During the summer of 1972, my Boy Scout Troop from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, made the trek to Philmont. It was a two week expedition in the rugged wilderness of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico. To put it plainly, I fell in love. As an Army brat, I lived in twenty-one different places before my 18th birthday. All of them were unique and part of my great childhood (more on that another time). Yet the mountains and panoramic views of New Mexico were like nothing I had ever experienced. Every sunset was like watching a living and moving painting unfold before my eyes. I had never seen so many stars at night…far from the lights of any city or town. Every sunrise was the start of a new adventure as we hiked up to 15 miles daily moving from one camp to another. Black bear often wandered through our camp. Early in the morning deer would visit the streams and lakes nearby.
It was on top of Mt. Baldy near the end of our expedition that I remember saying…praying would be more accurate, “God, it would be great to live here someday. If it’s possible, I would really like to come back and live in New Mexico.” It was a long and circuitous route, but the Lord did answer my prayer…and brought me back…twenty-six years later (more on that another time as well).
Living in Albuquerque, I am able to hike in the Sandia Mountains most mornings. My work schedule requires that I do this at 5:30AM as my days and evenings are always busy. That’s not a problem as I am wide awake by 4:30AM without an alarm clock. After a cup or two of fresh coffee, checking e-mail for messages that were sent my way after going to bed (and replying when necessary), saying my prayers and getting my gear ready (a head-lamp in the winter…hydration pack in the summer), I head due east into the mountains with my dog, Max. I would do this for the sheer enjoyment of being outside and exhilaration of climbing. We see rabbits, quail, hawks and coyotes on most mornings. Every now and then we see a bear or cougar. The extra benefit is that these morning hikes prepare me for archery hunting if I am lucky enough to draw a tag for deer or elk (more later). The miles I put in during the winter, spring and summer prepare my legs and lungs for the challenge of pursuing Odocoileus hemionus and Cervus canadensis nelsoni through the mountains with my bow and arrows. Every morning and without exception, I think of and remember those first hikes long ago in the mountains of Philmont…and I am thankful. I thank God for the wonder of His creation…for the joy of returning to my beloved Land of Enchantment after all those years…and for my father, our Scout Master and expedition leader, who took a bunch of teenage boys to New Mexico where so many precious memories were made.