Philmont Trek 708-A-3
Watchung Area Council Contingent
July 7 - 21, 1979

Day 1 on the Trail : July 9, 1979

Dropoff to Old Abreu Camp

The view was spectacular. Never before had I seen such mountains. The New Mexican Rockies lay before me as I began my ten day trek. I had been training for five months: stretching, exercises, jogging and going on long hikes with a pack half-full of rocks. The next ten days would be the most memorable trip of my life.

I was assigned to a team of ten young men. We were to help each other along, but I knew that everything I did I would do on my own.

The gear that was assigned to us was supposed to be distributed equally among us by weight, but somehow there were only three of us who carried the majority of the equipment, which consisted of dehydrated food, cooking gear, tents and a dining tarp. I put my pack on a scale at the base camp and was astonished. Fifty-six pounds! I probably had the heaviest pack out of my whole crew. For the record, the other two were Scott Gordon, our crew chief, and Greg Para, the assistant crew chief, both of North Plainfield. Their packs were also nearly sixty pounds, while everyone else’s weighed in between twenty-five and thirty-five pounds.

A bus took us to where our sixty-three mile journey was to begin. No matter where I looked, I saw mountains jutting out of the ground, forming valleys where cool, clean refreshing spring water streams ran. The sky was cloudless, smogless, and beautiful. I was in awe as we hiked. I had never seen such sights in my life. (I am glad now that I took over three hundred pictures over the whole trip.)

We hiked along one of the streams. We could see the trout swimming in the small pools. I will never understand why they had us hike only a couple of miles to our first overnight camp. The sights that met my eyes made me forget about my chafed hips and aching back. (Actually, I may have just answered my own question!)

The first camp was across the stream from the trail on which we were hiking, so we had to trump across a fallen tree that went over the stream. The tree was about four feet in diameter, so none of us had any trouble walking on it.

As we neared the camp, we saw a log building on a field. About fifty yards from this building was a building under construction. This building, however, was being made out of adobe, the way Indians made their homes long ago. The adobe was made by the rangers, baked in the sun and piled on the wall, which was shoulder high. We were told that it took three years to make this much. (I have since found an image of the finished building which serves as the new cantina.)

There was a picnic table near the log cabin, and a faucet which ran spring water was near it. We all took off our packs and proceeded to have lunch, which consisted of saltines, dehydrated tuna-fish salad, dehydrated drink mix (of which was impossible to tell the flavor), and candy bars.

After lunch we were given directions to our site, which was around a half mile out of the way, at a place called Old Abreu (uh-bray-you). This camp was on a small plateau that was about twenty feet above the same stream that we had hiked along earlier. Directly across the stream was a sheer cliff rising close to one-hundred-and-fifty-feet above us. There was a mountain behind us and in front of us.

After we set up our tents and did the necessary chores, like firewood collecting and water purifying, three of us, (me, Scott Gordon and Greg Para) who had become good friends over the months of meetings and were also Order of the Arrow lodge members, decided to go back to the log cabin and see what its function was.

We arrived at the camp, which was called New Abreu, and walked up to the cabin. As we stepped onto its porch, we heard music emanating from within. We stepped through the swinging doors and saw a long counter running the length of the building at the back, with tall stools nearby. On the left of us were chairs and tables, and in the corner there was a tree sitting in a galvanized aluminum tub. On the wall there was a sign: Homemade Root Beer - $1.25 a Pitcher.

We had never had homemade root beer before, so we each put in forty-two cents and took a pitcher to one of the tables. There was a tape deck behind the counter, and the beer tender put on a tape of Lynyrd Skynyrd. We were relaxed. We finished off three pitchers.

Then in came the rest of our crew. They came over to our table and we quickly poured the last of the root beer into our glasses. Let them buy their own!

We left the cantina and started looking around. One of the rangers came up to us and said that there was a burro packing race, crew against crew, in one hour. We decided to round up the crew and give it a try.

We went up to the corral where the horses and burros were kept. The rangers came up and snagged a burro and showed the other crews and ours how to pack one.

Then the race began. It was me, Scott and Greg. We went to the pen to pick out our burro. We were supposed to put the harness over the burro’s nose, put the loops over its ears, buckle it, and pull the blasted animal out of the pen. We didn’t even get out of the pen. There were so many loops and straps on the harness that I couldn’t figure out which one went over the nose. Meanwhile, the burro did not want to be cooperative. He kept trying to get away. We finally got a ranger just to show us how to put the harness on. At this point we just wanted to conquer the puzzle. The ranger put it on for us and made it look easy. We pulled the stubborn beast out of the pen to put the pack on it. That’s where I quit. I was not going to reach under that ornery burro for anything! We were supposed to put one strap near the (a-hem) you-know-what. I wasn’t going to take any chances. Greg, Scott and I walked down to the cantina for a root beer.

When we left, we saw a mounted cavalcade heading up one of the hills. Scott, Greg and I looked up the hill where they were going. Greg mentioned that he thought he saw something up there, so I got out my camera and the telephoto lens and looked. There, at the top, was a cross. We decided to hike up the hill to see what was there and get a view of the camp from up high.

We returned to New Abreu, hooked up with the rest of the crew and followed everyone back to our site for dinner.

I don’t recall exactly what the main course was that night, but for dessert we had lemon pie, or something that tasted like lemons. It was a good dinner, and cleanup took no time.

Then we had to put up our bear bag containing all smellables. Food, insect repellent, toothpaste, etc. was all put in a bag and was put up nearly a quarter of a mile away. We weren’t going to take any chances.

I started writing a letter home, which went as follows:

Hi!

The weather’s great, except for the heat. We were in a cantina on the trail. They were serving homemade root beer for $1.25 a pitcher. Scott, Greg and I downed three pitchers. Each is about a half gallon, and we were just about swimming away. The cantina is about 3 miles from where we started. Mike Freedman and Lester Friedman (adult adviser) are being pains. Michael embarrasses us and "Les" (huh) treats us like he is the best camper in the group (he isn’t). In slides I got you will see an adobe house in the midst of construction.

Our crew is the luckiest crew of the contingent. We got the best guide for the first two days. She says she is from California, and she looks it.

When we were in La Junta the night before last we saw a show of Indian dances put on by the largest Explorer post in the U.S. In the past forty years they have averaged 100 members.

The man who started the post has the Silver beaver, Buffalo and Eagle, and is an honorary member of the Blackfoots and Pueblos. These boys have done one incredible job.

Right now I’m watching Drew Flohn and Mike Freedman making fools of themselves trying to fly fish.

We arrived at Old Abreu for the first night about two hours ago. There are sheer cliffs across from us over a river.

I was then interrupted and Greg called me out of my tent. I asked what he wanted and he said “Look.” I looked. Across the river, on the side of the cliff, amongst some trees, was a patch of ground that appeared to glow in the dark. We mused over what it could be for nearly forty-five minutes. We arrived to the conclusion that it was a rock, similar to calcite, reflecting in the moonlight.

We retired soon afterward anticipating what would happen tomorrow, our second day at Philmont.