Category Archives: Boy Scouts

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.