That sum­mer was fleet­ing, more so because it would be our last one in San Diego. In a few months, when the orders came down, my dad was to be trans­ferred to Philadel­phia. We weren’t hap­py about it because we loved San Car­los. But we weren’t Cal­i­for­ni­ans, Yugosla­vians or Mary­lan­ders; we were Navy brats, sea­sick for a final port we could call home.

My Cub Scout troop would be camp­ing out for three days in the Anza Bor­rego Desert along with anoth­er local troop. I knew for months this adven­ture was on the hori­zon and could bare­ly con­tain my antic­i­pa­tion. I was a true afi­ciona­do of the Hardy Boys; hav­ing read most of their books my father had saved from his child­hood. My mind was filled with thoughts of mys­tery, undis­cov­ered sil­ver mines, ban­dits and leg­ends of lost loot. I planned to scour the land­scape for clues. Glints of sil­ver and hid­den caves would beck­on.

The Anza Bor­rego is the largest state park in Cal­i­for­nia, sec­ond biggest park behind the Adiron­dack State Park in NY. It was a two-hour dri­ve from San Diego. It was an incred­i­ble wilder­ness of desert framed by large stony moun­tains. Once we left the main road we drove into the open val­ley and set up camp in a clear­ing sur­round­ed by sage scrub and occa­sion­al cac­ti. We were in the basin, but I’d describe it as a fry­ing pan because it was broil­ing hot. Our quar­ters were def­i­nite­ly old school- can­vas two-pole tents pegged into the ground on. After the tents were set up and our gear stored, we dug out the com­mu­nal latrine. It was essen­tial­ly a 3 ft trench, the dug up dirt piled along the rim. You shov­eled it in over your busi­ness when you were done. A small tarp hung from a strung rope to give you pri­va­cy. Most impor­tant­ly, it was down­wind from the camp­site.

I didn’t get much of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore that day, but found a dehy­drat­ed car­cass of a huge lizard, called the chuck­wal­la, in the rocks as I searched for fire­wood for the camp­fire. I brought with me a can­teen that I emp­tied with­in a few hours. It must be hor­ri­ble to be in a desert with­out water. In a few days, you’d be beef jerky, same as the Chuck­wal­la. The troop brought along plen­ty of pro­vi­sions and gal­lons of water, so we would sur­vive. I heard there was an oasis near­by and could pic­ture an encamp­ment of bag­gy-pant­ed Bedouins with curved dag­gers and drool­ing camels sit­ting around a pool of aqua-col­ored water, in the shade of lush coconut filled palm trees. Behind them, the shapes of their sexy con­cu­bines danced behind silk-walled tents. Maybe they all looked like Bar­bara Eden of “I Dream of Jean­nie.” She was pret­ty hot.

Before din­ner, I rest­ed in the shade of my tent and read a com­ic book of my favorite super­hero- “The Flash.” I liked The Flash because I was a fast run­ner too. He had super son­ic speed and was also friends with the Green Lantern. And like most super heroes, one minute he was the public’s hero, the next, a pub­lic men­ace. It was a co-inci­dence that the Flash was also my dad’s favorite super­hero in the 1940’s.

My wise-ass scout leader sent me to the oth­er camp to bor­row a left-hand­ed spat­u­la. The laugh was on gullible me as I slunk back into camp red-faced and furi­ous. If I only had a dag­ger! We had the usu­al man­ly fare cooked up in the camp­fire… hot dogs, burg­ers, beans, beef stew, etc. I drank a stowed away warm bot­tle of Crush that made me think of a big­ger lizard and a pret­ty genie with red hair and freck­les.

The next day, real ear­ly, while it was still fair­ly cool, we went on a ten-mile hike. I kept my eye open for caves, arrow­heads and evi­dence of lost min­ers, but no such luck. I cap­tured an albi­no look­ing lizard when I turned over a rock and sur­prised it. It ran right into my hand. We passed a desert tor­toise chew­ing on a cac­tus and a saw a road­run­ner flash across our trail. We exam­ined coy­ote tracks. You’d nev­er see one, they were wile, you know, but we heard their high-pitched wail­ing dur­ing the night. On a dis­tant out­crop, we briefly spot­ted some bighorn sheep who dis­ap­peared into the rocks. The hike was beau­ti­ful, but exhaust­ing. I brought back with me a nasty blis­ter on my heel and was reward­ed lat­er with a col­or­ful patch for my uni­form.

The last night we stared into the clear sky and locat­ed the North Star, which was in the vicin­i­ty of the big dip­per. I don’t think I ever saw so many stars; they were thick, stirred togeth­er in milky clouds that spread across the sky.

I took on a num­ber of chal­lenges I had been putting off. I wouldn’t be skate­board­ing in Philadel­phia, made a solo climb of “S” moun­tain just to see if I could do it. I got into my first fight, one of those quick school­yard brawls. Start­ing off with a taunt and an “Oh, yeah,” then “-Yeah,” shoves, fol­lowed by a few wild swings and grap­pling in a heap of dust. In the fra­cas, I man­aged to squirm free and get the oth­er kid in a head­lock. The kid bucked and punched me, but I squeezed until he was in tears and said, “OK, I GIVE”. I got cocky after that and lost the very next fight, unable to secure a head­lock, which was my only good move.

Dad took Joe and I fish­ing to Lake Mur­ray, a mile from where we lived. While Joe and I pulled in a few Sun­fish, Dad hooked into some­thing big. His pole curved into an invert­ed U, on the verge of snap­ping as he reeled in what had to be a behe­moth. The line would sure­ly break any sec­ond as the reel creaked under the ten­sion. As the beast was dragged from the depths we pulled in our line to watch the epic bat­tle.

Slow­ly but sure­ly Dad man­aged to get the thing clos­er to shore as the water swirled angri­ly above it. The dark shape of a large cat­fish emerged briefly, then dis­ap­peared as it rolled vio­lent­ly in an attempt to shake the hook. Final­ly, the cat­fish tired and was pulled with­in reach. Hook­ing his fin­ger it under the gill, Dad lift­ed his fish — fish­es. The big fish was tan­gled in the line that trailed back into the lake. At the end of the trail­ing line was anoth­er fish, a nice sized trout, flap­ping at the bank’s edge. That was the first and last time I went fish­ing with my dad. In fact, it was the last time I did some­thing spe­cial with him, just us, for the rest of my child­hood.