Philmont Trek 708-A-3 Watchung Area Council Contingent July 7 - 21, 1979
Day 2 on the Trail : July 10, 1979
Old Abreu Camp to Urraca Camp
I slept very well. I must have. I was told that in the middle of the night Lester was blowing his whistle, thinking that there was a bear outside of his tent. I slept through it.
We ate some of the trail breakfasts which required no cooking. If made right, dehydrated food is not as bad as some people claim.
We decided to get an early start. We were all packed and ready to go within an hour of waking up.
The trail we took went back past New Abreu. The sky was beautifully blue, the air crisp and cool, and the dew was still on the grass. It’s the kind of morning you wish you could face every day.
The whole crew was in good spirits, and it seemed like it was going to be a great day.
We were moving toward the Uracca Mesa at a pretty good clip. There was a slight climb up a hill and a greater descent. There, spread out before us was a valley, very green and beautiful. Off to the right we could see Philmont's famous landmark: the Tooth of Time.
The sun rose higher and hotter as we crossed this valley. This was our first real day on the trail. Yesterday was only had to go about two miles, but today we had 5½ miles.
We had to check the maps frequently, because getting lost is not the thing to do (as we later learned). My paper map that I bought was almost soaked with sweat because I put it between my pack and my back. The ink that I had marked our route with had run.
We took a swig out of our canteens and got started. We hadn’t gotten far with Mike Freedman fell to the ground, claiming that he hurt his ankle. We gathered around him and a couple of us realized that he must have faked it. We were right! We started hiking away and he got up and followed.
The sun was really beating down upon us now, and we were beginning to feel the heat. At around noon we were at the foot of the Uracca Mesa, hesitating before starting the steep climb before us. There were switchbacks which made the climbing a little easier, but not by much. Frank Pirozzi from Belle Meade and Mike Freedman were lagging behind, so we slowed down to accommodate their pace.
At almost one o’clock, Peg Van Valen, our guide for the first two days, suggested we stop for lunch. We hit a level part of the trail where, according to the map, a spring came out of the mountain. We took our packs off and broke out a trail lunch consisting of dehydrated chicken salad, saltines and another kind of drink, flavor unknown.
We ate lunch in a small grove of trees. We finished lunch, put the garbage away, and looked for the spring, which was right outside the grove of trees where we ate. The spring fed a large tank, about the size of a large above-ground swimming pool. We filled our canteens from a spigot on the side of the tank, purified the water with iodine tablets, and were about to put our packs on when we heard Peg uttering words of protest. Drew, Mike and Frank were throwing Peg into the tank. I grabbed my camera. I took three pictures, one while she was in the tank, and two while she was climbing out. I promised to send a print to her. Of course, due to the heat and low humidity, she dried off quickly.
We got back on the trail at nearly one-thirty and proceeded to climb a sixty-degree trail. The trail was made of loose stones and dirt which made hiking treacherous. We finally reached the top after climbing for a half hour. Urraca Mesa was covered with pine trees and had a soft bed of needles. If I looked into the woods on the mesa at the pine trees, it almost (just almost) looked like Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. We took a long rest and started hiking toward our next camp, which was Uracca Camp.
The rest of the hike was downhill, and it took us nearly forty-five minutes to get to the camp. We finally arrived around mid-afternoon, sweaty, tired, and generally excited. A ranger showed us to our site and told us when the program would start. Some camps had programs, such as the burro packing, and some didn’t. Urraca Camp had a “Mountain Search and Rescue” program, and at night there was a campfire where “The Philmont Story” was told.
Drew and I (mostly I) put up our tent, and I crawled in to take a nap. I opted out of the “Mountain Search and Rescue” program so I could get some rest. When I woke up, it was time to start cooking dinner, so I slowly creeped out and proceeded to help with the fire. After dinner Peg headed out to guide another crew.
I was told that the program was a good one. It seems that there was someone “lost” in the woods, and the rangers showed the trekkers how to find a lost person with walkie-talkies and other equipment. Everyone had a good time.
As we were preparing dinner a mule deer walked through the site. This was the first time we had seen one up close, so we were pretty excited. I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures.
We finished dinner and cleaned up. Scott, Greg and I went away from the others, sat down on a large boulder, and played “War” with a deck of cards that I brought. We played until it got dark, went back to the site and found out that we were challenged to a game of Ultimate Frisbee by a crew from California. We played for about an hour, until it was time for the campfire. By the way, the New Jersey crew beat the California crew, ten to seven.
All of the crews in the camp were led to the area of the campfire. The fire was crackling, casting an aura of the old west into everybody. The campfire started with the rangers of Urraca Camp introducing themselves. Then a couple of rangers picked up instruments typical of the old west – a guitar and a harmonica. The camp sung “Riders in the Sky” and things really started rolling. After the song, one ranger started telling a story about an old-time roundup when the camp as a whole was a ranch before being owned by the Boy Scouts of America.
This story took place on the mesa which we had just climbed over:
Years before the aforementioned roundup, an Indian medicine man was killed by a gang of typical western “bad guys”. In his dying breath this medicine man got out a line to a curse. The words were forgotten, but after the medicine man died a bright light illuminated the mesa with an indescribable figure in the center of the light.
Back to the roundup. It began to get dark, so the herders started back to their camp. All of the sudden, a band of Indians, seemingly riding on air, swooped down upon the men and chased them back to camp, but one of them got separated from the rest.
The rest of the cowboys went back to camp, fully realizing that one of them was missing. They excitedly told the trail boss of the incident, and he led a band of armed men back to the mesa to find the missing man. Before they reached the top, however, this strange light appeared over the mesa, as bright as the sun. As the men drew near to the top, their horses began to get restless, sometimes rearing up, almost refusing to go on. As they went over the top, they saw the source of the light. They turned tail and ran. When they got back to the bunkhouse, they all swore never to tell what they saw to anyone at anytime. To this day, no one knows what they saw on top of the Urraca Mesa.
The story kept us rapt for nearly an hour, and we would every so often glance in the direction of the mesa.
We got back to our tents and proceeded to bed down for the night, shuddering at the thought of ghostly Indians and eerie lights so close by. Before I went to sleep, I wished my parents a happy 25th anniversary.