Philmont Trek Route #23

by Bill Griffin <>
Rayado River: Good camp along the best river at Philmont. The best campsite are nearest the river. Bushwack from the trail as soon as you see the first sign of the camp (probably the old Dutch oven storage box and a camp marker), to the general direction of the river (north). There are 3 campsites over there but few trails to them. There is a shower in the meadow. You can take a short walk to Abreu to visit the root beer cantina and watch the evening burro races. They may even let you participate if they aren't crowded. Great starting camp.

Aguila: Hard day as it is your first full day and you have a 1,000 ft. climb right away. However, it isn't a particularly long hike to Aguila. Go up to the burro pens and take the trail to the left at the pens, it goes straight up the hill. Be careful not to take the trail beside the pen fence as it goes to Stonewall Pass and Toothache Springs. After a 1,000 climb (good views though) you will reach the contour line and will be in a heavy forested area. After a bit of up and down over and around hiking you will enter a (usually) swampy meadow -- Aguila. Check the spring up the hill and in the woods from the old, broken concrete cistern just after the grassy (and wet) meadow. The spring is about 100 feet up the hill. Purify. I used a water filter to strain out the creepy crawlies and get some water to use. The best campsites are to the east, through the woods a bit. There are a couple of sites there next to the steep drop to the valley floor below. Good views. The other camps are along the trail and not too good--the trail goes right through one campsite.

Miners Park: From Aguila you will go around Fowler Mesa pretty much following the contour line. The only critical fork is at the end of the mesa before you turn west. The fork goes down to Stonewall Pass to your right. Don't go there. Continue left around Fowler Mesa. You will pass through Bear Caves camp then drop down a bit. 45 min. later you should enter Crater Lake Camp. Good camp with good program. The program is the same as you will get at Pueblano. The best part is the pole climbing and it is cancelled if there is any hint of a storm. Since we would be getting to Pueblano in the PM when storms are most likely and they didn't have a bad morning crowd at Crater, we got the program there to insure we wouldn't miss it entirely. You should get an early start this morning to enable you to take the program and still have time for the program at Miners. Take the road up the hill, past the shower house. BEFORE the road takes its first major right hand turn, you will see a trail heading off the side to your right. This is a level and nice trail that finally enters a road. Cross the road to continue the trail on the other side. It goes into Miners Park. This is a beautiful park-like camp in the large Ponderosa Pine forest. The program is good and besides the rock climbing there is a climbing wall that is used usually in the evenings.

Clarks Fork: Not a bad hike today (unless you decide to side hike the Tooth, which will make it a very long and tough hike). If you were too late to get the rock climbing yesterday, try to get it first thing this morning. If you do, break camp and take your packs up the trail towards Shaefers Pass. Near the top of the small pass before dropping down to the North Fork of the Urraca, a side trail goes to the right leading to the rock climbing area. Drop your packs (leave an adult to watch them) and go to the rock climbing area. Afterwards, head down to the creek and take the trail up the hill. 16 switchbacks later you will enter Shaefers Pass meadow. The spring is up the grassy slope to your left just as you enter the meadow. Don't absolutely rely on it unless you have met someone who has seen it flowing in the last 24 hours. Drop down the other side of the pass (long drop and many more switchbacks) to Clarks Fork. You will have to be there by 4pm so your cooks can help prepare the chuck wagon dinner. I have side hiked the Tooth of Time from Shaefers Pass. It will take a quart of water to get there and a quart to get back--if you conserve. It is a 6 hr. round trip and is hot and open with a difficult trail. When I did this side hike our entire crew was beat to the ground at Clarks and no one wanted to participate in anything there. You better be in great shape to do this.

Ute Springs: A fairly easy day but you may do your conservation project that day and that eats up about 3 hrs, so get an early start. Take the trail through the upper Clarks Fk meadow. It eventually drops down to a road. Go across the road to the trail on the other side. After a few yards it will fork. The right fork goes up Cathedral Rock and down Hidden Valley. The left goes to Cimarroncito--take the left fork. After a short walk you will begin to see the grassy slopes of the meadow. The hunting lodge can barely be seen to your left. Continue up the meadow trail to Cimarroncito. This is where you are scheduled to do the rock climbing (in the rocky ridge to your right) and environmental awareness programs. By the way, there is no Cito Trail Camp. Cito is short for Cimarroncito and it is a staff camp, not a Trail camp. Afterwards, continue up the left side of the meadow (the trail on the right side goes to Aspen Springs). At the head of the meadow you will see a trail to your right, going through Grouse Canyon--a pretty hike in a very narrow cut. When you leave the creek you will see the trail to your left coming from Aspen Springs. Continue left to the road. This is the road that supplies the commissary. Across the road are 3 campsites for Ute Springs. Don't take them, they are dusty. Cross the road and find a trail down to the creekbed. Down there are the best campsites. The creek may be dry and the spring may also dry up. If so, you can get water in the creek that goes through Grouse Canyon. It isn't far from the campsites anyway. Take the trail following the creekbed, west. It parallels the road above and soon meets it above the last campsite. Follow the road a short way. A side road up the hill to the left goes to the commissary. I recommend you only pick up supper and tomorrow's breakfast. You'll be back just after breakfast and can pick up the rest of your food then. That way, if a bear hits your food, you'll only lose a little.

Cimarron River: A fairly short and easy hike today and no program so you aren't in a terrible rush. Go back to the commissary and get the rest of your food. Take the trail by the trading post, up the hill. It is a steep climb (you are now full of food) to the top of Deer Lake Mesa. The trail goes across the top of the mesa. Just before dropping down the other side from Upper Bench Camp (trail camp) you will reach a beautiful outcrop with a great view of Baldy. Drop down to Visto Grande. There is a small, weak but reliable spring there. Purify. I would also fill my water bladders as it is a short walk down to Cimarron River Camp. Your next GOOD water will be at Santa Claus tomorrow at mid-morning. Cimarron River Camp is NOT on the Cimarron River but is on a shelf above the river (sleep with the quiet murmur of 18-wheeler tire buzz on the highway below).

Head of Dean: Get an early start. Head down to Cimarron River. Don't drink the water, even if you purify it. You will cross a suspension bridge then jump off the bridge on the north side and go through a large culvert. This keeps you off the major highway. On the other side you will start up Bear Canyon (not because there are bears but because the canyon is a bear to climb). There is a new trail being built up the canyon but it wasn't open when I was there in 1996. Don't know the status. The old trail forked part way up. The west fork was too steep and hazardous. The right fork was a jeep road that had little shade and was also steep but it was in good repair. The two routes came back together at the top. Be careful to take the trail over the hill to Santa Claus. I have seen crews go up one side and back down the other, winding up back at the river where they left that morning. Bad for morale. Santa Claus has a well with a solar panel and the water SHOULD be available (purify it). From Santa Claus there is a trail heading from the meadow. It heads east and goes around the ridge, turning back to the west. Its a new and good trail. It should be almost done all the way to Head of Dean, keeping crews of the parallel hot and dusty road. Good program at Head of Dean.

Miranda: There is a new trail under construction that heads down to Maxwell, just below Miranda. It isn't finished as they hit some difficult rock that needs dynamite. Don't know when they will finish it. So, we took the old, jeep road along the Baldy Skyline ridge. The road eventually drops down the south side to the Baldy road. Up the road a mile we could hear (and smell) the burro pens to the left. We left the road and walked around the pens, climbing up to Miranda Meadow on the other side. Go up the meadow to the staff cabin. It is a new log cabin this year. Miranda is a good and pretty camp with good program. You'll stay there 2 nights.

Baldy Side Hike: The next day, we usually got up at 4am and started up the trail at 5am. It goes up the meadow then cuts out to the Baldy Road. After the second creek crossing a trail heads off to the left to Ute Meadows. Pass through Ute Meadows and climb up the ridge. You will break out onto the road just below Baldy Town. We stopped at Baldy Town to rest and eat our breakfast (saved one that we could eat as we walked). We started up Baldy at 7am. Just below the top we broke out onto the saddle between Baldy and Touch-Me-Not mts. The view was great from the saddle meadow and you can see the trail to the top. We reached the summit of Baldy at 11am. We dropped down the back side to Copper Park--careful, hazardous footing going down. We had lunch at Copper Park. From the park meadow, we took the trail in the left corner. It dropped down the creek towards French Henry. Near French Henry a trail across the creek goes up the bank. About a 100 yards along the trail we broke out at the Ponil Mine. We visited the mine and took the road up the hill from it. It goes around Aztec Ridge, a level walk, and brought us easily back to Baldy Town. After a shower (bandanas for towels) we picked up our food from the commissary (more fuel if you need it), hit the trading post and returned to Miranda. We got back to our camp at about 4:30pm. Busy day!!

Pueblano: We went to the burro pens by 9am and checked out our burrows, packing them. We took the burros back to Miranda and took the trail up the hill to Ute Meadows. As we entered the Meadows we took the right trail out to the Baldy Road. Down the road and across it is a trail that goes up onto Baldy Skyline Ridge. It sort of heads towards Ewell's Park. This is a much easier way to get up onto the ridge then the very steep road we took down two days earlier--prettier views too. At the top of the ridge we took the trail along it until we hit the road where we started down two days before. Instead of following the road towards Head of Dean, we dropped down the north side of the ridge to the stream below. We followed it through Pueblano Ruins to Pueblano Camp. We were assigned a campsite and took the burros there to offload them. We then took the animals to the burro pens, across the creek and down the road a quarter mile. The program here is great and the same as at Crater Lake in case you didn't get it there or would like to do it again.

Bus turnaround: We got up EARLY (4:30) and sent 4 out to get the burros while the rest packed. Then, we headed down the road. A short distance after the burro pens there is a side trail heading across the stream. Both it and the road go to Ponil. We at breakfast about an hour after leaving Pueblano. At Ponil we turned in the burros, repacked our packs, went up to the root beer cantina for a drink and munchies then hiked down the road a mile to the bus pickup point. We were there, waiting for the bus by 9:30 AM. Have a good hike.

Bill Griffin

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