Category Archives: Boy Scouts

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

Campout at Burro Cove at the end of Butcher Jones Trail, Arizona

Scottsdale’s Boy Scout Troop 131 completed an overnight backpacking campout last weekend.  Six scouts and four adults participated.  Our original destination was Aravaipa Wilderness Area, but we cancelled due to the threat of rain and life-threatening flash floods in that canyon.

Burro Cove campsite is small.  Everybody had one-man tents.  You could probably squeeze another 4-5 onto the site.  About half way to Burro Cove, we easily spotted another potential campsite on a small peninsula.  We’re not sure, but we think a trail lead to the area.  I bet some campsites here are accessible only by boat.  You need back-up plans in case your spot is taken by others.  Butcher Jones Trail has few flat spots where you could set up 10 tents.

The scouts did a super job hiking with their packs.  I heard no complaints.  One scout carried a 56-pound pack!  Mine was 37 lb; my son’s was 20 lb.  Most packs were probably in the 20-40 lb range.  The Scout Handbook says to limit pack weight to 25% of body weight, in general.  I’m impressed with modern backpack design that distributes pack weight to your pelvis, not your shoulders.

Backpacking teaches you how to survive, even thrive, with minimal modern conveniences.  You have to carefully consider every ounce you carry.  You just need shelter, food, water, clothing, and a degree of physical fitness.  When you return to civilization, you appreciate it even more.


Algae-covered rocks in Saguaro Lake


We had a great view of Four Peaks, which had a light dusting of fresh snow


Burro Cove campsite on Saguaro Lake, Arizona

One happy camper

Eureka Solitaire 1-man tent I rented from Arizona Hiking Shack

Boy Scout Campout at Cave Creek Regional Park

Scottsdale’s Troop 131 had our annual overnight “family campout” at this large park immediately west of Cave Creek, Arizona.  All scout siblings and parents are invited.  Twenty or thirty were in attendance, a good turnout.  A few headed back to town late in the evening rather than stay the night.

We stayed in the group camping area, which had restrooms, hot and cold running water, and showers.  The park is clean, well-run, and safe.

Trailhead at Cave Creek Regional Park

A tradition with this campout is that the boys cook dinner and breakfast for the adults.  Usually the boys cook for themselves, as do the adults.  Thank you, scouts!

We arrived on Saturday AM, Oct. 20, and set out on four-mile hike, a loop involving Go John and Overton trails.  Nice scenery and a little altitude gain.  I’d call it an easy hike; you could do it in sneakers but I was glad I had hiking boots because of the rocks underfoot.  We shared the trail with runners, a few of whom were doing a 50-km (31-mile) endurance run!  In 90° F weather (32.2° C).

U.S. Flag

After skits around the campfire, the scouts did a U.S. flag retirement ceremony.  Most Americans these days don’t know that you aren’t supposed to simply throw a tattered, faded flag into the trash.  It’s disrespectful to the soldiers and patriots who have sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in the name of American ideals.  The Boy Scouts of America and a few other organizations do a solemn ceremony during which we review the symbolism and history of the flag, then it’s incinerated in a small fire.  The boys retired 21 flags, most of which had been collected by Congressman Dan Quayle.  If you have a worn-out flag, your local Boy Scout troop should be willing and able to retire it for you.  Thanks to Chris Raines for helping the boys with the ceremony.

As usual, the Arizona weather was great.

The Orionid meteor shower was a bonus for this trip, although most folks slept through it since it peaked between midnight and 5 AM.  I got up around 2 AM and watched the sky for four minutes.  Saw one meteor emanating from Orion and another unrelated straggler.

Everybody survived the campout, and no one got hurt.  Thank you, God!

Steve Parker, M.D.

View to the north from Go John trail

Overton trail

Go John trail overlooking Cave Creek or Scottsdale

Arizona Lava Tubes Camp-Out

My son’s boy scout troop and I camped out near Lava River Cave last weekend.  We were about 15 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the Coconino National Forest.  Most of the locals refer to the cave simply as “the lava tubes.”

“Any tender young scouts in there?”

Our campsite was on the south side of FR 812, a quarter mile east of FR 171, at the base of Antelope Hill.  The Forest Service allows dispersed, primitive camping just off the dirt roads in the area.  The roads could be a problem for passenger cars if it rains much.  We were fortunate to have perfect weather: clear skies, high of about 80°F and low of 32°.  I think the wide gap between high and low reflects the altitude of 8,000 ft above sea level.

After setting up camp, we hiked to the top of Antelope Hill, about 1.5 miles round trip.  It’s a moderately strenuous walk since we went straight up rather than doing switchbacks.  You blaze your own trail.  The scouts caught and released a 3.5-inch long horned lizard at the top.  I hear they’re fairly common up here.

Mount Humphries as seen from Antelope Hill

After some campfire skits by the scouts we hit the hay, listening to bugling elk and howling coyotes during the night.  The cattle were even louder, but the noises didn’t interfere with sleep.  Some of us were caught off guard by the low temp during the night.

After breaking camp the next morning, we drove the 1.5 miles to Lava River Cave and dove right in, so to speak.  Round-trip mileage for the cave is 1.5-2 miles.  I and many of the others in our group had never seen anything like it.

It was an enjoyable trip and I can see why troop 131 makes it every two or three years.

Steve Parker, M.D.


Other adults in attendance were Scott H, Ryan W, Mark Z, Kathy S, Paul G, and Jeff L.  The scouts were Paul P, Matthew Z, JD H, Nathan H, Cole W, Christian R, Trevor L, Jacob F, and Riley G.  Let me know if I left anyone out.

Camp Raymond Experience

Not Camp Raymond, but you get the idea

My son and I recently returned from a week at the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Raymond in northern Arizona.  Located in a Ponderosa pine forest at an elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level, it’s about a 45-minute drive west and south of Flagstaff.  160-acre Camp Raymond is on the edge of Sycamore Canyon Wilderness.

What Are Boy Scouts?

In case you’re not familiar with BSA, here’s their mission statement:

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

The Scout Oath:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

The Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I highly recommend Scouting for boys, who can join at age 11.  BSA is a great organization.

What Was It Like?

Ten scouts and six adults from Scottsdale, Arizona’s Troop 131 camped in tents for six nights.  The campsite had running water, a latrine, and no electricity.  Fires were forbidden due the the extreme risk of forest fires: there hasn’t been much rain lately.  Meals were prepared by professional staff and eaten in a dining hall.  Scouts and attending adults did nearly all the food serving and meal cleanup for 400 people on-site.  Our troop did KP duty (kitchen patrol) for two lunches, requiring two hours’ work each time.

Coyotes howling woke us up twice one night.  We saw a deer bouncing through the camp one morning.  I bet he’d been eating the lush grass growing on the septic tank field.  Smelled one skunk and saw another.

Temperatures were perfect, between 50 and 86° F.  No rain except a brief light sprinkle one night.  I had a little trouble falling asleep, I think because of the altitude.  Few bugs.

I’d heard stories about the infamous and pervasive Camp Raymond dust.  This was indeed the dustiest place I’d ever camped.  It’s not a problem, just…remarkable.  You can wash and dry your feet, then don sandals and walk 50 feet: you’re dirty again!

We were there over the Independence Day holiday, explaining why camp was only 60% full.  A side benefit is that the boys had much less waiting in line to use the popular facilities, such as the dining room and archery, rifle, and shotgun ranges.

Camp has a heated pool, which our troop didn’t use much.  Nor did we avail ourselves of the canoeing and rowing opportunities on the small lake.  We should have  taken a hike down into Sycamore canyon, but never got around to it.  We did a nighttime orienteering course.  Three other adults and I took a three-mile hike trying to find Lone Elk Point but lost the trail.

My personal trip highlights:

  • Skeet shooting with a 20 gauge shotgun.  I hadn’t fired a shotgun in over 40 years.  Somehow I hit 46 of 50 clay pigeons.
  • The Order of the Arrow call-out ceremony.  OA is an honor society for scouts; I was a member over 40 years ago.  The ceremony starts with a silent nocturnal single-file walk through the forest, involving about 200 individuals. Three of our troop’s scouts were called-out.
  • My son Paul was publicly recognized (with totems) by two of the Archery staffers as being the most polite scout they’d ever worked with.

The Scouts spent most of the day working on merit badges and, to a lesser extent, rank advancement.  Popular badges were environmental science, leatherwork, woodcarving, geology, archery, rifle (.22 caliber), shotgun, mammal study, basketry,  soil and water, and first aid.  The environmental science badge was particularly popular because it’s difficult to achieve in other settings and it’s required for Eagle rank, the pinnacle of the scouting experience.

No one got seriously hurt, and all had a splendid time!



We were in campsite 5a, a good one.  It’s close to all the activities, and has good tent sites.  Campsite 6a looks just as good.  Some of the campsites are as much as a half mile away from the dining hall.

Attending adults were Scott H, Gary F, Mark Z, Dave K, John U (from nearby Troop 15), and me.  Scott F came up for the final 24 hours.

The scouts were Christian R, Jacob M, Jacob F, Kyle K, Reid F, Nathan H, JD H, Matthew Z, John U (from Troop 15), and my son.

I was the “adult lead” for the trip while Scott H was the scoutmaster.  Adult leading was fairly easy, mainly involving paperwork, attending a few meetings, and being familiar with all aspects of the program.  I could have done a better job if I’d:

  • Had a parents/scouts meeting about a month prior to departure for camp.
  • Run across an online document called “merit badges at a glance.”  The merit badge program is somewhat confusing.  For example, 1) several scouts attended duplicate presentations for the same merit badge, a waste of time, and 2) working on one badge can easily conflict with work on another if you’re not careful.  The experienced scouts, especially Nathan H, were quite helpful explaining this to the newbies.

The online published document called Adult Leaders Packet was not entirely accurate.  For instance, I eventually saw three discordant schedules for the first evening’s activities.  The most accurate schedule was the pocket-sized Adult Leaders Handbook I was given soon after arrival.  All the adults and the lead scouts needed this.

Camp Raymond is well-organized and well-run.  Staff and progams exemplify the 12 points of the Scout Law.

Camping at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

Last month my son’s Boy Scout troop had it’s annual family campout at the Grapevine Group Campsite at Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Arizona.  By “family campout,”, I mean that the scout’s siblings could attend.  Parents are welcome to come along throughout the year.

Roosevelt Lake is the largest lake contained within the borders of Arizona.  Lakes Powell and Mead are larger, but share borders with other states.

The campsite was on a high hill on a peninsula overlooking the lake in three directions.  Fantastic views!  We were about a hundred feet above lake level.  The water’s edge was a half mile away.  This group site had eight or 10 loops for specific groups.  We were in Goose Loop, I think.  This has to be one of the best one.  The loop had restrooms with running water and a shower was nearby.  It reportedly had a sports field, but I never saw it.  Cost of the site was only $80/night and the loop could service over 100 campers.

It’s about a two hour drive from Scottsdale, about an hour of which is quite scenic.  Many thanks to Kathy S. for taking the lead on this campout.

We had about 15 yutes and 10 adults.  I wish more scout siblings had come.

We made an effort to catch fish, with no luck.  Probably the wrong time of day (middle of the afternoon) and no one tried live bait.

As usual for Arizona, the weather was perfect.  The most memorable parts for me were the views, camaraderie, and evening fireside skits put on by the boys.  All had a good time and no one got hurt!

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: On the way back home from the lake, my wife, son, and daughter stopped at Vineyard Canyon Picnic Site.  It’s on Highway 188, north of the dam.  Paul and I tried our best to catch fish with artificial lures, again with no luck.  The worms I brought had died and liquified—they probably got too warm.  Paul latched onto a small bass with a 2″ Rapala minnow, but his line broke off and he lost the fish.  We saw lots of 6-8″ (18 cm) largemouth bass in the clear green water.   Surprisingly, we didn’t see any perch/bluegills.  My wife struck up a conversation with some vacationing Mexicans there who had caught a couple 3-lb (1.4kg) bass on worms fished on the bottom.  I’d like to go back there and be on the water at daybreak with live worms or minnows.