Philmont Trek 708-A-3
Watchung Area Council Contingent
July 7 - 21, 1979
Day 10 on the Trail : July 18, 1979 - The Last Day
Visto Grande Camp to Ponil Camp
I woke up expecting to be floating in a muddy puddle. Oddly enough, I was perfectly dry. It hadn’t rained a drop. It was still dark, but only because it was early. Our hike today was to be about nine miles, so we had to start extra early to make Ponil in time for the program.
Friz, Greg and Scott started a fire and began cooking breakfast. I got up, packed up my sleeping bag and tarp and ambled over to the fire. Everybody else showed up, one by one, over the next ten minutes. We ate breakfast, cleaned up, packed up, and moved out by 5:30 a.m.
Ponil was nine miles away. We had to hike over mountains and across valleys, going up and down like a boat in rough seas.
The beginning was fairly easy. We hiked down a trail until we hit highway 64, the highway that went through the heart of Philmont. Highway 64 is a two-lane, cracked pavement road that came from nowhere and goes to the same place.
Once we crossed the highway, the climb began. It wasn’t too steep at first, and the trail cut along the side. It was fairly simple. We reached the top and went down to the bottom of a valley. The sun has risen and the sky was a deep blue, the trees were deep green, and the climate was very dry, with no rain in sight for the day (at least not for the next 20 minutes). The colors were so deep and rich they are hard to describe.
We went up and down, taking brief rests at the top of every ridge. In one valley, we came to a windmill for a well, as well as a dilapidated building. On the wing of the windmill it said: “The Aeromotor, Chicago.”
We filled our canteens, packed up and continued on to Ponil. On the way, Friz taught us a song to pass the time. We sang as we ascended and descended. On the way down the next to last decline he stopped us. He bent over and came up with cupped hands. In his hands he had a horned toad that was about the size of his thumb. He passed it around. Its skin was rough and dry.
We continued on, climbing up one more mountain, and when we reached the top, we could see Ponil. There were four buildings, a river and some horses.
We arrived at Ponil at around noon and ate lunch. Scott went to logistics to check on hour horseback riding arrangements. Lester came up to us. He was waiting for us to arrive so he could join us. Friz decided that his work was done and decided to head off. We all thanked him for being a great guide.
Scott came back and told us that the camp staff didn’t have horseback riding arrangements for us. As we were taken to our campsite, Scott explained to us that Lester had changed our arrangements at base camp, thinking we were arriving at Ponil on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. Had he let things alone, we would have been able to go horseback riding, something I hadn't done since I was five years old.
The ranger showed us to our site and we set up. To get to the site we had to cross over a log that spanned a river.
Again, I decided not to put up the tent, but just the rain tarp and sleep under that. I set up the tarp so it covered a small mound, so if it rained the water would run around my area, rather than through it. I put my gear under the tarp. After the site was set up, we all went over to the stables. When we got to the stables, one of the rangers said that they had space on one of the rides for all but four of us. So guess who sacrificed for the benefit of the crew: Scott, Greg and I. Lester wasn’t going to go anyway.
After the crew left for their jaunt, one of the rangers offered to show the four of us how to bridle a horse and to show us their mini-museum of western horseback riding memorabilia. We accepted.
It took about an hour, but the ranger showed us how to bridle a horse and gave us a tour of the museum. After the tour he said that at eight o’clock that night there would be boot-branding. Each scout would have the opportunity to use either the horse or cattle brand of Philmont on his boots.
We were happy to discover that Ponil also has a cantina where they make root beer, just like our first camp on the trail, New Abreu. Scott, Greg and I went in and bought two pitchers, then sat down with our backs to the wall, in the corner, facing the door. The rest of the crew didn’t come in.
We finished the root beer and went back to the site. About twenty minutes later the rest of the crew showed up and we cooked dinner.
The sky was looking ominous as we cleaned up. The ranger said that in order to brand your boots you had to supply some wood for the fire. I decided not to brand my boots, since they cost $65 and the brand would ruin the waterproofing. I tagged along just the same.
As we trudged up toward the cantina, the sky got very dark. We heard thunder roll across the black sky. We started jogging toward the cantina, and then the rain started coming down like someone was pouring a bucket over us. I suddenly thought that maybe I didn’t put the sleeping bag under the tarp, so I turned around and started sprinting back to the site, slipping in the instant mud.
I got to the log that spanned the river, and I hesitated. My boots had mud on the bottom, the tree was looking slippery, and the river was gaining current as the runoff increased the flow. I scraped off as much mud as I could, then slowly made my way across the log without a slip. I trotted to the site, got to my tarp, and found the sleeping bag in the ditty bag, half in and half out of the protection of the tarp. My main concern was that when goose down gets wet it clumps up and offers no insulation – and it wasn’t even my sleeping bag! Fortunately, the ditty bag was waterproof, so the sleeping bag was perfectly dry. I was also glad I had the foresight to put the tarp over a mound.
It was already dark and getting late, so rather than go back to the site, I slid under the tarp, spread out the sleeping bag, and crawled in. The rain hit the tarp rhythmically, lulling me to sleep.