Campfire Tales: The Bullfrog Stockade
By Mason Davis
During the summer of 2017 I worked at the high adventure base camp Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. I was lucky enough to snag a last minute job opening at the Historic Villa Philmonte as a gardener. I did not know anything about gardening at the time. However with easy weekend access to hiking trails and some major National Parks, I was more than willing to learn.
At Philmont Scout Ranch (PS) the most iconic mountain of the entire 140,177 acres is the Tooth of Time. Visible from town, basecamp, and almost anywhere the Tooth of Time is in many ways the symbol for Philmont. The infamous mountain is even printed on the belt buckles of the camp. The mountain trailhead is easily accessible through a service road in the camp.
One evening during dinner a few of my co-workers and I decided to climb the Tooth. We would leave after dinner and take my car up to the trailhead to catch the sunset. Our group totaled six and we didn't really bring gear. We packed a few granola bars, two flashlights and maybe a change of clothes.
At five pm we drove up to the trailhead and set off. Unknown to us at the time was that the trail totaled roughly 5-6 miles and the last section was not trail but boulders. We were ignorantly unaware of this critical. Hiking along the trail we came across beautiful scenery and super steep elevation. The halfway point of the trail is marked with an old western animal stockade which captivated all of us. As we neared the top of the mountain we noticed that the trail disappeared into the base of a few boulders.
We looked up to see mounds of rocks and boulders that lead to the top of the mountain. We started to climb hopping from one rock to the other. Slowly but surely we reached the summit. We caught the sunset at the perfect time! A soft red light cascaded across the mountain and down into basecamp. Completely captivated by the sunset our group lost track of time.
It quickly became dark, and I mean pitch black. The group wanted to take the Trail of Tears which had a ton of switchbacks, into basecamp and skip the drive. I however still needed to get to my car to drive it back to base camp. So we split into two groups myself and Will, and the other group with everyone else (never forget the buddy system!). The two flashlights we had on hand were cheap walmart bargain bin flashlights. In order for Will and I to safely climb down the mountain I had to hold the flashlight at knee height in order to see the terrain.
An hour and a half passed and we finally cleared the boulder section of the trail. However we were not met with the trail but the woods. Somehow we got off course and came down the mountain differently than we had gone up. Will and I decided it was best to push forward and see if we can find the stockade. If we find the stockade that means we found the trail. We pushed through heavy wooded areas in the pitch black night, and in roughly half an hour we came to a field.
The field was quite large, and we were in the middle of it. We stopped for a second and started to think about our options. After only being there a few minutes, we heard low almost growling sound about 15 yards ahead of us. I feverishly looked around for anything to pickup, like a rock or a stick or anything. There was nothing to be found. I moved my poor excuse of a light to try and see where the sound was coming from.
I turned to Will and said, “let's back away slowly.” Before we took a step a second low growl began to our right, roughly the same distance away. My mind began to race, thinking about the fact that this is bobcat and mountain lion country! Heck this is even bear country! We are not safe by any means. We have no weapons practically, and no light. The only things we do have is food. To make matters worse, a third lower growl starts off to our right, and this one was significantly closer. Feeling surrounded, Will and I turn to each other in fear. I realize that if we can't defend ourselves we definitely can't stay here.
With adrenaline pumping and no discernable plan, I yell at the top of my lungs “SCATTER” I took off into the forest. Will followed close behind. We ran through the dark, refusing to stop. We came out of the woods to the sweetest sight. The old stockade. We found the trail, got our bearings, and ran down to my car. We did it! We survived!
The following morning I sat at breakfast telling my co-workers of our narrow escape from the dangerous wildlife of New Mexico. A member of the conservation team was listening in and asked what the growling sounded like. I willingly demonstrated. He sat there and pondered with a smile on his face, and then he says “Well buddy I hate to tell you this, but those were bullfrogs.” My jaw dropped, our narrow escape, our brush with the fearsome wildlife of New Mexico, was nothing more than three bullfrogs telling me to get out of their field!
Lead your own adventure. Remember, not everything is as scary as it seems, after all it could just be a bullfrog!
A special thanks to the wonderful folks at Burlaep who continue to support me on wild adventures like this!