Day 11: Flume Canyon to Ponil

I dreamed last night that I was at work and hadn’t taken a shower since getting back from Philmont. (Which would serve my boss right after sending me on this assignment.) The crew gets a kick out of this. “You’ll be traumatized by Philmont and will be setting up bear bags in your office,” Blake says.

“You’ll be eating dehydrated food for lunch everyday,” Kevin laughs.

“And putting everything you own in Ziplock bags,” Travis adds.

That might have been just a dream, but here’s something that wasn’t: We woke up this morning to a pile of bear poop only 10 feet from our tents. Yikes!

Charlie and yours truly have different reactions to the bear poop discovery.

Last night, Assistant Scoutmaster Ken Forkner called it. When we were pitching our tents, he advised us to keep them clear of a path running from the nearby creek through our tent site to the Bearmuda Triangle. He guessed — right on — that if a big furry visitor came through, it would take this path. Fortunately, we had done a good job with our bear procedures, so our visitor didn’t bother us or our stuff.

Christian doesn’t want to come out of his tent into the drizzly morning.

We head out for Ponil, the last camp on our trek. We make really good time and get there in time for a horseback ride.

We and another crew listen up before the ride.

I don’t have much experience around horses, so I listen carefully to the staff talk before our trail ride. They tell us to be sure to take charge of your horse and show it who’s boss, because it can sense if you’re nervous and will push you around. As the staff is giving out the horses, I’m thinking: Please, please, please let me get a reallllly easy-going horse.

Instead, I get Bob. He’s a big guy with a glint in his eye. I get on him and before I know it, he’s moved into the middle of the corral, even though I’ve been pulling on his reins to get him to stay put. Everybody’s looking at me from the perimeter of the corral where we’re supposed to be lining up, probably thinking, “Boy, she needs to show that horse who’s boss …” In a fake stern voice, I tell Bob what’s what, but I don’t think he’s buying it.

Fortunately, the ride is just a leisurely stroll single file through Ponil Valley, so Bob doesn’t go wild. Although pretty gentle, most of the horses have a bit of a stubborn streak: “My horse kept nudging me if I quit petting him,” Tonie reports, after the trail ride.

“Mine kept eating the grass along the trail like he wasn’t supposed to,” Charlie says.

Well, I’m glad to hear my horse wasn’t the only one with a mind of his own.

Hitting the trail in nice single file.

Travis giddyaps with Kevin not too far behind.

Equestrian Kendall feels right at home in the saddle.

Christian gits along.

Trevor holds his horse.

Bob has me smiling before the trail ride is over.

Bob and buds back in the corral.

After our trail ride, we hit La Cantina de Ponil for our first taste of home: sarsaparilla. Well, it’s actually rootbeer, and to us it’s the best-tasting rootbeer ever. It sure beats the water and Gatorade we’ve been drinking nonstop for the past 11 days.

Kevin downs a taste from home.

The gang plays a friendly card game of President in a nice dry place.

Not only do we get rootbeer at Ponil, but we also get a chuckwagon dinner — beef stew and peach cobbler. The best part is that the staff cooks it for us.

Christian pitches in and helps stoke the coals for the chuckwagon dinner.

Then, at 8 o’clock, we get live entertainment at the cantina from the staff. Boy, I’m starting to like all this service.

We get a little bit of singing …

And some fiddling …

And some laughs …

And some Philmont history from Sheriff Charlie.

Before heading to our campsites, staffer Sheriff Charlie gives us a pep talk: “We’ve had 24 straight days of bear sightings here at Ponil, so be very, very careful with your bear procedures tonight.”

To drive this point home, we’re treated to a viewing of a previous Ponil camper’s Nalgene bottle. It’s punctured all over by big ol’ bear teeth marks.

O.K., so let me get this straight. We’ve made it this far—to the very last night on the trail—and chances are that we’ll be encountering a bear tonight? Great.

Comments about “Day 11: Flume Canyon to Ponil”

  1. Tomare! says:

    I think my Science teacher needs to know that bears live on high terrain and not near the Patuxent River.

  2. QueenLatifah! says:

    oh, bear encounters were just too good to be true.

    i still want to see a bear!

  3. The Old Man says:

    I don’t drink soft drinks, but this day I drank 3 Cups of rootbeer.

    It was great.

  4. Old Scout says:

    Thanks Paula, Your day by day brought back a lot of good memories. Its been 49 years since I treked at Philmont but its an adventure you never forget. 49 years from now you will still remember your adventures too! By the way Da Boss that’s a Bison, not a bull (could be a bull Bison! Ha)

  5. Da Boss says:

    why did the bull have two hats? (or any hat at all)

    keep up the good work!

Write a comment about “Day 11: Flume Canyon to Ponil”


Type your comment:


  • A bright and fresh Crew 807-G before the storms, bear scares and horrors of dehydrated trail food.

    Front row, left to right: Charlie Jordan, Christian Gouldy, Blake Kincaid. Back row, left to right: Editor Paula Murphey, Tonie Sanchez, Kendall Brush, Trevor Baggett, Assistant Scoutmaster Ken Forkner, Travis Forkner, Crew Leader Kevin Manning, Scoutmaster Ivy Brush.
  • The oldest of the BSA’s national high-adventure bases, Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M., covers about 214 square miles of Rocky Mountain wilderness.

    Scouts, Venturers and adult advisors go to Philmont to backpack through its rugged terrain and enjoy its numerous program activities. Most action takes place in the summer, but several programs are offered in the off-season.

    Since 1939, more than 860,000 trekkers have experienced Philmont adventure.

    >> Click here to visit Philmont's website

  • Crew reviews of Philmont trail food:


    Jalapeño squeeze cheese and apple cinnamon oatmeal — Kevin

    Canned ham — Blake

    Almond butter with honey spread — Travis

    Oatmeal chewy bars — “It was the one trail food that I already knew!” — Kendall


    “The worst was the aftermath of the vegetarian chili.” — Blake

    “The macaroni and cheese was more like spaghetti in watery cheese soup.” — Tonie

    “The black beans and rice gave me heartburn. Mostly the trail meals were pretty good.” — Christian

  • Words and phrases you'll hear at Philmont:

    Bearmuda Triangle: The basic plan of bear safety procedures in each campsite. Three points of the triangle: dining fly—sump—bear bags.

    Minibears: Chipmunks and squirrels very skilled at running off with your trail food when you’re not looking (and even sometimes when you are).

    Oops Bag: The very last bear bag to go up before bedtime. It gives everybody a chance to check their pockets and the campsite one last time and be able to say, “Oops! I found another smellable!”

    Pilot to Bombardier: Like a Red Roof Inn, but without the roof—or any walls.

    Red Roof Inn: “Fancy” outhouses that have—you guessed it—red roofs.

    Squeeze Cheese: Very popular trail food, especially in jalapeño flavor.

    Staffed Camps: 34 camps where staff deliver program activities, such as horseback riding, mountain biking, rifle shooting, challenge events and panning for gold.

    Swap Box: A big box at each staffed camp where crews can trade uneaten (and gross) foods for better stuff. Most dumped: Gorp and beef jerky.

    Thorns, Roses and Buds: A nightly ritual in which each crew member tells about his or her “thorn” (worst thing) and “rose” (best thing) of the day and “bud” (goal for the rest of the trek).

    Trail Camps: 55 camps that do not include a staff or program activity. Your crew is on its own in the Great Outdoors.

    Yum-Yum Bag: The large Ziplock bag in which a crew stores all food waste, which is hauled up in the bear bags at night. Ideally, there’s not much to go into a yum-yum bag. If you open a package of food, you’re expected to eat it all. (Or get somebody else to finish it off for you. Usually every crew has a human garbage disposal or two.)