Maybe you think that all we have here in Arizona is cactus – and lots of it. While it may be true that we have our share of cacti (that is plural for cactus), we also have some gorgeous places to hike and have Scouting fun. Many of those places are in beautiful country – with giant sycamore, cottonwood, or even pine and evergreen trees – and often even swim holes. But we kind of keep most of those places a secret – so that the whole world doesn’t want to come here.
My first hike was actually a day hike to meet one of our requirements for the Second Class badge. We went to the river bottoms north of our community.
That was really “out in the sticks” at that time There was nothing out there. Now, I can hardly even find the place. It is all houses! Anyway, we hiked all morning out in the sand and saw no sign of other civilization. And the view of Red Mountain looming ahead of us was beautiful and breathtaking.
Then later, as I started work on my First Class badge, I needed to carry a backpack a mile and a half to meet one of the requirements. The troop didn’t have any backpacking trips planned for a while so Randy Maughan, my first patrol leader, hiked with me to my father’s farm located a few miles away. I carried several 10-pound bags of sugar (to simulate the full pack) on my back.
And speaking of Randy, it was he who labored diligently to help me learn the Morse Code. (That was that ‘signaling” thing I’ve already mentioned.) Anyway, that was a real trial for me – but I finally mastered the Code. I can still remember some of that dot and dash business.
First Real Overnighter
I’ve already hinted about that first real overnight camping trip. For some reason that gnubie hike stands out vividly in my mind. Mr. Nelson took us to hike in Peralta Canyon – located in the world famous Superstition Mountains near us. Of course the legend of the “Lost Dutchman” was rehearsed to us several times along the way. And we all wondered where that alleged “Black Lady Killer” – who guarded the gold mine – was lurking. And each of us secretly hoped that we’d find the lost gold ourselves. We found an old sheep camp and wondered if the Old Dutchman himself had been there at one time.
Somehow we got lost that Friday night before we started our night hike to our camp. (In Arizona it is cooler hiking after dark.) We didn’t admit that we were, in fact, lost (since “lost” means that we know where we are, but not where everyone else is). I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember walking for a few hours in the dark. (And who knows – maybe the Scoutmaster planned it that way – just so that we would be tired enough to go to bed “early”. I wouldn’t put it past him.) Anyway, we finally saw some lights and headed for them.
We were all surprised to learn that we had wandered into a movie-filming camp or set. (This was the movie set for the ancient “Death Valley Days” television series. And it is your grandpa who might remember that one!) Anyway, we made our way to an old trailer (the only structure that had a light on) to ask for directions. It was there that we met the movie star who gave us all a photo of himself (and that was big stuff to us Gnubies!). The guy talked to us for a while and helped us “find ourselves”. He got us pointed in the right direction and we took up hiking again. We slept that night on the top of solid rock cliffs. (And it is funny how back then such “sleeping” did not bother me, but it sure did later on!)
The next day we found some old Indian hieroglyphics painted on the cliffs. There were also plenty of cliffs that were good for Mr. Nelson’s picture taking. And being the historian, photographer and science teacher that he was, he took a whole bunch of pictures of us up against those cliffs. (And sure enough, we saw them the next week in our science class.) [Note: I sure wish I could have those photos now. Mr. Nelson told me several times that one of the troop Scouts had borrowed them and didn’t return them. And now that Mr. Nelson has died, probably none of us will ever find the photos.]
After the hike to the Superstition Mountains, we went on a trip to Pumpkin Center (or “Punkin” as it is really spelled) which was really out in the middle of nowhere – and as big as the name implies. On that hike I remember that water was at a premium. Most of the guys had used their total water supply by noon. I had found a rock to suck on and was the only one with water still in my canteen.
I decided that it would be fun to save my own water for as long possible. So, as we finished the hike late that afternoon, I took out my canteen and had a nice long drink – much to the dismay of everyone else. They couldn’t believe that I could still have water after that long trek. I guess I did it just to prove to myself that it was possible.
We also enjoyed the swimming holes near the Bushnell Tanks on the Sycamore Creek above the thriving metropolis of Sunflower, Arizona (with a population of 5 in a good year). The maturing scouts (to be further described later in this book) were always the first to lead out in the swimming exercises. They’d strip down and call, “Hey Fellers, Come on in!” (Just like a Norman Rockwell painting!) The three-inch leaches or bloodsuckers found a welcome target on the legs of these guys (but there were more than enough for everyone). In those days, we often went “skinny dipping” (and there was nothing at all wrong with that practice then) so some of us got the wormy bloodsuckers in places where we didn’t particularly want them. (Of course the BSA has rules against such activity nowadays … so, if you go swimming, take your swim trunks.) If you find that ol’ swimmin’ hole, you’ll be glad you did!)
One of my most frustrating Scouting experiences was on another of those gnubie hikes near Sunflower. I don’t even know what the place was called – but we had often noticed the very steep area (down to the right of the highway) as we went up to Camp Geronimo and other points north. Anyway, we finally decided that it was time to take a hike down in that deep canyon to check the place out. That was one of the few places where we were able to start at the top and then hike DOWN.
We parked the vehicles at the top of the hill – off the road – and started down the steep mountain with our packs upon our backs. As usual, I was carrying a pack that weighed between fifty and sixty pounds. Among other things, I always carried a pillow and a foam mattress – and still maintain that these were “worth their weight in gold”. There was nothing better than a comfortable sleep after a long hike.
On this particular occasion, I was at my regular place at the back of the group. In fact, I think I was the tail end on that one. Most of the other guys were a considerable distance ahead of me. At one point down that steep grade, I tripped and fell head-first – seeing only the steep hill below my face.
My face ended up pointing straight DOWN the hill and my feet were going straight UP the hill backwards. Then, with my heavy pack, I literally could not budge. I was afraid that if I moved at all, I’d slide face first all the way to the bottom of the canyon. That was quite a predicament!
Not knowing what to do, I yelled and yelled to my friend, Scott Gunnell, praying that he’d come to help me. I finally got his attention, but since he was already at the bottom of the canyon, he had no desire whatsoever to come back up to my assistance.
Finally, however, Scott could tell that I seriously needed help when I yelled, ”SCOTT … COME UP HERE AND LAUGH YOUR FOOL HEAD OFF!” He was always one for a good laugh so he reluctantly consented to come up to me. It took them a while but he and another Scout did come and they helped me back onto my feet. They each braced themselves and took hold of one of my arms as I did a summersault back to an upright position.
I didn’t think the scene was all that funny but Scott sure got to enjoy a good laugh on that occasion – at my expense. I didn’t know I had as much blood in my entire body as that which went to my head on that occasion. And in spite of the challenges, my gnubie hikes were the best. What grand memories they bring back!
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership” and others at Scoutingtrails. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
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