Monday, September 01, 2014

Philmont Scout Ranch - Day Eight - French Henry and Pueblano Camps

On our eighth day, we struck camp at Copper Canyon and headed blessedly downhill to French Henry camp, destined for Pueblano camp.  This would be another approximately eight mile day, but it was a steady descent from 10,000 feet to 8,000 feet.  A nice stroll.

Our early morning hike took us immediately into the Copper Canyon Meadow, which was indescribably beautiful.  We paused for a moment, long enough to snap some photos, and headed on down the trail.

French Henry lay just about halfway along our journey, and was a mining and blacksmithing station.  Since the boys had done blacksmithing at Lenhock'sin, we decided to focus on the mine with our limited time.

The Aztec Mine (so named for all the gold it contained), was a real functioning mine from the 1880's (or so) until 1941, when World War II made it impossible to run for lack of men and supplies.  Our guide, a girl-staffer from French Henry, told us all about the mine, and taught us that there are a million ways to die in a mine.

First and foremost, steel rails that head into the mine are a perfect conduit for lightning, and many people died in this way.  She then invited us to climb into the mine, where the ceiling was so low, I had to crouch and crawl through mucky water as we went deeper.  I fought hard against the panic of claustrophobia, not wanting to miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the mine with the boys.

Once inside, the ceiling raised a bit and we could stand up, and our guide showed us the old drilling bits that were used to bore holes into the rock.  One person would hold the bit while another would strike it with a hammer.  One missed blow, and you'd have a busted thumb for sure.  Nasty stuff.

The purpose of drilling the holes was to have a place to put the dynamite.  This was a job usually reserved for children, because dynamite was dangerous business, and dynamite would go off unexpectedly, and children (sadly) were considered expendable.

After the blasts would occur, "muckers" would have the job of shoveling all the stone out of the newly opened channel.  This too was dangerous business, because if their steel shovels hit an unexploded bit of dynamite, well, that was the end of them too.  The muckers were usually Irish immigrants, and sadly again, also considered expendable.

Once all the stone was loaded into the cart, a donkey would haul it up to the surface where they'd dump it into a grinding mill, mixing it with mercury and cyanide to extract the gold, silver, and copper ores.  Again, nasty stuff.  People died.

Mining, we learned, is dangerous business, and once you were employed by the mine, you were indebted to the companies for food and lodging, and literally made slaves of the mining corporations.  Most would die before they turned 30.  Very rarely did any one individual, with lustful dreams of gold, ever get rich.  Quite the opposite.

We walked further into the mine, and at the end of a long shaft, our guide had us all turn out the lights, where it was so black you could see absolutely nothing.

She began telling us a ghost story.  She spoke of a long, lost miner, whose lust for gold brought him to the mine, but who never fit in with the other crews in the mine.  He was always the odd man out, and most of the other miners thought he was crazy.  Setting off alone one night, in a remote and lonely passage, he hit a weak spot in the shaft, and was trapped in the mine.  They said that if you listened closely, you could still hear him tapping for help with his hammer.

Still in the total darkness, our guide then struck a metal pail hard with her axe, sending shivers through us all.


Quietly then, in a low whisper, Luke sang out, in "Stephen King-esque" way:

"One, two.  Buckle my shoe."

CLANG!! She hit it again.

"Three, four, lock the door."


"Five, six, pick up sticks."


It was eerie.  I thought Luke had been enlisted to do this as part of the show, but it turned out he did this of his own inspiration, and it was creepy as hell.

Show over, I beat cheeks to get the hell out of that mine, stepping in watery puddles and stooping to keep from baning my head.  I breathed deeply when I was out back in the open once again.

From French Henry, we headed down the trail again into our camp for the night, Pueblano.  The Pueblano camp was a faithful reproduction of a logging camp, in which the Pueblano boys, as they came to be known, showed the boys how to do logging with two person saws, and how to use other various woodcutting tools.

We set up camp early, and made dinner, for this camp offered lots of entertainment around the staff cabin.  While making dinner, tragedy befell our camp once more when my coffee cup got stepped on and broken.  Oh, Lord, what would I do?! Luckily for me, Luke's coffee habit had not yet set in, so I was able to requisition his coffee cup for the remainder of the trip.

After supper, we played checkers and cards around the cabin.  Then, later, the Pueblano boys challenged the scouts to a game of loggerball, which oddly resembled baseball, except that the staff team had the advantage of changing the rules when it suited them.  As such, the staff apparently had an undefeated record against the scouts all year.

One of the highlights of this camp was a staffer named Shane, who wrote ransom notes for anyone requesting it, and sent those notes back home to our beloved (our "kissy-faces" as he called them) as a means of extracting cookies from the distraught missuses back home.  Unfortunately for Shane, our letter arrive a week and a half after my return home!  The letter is amusing as hell, so click on it below to read it in full.

Stamped:  Pueblano, Elevation 8,060 feet, Philmont Scout Ranch, August 13, 2014.  Dear Becky, We are writing in order to inform you that your husband has been found living amongst the woodland creatures near the Philmont camp of Pueblano.  He has managed to saddle a majestic elk bull and is using it to ride throughout the hills trumpeting his own name and wrangling all of the scouts' donkeys.  He calls himself 'Chief Elksnout.'  He has actually become a storied hero amongst the locals and we would have no problem alloweing him to continue his fabled exploits; however, the scouts here have begun to follow his example.  Instead of harmlessly hiking, they have begun attempting to saddle elk on their own in order to prove their own masculinity against that of your husband's.  As a result, we have been forced to tie him to a tree.  He will remain in such a state until we receive payment for his passage home in the form of two (2) bottles of your whiskey.  Actually, we work for the BSA and would get fired, so we'll accept (1) one container of baked goods instead.  Please send them quickly to the Pueblano Boys, 47 Caballo Rd, Cimarron, NM 87714. Hurry! --The Pueblano Boys

After loggerball and adult coffee at 7pm, the camp staffers brought out banjos and fiddles and played for the camp residents until well after 9pm.  Then, once again, it was time to turn in, and get ready for a new day.

Tomorrow, our trip would take us to Ponil, Philmont's historic base camp from the 1930's, and now a cowboy camp with lots of great surprises in store.

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