Sunday, August 24, 2014

Philmont Scout Ranch - Day Minus-One - Travel to Colorado

For over a year now, Luke and I, plus a crew of about 9 other scouts and parents from Troop 969, have been preparing for our epic journey to Philmont Scout Ranch.  Philmont is the Mecca of the scouting religion in the United States.  The ranch has been reserved as a scout's hardest and most rewarding achievement since the 1930's.  My grandfather, all of my uncles, and nearly every boy who has ever been very serious in scouting has been to Philmont or desired to go.  Each year, they see over 22,000 scouts, and what's remarkable is the military-like efficiency with which the camp is run.  With that many people, they have provisioning, communications, search and rescue, and other critical functions down to a completely well-oiled machine, while giving the scouts an opportunity to still be completely remote and on their own in the backcountry.  They do an amazing job.

Our journey to Philmont would have us hopping a Southwest 737 from Dulles and landing in Denver.  We decided, for convenience and for the best value, that using a charter from Blue Sky Adventures was the most practical way to get from Denver to Cimmaron, New Mexico, a drive of several hours.

Blue Sky met us at the airport in Denver, where we hopped a bus and headed out.  A bit about Blue Sky:  The company is made up of scouters who really understand Philmont and the scouting bases they support.  Their main business is providing transportation to scouts getting to these high adventure camps.  Therefore, the charter trip is geared toward enriching the whole camp experience as a whole.  That said, our first stop was Red Rocks Park in Denver.  Here, we stopped for several hours and did our first hike, a two mile hike around the park.  This served two purposes:  (1) to show us the beautiful park, but (2) to begin to acclimate our sea-level lungs to the higher altitude.  Very smart, as altitude would be a major obstacle as we hiked in the coming weeks.




After touring Red Rocks, we departed and headed to Colorado Springs, home of the United States Air Force Academy.  The academy was remarkably small, and the highlight of the tour there was the iconic chapel, which from the outside is reminiscent of something aeronautical, with its aluminum spires and sweeping sharp points.  Inside, it is transformed into a cathedral of light, with the stained glass providing a beautiful blue and purple glow on every pew.  The main chapel is Protestant, but also housed within are separate chapels and services for Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims, each one's size determined by the number of students typically interested in each faith service.






Once we departed the USAF Academy, we stopped in for lunch at the Country Buffet.  The boys gorged themselves on the all-you-can-eat buffet, and with the thought of the calories we were soon to burn, even the parents let themselves go a little.

After lunch, we headed for our first night stop for the trip:  the dormitories of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  Here we'd stay for the night before setting out in the morning for Cimmaron, New Mexico, home of Philmont Scout Ranch.

The dorms offered spacious and luxurious accommodations.  And by luxurious, I mean we had a bed and chairs.  Dining was in the student dining hall.  The food there was not super, but we had no idea how good it would be compared to the weeks to come.

The highlight of our first night out was that we had full use of the student recreation center, where the boys played pick-up games of basketball and then finally we all took a long splash in the university pool, playing marco-polo til it was time for bed.

Tomorrow, we'd be arriving at Philmont, and tomorrow the journey would really begin.

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