Category Archives: Boy Scouts

Hike: Northern Region of McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Corral Trail: This is so green only because of the recent rain

Corral Trail: This is so green only because of the recent rain

This was another training hike in preparation for Troop 131’s 20-mile hike in March. Over the course of four hours and 10 miles yesterday, we covered much of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s northern region.



We started at the tail end of 24 hours of drizzling rain and the sky was still overcast. There were very few others on the trails. Our course was fairly flat. All the trails are very well marked and are mostly gravel. Take a map or you’ll get lost.


They call this “Balanced Rock”



I carried a 10-lb dumbbell in my pack to enhance my workout.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Details: We started at Brown’s Ranch Trailhead, taking the Upper Ranch Trail to Corral Trail, then Dry Gulch Trail, a detour up to Cathedral Rock, then
Cholla Mountain Loop Trail to Balanced Rock Trail to Powerline Road #2. Then 118th Street Trail to Latigo Trail back to the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead.

Update Feb. 3, 2013:

The day after this hike, I was mildly sore in my hips, thighs, and legs. I like that because it’s proof I stressed my body, which is a necessary for improved fitness. Also, I’m impressed by how sore my feet were during the last three miles of hiking. I hope I can toughen them up. The 20-mile walk is starting to look intimidating!

This bedrock metate was used by Indians (aka Native Americans) for grinding maize, acorns, and other foods

This bedrock metate was used by Indians (aka Native Americans) for grinding maize, acorns, and other foods. Rainwater fills this 4-inch deep rounded depression in granite.

The Amphitheater (all natural)

The Amphitheater (all natural)

Hike: Marcus Landslide Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve


Yesterday I started my training in preparation to tackle Arizona’ Mount Humphries in June. I and about 20 people from my son’s Boy Scout troop hiked the Marcus Landslide Trail. Near the end of that trail we created a loop by hitting the Boulder Trail, Pemberton Trail, and Rock Knob Trail. Total hike was 5.8 miles in 60-68° F weather.

It’s a mostly flat course and an easy walk. It was no physical strain at all at the time. But I had some muscle cramps in bed last night and some soreness around my hips and thighs today. The soreness is a good sign. I’m embarrassed I’m not in better shape.

The scouts are doing a 20-mile hike in March for the Hiking merit badge. I’ll be right there with them, Lord willing.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

That vertical rock formation in the center is called a mushroom

That vertical rock formation in the center is called a mushroom

My Grand Canyon Hike

Steve Parker MD, arizona, colorado river, grand canyon

Me and my Merrell boots, about 3/4 of the way down to the Colorado river

Twenty of us from BSA Troop 131 hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, then back up and out two days later on a recent weekend. It was a trip of a lifetime for me.

If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, you need to see it in person. Photos don’t do it justice.

We descended to the Colorado river on a Friday via the South Kaibab trail. This is about seven mile long and drops 4,800 vertical feet. I was glad to be using trekking poles to take some of the strain off my knees. After four hours hiking, we crossed a bridge over the river and were in Phantom Ranch. By this time, I had been awake for 25.5 hours straight, so I was exhausted.

Phantom Ranch is a collection of cabins that house roughly 40 guests, nestled along Bright Angel Creek. They serve meals at a cantina. So we didn’t have to carry in tents, sleeping bags, or food. The cabins are air-conditioned and have hot/cold running water, toilets, and showers. These must be reserved many months in advance.

We rested and explored the canyon on Saturday, then hiked out on Sunday starting at 7 AM. To get back to the rim, we took the Bright Angel trail, which is about 10 miles long. I hiked out in five and a half hours, ahead of most of the other adults because I had to be at work in the hospital at 6 PM the same day. Everybody was out of the canyon in six and a half hours or less. Some of the scouts made it out first, ahead of me.

As you might imagine, this is not a trip you do on a whim. All of us had been doing training hikes for the previous four months, including at least two that were 10 miles in length. One of those covered 2,400 vertical feet of elevation.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing my first wild ringtail, a mammal about the size of a house cat that has a body that moves and looks like a squirrel and has a a ringed tail that’s longer than its body.

Our troop seems to do this trip every other year. Lord willing, I’ll be back in the canyon in 2015!

Many thanks to Cindy M for leading us!


Steve Parker MD

You can appreciate how wide the trail is, which indicates this is close to the rim, where day-hikers tread

Steve Parker MD

South Kaibab trail. Not for you if you have a fear of heights.

Steve Parker MD

Switchbacks on the South Kaibab trail

Steve Parker MD

Colorado River as seen from South Kaibab trail

Steve Parker MD

Phantom Ranch is nestled in the greenbelt in the upper right corner

Steve Parker MD

View from South Kaibab trail, closer to the rim than the river

Steve Parker MD

One of two bridges over the Colorado river quite near Phantom Ranch

Steve Parker MD

The 10-bed dorm I slept in. Cramped, but you spend little time here.

Steve Parker MD

Bright Angel Creek within Phantom Ranch. I ate lunch sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream. Spring-fed, undoubtedly.

Steve Parker MD

One of many mule deer at Phantom Ranch. They had little fear of us.

Steve Parker MD, arizona, grand canyon

Bright Angel Trail, close to the rim. Many day-hikers here.

Spring In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona

One of Boy Scout Troop 131’s scouts did hid Eagle rank project at Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, a few weeks ago. I took pictures of plants on the trail.

Steve Parker MD, Sonoran desert, Arizona

Strawberry hedgehog

Steve Parker MD, Sonoran desert, wolfberry bush, Arizona

Wolfberry plant, perhaps related to the goji berries of China

Arizpona, Sonoran desert, wolfberry , Steve Parker MD

Wolfberries: the largest are 7 x 10 mm

Steve Parker MD, Arizona, Sonoran desert

Banana yucca. Most years these don’t bloom. Looks related to the Joshua Tree, doesn’t it?

Hike: Tom’s Thumb – Windgate Pass – East End Trails in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

On March 23, 10 or so scouts and adults from Scottsdale’s Boy Scout troop 131 did the headlined 10-mile hike.  It was preparation for the rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike later this year.  Everyone finished in under five hours. I did it in four hours and five minutes, with few stops.  Total vertical elevation was 2,500 feet.  The trail guide says this is a “very difficult” loop.  The difficulty is mostly in the grade (slope) rather than footing.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

The north trailhead for Tom’s Thumb trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  Tom’s Thumb is in the middle of the horizon.


Close to the top of Tom’s Thumb trail

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

Tom’s Thumb is in the middle of the horizon; much more impressive when you’re closer than this.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, arizona

Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD,

Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD

Saquaro cacti reaching for the sky

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD,

A surprising natural spring probably between trail markers 13 and 14 on Tom’s Thumb trail, about 2,600 feet above sea level and 1,100 feet below the peak

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

These flowers will probably be gone in a couple weeks, only to return next Spring

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona, exercise

River of rocks created by landslide on East End trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD

The intersection of East End trail and Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker, Tom's Thumb trail, Windgate Pass Trail MD

Trails are marked well, so you shouldn’t get lost.

Hike: Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale, Arizona

I’m preparing to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in May with a Boy Scout troop, so I’m doing a lot of walking.  I hiked Sunrise trail a week ago.  It’s in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  I am blessed to live near such a gem.

We started at the Ringtail Trail parking lot on 128th St., walked the 1,000 feet of vertical elevation to Sunrise peak, descended to Sunrise Access Area, then turned around and walked back to our starting point.  So a total of 2,000 feet vertical elevation over the 10-mile trip taking 4.5 hours.

It’s considered “difficult” according to the trail guide.  If you do it, wear good boots with stiff soles.  Much of the trail is rocky, with 2- to 4-inch diameter stones underfoot (my least favorite footing).

Steve Parker MD, hiking, hike, exercise, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona

Scottsdale subdivisions, with Phoenix far in the distance.  You might recognize Camelback Mountain on the horizon: an iconic Phoenix hike.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, hike, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona

View to the north, from the peak.  You can see the thin line of the trail coming in from the left.

Steve Parker MD, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona, hike, hiking

The desert is green like this only for a month or two in the Spring, if we get enough rain.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, exercise, Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale Arizona

Bonus picture unrelated to Sunrise Peak. Pinnacle Peak Trail. My sister and her husband and I walked it recently. Popular with young women who like to jog it.

Steve Parker MD, Scottsdale Arizona, hiking,Sunrise Trail, Arizona

Looking northeast from the peak

Troop 131 Snow Campout at Camp Raymond

Snow Campout Location West of Flagstaff, Arizona

Snow Campout Location West of Flagstaff, Arizona

Our Boy Scout troop had its annual snow campout at Camp Raymond this last weekend.  It was the first snow camp for me and my son, Paul.  Most of us camped Saturday night although four campers came up for Friday night as well.  Seven adults and 11 scouts participated.

Camp Raymond is at 6,700 feet above sea level and roughly 20 miles west of Flagstaff.  It’s in a Ponderosa pine forest.  The Camp had received a good amount of snow over the last month although none within the last week.  Still, we had a base of six inches of snow and ran across drifts 2-feet deep.  Recent daily high temps have been in the 40s (°F) and the lows in the teens or less.  After the sun goes down, you’re at freezing or below.  The low temp Sunday morning was 13.

Paul On His Sled

Paul On His Sled

I’ve been in temperatures close to zero before, but never camped overnight below 25°.  Knowing that the temp would be in the teens was intimidating.  Paul and I had decided to wimp out this year, but then he changed his mind after hearing that a snow campout (or simply cold-weather?) was necessary for the camping merit badge, which in turn is necessary for Eagle rank.

After arrival on Saturday, one group of us took a hike up a hill while the others explored Camp Raymond and played around a frozen lake.  Later, the boys had snowball fights with each other and another group of scouts.  The adults sat that out.

The key to surviving the cold temps is to come prepared.  In particular, it’s important to stay dry.  Once your feet get cold and chilled, you’re starting to lose the battle and will be miserable until you turn it around.  Wool socks and other clothing may be ideal, if you can afford it.  You need specific cold-weather gear:

  • multiple pairs of socks (you always want a dry pair available)
  • multiple pairs of gloves (if you plan on getting your one good pair wet)
  • thermal underwear
  • good cover for the your head, neck, and face (a balaclava may be ideal)
  • coats and sweaters
  • boots (ideally waterproof; best to bring two pair in case one gets wet)
  • snow pants like skiers wear
  • something to keep you off the snow when you sleep (some of us had “thermal pads,” others didn’t)
The Balaclava: Thermal Protection for Head, Neck, and Face

The Balaclava: Thermal Protection for Head, Neck, and Face

If you attempt a cold-weather campout, do your own thorough research beforehand or you could die.

You’ll want to dress in layers.  For instance, during the sub-freezing evening, I had on thermal underwear (top and bottom), a non-cotton T-shirt, a cotton long-sleeved knit shirt, a sweater, a balaclava, and a coat.  My lower half had the thermal underwear, my  scouting pants, then snow pants.  For my feet, I like a thin “liner sock” (non-cotton) under a thick wool or wool-blend sock.

The problem with cotton is that it loses it’s insulating property when it’s wet with sweat, rain, or melted snow.  This is where wool shines.  Don’t get wet if you can avoid it!

My Three-Season Tent From REI

My Three-Season Tent From REI

You can buy or rent winter-grade tents, but we just used our usual tents.  Theoretically, a smaller tent might retain more heat than a larger tent.  With our thin-walled tents at 13°, I question whether that works.

This was an expensive trip.  We spent several hundred dollars acquiring clothing that would keep us alive with all our fingers and toes.  I’m sure we’ll use this clothing again.

I slept in a synthetic-material mummy bag (rated for zero degree weather) which I had put inside a rectangular bag rated for 30–40 degrees.  Furthermore, I started out with most of my clothes on.  By morning, I had removed my thick socks, snow pants, and sweater.  Turns out I just needed some socks, thermal underwear, my scouting pants, a cotton knit long-sleeve shirt, and a hat that covered my head and ears.  I slept on a 4–inch thick air mattress, which was fine.

Steve Parker, Happy About Surviving 13 Degrees F.

Steve Parker, Happy About Surviving 13 Degrees F.

It took me at least an hour to fall asleep, and I woke up every hour or two.  Maybe slept three hours for one stretch.  This was a typical pattern among the four adults I surveyed.  My problem wasn’t the temperature.  I think it may have been the altitude, wearing too much clothing, or anxiety about freezing.

A camp caretaker told me she had seen bear tracks recently; a female adult and juvenile are in the area.  So much for hibernation.  An experienced hunter with us said the bears would be bedded down at night at these temperatures.

The only interesting wildlife we saw on the trip was a bald eagle eating roadkill.  Saw plenty of elk tracks.

It was a great trip and I’m proud of the scouts for facing and overcoming the challenges.


Sunday Morning Sunlight Filtered Through Campfire Smoke

Sunday Morning Sunlight Filtered Through Campfire Smoke