Philmont Trek 708-A-3
Watchung Area Council Contingent
July 7 - 21, 1979
Colorado: July 7, 1979
Note: These are recollections 25 years after the trip
Our contingent arrived via United Airlines in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I had never before been on a plane and had never been west of the Appalachian Mountains. When I stepped off the plane I was in awe of the beauty of the place. The air was cool anddry. After we got our gear, we were herded to some buses for a short trip over to the Air Force Academy for a tour.
I must have left face prints on the window of the bus. I kept trying to look up at the mountains and the clear skies, but I couldn’t see high enough through the window. These were by far the highest mountains I had ever seen, and I couldn't get enough of them.
The Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs
We arrived at the Air Force Academy after a 30 minute ride. We debussed and were given a general tour of the campus. School was not in session, so there were few people around. They had a quad with fighter jets parked there, which were very impressive and bigger than I had imagined.
The key part of the tour, where we spent most of our time, was the Air Force Academy chapel. From the outside it looked like a series of about 18 arrowheads made of aluminum lined up, nothing like the stone and mortar churches that I was used to. When we went inside, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass made the sanctuary glow with rich blues, reds and golds. The ceiling was the highest I had ever seen.
They told us that they have accommodations for all faiths and showed us the Protestant and Catholic sanctuaries. They said there were other places of worship for other faiths, but we had to leave to get to Pike’s Peak and Royal Gorge.
The drive to Pike’s Peak Cog Railway was pretty short. Pike’s Peak is the highest point in the continental United States. We got on board and rode for quite a while, primarily because the train only goes a maximum of 9 miles per hour, and that’s on the relatively level parts of the route.
When we got to the top and stepped off, we were hit with what felt like an arctic blast of wind. Dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, we were chilled rather quickly. We hustled into the gift shop to warm up, and looked around through the windows. A few of us braved the cold (probably only about 40 degrees) to look around outside. The view was incredible – it seemed like we could see forever. After lunch we headed back to the railway to return to the buses.
We headed down to Royal Gorge which has the world’s highest suspension bridge at 1,053 feet over the Arkansas River. After about an hour we arrived at the visitor’s center. The bridge had metal supports but a suspicious wooden deck – suspicious because it looked old and decrepit. There’s an aerial tram car that goes across the gorge on a cable. There was also a way to go down the gorge to the river, and the ride down was pretty long, although not as long as the Pike’s Peak ride. The river at the bottom was rushing and looked like incredible rapids to kayak. These days, 25 years later, they’ve built the area up to include a zoo, rides and other attractions.
I bought some gifts at the Royal Gorge visitor’s center, such as a black velvet pillow cover with yellow tassles with a screened image of the Royal Gorge bridge. Thinking back on it, it was pretty tacky (it was 1979, after all). Thankfully, that’s long gone.
We left Royal Gorge in mid-afternoon.
We arrived at La Junta, Colorado where we were going to spend the night at an Explorer Post lodge.
While in La Junta we saw a show of traditional Native American dances put on by the largest Explorer post in the U.S. The dancers were dressed to the hilt in Native American ceremonial clothing, including headdresses, moccasins and breach cloths. The show was very impressive, especially when they got into the fire dances.