Gaviota Dawn

Gaviota Beach and trestle bridge.


An early fall morning, just before dawn, and Gaviota Canyon is doing yeoman service as a wind tunnel. The Sundowner winds peculiar to this area are magnified by the narrow pass behind me and they’ve been rocking cars, pulling tent pegs, and making campfires impossible for the past 12 hours.

A fine grit pervades everything, and I wonder how long it will take me to clean up.

But two months (or more, I’ve lost track) of nonstop work, travel, and “drama, not otherwise specified” have made medicine of a couple of days plotzed in a campsite. The waves crash, the squirrels, ospreys, and Monarch butterflies go about their business, and they catch me up in their rhythm, allowing me to reset my tempo and reflect in a way I could not last weekend in a Chicago hotel room.

So I will take the grit. And as the sun rises, I start to see the path forward with unaccustomed clarity.

I reach for my boots. It is time to begin.

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Pocket Gopher

In the topor of the afternoon, Mr. Gopher pops by, inviting himself to tea.

Our conversation is interrupted by the distant shriek from the osprey nest under the trestle, and Mr. Gopher decides that tea might be best taken underground. Without so much as a “good afternoon” he leaves us. 

I reach for my coffee, toast the now-deserted tunnel entrance, and marvel aloud how Camping turns “pests” into “wildlife.” Somewhere, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and perhaps even the Almighty himself may be nodding in agreement.

Patch of the Month: Saddleback

If the California desert continues to hold secrets, it is not because they are hidden, but because they are ignored. As we ease into fall, the thoughts of our Scout troop naturally turn inland and towards the desert.

October through March offers the best season to camp in the deserts. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.

One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites were mostly primitive, but there were toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.

We had originally planned to go in February of this year, but cancelled at the last minute. The winter had witnessed a parade of great storms roll through the state that effectively ended the long drought, but also spewed flash floods across the desert floors. Given that Saddleback was accessible only by roads susceptible to flash flooding, and that we were driving in at night, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rescheduled for March.

It was the right call. Sharing our gigantic site with another troop, we enjoyed the weekend immensely. I picked up this patch at the interpretive center at the northwest corner of the park after a short hike up from our campsite.

No doubt we will be back this way.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Sitting at Ventura Harbor on an early fall Friday afternoon, waiting for the boat from Santa Cruz Island and staring at my watch, I’m trying to display calm, but I’m thinking about how I have to:

  • pick up my Scout after a week of camping;
  • get him home, cleaned up and re-packed in about fifteen minutes flat;
  • get him back in the car;
  • pick up another scout and his gear;
  • drive them both though four hours of Friday night L.A. and Orange County traffic;
  • feed them;
  • get them to their campground and checked in;
  • feed myself;
  • find my hotel and check in;

and do all of that by midnight without falling asleep.

Here it is only 5:10pm, and I am already dozing off.

Yet I retain my outward calm. The sun is shining. The weather is nice. And I have 36 hours before I need to head to Chicago. 

Patch of the Month: National Scouting Museum

It is too easy to take for granted the forces that have created and continue to drive the existence of a scouting movement in the United States. A trip to the National Scouting Museum should eliminate any doubts about why this organization exists, and must continue to exist, as a critical part of our national youth development infrastructure.

We visited the museum in June, just as it was preparing to close and relocate from a commercial park in a Dallas suburb alongside National HQ to a brand new home. The new National Scouting Museum will be at the Philmont Scout Ranch at Cimarron, New Mexico, a place where, the organization’s leadership believes, it will be seen by twice as many people.

We didn’t focus on this during our visit. Instead we had the run of the museum, which did a brilliant job explaining what scouting is, how it is conducted, why it is delivered the way it is, and, perhaps most important, why scouting plays an essential role – as essential as school and sports – in developing young people.

If scouting, broadly speaking, faces a problem in the US, it is that we are far better about delivering these messages to ourselves than we are to people who have know little, nothing, or aught more than disinformation about the organization.

Hopefully, the process of shifting the Museum will open more doors to better exposure. I hope so. The more people who know about the organization and what it REALLY does, the better.