So the next day Sarah and I, the only two coffee hounds in the crew, were up early, sipping a cup of Joe and contemplating a good day. By 8:30, we were all heading down the trail. At our first major rest stop, Pat noticed that I was losing a Clevis pin on my backpack. On closer inspection, I noticed another that would have to be replaced soon. There's been a lot of stress on this old pack since I bought it in 1997! These were the first repairs I'd ever had to make to it. The pack of Clevis pins I bought back in '97 were finally getting used.
And so we bounced down the trail, singing raucous songs. A new crescent Moon had been seen earlier that morning, which yielded a little impromptu composing.
You said you'd wait for me at the crossroads,So it isn't Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Sue me.
There where the radiant Moon shone so bright.
But when I got there, something had changed you:
Your fangs and your fur surely gave me a fright.
Where, O where are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and I thought I'd found true love.
You met another and *pbpbpbp* you was gone.
We stopped to filter some water at Pueblano Ruins. I had been impressed by how each canyon at Philmont has its own separate beauty, is its own micro-biome, if you will. And I think the South Ponil one of the prettiest parts of the whole Ranch. We hiked on, and came to Pueblano, a logging camp, around 11:40.
Pueblano is one of my favorite staff camps (along with Cyphers Mine). We had lunch in the shade there, and there we got on the subject of sucker bets. It's an old college standard to pull on Freshmen: bet a guy a dollar that he can't eat four saltine crackers in 60 seconds. Several of our Venturers made the attempt, but all failed miserably. Sarah mentioned a similar contest, trying to eat a teaspoon of cinnamon. Which prompted me to teach them all how to kick the broom. This resulted in several pratfalls. And then it was time to climb thirty-foot spar poles.
Michael beginning the climb
We finished our program at Pueblano at 2:30. A couple of staffers volunteered to watch our dinner fixin's and cookware, so we left those behind and boogied down to Flume Canyon to set up camp. Along the way, we had a near-encounter with a bear. (After setting up camp, T.C. saw the bear itself -- a cub -- in our sister crew's campsite.)
The boys managed to get the bear rope tangled in the bear cable. They called for me to tie somebody into a chest hitch so we could raise him up to untangle it. I took the two ends of the tangled bear rope and gently vibrated it. The whole thing untangled and dropped in a heap on the ground. "How did you DO that?" asked one. "I'm magic," I replied, and walked off.
We walked back to Pueblano for the campfire. Along the way, we saw two hen turkeys and bunch of wild turkey chicks. Back at Pueblano, we made supper in a vacant campsite. The kids played logger ball (an early form of baseball), and we enjoyed a great Advisors Coffee.
Talking with advisors from other parts of the country, I had cause to feel good about how we organized for this adventure. Our sister crew flew from Tennessee as part of a Council contingent. Their cost for the whole deal (Philmont + travel) was around $1400 apiece. A New Jersey crew came out as part of several crews sent by their Council. In addition to air fare, they spent a couple of days in Colorado before arriving at Philmont. Their cost was about $1800 apiece. We did it for $920 apiece by driving out and camping along the way. We also scrounged up a lot of scholarships to help make it happen, as well as raising money.
The Pueblano Boys did a great campfire, as usual. We walked back afterwards in the dark. As we were going to bed, Sarah called out, "the toilet paper is in the fire ring!" Where else but Philmont does such a sentence make any sense?
Next day was a Sunday. Church Day, as our guys had been calling it. We had about seven miles to go to our destination, Indian Writings. But first, we had to go through Ponil. Ponil camp was the original base camp for Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp after Waite Phillips's original donation of land. We got there and headed for the Cantina, where I ordered the first round of root beer for the crew.
Girls are different, example #5712-A. both Cheyanne and Dakota have backpacked all across Philmont with stuffed animals to sleep with. Cheyanne bought a little pronghorn, and Dakota a horsie, at the Tooth of Time Traders. I remember my daughter buying a little stuffed squirrel to ride on her backpack years ago. She had always taken a stuffed animal to Girl Scout camp with her; now that she was a rough-n-tough Explorer (soon to be Venturer), she wanted to keep the tradition going. Not a thing wrong with it.
Ponil Camp sits at the junction of five canyons, channeling the various branches of Ponil Creek toward the Cimarron River. Just outside of camp, Hart Peak rose over the camp. Compared to Baldy and the Tooth, Hart Peak isn't much of a mountain, but in the early days of Philmont -- back when it was Philturn -- it was the summit to attain. We strolled up to the top, where we had lunch.
Lunch was followed by worship. I preached on the Transfiguration. When church was over, I sat down. Nobody moved. It's not just that they were tired, I think. Nobody wanted the spell broken: it was a holy moment. Finally, people began moving toward their packs, getting ready for the rest of the day's hiking.
It was a very hot trail to the dry North Ponil and Indian Writings. We finally staggered in a little after 4:00, too late for program, but not too late for hot showers! We were all tired, and dinner took a while. But our campsite was lovely, and we were happy to be facing our last night in the backcountry. All night long, the stars burned in the heavens. There were so many stars, it was sometimes hard to make out the familiar constellation patterns.
Approaching Indian Writings
Our last morning in the backcountry, we finished off the last of our pound of coffee and got ready to walk out. We were all tired, but happy. It was a fine morning, the sun bright and hot. Not a lot of chatter on the trail as we headed on down to the world's only known T. Rex track. We played tourist a while there, but nobody wanted to linger.
At 10:07, we reached Six Mile Gate, our pickup point. Our sister crew was, of course, there ahead of us. As we stepped across the road, though, several of our guys joined me in dropping to the ground and doing five pushups in full pack, to the amazement of the onlookers. Then we all shouted out,
"Crew 119! Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!"And then the bus came, and we were whisked back to Tent City for a nice lunch, hot showers, laundry, and bureaucracy. We divvied up the tasks to be done and got through our checkout procedures easily. There was time to loaf around a bit. We attended chapel, and then the Closing Campfire, where I got to present Michael with the American flag he had been carrying the whole trek as a memento of his leadership. The whole crew was on a major high as we left the campfire, and everyone was talking about coming back again some day.
All through our trek, I had been so rushed that I had not had time to shave. Shaving's not usually a big deal, but it's more complicated in the backcountry. So I'd gone eleven days without shaving at all. I decided to leave the scruff for one more day in order to get a picture and document it. I decided I looked like somebody out of the Civil War. The next day, I shaved it all off but my mustache.
Me as Robert E. Lee
The next morning, we were all checked out of our tents by 8:15. We went across the highway to visit the Seton Museum by the Training Center. We were scheduled for a tour of Villa Philmonte at 10:30, so we had some time to kill. We played cards in the covered porch of the PTC dining hall. Mule deer were grazing all around. And I noticed a major difference between the two sides of Philmont. Over at Camping HQ, everybody met the Philmont height-weight guidelines; PTC participants obviously need not. In fact, the difference -- which I had never really noticed before -- was shocking.
Mule deer grazing at PTC
After our tour of Waite Phillips's summer home, we wended our way to Heck's Diner, for some major chow nomming. We shopped for the trip home, and then it was off to Clayton Lake State Park, just 90 or so miles away. It was a beautiful day, with promise of being a fine night. We didn't bother with tents. We meadow-crashed by our shelter. Cheyanne came up with the Profundity Du Jour:
"There will be world peace when everyone sleeps till noon."You read it here first, folks.
The next day was all Oklahoma, all the time. 500 miles plus to cross the State. We passed several signs for Panhandle State University. That's where you go to learn to be a panhandler, I guess. We stayed at Twin Bridges State Park, meadow-crashing once again as we came to terms with the Midwest humidity again. And then it was our last day, July 26. We stopped in the morning at the Bass Pro mother ship in Springfield, Missouri, to gawk more than shop. And then it time to put the hammer down. We arrived home around eight in the evening. Put up the tents to air out. Unloaded stuff. Said a prayer and sent everybody home.
The trek is over, but the adventure continues.