Category Archives: Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures

Advancement Camp at Mount Palomar


Most people have heard about Eagle Scout, but there 7 Boy Scout ranks in total, starting at Scout.  The ranks before Star Scout have a lot of requirements, in topics like cooking and nutrition, safely sharpening and using axes and knives, lashing things together with all sorts of knots, and learning about citizenship.  Sam’s Boy Scout troop puts together a camp out every spring where the boys can focus on fulfilling requirements for different ranks.  During Advancement Camp the newer scouts (anyone below 1st class) work on rank requirements, while the more experienced scouts teach them the skills.

Our troop had a great turn out for this year’s camp, it might have had something to do with it being held at the group campsites on beautiful Mt. Palomar!  51 people attended in total: 36 Scouts and 15 adults.  The scouts were able to rotate through several stations set up to teach outdoor skills, as well as an ax yard complete with two man logging saws.

When we arrived at the campground, we unloaded our gear and set up our tents.  The troop had all 3 group sites at Palomar, so the boys set up in the lower 2, and the adults in the upper site.  Tony brought one of the loves of his life, his big green tent.  Lori and I set up our little tents in its sublime shadow, so we could bask in its reflected glory.

Adult tents

Sam and J.D opted for something smaller, down in the scout area.

Sam + JD.tent

We raised the flag…

Flag raising

Then after lunch the troop started in on a super busy day.  One group of boys went off on a nature hike, with the goal of identifying 10 plants and finding evidence of 10 animals.  We hiked the beautiful Doane Creek nature trail.

Nature hike.1

We crossed the creek, and saw flowers, trees, and animal burrows, tracks, and trails.

Nature Hike

This tree was like a woodpecker hotel, they kept flying on and off of the top.

Woodpecker tree

I love bark.  The bottom left is actually an incense cedar from camp.  The woodpeckers peck holes looking for insects, and then the squirrels shove acorns and other nuts into the holes to store them.  There were acorns up the entire length of 50 to 60 foot tall trees.

Big tree's bark

Meanwhile back at camp, the boys worked on outdoor skills…

First aid


Ax yard


Card playingWhile we were at camp, I made a sighting of a creature that is rarely seen at such high elevations, usually its range is confined to the suburbs of San Diego.  But I managed to document it.

A Yvette

After a hard day’s work, it was time to cook some dinner.  The scouts got a chance to work on patrol cooking requirements.

Scouts cooking

Lori and I were in charge of the adult food, planning 3 meals for 15.  We had lots of help when it came to the cooking, which was much appreciated.

Adult cooking

For the finale, Lori and I prepared a very special pineapple upside down cake cooked in a dutch oven.  We had left over bacon from breakfast, so we cooked it up, diced the bacon, and then Lori made a caramel with the left over bacon grease, brown sugar, butter, and cream.  We lined the bottom of the pan with the caramel and pineapple, putting extra bacon bits put into the pineapple rings instead of cherries.  We called it…

Pinapple cake

In the figure above Lori is making the bacon caramel (A), Mr. W. is preparing the dutch ovens (B), the right side up cake baked to perfection (C), the inverted, slightly disheveled, but still delicious cake ready to be eaten (D).  Which it was, down to the last bacon bit.

We made a dutch oven dessert because Dr. J. challenged the scout and parent patrols to a contest.  There was a chocolate lava cake, another pineapple upside down cake, and our inventive confection vying to be the champion dutch oven dessert.  Justin, who made his pineapple upside down cake with Sprite, “won” the contest, which was “judged” by Dr. J.  And his cake deserved to win over ours.  Totally.  Here is a photo of the winner with his proud dad.


JK.  Actually his cake was marvelous.  He graciously gave me a piece, which I devoured.  I am just trying to generate a little excitement and controversy for my blog, to get more people to follow it.  Along the lines of “Housewives of Tierrasanta Boy Scout Troops – Camping Edition.”  I’ve been doing my blog for almost two years, and I have 39 highly intelligent and discriminating followers, who became my followers by clicking the “Follow this Blog” button to the right up near the top of this post.

It looks like this.

Follow blogAnyway, I thought if I spiced things up a bit by getting into a cat fight with Justin over whose pineapple upside down cake was better, I might boost my ratings.  But I have seen the error of my ways.  Also, his dad is a really big guy.  So, IMHO, Justin, and his cake, and his little brother, and his whole family are all just peachy.  Or pineappley.


After lots of good food we had a lovely campfire with skits, songs, and the retirement of two American flags (after they become worn they are burned).


US flag retirement

Then we tromped out to the meadow to stargaze and look for satellites with Mr. H.  When we returned the more energetic among us sat around the fire, I went straight to bed.

Sitting around campfire

In the morning we broke camp and headed home.  I sent Sam (see the grimy feet below) straight to the showers.  He did a great job at camp, and is almost finished with his first class requirements.  We had perfect weather and perfect company for a very successful advancement camp in Troop 985.

Sam's feet



Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures

Burning Rubber … And a Few Hot Dogs

1.Race Legal header

One of the fundraisers my son’s Boy Scout troop participates in is running a concession stand at Race Legal events in San Diego.  Race Legal is a safe alternative to street racing that is held a couple times a month in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium.  The program was developed in 1998, in response to a high number of deaths and injuries from illegal street racing.  As recently as 2002 San Diego recorded 16 deaths and 31 serious injuries as a direct result of illegal street racing; as of 201o, there were 0 deaths and 4 injuries.  Law enforcement uses these drag racing events as an alternative outlet for illegal racing, which saves the lives of both racers and bystanders.  Check out their website for more info (

The troop is using the money the boys earn to help pay for summer camp (they are off to Camp Chawanakee in the Sierra’s), so Sam and I headed to Qualcomm at 5:30 on a Friday night to do our part.  We met up with other scouts and their parents, ready to serve up hot dogs and burgers to the hungry racing masses.

2.The gang B4

It is quite an operation getting the stand set up.  It was all hauled in by Mr Ship in the Code 4 trailer and his big red pickup.  Our Grillmaster, Mr. Steaktz, brought in the food.  We had to set up a big grill to cook on, tables and coolers for the stand, and tables and chairs for our guests.  Here is Mr. Ship getting the hot water set up, as the flags fly overhead.


After a good 45 minutes we were ready.  The grill was going, the drinks were in the coolers, the front table was replete with condiments, chips and candy, and the crockpot full of nacho cheese was burbling!

5.The gang.during

While we were busy at the stand, the racing started.  Cars, trucks and motorcycles faced off against each other on the straight track.  They waited for the green light and then hit the gas.  Their speed was tracked, as well as their wins and losses.  As day turned to night the crowds increased, as did the atmospheric impact of the smoke from the burning tire rubber.

6.2.Day 2 Night

Some panoramic shots of the race course, spectators, and our concession stand.

The Grillmaster in action.  Many dogs and burgers would pass over the big grill’s red hot surface before the night was finished.


I was the nacho lady for the evening.  We ran out of nacho chips while we still had half a pot of melted cheesy goodness in our crockpot.  We came up the great idea of using Doritos Nacho Chips and Doritos Cool Ranch Chips as the chip substrate for our nachos, thus inventing…Nachos Nachos.  I will have to do a web search, but I’m pretty sure this culinary creation is illegal in a couple of states.  New York for sure.


The San Diego police department has a couple of cars that they bring to race.  They also use them for community outreach.  The cars have small screens and game controllers in the back seat and trunk for kids to play games on, blue underglow lights, and fuzzy dice, of course.  Mr. Ship took Sam and I over to get our picture in one of the cars.  Notice we are NOT in the back seat.  If there was a merit badge for photo bombing, Chris just earned it.

11.Mo+Sam.cop car

More photos of the blinged out cop cars.  Can you still call it “Pimp my ride” if it’s a police car?

10.Cop car

On the left, one of the racers taking a break.  The racers have to wear helmets, and each car is inspected before racing to make sure it is good to go.  On the right, the boys are working the stand.

12.Night racing

I tried to get some photos of the racers with my little camera.  The bottom two are using the “Fireworks” setting.  On the lower left are the police cars, the lower right two motorcycles.  At the end of the post are some videos of races also, that will give you a better feeling for what they were like.

13.Racing montage

As there can never be enough pictures of cute puppies on the internet, I chased this little guy’s owner down to snap his pic.

14.Cute puppy

At about 10:30 we broke down the concession stand.  The races were still going.  After it was all packed up, Sam was shown how to lock up the Race Legal trailer by a police office and a financial officer.  He and the trailer were in good hands.

15.Locking up

On our way out we stopped to check out the trophies.  We had to leave before they were handed out unfortunately, as it was nearly 11:00 and they were STILL racing.  Nice hardware!  Check out the Race Legal website to see the winners from our night (

16.The Bling

That was it for our night of racing and entrepreneurship.  Time to head home and put our feet up!

17.See you

Check out these videos I took at Race Legal.

2 Police Cars Drag Racing:

2 Cars Drag Racing:

3 Pickups Drag Racing:


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Princes of the Universe – A Mash Up of Camping Photos and Queen Song Titles

Princes of the Universe

This is how my mind works.  I went on another great outing to the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego with Sam’s Boy Scout troop, and took another excellent batch of photos during our weekend campout.  One in particular caught my eye, a pic of Andrew, Irvan, and Ted getting dramatic with a flashlight inside a cave.  Immediately I thought of the classic album cover from Queen II, and that was it, the kernel around which I would build this post.  I went to Wikipedia, that online well of information, to find a list of songs by Queen.  I have paired photos from our trip with song titles, some of which will be familiar, others more obscure.

Here is quick trip summary.  One of our intrepid scout leaders, Mr. R., led us out to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to explore the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves, one of the largest collection of mud caves in the world.  We had a nice sized group of 18 Scouts and 8 adults, and we all enjoyed fantastic desert scenery along with the perfect weather.  It was warm with no wind and many Scouts slept out under the stars.  On Saturday and Sunday we explored many mud caves and slot canyons in the area (Big Mud Cave, Plunge Pool Cave, Hidden Cave, Chasm Cave, E-Ticket Cave, and Canyon Sin Nombre).

Now, for a catalog of trip photos, each paired with a title from a Queen song.  Double click on any of them for a closer look.  Starting us out is the grande dame of our troop, Ms. M., who participated in Scouting with her sons, and is now back for more action with her grandson Vincent.  Don’t let the crown fool you, she left me in the dust (literally), when we started driving on the unpaved desert “roads”.

God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen

A panoramic photo of our campsite.  Some of us camped in the valley, and a group of scouts slept part way up the hillside on an outcropping.

These Are the Days of Our LIves

Crash Drive on Mingo City

After we set up camp and ate lunch, we headed out to explore some slot canyons and mud caves.  First up, Big Mud Cave and Plunge Pool Cave.

Good Company

Good Company

Some of the photos below are from the hillside above our camp, some from the slot canyons we hiked in.  The geology was fascinating.  Swirling sedimentary rocks full of twisted layers and embedded stones.

We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You

The title of this one says it all.  That’s my boy.

Hijack My Heart

Hijack My Heart

Many of the caves and canyons had skylights.  The mud caves were formed by water pooling on top of the cliffs and then seeping down into the sedimentary rock, gradually eroding tunnels, canyons, and caves.

Made in Heaven

Made in Heaven

The slot canyon led up to a mesa, with views that went on forever, and a garden of ocotillo.  Mr. S. took advantage of the high point to make a phone call.  “Sell 10,000 shares of Acme, stat!   I just had a conversation with a coyote out here who had nothing but bad things to say about the quality of their products.  Sell, do you hear me, SELL!”

Back Chat

Back Chat

A Winter's Tale

A Winter’s Tale

I know the title of that last one is a bit of San Diego weather snarkiness, but I couldn’t help myself.  Below is a photo of the scouts heading back down into the canyon.  Next up, Hidden Cave.



So the next cave we went into was in the cliff side just behind our camp.  We wore bandanas because it can get pretty dusty.  We had a conga line of 23 people who made our way into the cave, our destination was a small room a bit of ways in.  It started out okay, not tons of room, but there was mostly a good foot or two on either side, and another several feet above our heads.  It didn’t stay that roomy.  After about 10 minutes of snaking our way in, I admit that I was starting to feel claustrophobic.  But there wasn’t much to do but keep going.  I can say now I went into a cave like that, and it’s not really something I need to do again.  Sam and I positioned ourselves near the mouth of the tunnel leading out, and were #2 and #3 outta there, just behind Mr. R.  Some of the photos below are from the next cave we went to (which was way bigger).  In the photos you can see all the dust particles in the air, picked up by the flash.

Another One Bite the Dust

Another One Bite the Dust

Here we all are in the room at the end of Hidden Cave.  A single song title was not enough to cover this one.  Don’t be fooled by how light it looks, it was all flash.

Stone Cold Crazy Sheer Heart Attack Under Pressure I'm Going Slightly Mad

Stone Cold Crazy
Sheer Heart Attack
Under Pressure
I’m Going Slightly Mad

I think most everyone except the slimmest and smallest of the scouts were on their hands and knees at some point, trying to get through the most narrow portions of the cave.  Mr. S. shows off his battle wounds.

A Human Body

A Human Body

The next cave was Chasm Cave.  It was a combination of slot canyon and enclosed mud caves.  Again, amazing geology all around and fun rocks to scramble over.  Here are Ted and Irvan, acting as Cave Bouncers.

Hammer to Fall

Hammer to Fall

Mr. R. and Mikey, Mr. S. and Joseph, Mr. K. and Nolan.

Father to Son

Father to Son

Justin and Mikey under a skylight.

In the Lap of the Gods

In the Lap of the Gods

Transitioning from mud cave to slot canyon.

Rock It

Rock It

Me and my Sam.  How perfect was it that Queen had a song with the word “mother” in it?!?  Wait a minute, what do they mean “Tie your mother down…”

Tie Your Mother Down

Tie Your Mother Down

Back to camp, time for a cup of tea/coffee for the parents, game playing and running around for the boys.  Here I am relaxing with Mr. S. and Mr. R.

Fun It

Fun It

The boys had a different idea of fun, and broke out the Munchkin cards, which is becoming a bit of a tradition in the troop.  The boys aren’t allowed to bring electronics, and it was gratifying to see them interact with other human beings, without being hooked up to a computer or phone.

Ogre Battle

Ogre Battle

Dinner time rolled around eventually.  I always like to see Mr. Harris with his home-away-from-home set up.  He looks like he is sitting in his living room, in the middle of nowhere.  All he needs is a pair of bunny slippers and the picture would be complete…

Doing it Right

Doing it Right

Night fell, and it was a beautiful one.  It stayed warm, there was no moon and the stars blanketed the sky.  Mr. H. is an astronomy buff, and he got us all up together on the outcropping to watch a satellite go by, as we were in the right place and time to see an iridium flare.  This is when sunlight flashes off of the solar panels on a satellite, and it becomes momentarily brighter than the brightest star.  It only look the satellite a minute to fly by, and it flashed for about 3 seconds.  It was really cool.  Below is the night sky, taken by Mr. H., showing Orion, Sirius the Dog Star, and the Pleiades perfectly.

The Night Comes Down

The Night Comes Down

Scenes from around the campfires, and more Munchkin playing in Sam and J.D.’s tent.

Dreamer's Ball

Dreamer’s Ball

Dragon Attack

Dragon Attack

In the morning we breakfasted, cleaned up camp, and then headed out to Canyon Sin Nombre to explore a narrow slot canyon.  Here is Mr. R. with his cool camp kitchen.

Put Out the Fire

Put Out the Fire

Friends Will Be Friends

Friends Will Be Friends

The canyon was well worth the side trip on the way out.  Really impressive cliffs rose up on either side, and the canyon ranged from quite narrow corridors to large open rooms and bowls.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Long Away

Long Away

Fight From the Inside

Fight From the Inside

I really liked seeing desert plants clinging to the edges of the cliffs.  It drove home how dogged some organisms are, to survive in this harsh environment.

Spread Your Wings

Spread Your Wings

Staying Power

Staying Power

A group shot of the gang on our way back out.

We Are the Champions

We Are the Champions

A wonderful view at the entrance to the canyon, with small trees in front and purple desert mountains behind.

Heaven For Everyone

Heaven For Everyone

After some gnarly driving through deep sand in some places (at least it was challenging for me in my relatively low slung Outback – Mr. R. in his Jeep didn’t really bat an eye), we made it back to the highway.  Everyone in my car breathed a sigh of relief that we did not get stuck.  My motto was “Even if you can’t see the giant holes and ruts in front of you because of all the flying sand and dust, just keep moving forward…”

It's a Beautiful Day

It’s a Beautiful Day

Some shots on a desert highway.  This is the only street sign for miles and miles.

Now I'm Here

Now I’m Here

Sky, clouds, mountains, highway.

A Kind of Magic

A Kind of Magic

Sam and his buddy J.D.

Best Friend

Best Friend

A few hours later we were back home, with a dusty car, dirty socks, and lots of great stories to tell.

I'm in Love With My Car

I’m in Love With My Car


Videos links below from Mr. H. and Andrew’s GoPro camera.  The first is of the drive out (you can see me, Sam, and JD packing up my red Subie at the start), and the second shows video Andrew took as he made his way out of Hidden Cave, with the camera strapped to his head.   Check out their Youtube channel (SkyhunterSD) for more videos!






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Uno, Dos, Tres Cabezas

Three rock heads

A rock formation that resembles a head, in three different lights.  It loomed above our campsite on the crest of a ridge.  The area is called Dos Cabezas, or Two Heads, for rock formations resembling heads that perch on the hillside.

Gentle readers, it is time for another installment of…off-roading, four-wheeling, dust-covered, gear-mashing, rock-avoiding, wash board-loving vehicles, and the men who love them.  Oh yeah, and we did some desert camping with the Boy Scouts again.

Once again I managed NOT to drive when Sam’s Boy Scout troop headed out to camp in the wilds of the Anza Borrego desert.  I have a four wheel drive Outback, but the clearance is not great, which is the excuse I use for not driving.  Unlike the dads in our troop, who love driving their trucks and SUVs up and down dirt roads, careening over boulders, and brushing into ocotillo and scrub, I prefer to sit comfortably in the passenger seat of Tony’s Ford Expedition and admire the landscape.

Amazingly, we had PERFECT weather for this trip, from start (when we gathered in the Von’s parking lot at 6:00 AM (except for Mr. R. who overslept, thus catching up on his beauty sleep)) to finish, (when we cruised back to San Diego on the 8, passing giant windmills, the Golden Acorn Casino, and the many cameras at the Border Patrol checkpoint (say cheese!)).

The troop hopped on a highway heading east from San Diego, and when we reached the middle of nowhere, we turned off on to a dirt road.  The landscape was bare and beautiful, full of amazing geology and desert plant life.  In the past few years the desert has also become home to many giant windmills, which are beautiful and impressive in a way, but also quite an intrusion on the wilderness.


We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up.  Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.

We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up. Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.  (For a better view of any of the pics, double click for a closer look.)

After we arrived in the area where we were planning to camp, we settled on our sites, pitched the tents, ate some lunch, and then Mr. H. gathered the scouts together to head out on a few day hikes.

Going hiking

Our first destination was a Montero palm oasis, filled with at least 50 huge palm trees.  We hiked up a canyon, to the oasis surrounded by boulder-strewn hillsides.  The palms have never been trimmed, and their skirts of old leaves stretch from their crown to the ground.  The scouts all immediately scattered, to scramble up the hillsides, or investigate the nooks and crannies of the palm grove.

Off hiking

Off we go to the palm oasis.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Big palm trees.

Big palm trees.  Can you find the scout leaders?

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike.  Smells like teen spirit...

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike. Smells like teen spirit…

More scouts in the palms.  J.D.'s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

More scouts in the palms. J.D.’s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

Scout buddies.

Scout buddies.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

We spent an hour or so in the grove, and then hiked back down to our cars at the trail head.  I saw this perfect little desert bonsai tree on the way down.

Bonzai desert tree

We also saw morteres, or grinding holes, on the hike down. Kumeyaay Indians used to mash acorns in these holes when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.  Mr. R. demonstrates the technique.  Doesn’t he look well rested?

We all saw morteres, or Indian grinding holes, on the hike down.  Kumeyyay Indians used to grind acorns when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.

We rested for a bit, refilled our water from containers in the car, and then drove a sort distance to our second hike in the Piedras Grandes (Big Rocks) area, just a mile or so away.

Older scouts look cool when the rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Older scouts look cool when they rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Dads and Mr. M's big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

The dads with Mr. M’s big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

At the trail head to Piedras Grandes, there was this weird ocotillo branch, that looked like an alien head.

At the trail head I saw this weird looking ocotillo branch, it looks like an alien head.

The hike was along a crushed rock trail, which was almost like hiking in beach sand.  It was a gradual but constant uphill trek, and took a bit out of all of us, as we walked along in the afternoon sun.  But there were incredible views to be had all around, from the rock formations forming walls to either side, to the fields of golden cholla cactus marching into the distance.

Desert hiking.

Desert hiking.

Rock formations

Desert plants


The shadows started to lengthen, and it was time to head back to camp.  Night falls fast in the desert, and we had to start thinking about dinner.

2nd hike heading back

Back at camp we took a moment to appreciate Andrew’s Clint Eastwood impression.


And while the dads cooked…

Camp pano

…I hiked up the hillside with a few boys for a look at the sunset.  It wasn’t full of spectacular color, but the muted pinks and blues were still quite pretty.  And the landscape was awesome.

Mo+desert sunset

We ate great food, hung out around the fire, and tried to watch for Geminid meteors, but with an almost full moon, it was challenging to spot them.  After 2 hikes, a huge dinner, and a few hours of chatting by the fire, I hit the hay.  And that’s when the miracle happened.  I actually got a good night’s sleep!  For the first time in forever when camping!!  Yeah for me!!!

In the morning we had some breakfast…

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

…Mr. K. said a few words…

…and we drove to our last desert adventure of the trip, a visit on the way out to an abandoned railroad station.  The building was torn down awhile ago, as it was deemed hazardous, but the foundation remains, along with an old water tower, and, of course, railroad tracks.  Before we left camp we got a picture of the “No Shooting” sign, which was full of bullet holes.  Sam thought this was very funny.

No shooting

Water tower

Water tower at the abandoned railroad station.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station.  Back to civilization...

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station. Back to civilization…

It is pleasant to get home from these trips and take a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and check my email.  But I always think about the places we left behind, as I am lying in my comfy bed, wondering about the quiet nights and hot days, the rocks and plants, and the big sky.  It’s nice to think back and know it is all still out there.


Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel

A Desert Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and Sunrise

"Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared..."   (Homer, The Odyssey)

“Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared…” (Homer, The Odyssey)

Fall is here, and that means camping season with my son’s Boy Scout troop has begun.  For our first outing the troop headed east, to the Wind Caves in Anza Borrego State Park, about 100 miles east of San Diego.  We were due to set out early Saturday morning and stay overnight.  Wednesday and Thursday were absolutely gorgeous in San Diego, sunny and warm, perfect weather.  Then on Friday the clouds rolled in.  And I’m thinking, of course, it’s going to rain.  Because we are going camping.

Saturday arrived, cold and overcast.  We hopped in the cars and headed east.  This is the view from my friend Tony’s windshield, as we were making our way over the Laguna Mountains.

Rain.windsheildFoggy, rainy, and an outside temperature in the 40’s.  I was having a flashback to a desert camping trip the troop did last year.  The view out the windshield on our way out then was not rain, but snow (see post  If you look very carefully in the last panel above, through the raindrops, you can see a bit of clear sky.  And if you can believe it, in about 20 minutes we were out of the rain and fog, with blue skies and sunshine overhead as we hit the desert floor.

In tiny Octillo Wells, just across from the airport, we turned right down Split Mountain Road.  The road lived up to its name.  It quickly turned into a dirt road, that wound its way up Fish Creek Wash, in between two opposing cliffs of sedimentary rock.  On one side is Fish Creek Mountain and the other Vallecito Mountain. (For all photos in this post, double click on them for a larger view)

Split mountain.labeled

The geology was really interesting, with bulging, lifted layers of sedimentary rock pointing in all different directions.  There were huge boulders sandwiched into the layers at random places, some of which we drove directly under.  Hope you aren’t in the car underneath one of those boulders when it finally erodes its way out of the rock wall.

Bulging rock

We worked our way into the park, our destination the trail head for the Wind Caves.  The hike up to the wind caves is less than a mile, with an elevation gain of a few hundred feet.  We shouldered our packs, as we planned to spend the night sleeping in the caves, and headed up the trail.

Up trail

When we arrived at the Wind Caves it was a free for all, as everyone scrambled to find a cave.  Sam and Matthew, our two scouts, snagged this beauty for me and Tony.  Thanks boys!

The gang

The caves, tunnels, and alcoves have been eroded out a sandstone formation by the wind.  The scouts had endless fun scrambling around the caves, poking their heads out of holes, and even playing a moonlit game of hide and seek later that night.

Wind caves

The view out over the Anza Borrego desert was incredible.  Mountains in the distance, and in front of those the Carrizo Badlands, washes, and a formation called the Elephant Knees.  Here are a few panoramic pictures of the view looking out from the caves.  Matthew is posing in the bottom photo, looking like he is part of an ad campaign for the Boy Scouts.



Now for some geology!  Those flat hills in front of Matthew are called the Elephant Knees.  They, and the badlands and mudhills that we will hike out into later are the remains of a tropical sea that existed here from six million to under a half million years ago during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs.  The park has many fossils that illustrate the quite different habitat and life forms that used to live in what is now a desert.  The fossil record from the park includes many marine invertebrates (clams, oysters, sand dollars, sea urchins and corals) vertebrates (sharks, rays, bony fish, and baleen whales) as well as terrestrial vertebrates like mammoths.  The marine environments that were fossilized are part of the ‘Imperial Formation’, and are made up of shelves, reefs, beaches, and lagoons.  As the seas became more shallow over time, estuarine and brackish environments prevailed, and the Elephant Knees formation is made up of thick deposits of oysters and pecten shells from this ancient environment (thank you Wikipedia).

After lunch we headed out on what would turn out to be a 7 mile day hike out to Elephant Knees and back.  Andrew, Ted, and a few of the older scouts wanted to take the trail straight up the face.  Mr. H., our scoutmaster, opted to go around the back instead.  Have a mentioned how much I like our Scoutmaster?


Day hikeWe made our way to the backside of the Elephant Knees and then up, up, up, past barrel cacti and creosote bushes.  The rock was pretty easy to walk on, it was grippy and sharp and all glued together.  The view from the top behind the Elephant Knees into the badlands was spectacular.  The Y-shaped wash you can see is on the map at the beginning of this post.


We hung out at the top for a bit.  We drank water, had some snacks (Ted brought Oreos!), the boys threw about a million rocks over the edge, and Mr. H. got out his binoculars.  We posed the boys for a photo near, but not too near, the edge.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Heading back

We got back to camp at around 4:30, and we set Matthew and Sam to cooking dinner, as they were working on finishing one of their rank requirements for 2nd Class.  They wanted to run off and play, but Tony and I insisted they cook while we still had daylight, which I hope is a camping lesson they remember.  Everything is easier when the sun is up!

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset.  It went down behind a bank of far away clouds.  Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset. The sun went down behind a bank of far away clouds. Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

After sunset, dinner, and the moonrise over the hills behind us, Mr. H. gathered the boys on top of one of the sandstone formations for a dramatic reading of Flash Gordon.  He found scripts from two old radio episodes on the internet, and we were all regaled by the adventures of Flash, the delectable Dale Arden, the evil Ming the Merciless, Flash’s friend Prince Thun the Lion Man of Mongo, and a host of other characters.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

After Flash Gordon, the group scattered.  Some scouts started up a game of hide and seek under the light of the full moon.  It was amazingly bright, but running around, especially after hiking for 4 hours, was not on my itinerary.  The adults sat for awhile star gazing and chatting, then gradually headed off to bed.  I don’t sleep terribly well when I am camping, so I got to see sunset, moonrise, moonset (took the picture below from the snuggly comfort of my sleeping bag), and sunrise.  That has never happened to me before!


The setting moon.

And about 45 minutes later…


The rising sun lights up the mountains, behind which the moon just recently set.

Matt and Sam.sunrise


After breakfast we packed up, gathered for some final words and a group photo, and got ready to head back to civilization.

Group shot


Me and my favorite scout.

A line of scouts trekking out…

Trekking out

Until next time, we bid farewell to the quiet beauty of the desert.

Post Script

Mr. H. took this video as we drove into the desert.  It gives an idea of the wild scenery we enjoyed all weekend.

Also, Mr. H. took his GPS info and created this map and graph of our hike.

WindCaves-ElephantKnees hike

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel