The welcome center never closes. There is someone there on duty 24/7. They may be asleep, but that is part of their job description to be at the building for crews checking in at odd hours of the night.
When I took out regular crews, I was always happiest when my crew was in at 8AM. I believe most rangers would agree with that. Other wise you waste the day restlessly waiting around wanting to meet your crew. Your Ranger has an 8AM meeting the day he/she picks you up. Even if you arrive at 7AM, your ranger will not meet you until after the meeting. It usually lasts 10-15 minutes. During the meeting a roll call is made for rangers who pick up crews that day, announcements are made, and at the end of the meeting, all crews that have checked in with the welcome center so far are announced so Rangers can go pick them up. It may take some time for you to get checked in with the welcome center (probably not long but I've never done that) so if you get there a little before 8AM, then there should be enough time for the welcome center to call up to the RO (Ranger Office) and tell the Clerk typest what crews are there. This then gets passed to the RITO who is running the meeting and he/she calls out what crews have arrived. Usually the welcome center callls the RO at 8AM and says who has been checked in so far. Any time after the meeting and a runner is sent to find the Ranger to inform that his/her crew is in.
There can be a problem with arriving at 8AM though. When one of those gigantic 20 crew contengents arrives at 8AM, then all of Basecamp will be jammed up early in the morning. You may want to see if you can call Philmont and see when other people are arriving that day. If say 80% of the crews are arriving in the morning, you may want to wait and go in the afternoon. Please try to stick to the time that you give Philmont for when you check in. If a Ranger sees that the crew is supposed to come in at 1PM, then that morning is laundry day. I had a crew that came in several hours early and had to leave my clothes sitting in the washing machine all day.
Bus times are another consideration. Bus times are usually equal to 24 hours after your arrival time at Philmont (little known fact). So if your arrival time is 9AM, you can go both ways(8AM or 10 AM Bus), depends on crewload for 8AM buses and if the person at Logistics likes your Ranger. Sometimes the Ranger will be asked do you prefer 8 or 10. Don't ask your Ranger to get you a certian time because Rangers are told in training not to request a time. Bus times for Zastrow, 6 Mile Gate, Ponil, and I think Cimarroncito are 8AM, 10AM, 1PM, and 3PM. Bus times for Lover's Leap and Turkey Creek Turnarounds are 9:30AM and 2:30PM.
When choosing bus times, don't forget to take into consideration where your starting camp is at. So be sure to consider how far your starting camp is from the turnaround too. A 3PM bus to Ponil with Bent as a starting camp is not the best of combinations. The drive to Ponil Turnaround, the farthest turnaround not in the Valle, is 45 minutes (where you go for Bent and Sioux starting camps). Sioux is only about 2 miles from the turnaround. Bent is about 4. Not that far but I would estimate that the average crew going to Bent on a 3PM bus wouldn't get to camp until atleast 5PM. Vacca is another one of those long hikes for the first day. A 2:30 bus to Turkey Creek makes for a bad combonation when you have Vacca as a starting camp. The new trail is long. I've never hiked the whole thing, but I've been told its long. Probably the shortest starting camp hikes are Rayado River, Stockade, and Cathedral Rock. Sioux is pretty short too, but you have to wade your way through ponil (aka the root beer stand).
So all said and done, whats the best time, I say go for the 8AM bus which means be there a little before 8AM. But try to check out how many crews are coming in when.
Hope this helps
Jason ><> Ranger
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