Looking south across Eagle Nest Lake from the pass of Hwy 64. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

The first time I entered and crossed the Moreno Valley was in July, 1982. I had just completed a Rayado Trek at Philmont. My brothers were both working as Rangers at Philmont that summer along with some other Scouting friends from back home. My parents and another family — close friends of ours — had spent early July road-tripping across Colorado, when they dipped into New Mexico to pick me up after Rayado. (As a notable aside, my parents had been my advisors for a Philmont trek in 1980, and this other couple had been my crew advisors in 1981). The plan was that from New Mexico we would go on to southwestern Colorado to backpack for a week in the Wiminuche Wilderness of the San Juans — which we did.

The Chandler Family, c.1982.

And so one sunny morning in mid-July of 1982, our family and friends caravanned west to make our way from Cimarron for a late breakfast at some supposedly renown eatery in Taos. This, then, for me was to be a day of many “firsts” — my first drive down Cimarron and Taos Canyons; my first time in Taos; my first breakfast at Michael’s Kitchen.
And, as I said, my first encounter with the Moreno Valley which, to this 17-year-old Jersey Girl, was by far the largest, widest valley I’d ever seen.

Highway 64 is the artery crossing the Moreno Valley, entering from the northeast as it zigzags down from that high pass and skirts the north rim of Eagle Nest Lake, before circling around to head south.

Topo map of the Moreno Valley.

To the east are the mountains of Philmont; to the west the dark hills crumple and fold upwards to Wheeler — New Mexico’s crowning peak.

Eventually on that same side of the road you’ll spot a remarkable piece of architecture — the first and for the longest time the ONLY (and surely one of the most beautiful) memorials to the Vietnam War. Just a little way further down the highway, to the southeast lies the Village of Angel Fire.

Looking south toward Angel Fire on Hwy 64 in the Moreno Valley. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

But right about here — before you leave the valley and enter the western mountains that will eventually lead you to Taos, you want to turn around and look north. For that’s when you’ll see what so many of my friends and I love to see: The long hump of Touch Me Not, and beyond that, rising to 12,441 feet, the rounded rocky summit of Baldy Mountain, Philmont’s highest peak, crowning over Eagle Nest Lake, the Moreno Valley, and the dreams of so many of us.

Looking north toward Baldy Mt. on Hwy 64 in the Moreno Valley. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Last year I had occasion to reflect deeply on the Moreno Valley. For it was about a year ago when a Philmont friend contacted me about doing a special painting. My friend Carol comes from a long lineage of Philmonters, she herself being one of that early awesome sisterhood: the first generation of women Rangers of the early 1970s. [READ: GODDESSES] I had the great good fortune of getting to know Carol in 2015 when she joined our all women “Sole Sister” crew for a week-long Philmont Staff Association trek. Prior to our trek, Carol was a bit mysterious to me: one of those inspiring Philmont legends I’d mostly heard about over the years but had never met. It was a dream come true to get to hike with this legend (among several others) — for a whole week!

PSA Sole Sister Crew 712 PS6 2015 getting ready for a week-long backpacking trek at Philmont.

Part of what had added to Carol’s mystique for me was the awareness that her family had for years owned a family compound over in the Moreno Valley. A place where, back in the 1970s, when Carol and her siblings dominated the staff roster, there would be frequent staff gatherings on days’ off. By the time I came on staff on the 1980s, Carol and her family had mostly moved on with their lives, and their family compound parties of the 70s became the stuff of legends; a place for me of mysterious fascination. And — alas — a place, too, I likely would never get to see, since I didn’t know the family beyond acquaintance.

Just imagine the excitement when, after our PSA trek, Carol suggested our Sole Sister crew have a celebratory “end of trail” feast at the compound.
I’m pretty sure I squealed with delight.That dinner was magical, for all the reasons that a celebratory feast after a long and wonderful hike is magical. Once strangers, now united in community, in friendship. A sisterhood spanning ages, spanning shapes and sizes, spanning different roots, dreams, futures. All gathered around a rustic table celebrating each other, our community, the land, and our journey together. But also magical for the history — for the stories — of that place. To learn from Carol how her family first acquired a parcel under the trees all those decades ago. To see the shape of history of love tacked and tapestried on every wall, every shelf, in every piece of furniture.

And then those guestbooks.

To pore over page after page of those 1970s summers and recognize with glee so many names of friends and heroes and dear ones.

Philmont summer staff guestbook page c. 1980.
Another Philmont summer staff guestbook page c. 1980.

And then…. oh yes, and then…. to pull ourselves away from the books of signatures and step outside and walk to the edge of the pines , look out across meadows and down that long valley…. to Baldy Mountain.

What a view.

A gorgeous Moreno Valley view, looking north toward Baldy and Touch-Me-Not. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

That view is why Carol was contacting me about this time last year.

Her son was going to be getting married that summer and the ceremony was to be at the family compound in the Moreno Valley.

She wanted to give the bride and groom a special, meaningful gift…

And so she wanted to ask me: Might I consider painting their view of Baldy?

{ To be continued…. }