Trail Day 6: Whiteman Vega to Iris Park
Leave No Trace camping was becoming routine by now, so when the Brumbys packed up to head back south to Ring Place and then to Iris Park there was no sign of where they camped except for slightly flattened grass. The freedom of hiking anywhere in the Valle Vidal was great, but it was accompanied by the responsibility to behave so no one would even know we had been there.
We followed a compass bearing south toward Ring Place, crossing broad flat meadows with a view toward Baldy in the distance. We spread out, practicing "meadow walking" so we wouldn’t create a new trail through the grasses. The terrain was so flat that when we had to climb a 40-foot rise after crossing McCrystal Creek it felt like a hill.
The Ring Place staff was as welcoming as they’d been the day before. They had jugs of bug juice and boxes of fresh fruit. They also had three programs to offer and we took them up on daylight astronomy and a navigation course. We passed up the complete history of Ring Place, which was the old Ring family ranch. Everyone cued up for the $30,000 Forest Service outhouse, with a real seat which made the Philmont red roof inns look downright primative.
In the navigation class we discovered old and new ways to navigate. First, we learned to navigate by our shadows. Then we each got a GPS, instruction in how to use it, and a little practice with it. The fun part was the navigation course, a timed event with clues scattered across nearly a mile of terrain. You had to find each clue in order to get to the next one, using the GPS. It turned out to be a lot of fun.
Back at the cabin, there was a hiker’s lounge in the back with maps and books and well-worn comfy chairs. It almost seemed like civilization, and the Brumbys lingered a long time. It was after two o’clock when we finally headed south toward Iris Park.
The boys entered the coordinates for the Iris Park windmill in our GPS and we followed very nearly a straight line across more meadows and dry lake beds. Dark clouds came across the sky and we put rain covers on packs, but it never rained enough to bother with rain coats.
We passed cattle, calves, and at least one bison grazing in the distance. It had been a while since we had fresh meat, so there was some speculation about whether a pocket knife would suffice to butcher a calf for dinner. Fortunately, no one wanted to carry the extra weight and the calf never knew what might have come of it.
The crew was getting very comfortable with all this flat-land hiking. It was fast and easy. Maybe it was the storm clouds that really kept everyone moving fast.
After crossing upper Seally Canyon on the dam for an empty pond, the route headed uphill. The boys opted to follow an old road for a more gentle climb rather than go straight up through the woods. Neither way was steep, but we’d gotten out of the habit of climbing. No need to make it more difficult than we had to.
Iris Park sits in a shallow tree-lined valley with a meadow and creek down the middle. The GPS took us straight to the windmill, but we picked a nice campsite with a pine-needle carpet, well away from the fragile meadow.
This was the first of our unstaffed camps, so there was no program and no one to tell us where to camp. The windmill tower had tumbled and the pump had been electrified by a solar panel. The stock tank was clean, so it became an attractive bath tub (no soap, of course).
Everyone took turns getting clean, using our water bucket for actual washing. There was time for frisbee in the meadow before dinner, too.
Most of our dinners were one-pot affairs, but this night we actually cooked mashed potatoes and a rich BBQ beef sauce with peas in two separate pots because we’d heard that this meal was much better that way. We even prepared the cooked dessert, which we often didn’t bother to do because they didn’t sound all that great.
Each evening the crew spent a few minutes reviewing the map and planning the next day’s route. As advisors, our job was to sit back and relax, confident that our crew knew what they were doing and working well together as a team.
At some point in the early evening we realized that it was Sunday, so we got together for a short devotional program after dinner. Ours was not a strongly religious crew, but it seemed important to spend at least a little time reflecting on the bigger picture in life.
We went to bed comfortable in our plan to sleep in the next morning because we only had a few miles to hike to our next camp.