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In Colefax County of New Mexico, in the tail ends of the Rocky Mountains, stands Urraca Mesa. Not a tall mesa, only 8500 feet in elevation, and nothing else that would really distinguish it at a distance from any other. In the local Native American tongue, Urraca means Blackbird or Raven. So named for the preponderance of that species on the mesa. Near the center of the mesa, there is an odd depression of the ground. As legend has it, it is where the god of the underworld fell to earth and landed face down.

It lies within the boundaries of Philmont, a Boy Scout camp that has been in operation for many years. Some of the trails go over Urraca, but due to strange goings-on, the camps are only on the ground level beside the mesa. There had been a camp on the mesa, though it hadn't been used in some 30 years.

I was a first-year Ranger at Philmont then, and summer had somehow passed me by in the thousands of miles I hiked with various groups coming through. I had heard the stories of Urraca, and of other "haunted" locations around the camp. Of course, being young and brave, I knew they were just to scare the kids. It happened that I was heading back to base camp after leading a group out (Rangers only stay with their groups for two days before leaving them to follow their initeraries). I was hoping to get back to camp early, as I was due for time off the next day and wanted to get my things in order for a long weekend. The day was wearing on, but I was close enough that I though I could make it in, despite the darkness. I could make it, as long as I cut across Urraca.

I was lucky in that it was a full moon that night, and the trail was illuminated nicely. The air was dry and cool, and my spirits raised at the thought of going home to see my girlfriend. Time passed quickly, and soon I was nearing the opposite edge of the mesa. A cloud passed over the moon, but I thought I could see a figure on a horse some ways ahead.

The figure was dressed as a cowboy, leather jacket and riding hat. He sat on his horse, watching me approach from the side of the trail. When I was about 30 feet off, he called in a friendly voice "Hey there, got far to go?"

This isn't terribly uncommon, as people in the Philmont area are very nice, especially to the Rangers, and I was still wearing my Ranger shirt. I figured how much further I had to go until camp, and replied that it wasn't far. He offered a ride anyways, to which I declined. The moon came back out, and his face was clearer. Clearer, perhaps, but not clear; there must have been a mist out or something. He looked old, old like the cook in all those spaghetti westerns, worn and hard. It was both calming and unnerving.

The cowboy frowned, and said in a flat tone "Ride with me." Again, I refused, becoming alarmed at his change of voice. Snarling, he reared his horse and charged at me. Managing to duck his grasp, he caught my backpack and I began to drag. I wiggled my arms out of the pack, and began running down the trail. I could hear the horse's hooves pounding behind me, and my entire being was devoted to getting as far away as possible. I came to the gate that marks the edge of the mesa, hopped over it without bothering to unlatch it, and looked back. There was no sign of the cowboy or his horse. Exhausted, I returned to camp.

I only told the story to a few other Rangers, most of which said that while they didn't believe me, they had heard too much about Urraca to completely ignore me. I went home the next day and didn't go back. College began the next year, and Philmont began fading from memory. My roommate, Chris, had been a ranger the year before, and we talk about old times and old fun. I didn't mentioned the cowboy or my time on the mesa to him, I didn't want to remember. Time flew.

One day in late fall, we were heading down to the cafeteria for lunch, taking the elevator from the 6th floor. When the elevator doors opened, there was the cowboy, horse and all. As Chris started to enter the elevator (evidently not seeing him), the Cowboy grinned and said "Ride with me." Grabbing Chris's arm, I told him we should wait for the next one. He gave me a weird look, but relented. The doors shut with the Cowboy scowling fiercely at me. A few seconds later, we heard a loud pop as the cables snapped and the car dropped to the basement. Chris thanks me every time I talk to him for saving his life, and asks how I knew. I just shake my head, and look out the window...

Happy Halloween

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