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Wait until it’s 50 degrees before swimming!

This weekend saw the return from the pandemic of the T648 canoeing seascouts, as a brave eleven boys twelve months removed from a trip to Canyon Lake headed west to Lake Pleasant for what they hoped would be a pleasant day at the lake.  It was far more than that – it was a five-star secluded camp on four tiers carved into a slope leading down to our own private beach at the westernmost end of the water.  The boys started Saturday morning bright and early hauling canoes down the cliff to the water’s edge, and then spent a wild morning fighting to paddle into the wind, swimming out into the chilly water, and casting for fish which were far too wily to surrender.  When they were too pooped to paddle, they headed up an inlet where a game of water football broke out – the highlight of which were punts where water shoes flew farther than the footballs.  Heading in to eat, some of our intrepid campers discovered that mini-bears had helped themselves to their buns, altering menus which had originally included hamburgers with a lid.  The real crime, however, was the devastating loss of several Oreos.   After lunch, it was back out into the water for more ice swimming, wind paddling, and swamp ball.  Your reporter had a ball listening to the commentary during the afternoon football game.  Included were such gems as “I think my feet are bleeding, but I can’t tell ‘cause they’re numb!’ and ‘Look, I’m a fish with legs!’ and ‘Vultures are circling – take Sam, he’s small!’  At the close of the weekend, the troop had completed more advancement than during any outing in two years thanks to the eight adults that came and spent time with the scouts throughout the weekend.  Additional important lessons were also learned – for example, how many scouts does it take to carry a canoe down a cliff?  But I think the most interesting thing of the whole weekend was that the youngest person on the trip cooked chicken thighs with potatoes rosemary topped off by cherry cobbler, and the oldest person on the trip ‘cooked’ a Mountain House freeze dried Italian pepper beef with an expiration date of 2048.  I think they both went home equally happy, but we all know which one had the happier tummy.  The best news of all – the ‘outing’ is back in scouting, and there will be two more outings within the next month.  If you missed this one, check out Horton Springs or our triumphant return to Canyon Lake coming right up!

The Springs are Still Great, We’re not Bluffing

Ten winter backpackers extraordinaire met in the still dark of the church parking lot Saturday morning for their latest most excellent adventure. One scout was returning to the scene of his very first scout outing a number of years ago, and for another, it WAS is very first outing, choosing to celebrate it with his T648 comrades on his birthday weekend. For one adult, it was probably his sixth time camping at the spring – and the next bad trip to Bluff Springs will be his first. As usual, some of the comments were keepers – heard as we gathered in the trailhead parking lot – ‘Who’s going to carry the map and be our guesstimator?’ Heard along the trail – ‘Why does my back hurt so much?’ ‘I guess that’s why they don’t call it frontpacking!’ As we slowly wound our way up the switchbacks, through balancing rocks and hoo doos galore, there were the obligatory magnificent views of Weavers Needle in the brilliant morning light. Many of the drainage canyons, hillsides and ridgelines were devastated by the convergence of three major fires in the Superstitions in less than four years, so there was some dread that we would find our beautiful Bluff Springs burnt to a crisp. After the first 6-1/2 hour hike to the springs from the Peralta trailhead in troop history, we rounded the corner and there to our unspeakable joy was the largest sugar sumac tree in North America still standing proudly, singed a bit, surrounded by charred remains of desert plants, but very likely to continue to thrive. Troop 648 is ecstatic, and once again set up under her sheltering branches. Except for one adult leader who decided the flat ground amidst the charred remains looked most appealing. He called it the ‘post-apocalyptic section.’
After a marvelous night’s rest, the hikers awoke to a beautiful, moonlit 39 degrees Sunday morning, serenaded by Showtimes regalia coming from Mr. Benyi’s general direction all during tent tear down. Things went well enough that the SPL was not entitled to implement the troop tradition of patrol leaders taking down tents with scouts still in them to get things moving. After a rousing ‘Thorns and Roses,’ we exited Bluff Springs pretty much on schedule, and more than doubled the pace coming out in a classic ‘horse to the barn’ syndrome. All in all, another trip that can’t be beat has been added to the T648 record books.

Masked up and ready to go!
Social distancing in the great outdoors
Reconnoitering under the hoo doos!
The tallest sugar sumac in North America still stands!
The ‘post-apocalyptic section’ shaded by the sumac
A rousing round of cut-throat Uno
Mr. Brotherton receives the ‘first tent down’ award Sunday AM

T648 Pandemic Busters

It had been six long months of wonderful Zoom meetings, but with nary a scout outing until this past weekend.   The moratorium is ended!  The troop improvised a brilliant Covid-buster program comprised of a family scout outing to Willow Springs Lake.  Twenty two hardy individuals, including eleven scouts drove up and cooked as family units, while executing an excellent socially-distanced event high in the pines on the edge of the magnificent Mogollon Rim.  At least one scout was on his first outing, and when asked how his night had been, informed that he ‘slept like heck.’ Further investigation determined that his brother had left his tent ‘accidentally unzipped, and a bunch of bugs including a wolf spider came to visit, leading to a middle of the night tent abandonment to sleep with his brother.  A mom spent her first night ever in a tent, and while hearing every single noise, and sleeping a total of two or three hours, had an absolutely wonderful weekend.  A dad invested in a tent built especially for the bed of his pickup truck, and had a ball building a cozy cave high off the ground.  Which served him well, as a night visitor surprised another of our daring adult leaders, who had decided to sleep out on the ground under the stars.  Hearing sniffing at his feet at four in the morning, he cautiously turned on his headlamp, and in the surrounding blackness saw a bright white stripe floating next to his sleeping bag.  Moving veeerrry slowly he extricated himself safely out of his bag, and into his car, as the curious skunk wandered off to find more interesting smells.  The next night marked the return of Pepe Le Pew, as a trash bag containing food scraps was left carelessly behind a scout’s tent, and was taken to task by the industrious skunk.  The highlight of the day at the lake had to revolve around crawdads. Informed that they were an invasive species, the great hunt to irradicate them from Willow Springs Lake began.  Scores of crayfish were cornered, captured, and engaged in crawdad races, crawdad wrestling matches, crawdad wars, and finally ended up in a massive crawdad mash down beyond the dam.  Back at camp, after some late afternoon advancement, there was a rousing game of hammock football, followed by hide and go seek in the pitch dark, capped off by a loud Uno game and a traditional time of laughter and s’mores around the campfire.  This reporter’s favorite moment was the following exchange between two young men with sticks thrust over the fire:  ‘Where’s the chocolate bar?’ ‘It’s hidden in this ginormous marshmallow’ ‘Wow!. We are just non-stop genius!’  But, as usual, there were a zillion others – from the last boy licking the parchment paper of the dutch oven coffee cake, to the view from my ‘kitchen counter’ set right on the edge of the rim, to the sight of Mr. Benyi’s Prius gliding safely over rocks a third the size of his entire car, to smelling the smells of multiple creative dinners in flight, to again seeing a bunch of boys in the wilderness, sans screens, and having the time of their lives just being creative and enjoying each other.  How soon ‘til we go again next month?

I slept like heck!
I slept like heck!
Crawdad WWE
Off to the Crawdad Mash
Choosing up sides for hammock football
King of all we survey!

Dead Horse Canoe

There were nine in the party heading out this weekend for Dead Horse Ranch to canoe the Verde River – a hardy bunch that handled all challenges coming their way, and had a ball doing it. In other words, a typical T648 adventure! Mere minutes from their destination, a loud clang and subsequent smoke indicated we had a trailer problem. Worse than a mere flat tire, the axel bearings were shot, and the wheel unstable. The boys helped change the tire, and we wobbled the few miles remaining to our campsite. The next morning, a couple of handy adult leaders rounded up the only axel bearing assembly in the county, brought it back to do a field replacement in the campsite, complete with axel grease, and we hit the river with canoes on schedule instead of a lost day of repair shops which had been looming. The rapids were exhilarating, the water invigorating, and together with some football, advancement, excellent cuisine, gorgeous sunrises and sunset, and a warming fire complete with class stories including forensics, culinary, engineering, and robotics that had the adults eager to go back to high school, it was soon time to head back to the valley. But not before hearing around camp:

There’s a 5 sneeze limit. After that you need to ride in the back

This hoody is amazing – I didn’t have to look at you all night

The first time we fell in was fun. After that it was annoying

We should start a new program in T648 for adults called ‘feed the children’

A fine group of lads in search of a dead horse
Young arms make for quick trailer tire changes
The SS Minnow setting out that day on a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour
Looking sharp moments before capsizing in white water
Doing a good turn for 3 neighboring damsels in distress
Since we learned tire changing, let’s also learn engines

Dead Horse Ranch Reminder!

Hi Scouts,

We’re looking forward to a great outing at Dead Horse Ranch this weekend. We will meet at the church at 5 p.m. this Friday and plan to leave by 6 p.m. If everyone is on time, we can leave earlier. We should be back by 12 p.m. on Sunday.

See you Friday,

Wet ‘n Wild at Canyon Lake

Seven T648 scouts with a couple of adults in tow headed out of the valley and into the cloud-filled canyons of the Superstitions for their much balmier than normal December outing. Camping lakeside at Canyon Lake, we soon discovered that we would be the only humans daft enough to be tent camping this wet weekend, giving the feeling of being out in the wild even though we were only down the road from an RV Park and the dock for Dolly Steamboat. I say ‘humans’, because as we arrived, it was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’, we had ducks invading camp, and even waddling into open tents, with the sky and trees filled with grackles. The scouts immediately set upon naming the ducks, leaving the black birds nameless, and thereafter were calling out to Vinnie, Alfred, David and friends and often getting responses back – especially from Vinnie, whose quacking approximated a hysterical laugh. We felt so remote, that one scout began urinating on a tree right next to a building, until being told that the building was actually a full restroom. After lunch was an exceptional hike along the canyon walls with beautiful views of shimmering Boulder Creek and distant views of Weaver’s Needle, and a two-hour football game with an unusual ball – a water bottle. The first few attempts were with an empty Kirkland one, which wasn’t very effective when passed. Using full water bottles worked much better, but after a few times hitting the ground, began leaking. The final solution (a Gatorade bottle), survived the next hour and a half, even when bouncing off of foreheads. While blissfully laying on the grass under a tree watching kayaks and ducks glide past, the following was randomly heard by an adult leader – ‘Can I play UNO if I’m color blind?’ ‘Where are my socks?’ – ‘Have you checked your feet?’, and when called ‘fearless leader’, our outing SPL would launch into Boris Badenov impressions: ‘hmmm, vee muss keel zee moose und zee squirrel.’ Dinner was a smashing success for the hungry hordes, topped off by ginger snap cookies from a boys’ grandmother’s secret recipe, and peppermint bark sent along by another mom angel. From listening to ‘Thorns and Roses’ the next day, the evening to follow was a kind of good news, bad news deal. We had all day with good weather, but it rained at dinner time. However, the good news was we had eaten, cleaned up, and had a fire early, and so went to bed dry at 6:30 when the sky opened up. Bad news – it rained until after midnight, and then started up again before dawn. There were coyote serenades before the morning rains, and duck ones during it. The boys decided that the coyote wails were so unusual, they sounded like they were confused as to whether to laugh or cry – sort of like they had ‘broken their leg, but then had been told a funny joke.’ Good news – the morning rain died down enough for extra-meat burritos to be cooked and consumed by the boys, before bad news – another sprinkle led to an earlier than planned trip home. Strangely, three different coyotes confronted us on the way out – one even in the middle of the one-way bridge, seemingly daring us to stay just one more night.

Who invited the ducks for dinner?
Bird’s eye view of Canyon Lake
Water bottle boys = football players
Double meat burritos before the morning rain
Playing coyote chicken on the one-lane bridge driving out of camp

Boulder Beaching it at Lake Mead

Six scouts and two adult leaders headed for Nevada last Friday night, making it to Kingman for dinner just before they closed Taco Bell and rolled up the sidewalks at 10PM, and then cruised into Boulder Beach, setting up camp right before midnight. The next day was spent playing at the lake and touring the dam creating the lake, and most definitely, a better time could not have been had!

Will fish come if I wait?
Will fish come if I wait patiently?
…or do I have to chase them?
Look Ma, I can fish with no hands!
Is lashing a weather rock a ‘useful camp gadget?’
Hiking from one engineering marvel….
…to another.
This water slide beats ‘Wet and Wild’ all hollow!
And the best part of all? — How far can YOU spit?

This Outing Was Nobody’s Fool

Six fish-seeking scouts, and four adult leaders along for the ride left the church parking lot on schedule at 5:30PM for Fool Hollow Lake outside of Show Low.  There was no time to waste, as the state park gate at the lake closes at 10PM, so since we still had hungry young men to feed in the meantime, Scoutmaster Blair helped speed things up by long-snapping the sleeping bags into the trailer.  But alas, long before our interim arrival in Payson for Culvers’ custard, the SUV pulling the trailer was buffeted by such a banging, whipping and clatter just below the Bush Highway exit, that we had to pull off to see what was the matter.  Upon further inspection, the rear passenger tire had a steel belt tread separate, and remain attached while battering the poor defenseless vehicle.  Long before AAA could possibly respond, our intrepid Scoutmaster left his date night and rode to the rescue with an even bigger and stronger SUV, and we were soon on the road again – only this time able to climb tall mountains with only the change of a single gear.  Arriving at our final destination but 15 minutes late (the gate had subsequently been arranged to be left open), setup was cheerfully accomplished before midnight.

Long-snapper Scoutmaster Dr. Blair hiking sleeping bags
Tent buddy selection

Waking to 36 degrees and crystal blue skies, our scouts scrambled breakfast, and then set out to save the world (or at least Fool Hollow) through the eradication of invasive species.  Moving from thistle (New Mexican) to mistle (toe, that is), our heroic scouts cleared the complete far end of the lake with our shovels and poke-proof (almost!) gloves, and put a dent in the nasty stuff overwhelming a half dozen large juniper trees.  Direction and education all morning from Ranger Fran was amazing, and the boys had a ball killing stuff.

T648 magicians performing the great disappearing thistle act

No kissin’ under this pile of mistletoe

The remainder of the day was spent thoroughly enjoying a relaxing day of fishing down-lake from the dam, eating, and having a most excellent campfire.  Heard around camp were amazing elk and geese calls, scary and silly stories with s’mores, eclectic oldies songs (from the boys!) such as Stayin’ Alive choruses, whistling of the Pink Panther theme, and endless renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of our scouts celebrating his special day on the outing.  His aunt sent along the most incredible cookies (sugar cookie, frosting, tootsie roll, pretzel, gummy bear and marshmallow – I kid you not), and the boys had a sugar high that was actually diluted a bit by their breakfast of Fruit Loops.  Highlights for the adults included spotless individual restrooms with showers, and a plethora of dutch oven cuisine from master soufflé chef Komar   Factor in charcoal broiled Cajun scallops, Trader Joes salmon steaks, and fresh trout from the lake, everybody was making plans for our next great trip to the underwater town of Adair (aka Fool Hollow).

Top notch planning = two rainbow & the BIG one that got away

Those Fool Hollow fishy fish never stood a chance
Can you bake like this outdoors?!

Slip Slidin’ Away

A baker’s dozen scouts with four adults along for the ride spent last weekend with 3000 of our closest friends in the ‘wilds’ of Sedona’s Oak Creek canyon, maneuvering the ‘Arjun course’ which included riding the creek rapids, traversing the venerable slide rock, launching off the jumping rock, and finishing in the wading pools, then trooping back up creek to do it over and over again.  The water was cold, the sun hot, and multiple scouts avowed that this was the best outing they had ever attended.  Hard to believe it almost wasn’t to be!  When we arrived at the park entrance in the tight canyon after 9:30AM, the ranger at the road was waving all traffic away shouting that the lot was full, and the wait for a space would be 3-4 hours.  Deflated, but not defeated, we reconnoitered at a spot down canyon, and executed a plan which had the scouts entering the slide rock area from above, and two of the adults waiting the 3+ hours in line to get in to the lot.  With that challenge overcome, other small challenges (one participant’s overnight bag was left in Phoenix, a battery in one vehicle gave up the ghost) were also easily dealt with, since Flagstaff WalMart was a mere 10 miles from our chilly 47 degree campsite.  Nothing dampened the spirits for this bunch of adventurers!  Well, maybe the salsa discotheque still in full swing at midnight at the next campsite down the county dirt road from our camp was a bit much.  But certainly not the huge crowds in Slide Rock Park.  Amazingly enough, with a sea of easy-ups as far as the eye could see, young and old and all ethnicities represented, everyone contributed to making the best of the crowded conditions, and it was almost as pleasant as if we’d had the creek to ourselves (which we usually do in our normal outings).  After 5 hours in the creek, some great requirement sign-offs and even better cooking back in camp, the boys were ready to head down the hill for home early Sunday morning.  After some urging of the adults to finish up our final tasty breakfast, the boys’ site policing and Thorns & Roses were efficiently done, and we hit the road for home by 8:30AM, gaining 50 degrees in the 2 ½ hours it took to get back to the baking church parking lot.   

Troop Super Sliders
Waiting Our Turn
Heading down to the pools
Debriefing after lunch for yet another T648 assault on the creek
And down the Slide Rock once again

Who Heard a Horton?

This weekend we set all kinds of records on the Horton Springs outing – for at least my tenure as a member of  T648.  A whopping 19 backpackers set out under sprinkles in the church parking lot, braving the rain that was sure to come in the mountains (but then never came – if you don’t count a few snow flurries).  We also had a first with an amazing twin set of twins participating in one outing!  It was a bit nip and tuck to pull off that accomplishment, however, as one of the four twins received 10 stitches in the top of his head from Dr. Scoutmaster earlier in the day after suffering a playground wound on the battlefield of Pinnacle High School.  Swinging into the trailhead parking lot where we had planned to camp, it was clear that with a lot full of vehicles, and the challenging logistics of bedding down 19 of us, alternate plans were required.  Mere minutes later, as four vehicles roared up the steep narrow drive of Upper Tonto Campground, the overwhelmed camp host came sputtering up – ‘Just how many of you are there up here?’ Calming him down with camp fees and boy scout uniforms, we had an excellent frosty night.  Awakened by lowing, the boys got early morning exercise mooing back, and performing a short cattle drive back down the hill to the trailhead before breakfast. And oh what a breakfast – I saw chili with beans, teriyaki chicken, beef stew and Pringles – I was expecting to see more breakfast skillet, or eggs and hash for dinner, but no!  It all must have been part of the plan.  Despite all the vehicles in the Horton Trail parking lot, we later still found our traditional amazing secluded campsite available on the other side of the creek, complete with full-sized teepee and rock lawn furniture.  An afternoon of playing Mafia Murder and a four mile excursion to the gushing springs were both spectacular, followed by a roaring fire and less than spooky scary campfire stories.  It would be difficult to have improved much on this perfect outing, except for a few mutterings during ‘Thorns and Roses’ directed toward the 33 degree overnight temps.  Remember that wonderful chilly feeling next week gang, when the temps will surely be triple digits!