Pratt Cabin, 2.2 miles down trail in McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
There is something cathartic about a 2 mile hike into a West Texas canyon when the only natural light is from a quarter moon above and Orion in the southwestern sky, and when you, seven Boy Scouts and two other adult leaders are armed only with a handful of not-so-regulation headlamps, 99-cent water bottles and imaginations that border on being waaaaay overactive.
The next time you need to clear the cobwebs from your emotional corners, take a long walk after dark in the middle of nature. The noises in the brush will keep you honest and the scores of mountain lions your clear-thinking head conjures up will make you feel like a giant at the completion of the walk.
We did this Friday night.
The Boy and I, six other Boy Scouts from Midland's Troop 152, Scout master Tim McKinney and volunteer dad Joe Lilly made the walk into McKittrick Canyon at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, bound for Pratt Cabin (above and at right), a historic lodge in need of some serious fix up. More on that later.
Hiking is a great enough experience when done in the daylight the way most sane people do it. When you take away the sun -- and you are the designated lead hiker of the group -- it can definitely be a Get-Close -to-Your-Maker experience.
As our fearless leader Tim (who brought up the rear, I might add) said, we wouldn't have any problems with mountain lions; they would be spooked by the sound of 10 people walking and long gone by the time we came anywhere near them. That was indeed the case, although with a dozen beams of light from everyone's headlamps and flashlights pointed in every direction imaginable, there were enough shadows moving across the path to make us all at least slightly apprehensive on a number of occasions
The Boy, who just turned 14 a couple of weeks ago, has been working on the planning phase of his Eagle Scout project for five months now. After his troop summited Guadalupe Peak last November, he noticed there were no mile markers along the pathway, so he inquired about installing them as his project. The park ranger denied that request -- the trail is a nature conservancy and a protected area, and caretakers of the land are duty bound to keep it as unaltered as possible.
The ranger at Guadalupe, Fred Armstrong, worked with The Boy throughout the planning process, and offered an alternative: the 32 window shutters at the historic Pratt Cabin were in a state of disrepair and badly in need of painting. The Boy jumped at the thought.
After weeks of negotiating on dates and hammering out details, we were finally able to load up three truckloads of teenage boys and head for the project this past weekend. After the 2 mile walk into McKittrick, bed rolls were unfurled and eight of the 10 campers slept under the stars. (It's probably not necessary to point out which two of us pitched a tent for a little additional warmth in the 30 degree overnight chill.)
The boys began work at 8 Saturday morning, and 10 hours later, the 32 shutters had been scraped, sanded, primed, painted and painted again. There were times -- many, in fact -- when it looked doubtful that the job could be completed in just one day, but when you dangle a free Hunger Buster meal at the Kermit Dairy Queen on the way home -- if the work gets done -- boys do tend to get hoppin'.
Congratulations to The Boy and thanks to Justin, Brandon, Tim, Martin, Jarod and Scout, and to Big Tim and Joe for helping make it possible. And to the hospitality and friendliness of Guadalupe NP Ranger Cap'n Call. It was one of those weekends that stands a good chance of being remembered by everyone involved for quite a few years.