Philmont Trek 708-A-3
Watchung Area Council Contingent
July 7 - 21, 1979
Arrival : July 8, 1979
Note: These are recollections 25 years after the trip.
We awoke early, ate breakfast and boarded the buses to head to Philmont.
The bus ride through southern Colorado was amazingly boring! The landscape was flat, dotted occasionally with abandoned buildings and a multitude of dry river beds. We were told that Colorado has the most rivers with the least water in the United States. After that bus ride, I believe it.
We arrived at the New Mexico border in the early afternoon and stopped for a short break. I took a couple of pictures, then we boarded the bus for the last hour of the ride to Philmont.
As we got closer, the terrain became more mountainous, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon and getting closer. Finally, in the early afternoon, we arrived at Philmont. At the entrance was a large T-shaped sign announcing entry to Philmont.
The bus pulled up to the base building where we would check in. Over the door was a large sign that said “Welcome to Philmont.”
Scott Gordon and Lester Friedman, the crew chief and adult crew adviser, went in to confirm our itinerary and get our tent city assignment for the night. We were also assigned a trail guide to help us get acclimated over the first couple of days on the trail. We would meet our guide before dinner.
We gathered our packs and headed to tent city, which had row upon row of canvas wall tents set up over wooden platforms with two army cots in each. Drew Flohn was my partner, so we got our gear stowed in our tent and joined the rest of the crew to head to the supply building to get our first few day’s provisions, including dehydrated food and iodine tablets for water purification. I was amazed at how heavy dehydrated food packets were. I was also amazed at the variety of meals that were available.
We took our provisions to tent city and split it up so that everyone had an “equal” share. Afterwards we headed over to the mess hall for dinner. There we met our trail guide, Peg Van Valen.
After dinner we had some free time, so Scott, Greg Para and I wandered around the base camp. We found the commissary and bought some more film, a couple of boxes of waterproof matches and some candy bars. I saw a sign over a refrigerator that said “Nikes” and a list underneath. I asked the cashier what a Nike is, and after he saw my unit number and state, he said “You’d call it a submarine sandwich.” I had no idea.
We headed back to tent city to meet up with the rest of the crew for the opening campfire. As we got close, I saw the moon over tent city, with a wind blowing. The scene was kind of eerie, so I took a picture of it. Looking at that picture, I’m reminded of old black and white tintypes I’ve seen of Civil War encampments.
We met at a central location with all of the crews who had just arrived, including our entire contingent and about a hundred other scouts. We were led to the fire ring where the setting was straight out of a scene from a cattle drive, or at least the way I would have imagined it, with a wagon wheel, a steer skull, and a roaring fire.
We were told about the history of Philmont, instructed about the rules of the trail, and asked to take an oath. The oath was basically a promise to leave everything as we found it and leave nothing behind.
After the campfire we returned to tent city to get some sleep before our trek. I found it hard to get to sleep, at least for the first two minutes. I fell asleep wondering what was in store for us over the next 10 days.
Note: The next section begins the narrative as I wrote it (with minor edits and additions) only days after the trip.