The morning of Day 12 on the trek, my Roving Outdoor Conservation School (ROCS) crew and I had our heads in the clouds as we were given a meteorology lesson at Head of Dean camp. We left Aspen Springs on Day 10 to pick up trail food at Ute Gulch Commissary, where I bought a delicious dark chocolate Toblerone bar and mailed a Baldy postcard to my family back home. After spending another fun night at Upper Bench camp, we hiked over 10 miles the next day to Head of Dean, which meant we had finally reached Philmont’s north country.
The American Meteorological Society’s Careers webpage defines meteorology as “the science of the atmosphere” wherein “the behavior of the atmosphere and its effects on the people of our planet” are analyzed. Clouds, wind, and precipitation are induced by different weather systems such as storms or flash floods that have a huge impact on us all, let alone hikers in the middle of a vast and diverse natural world like Philmont, along with other environments. After our lesson, we hiked to Black Horse Mine, where we stayed the night.
We left French Henry the next day and backpacked to Rich Cabins camp, located just outside Philmont in
Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. Here, my crew and I worked on another conservation project, installing fences to keep deer and other wildlife out of a riparian zone by the intermittent stream. This fence would prevent deer from further over-grazing the riparian stream area so that native plant species could regrow. The renewed buffer zone would prevent manure pollution from Rich Cabins farm from getting into the stream.
While we were occupied with this project, my crew and I, along with Philmont conservation officials, were interviewed and filmed by the Philmont video staff for a YouTube video featuring ROCS.
After our conservation work, we milked a cow and fed chickens and pigs on the farm. This farm consisted of
a chicken coop, a well, a barn, and a fenced-in paddock for livestock. Afterwards, we sat on the cabin porch for the nightly “Porchananny”, where the staff, dressed in interpretive 1890s homestead garb, played and sang music and told stories.
As my crew and I left Rich Cabins the next day, we stopped along the way to our destination for the night for a lesson on mindfulness. After finally entering the Valle Vidal, a natural expanse used, but not owned, by Philmont in Kit Carson National Forest, I reflected on what Mike Sudmeier, the ROCS coordinator, remarked on the trek experience. As Sudmeier was being interviewed for the video the day before, he had said, “ROCS really prepares students to understand both the science and…the societal values that go into shaping the environmental decisions that we need to make as stewards of the land.”
As we walked through this gorgeous natural expanse so far away from my home, I realized that I hadn’t fully acknowledged the impact this trek would have on my future endeavors into environmental issues, as well as my then poor self-esteem and direction in life. With a new outlook on the trek and life itself, I hiked on with a self-satisfied exhilaration I had not felt in years for this land and for myself.
Stay tuned for Part 7 to read the conclusion of this young conservationist’s adventures in New Mexico!