced were the best us elders had seen in years on getaway day – including Dutch oven pizzas, scrambled eggs and sausage, French toast casserole and more delectable smells surrounding our camp tear-down.  A huge ‘Thorns and Roses’ ceremony closed the event – all roses except for one ‘My thorn is the 5,000-mile hike we went on yesterday.’  A brief service led by a scout gave proper thanks for our wonderful weekend.  Many thanks also to all of you who came for the whole event, came for the day, came for dessert and skits, or came 1,000 miles and spent part of their vacation with us – another awesome family event in the annals of Troop 648 history.

Breakfast of Champions – including the pockets division
Embarking on our ‘5,000 mile hike’
First aid practice, fortunately not utilized
A scout mom rides in from her home below the ridge
Old Glory still rises on a bent flagpole
Quarterbacking the boy scouts, cub scout style
The comfort of an ‘invisible bench’ campfire-side
Working on the ‘poke a fire’ merit badge

That There Canyon is Pretty Grand

Knowing this was going to be a frosty trip, the scouts were nonetheless eagerly anticipating getting to camp.  The caravan left the church parking lot ahead of time, flew through a take-out dinner, and managed to only one short pit-stop on their journey. Sights seen along the way included deer, elk, and a forest fire raging in multiple spots right next to I-40, but before we knew it, we were pulling into our forest road target adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A blast of cold air and multiple inches of snow on the ground greeted our hardy T648 campers, who launched tents and hunkered down in record time for a cold winter’s night. But not before witnessing during the process the most amazing set-up in years – “Da da da da da da, circus circus,” Mr. Englehardt and his ‘step right up to the big top’ three ring circus tent!  Any clowns or elephants going to come out of that thing in the AM? 

Next morning the boys were comparing numb and pink toes stories, Mr. Cole’s contacts were frozen into two solid solution ice cubes, and the troop lighters wouldn’t work.  When it was determined that Mr. Nachtrab’s gas flame thrower starter also was frozen, we began thinking we would have to get creative and rub two scouts’ heads together to get fire.  Eventually breakfast was very good – adult mountain man breakfast right out of the Dutch oven and sooo warm in the 9-degree wind chill.  And the scouts decided that burnt eggs left in the pan lent extra flavor to the bacon fry that went into their burritos.

A five-mile hike along the rim at the most amazing canyon in the world was the day’s highlight. A new ‘Trail of Time’ identified all the rock layers laid down over the years and exposed in the canyon through erosion by the Colorado River and other contributors.  10 million years for each 13 paces made you feel like you were really getting somewhere!  This fun was followed by lunch in the parking lot, and a return to the canyon’s edge for fudge and other treasures from the El Tovar gift shop.  Heading back to camp, we discovered the sun and 37 degrees had created a bit of soup in camp, but there was still plenty of white stuff remaining for an enthusiastic snow war.

One of our scouts turned 13 the Saturday of our trip. Canyoneering, fudge, dutch oven pizza, cobbler, S’mores, a Pepsi, a gift from parents, snow ball fights, and hanging with the troop in glorious winter nature were only a few of the highlights that went into his birthday party.  Actual overnight temperatures of 7 degrees on Saturday night were the coldest yours truly had ever spent sleeping in a tent on the ground, but other than a few comments on tingling fingers and frozen toes during ‘Thorn’s and Roses,’ there was not a complaint from a scout to be heard.  General consensus in typical understated scout-speak was ‘Kinda great how big the Grand Canyon is!’

Ya’ll looking forward to family camp in McDowell Mountain Regional Park next month?

Home sweet igloo
Circus Big Tops for the Biggest Outings
Experiment: Do eggs burn at 7F degrees?
“Kinda great how big the Grand Canyon is!”
5 mile hikes can be quite tasking
Snow war before a truce for dinner
mmmm – Dutch oven pizza!
Happy Birthday Grand Canyon style!
How to handle 7 degree mornings scout-style

Meteor Crater (Death Caves Two Guns Ruins Burros) Outing

Last Friday night, two truckloads of 5 guys each heading toward that ‘other’ big hole in the ground up north stopped at 5 Guys in Payson along the way.  After bags of burgers, fries and milkshakes, they emerged as the equivalent of two truckloads of 6 guys each.  Completing a cold first night at Homolovi above Winslow, our exploration of the intersection of outer space, the time of the Anasazi, and the wild, wild west began.  Meteor Crater was an absolute hit, as we explored the massive hole created by the iron-nickel meteor weighing thousands of tons and traveling 26,000 miles per hour impacted what is now northern Arizona with the force equivalent to 150 atomic bombs.  A tour led by a humorous and knowledgeable guide and exploration on our own of the history of both fruitless mining of the hole and subsequent use of the crater for astronaut practice for moon landings was an incredible morning.  But then it just kept getting better.  We headed to Two Guns, a completely deserted ghost town at the mouth of Canyon Diablo, crossing over the old cement bridge from the early years of Route 66, and climbing through remains of the old town’s dilapidated rock buildings.  The scouts had read about some Apache ‘death caves’ further east along the canyon, and after a short search, we also discovered a rickety wooden ladder leading down to a cave opening from which came a blast of cold air reminding one of Lava River Caves farther west.  With periodic openings venting all the way to the surface, and with cellphone flashlights, the boys spent an hour exploring the caves where apocryphal stories describe instances of Native Americans and fugitives from the law hiding out in the 1800s.  Once back on top of the canyon again, it was time to first explore an ancient Mobile gas station ruin, followed by the ruins which bore the name of our state park home for the weekend – the Homolovi, ancestors to the Hopi.  Exhausted, it was back to the tents for an evening of hamburgers, rotisserie chicken stew, and cherry cobbler around a warm fire before bed, only to arise to a herd of wild burros looking for breakfast – burritos, anyone?  On the way out of Winslow, we got a kick out of the creativity that business people in that part of the world employ to stay employed.  As we exited the state park, there was a combination trading post, auto dealer, dollar store all rolled into one, right down the street from the Indian Arts shop where they advertise you can PP by the TP.  Passing by the Eagles’ ‘standing’ corner in Winslow, Arizona, I couldn’t help but think that as usual, this outing was exceptionally conceived, led, and executed by the scouts, and we adults were once again grateful simply to be along for the ride.  Can’t wait to see what comes next month!  

3 Guys digging into 5 Guys
Exploring 20 Megatons of blasted hole
Future astronaut explores moon-like crater on earth
Crawling through the ruins of Two Guns, AZ
Hesitation before exploring the Apache ‘death cave’
Serving window at the Diablo Canyon Anasazi gas station
Did you say burritos or burros for breakfast?
Yes, Eagles, there’s a flat-bed Ford on a corner in Winslow, AZ!