Showing posts with label Scouting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scouting. Show all posts

September 06, 2018

Gnawing at Memory on New Mexico 21

The Tooth of Time at Philmont Scout Ranch.

New Mexico Highway 21 is the platonic ideal of a foothills road, climbing, turning, and dipping, but never  so much as you can't enjoy the scenery. On the right (west) side as you're going south lies the huge Philmont Scout Ranch, which reaches from the High Plains up into wooded mountains.

On the left (east) side, is the big Express UU Bar Ranch, managed for cattle, hunting, and vacations, and owned by Oklahoma businessman Bob Funk (I've met him) a self-made land baron who owns a swath of Colfax County, including the outlaw-haunted St. James Hotel in Cimarron, and operates through a subsidiary the municipal airport at Raton.

A few yards from the asphalt you can spot the ruts of the Mountain Branch of the  Santa Fe Trail. South of Raton Pass, it hugged the foothills, presumably for better access to water, grass, and firewood, while today's railroad and Interstate 25 run further out on the plains.

Once at some event I talked with a National Park Service staffer from the Santa Fe office. He had bicycled the trail — whether the whole thing or just from Bent's Old Fort down to Santa Fe, I don't recall.

He talked about the Tooth of Time — everything at Philmont is the Tooth of Time This or That. People traveling on US 64 get a glimpse of it, but when you follow the Trail, he said, you stay in sight of it for at least a couple of days, traveling at bicycle speed. For the teamsters walking alongside their laden freight wagons, it meant that only a week of travel was left before reaching Santa Fe.

Stay on the Trail, and you can end up in the Mora valley. In the old days, people were always coming and going from there to Fort Pueblo and other places—its agricultural products were sent north and south. Now, Mora is out of the way; it's a place that you have to want to visit, whereas it was on the main route of the Santa Fe Trail.
Rayado at Philmont—I think the dining hall was in the farther building,
and we slept in wall tents on platforms back beyond that.

I stopped at Rayado. It's kind of dangerous to go back to some place that you last saw when you were 14 years old. But I did not have to worry about a golden haze of nostalgia—Rayado looks better now than I remembered. Lusher and irrigated. A thicker riparian forest.

Because it was Labor Day weekend, everything was locked up and deserted, which made the visit feel more dreamlike — just me and the landscape of memory. I could have told it like, "I dreamed I was in this valley — there was a long adobe building . . ."

I was there for some kind of "conservation camp" (two weeks?), not the usual Philmont backpacking trek. (Now there is a Roving Outdoor Conservation School, which combines the two — fieldwork and backpacking. Sounds like fun, but you have to be 16.)

So what did we do? There had been a flash flood earlier that spring  — I think we built check dams, etc. Do we get any credit for the improved riparian area?

There was a little classroom time — basic forest ecology and so on — and one shorter backpack trip into the high country where we cut dwarf mistletoe out of pine trees with pruning saws, probably a useless exercise.

I remember the poker games after hours in the tent, but not the organized activities. That figures.

December 07, 2013

Winter Camping in the Age of Ignorance

I was skimming this article (and its informed comments) about temperature rating on winter
This looks like my childhood sleeping bag.
sleeping bags
and how many manufacturers (in the writer's opinion) overstate them. In other words, a bag rated to -20° F (-28° C) is really more like a -10° bag for a man — maybe a -5° bag for a woman.

With the temperatures hovering around 0° F. outdoors, I remembered my first serious winter camping trip and sleeping in a Korean War-surplus M1949 "down and feathers" mummy bag.

That was not the worst of it. Compared to the rest of my gear, that was a high-tech sleeping bag.

My Boy Scout troop went to the annual Winter Camporee, held in Rocky Mountain National Park — near Bear Lake, I think. I was about 12 years old.

The troop supplied canvas tents, while we Scouts brought our own personal gear. Maybe if Dad had been around, he could have offered good advice and some of his own stuff — he got me started on camping and backpacking, after all — but at this point, the marriage was dissolving, and he was living elsewhere.

As I recall, I was equipped with cotton long underwear, probably cotton socks, cotton blue jeans, some kind of shirt and sweater (?), a not-great ski parka, knit hat, and mittens. On my feet were oiled leather pull-on boots, "Wellingtons" in the American sense of the word. They leaked.

If you had a down parka back then, you were probably a pro mountaineer, like Jim Whittaker on Mount Everest, or else had the money to pretend to be one.

Under my M1949 sleeping bag was a plastic-covered foam-rubber pad off a patio chaise longue. And maybe a GI poncho.

I shivered through the night and spent part of the morning standing next to the campfire that was slowly sinking down, down into the snow. (We "cooked" on campfires, as I recall).

I learned some things right away, such as that blue jeans freeze, and since there were no outhouses, just the woods, you can spend hours working up the courage to take a shit in the snow.

On the plus side, I spent a lot of time snowshoeing, and that plus the bright Colorado sunshine warmed me up. The snowshoes kept my inadequate boots up out of the snow as well.

The second evening, the Scout leaders loaded us into their cars and took us to some Park Service building where we watched a natural-history movie. I suspected even at the time that the real reason for the trip was to let us spend a couple of hours inside a heated structure.

I made a few improvements to my bed, survived the second night, and ran in the snowshoe races the next day. And then it was time to head home. I thought that I had had a good time overall, and I proudly sewed the Winter Camporee patch onto my uniform.