The Philmont Tradition and my Lifetime Dream to go There

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Kevin V. Hunt

Scouting Historian, Author and Speaker, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director

For almost fifty years I have heard of the lore of the great Philmont Scout Ranch.    I have known of the Philmont Tradition and have had a lifetime dream to go there.  I have yearned and hoped that through some miracle I might someday attend a training course there but have never had the opportunity to do so.   I guess I be truthful and say that I have actually had many opportunities to attend training courses at Philmont but never had the money or resources to do so.  With a large family, it just wasn’t possible for me.  And so, that dream has been looming out there forever.  I have said on many occasions that I have done almost everything in Scouting but the illusive Philmont has been one thing that I have never – and probably would not ever get to do.  I had given up on the dream becoming a reality.

Then I received a call from my brother, Darcy – who lives in Pueblo, Colorado.  My brother knew of my Philmont dream and so he decided to make it possible for me.  What a great brother!  Amazing!  Pueblo is within the geographic area of the Rocky Mountain Council, BSA – which covers southern Colorado and even down to the area around Philmont in New Mexico.  And I guess for fifty five years or so, the Council has had a tradition of having a Philmont weekend experience.  This seemed to be a great tradition and activity.  So, we were pleased to join their “Philmont Fellowship 2016 – Creating Connections”.

It was April 30th in 2016.  Again my journal records many of the details of that great day. The day began normally for me – at my usual 4:10 AM – as I arose to get ready to drive a school bus all day.  I drove my kids to their schools in the morning but took off through the afternoon so that I could go to Colorado and New Mexico.

Later that afternoon, a daughter came over and took Lou, my wife, and me to the home of another daughter.  Our son-in-law, Michael then took us to the Phoenix airport for our flight to Denver.  We checked in for the flight.  We will fly home on Allegiant and they will only allow us to take a backpack sized bag – without paying big bucks.  So, even though we flew Southwest Airlines today – and they don’t charge for bags, we had to be compliant with the Allegiant guidelines.  I could not get the internet to work at the airport so I just sat and visited with Lou as we waited.  She probably welcomed the technical breakdown.

We boarded the plane and headed off to Denver.  Darcy drove the almost three hours north from his Pueblo, Colorado home to get us at the Denver Airport.  He willingly made this trek – even with the threat of very bad weather.   We got our luggage and then he was there to greet us.  We then took the train to the terminal parking.

We drove south in Interstate 25.  We drove past Darcy’s home town and continued south toward New Mexico.  It was cold – only about 32 degrees – so literally freezing.  Though snowing, the roads remained clear.  This came as a major answer to Lou’s prayers.  We had a good visit with Darcy along the way.

We stopped at one rest area.  There was a lot of snow on the ground.  We turned off I-25 and headed onto another highway toward Cimarron, New Mexico.  We arrived at Philmont about 2:00 AM.  Laura and Ali had already set up tents for us – so this was wonderful.  In the summers, there are giant tent cities all over Philmont and literally thousands of Scouts pass through the place.  They come all days of the week.  They come in on one day and spend that night in the spacious wall tents (two people to a tent) and then head off on their trek adventure.  They stay out on the trail for ten days or so and then return to base for a final night.

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In addition to the trek groups, Philmont is also home to the National BSA Training Center.  And in this training capacity, it offers a multitude of interesting and wonderful training sessions to Scouting volunteers who come from all over the country.  For almost fifty years I have always wanted to attend a training course here but have never had the opportunity.   I should say that I have actually had many opportunities to attend training courses at Philmont but never had the money or resources to do so.  With a large family, it just wasn’t possible for me.  And so, that dream has been looming out there forever.  I have said on many occasions that I have done almost everything in Scouting but the illusive Philmont has been one thing that I have never – and probably would not get to do.  I had given up on the dream becoming a reality.  So, with that in mind, it was so exciting to actually be on my way there.  (My brother knew of my Philmont dream and so he decided to make it possible for me.  What a great brother!  Amazing!)

Just a bit of History of Philmont from the official website:

“Once inhabited by Jicarilla Apache and Moache Ute Indians, Philmont Scout Ranch was later the site of one of the first pioneer settlements in northeastern New Mexico. The present Ranch is part of the original Beaubien and Miranda Land Grant that the Mexican government granted to Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda in 1841.  One of those interested in the New Mexico tracts was an Oklahoma oilman, Waite Phillips, who had become interested in developing a ranch out of the old land grant in 1922. He eventually amassed more than 300,000 acres of mountains and plains in a ranch he named Philmont (derived from his name and the Spanish word for mountain, “monte”).

“The Philmont Ranch became a showplace. Immense herds of Hereford cows and Corriedale sheep grazed its pastures. Phillips built a large Spanish Mediterranean home for his family at the headquarters and named it the Villa Philmonte. He developed horse and hiking trails throughout the scenic backcountry, along with elaborate fishing and hunting cabins for his family and friends.

philmont-waite-phillips

“Waite Phillips believed in sharing his wealth with people outside his family. In this spirit, he offered 35,857 acres of his ranch to the Boy Scouts of America in 1938 to serve as a national wilderness camping area. The area was named Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp (after Phillips’ name and the Scout slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily”). Fees for the first summer were set at $1 per week per camper, and 189 Scouts from Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma arrived for the first experience at a national backcountry Scout camp.

“After observing the enthusiastic response of the first Scout campers, Phillips augmented his original gift in 1941 with an addition that included his best camping land, the Villa Philmonte and the headquarters of the farming and ranching operation. The second gift was made so that “many, rather than few” could enjoy his rich and beautiful land. Phillips was quoted in the Tulsa Daily World saying: “That ranch represents an ideal of my youth … and has meant a lot to my son and his pals. Now I want to make it available to other boys. … I’d be selfish to hold it for my individual use.” The property, now totaling 127,395 acres, was renamed Philmont Scout Ranch.

“Phillips realized that the cost for maintaining and developing the property could not and should not be derived entirely from camper fees. As an endowment he included in the gift his 23-story Philtower Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“The first season of Philmont Scout Ranch in 1942 welcomed only 275 Scouts, and attendance remained low during the war years. However, in 1946, Scouts from all 12 regions of the country attended Philmont Scout Ranch. Programs and backcountry camps were continually being developed and, in 1949, workers began rebuilding Kit Carson’s adobe home at Rayado – a project that Phillips had urged the Boy Scouts of America to undertake.

“By 1950, Scouts were attending Philmont from almost every BSA Council; attendance was more than 1,700. However, in 1951, it jumped to more than 5,200 and passed 7,000 in 1954. During the 1950s, adult and family attendance increased, with the establishment of the Philmont Training Center.

“In 1963, through the generosity of Norton Clapp, vice president of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, another piece of the Maxwell Land Grant was purchased and added to Philmont. This area was the Baldy Mountain mining region that consisted of 10,098 acres. Today, the ranch’s total area is approximately 214 square miles!”

Anyway, back to my own narrative:

Tonight upon our arrival at Philmont, we found no snow at the tents but it was VERY COLD and wet.  Our own tent was set up atop of the large wooden platform.  img_2611It was interesting that each tent platform also has a “current bush” with it.  Lou was quick to plug in her phone!  We “camped” on tent platform #62.  Darcy provided sleeping bags for us and I slept in one that was supposed to keep one warm down to 0 degrees.  In the bag, I felt like the pea in “The Princess and the Pea”!   I was quite worn out by this time – having got up at 4:10 AM back in Mesa to do my bus run.  So, I was anxious to get into my own bag.

APRIL 20TH – SATURDAY

I awoke this morning at the national BSA Philmont Scout Ranch.  It has been my life-long goal to get to Philmont and so a dream at least partially came true today.  It was clear skies when we went to bed but we awoke this morning to clouds and weather that was a bit warmer.  We greeted Laura and Ali – who were asleep upon our arrival last night.

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Darcy and Ali Hunt at Philmont

I went in and took a nice warm shower in one of the many individual indoor restrooms.  These rooms had a toilet, a sink and a shower –and were very nice.  (A bit beyond the usual outdoor two-holers that are found at almost all Scout camps – or at least the ones where I have been.)

Our first item on the schedule of the day was a flag ceremony.  We gathered out in the parking lot with about 50 folks – which included adult Scouters and their families.   Everyone was bundled up tight in their winter gear for the cold morning.  The gathering was rather informal.  Two teen Scouts were invited to raise the colors for the group.

As I looked around I noted that there were deer everywhere.  They were grazing like cows in the meadows around the Philmont ranch houses.

We all headed to one of the dining halls associated with the Training Center.  En route, we marveled at the fabulous buildings of the Philmont ranch.  In typical Spanish architecture, each with red tile on the roof.  The whole place was landscaped beautifully – and even in the winter – when there was no green, it was obvious that this was a very beautiful place.

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Philmont Scout Ranch

As we made this trek to the dining hall, my wife began to have memories come back to her.   The Villa and a giant gazebo seemed to spark those memories.  She had made a trek to Philmont when she was just age 12 or so.  Her father was in an LDS Stake Presidency and he came to Philmont to receive training for his position.  And as is the Philmont custom and opportunity, he was able to bring his whole family with him.  All of the children who were at home were able to make the trip with the folks.  They took the train to Cimarron from Salt Lake City.  I am not sure how they got from the train depot on to Philmont.  Anyway, she has always told me that this was the greatest vacation that her family had ever taken.  She has talked with fondness of the Philmont experience through these many years.  Philmont and the Philmont Spirit left a lasting impression upon her mind and spirit.

We meandered through the gardens to the chow hall.  Upon entry, we were struck with the large wall murals which depicted the ranch and the many wild and domestic animals that inhabit it with the Scouts.  The murals gave a great aura to the place.  And as I entered the dining hall, I felt at home.  It was much like any other Scout Camp dining hall operation – and I had seen a few of those in my years of Scouting (20 summers, in eight camps and six states).

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Laura and Darcy Hunt – in Philmont Dining Hall 1 – with murals in background

We held on to our coats for a few minutes – until our bodies caught up with the warmth of the place.  We laid claim to a dining table and got in line for food.   We soon found that we had a lot of options for food.  There was something for everyone.  I thanked each of the workers who had worked hard to make this meal for us.  It appeared that many of the workers were local folks from Cimarron and other nearby communities and that was great.  With a tray of food, we headed back to our seats.  It was then that I had time to take a look around at the Rocky Mountain Scouters and camp workers who had gathered there.  It was a pleasure to meet the Philmont Camp Director, Mark Anderson.

After breakfast I checked out the rest of the dining hall building – and particularly the large training room.  There were program options that we could do but Lou and I opted to take the tour of the historic ranch Villa – The Villa Phillmonte and museum.  Of course we took a lot of photos throughout the tour experience.  The tour – and our guide – were fabulous.  It was obvious that our guide had been at Philmont for many years – and she had genuine and a very enthusiastic love for the place.  She knew well the ranch history, of the Waite family, and many other interesting details.  In a word, she was Fabulous!

We normally could have gone on one or more day hikes in the nearby mountains but on this day, most of those options were cancelled because of the rain, snow and cold.  The trails were too wet to trek on.   My wife decided that she wanted a nap.   I used the morning to go visit the Camp trading post and so took a walk over there.  There was a threat of bad weather but it held off and let me make my walk.   I enjoyed watching the Rocky Mountain council’s Camp Isabel’s camp director – also a Kevin – as he did “branding” – putting the famous Philmont brand on belts, mugs, etc.

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Camp San Isabel Camp Director – Kevin O’Keefe doing Philmont branding

With my wife and Darcy and family, we took our own little tour around the training center and took many photos.  And through all of this, I wished that I was at Philmont during the summer or for a training course – so that I could have really felt the Philmont Spirit and basked in it.  But, there was evidence of those great gatherings – and I took these all in.

After lunch we – Lou and I and Darcy, Laura and Ali – all went to check out an old adobe fort located a couple of miles east of Philmont.  This place was closed and was undergoing major remodeling so we didn’t get to go in.  We then went to the Historic St. James Hotel.

We talked to the hostess and spent quite a bit of time checking out all of the interesting photos and information around  on all the walls of the halls.  I loved the gorgeous wood work throughout the place.  We learned that many famous people had slept – or died there. There were also a multitude of shoot-outs – evidenced even today with the bullet holes – from all of that activity – still visible in the walls.  Wow! What a place.  I loved it!

After all of the above excitement it now began to rain quite hard.  I resorted to my tent and took my own nap for an hour and a half! Wow!  I never do such a thing!

With the rain, the evening flag ceremony was cancelled.  We just went on into the dining hall for dinner.  It was great to be in there once again.  I loved the spirit of the place.  And there was plenty of food – and I took advantage of that – and ate a whole lot more than I needed.

After dinner, the Council group all gathered into the large training room auditorium.

We there held a great indoor campfire program.  This proved to be a lot of fun – and held in the best of the grand campfire tradition of any Scout Camp.   The program was directed by Council Executive – Phillip Eborn.  I have known Phillip and his legendary professional Scouting brothers in other associations and have found them to be great men.  It was fun to visit with him at the program and before.  I had my laptop computer with me in camp – and pulled up some journal records of former days.  I told Philip about the entry which I wrote for May 19, 2012 when I attended a National Camp School that he was conducting:

May 19th – 2012

“I today went up to Camp Geronimo (near Payson, Arizona) to participate in a full week of National Camp School.  I will attend this school to learn to be a Camp Commissioner.  This school is held several times a year and the location rotates around the region.  This year the camp school is conveniently held at Camp Geronimo.  So, this worked out well for me.  I will attend the Commissioner section of the Camp School.  At the dining hall, I met Phillip Eborn, the director of the Camp School.  He seems like a really great guy – and I later learned that he is also a former director of Camp Bartlett where I also was the director several years ago.”

So, this evening I was excited when this Phillip led the group in one of my old camp favorite songs – “Fleas, Flies, and Mosquitoes”.  He did it with great energy befitting a Camp Director.

As we were gathering for indoor campfire program, folks had given us a paper on which we were asked to write “something unique about ourselves”.  Then through the evening they read several of these papers on some of the program participants.  Then as a person’s unique statement was read, the person was invited to stand to tell more about themselves or their uniqueness.   I wrote about my daily journal writing habit of over forty years – and later got called upon to talk about it.  I mentioned the journal entry that I had found earlier which mentioned their Executive, Phillip.

Many of the Scouters who were there were given opportunity to do a campfire skit.  So, we signed up for our combined “Hunt Bunch” to perform.   We performed a mostly impromptu rendition of an original song about Wade Phillips and Philmont.   This was to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.  Actually, we had known all day about the assignment and we had worked on it together through our local meanderings.  We had fun performing together.

I enjoyed hearing of one the oldest of “red-coat Scouters” in the group as he talked of how he first came to Philmont with his hometown troop – clear back in 1968 l- and he said that he has been coming back ever since.  What a great Philmont legacy radiated from this long-time Scouter.

Camp Director, Kevin O’Keefe, led his favorite camp song.  And he was fabulous – a credit to the camp and council with his energy and enthusiasm.

One highlight of the program came at the end as we all gathered in a circle and sang together the Philmont Hymn – which I realized is the ranch’s official song  and later learned was written by John Benton Westfall (1928-May 9, 2009) in 1947 when he was 19.).  Anyway, we formed our circle and sang together:

Silver on the sage,
Starlit skys above,
Aspen-covered hills,
Country that I love.

Philmont, here’s to thee,
Scouting paradise,
Out in God’s country,
Tonight.

Wind in whispering pines,
Eagle soaring high,
Purple mountains rise,
Against an azure sky.

Philmont, here’s to thee,
Scouting paradise,
Out in God’s country,
Tonight.

That was my first time to sing the Philmont Hymn but it quickly became a “tear-jerker” for me.  I felt a little bit of why Philmont has been such a special place to so many Scouters through the past century.  Wow!  It was amazing and hit me hard in my heart and spirit.  Philmont, here’s to thee!

We joined the group for one of the best cracker barrels ever.  Phillip really took care of us.

We had planned to remain at Philmont until Sunday morning but as the program ended Saturday night we looked out the giant windows to the south and noted with some horror the heavy snow that was then falling.  We talked of the situation and the mountain passes that we would have to ascend on the route back to Pueblo, Colorado.  We decided that the road would only get worse as snow and ice accumulated.  So, we made the decision to head home right away.  We packed all of our stuff in a hurry – in a momentary break in the snowy weather and took off.

We encountered good roads most of the way home and got ice and snow on the road only on one mountain pass.  So, we were protected through our travels – and we were grateful for that blessing.  So, in all, it was a very fun day.  And I greatly enjoyed my fun trip to Philmont – and was so happy that I got to make that trek.  And having been there once, I still have two more Philmont dreams that I would still like to accomplish sometime.  One would be to attend a training course there – and the other would be to be on staff at a training course – to help train and motivate others.  Maybe someday I’ll still get to do those!  I hope so! Sometimes dreams do come true …

We arrived back in Pueblo right at midnight – grateful for our safe return trip.  And I was grateful for the chance that I had to be at Philmont – even if for only under twenty four hours.  I felt enough of the Philmont Spirit to make me want to go there again.

Best wishes along your Scouting Trails …  Kevin

See this link for an introduction to Kevin the Scouting Trails Blogger

Blogging articles have excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”,  and others at his Scoutingtrails website.  Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy ScoutThe Scouting Trail and the Voice of Scouting.  Feel free to comment on anything you read! Find Kevin on Facebook at: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs

To explore or buy Kevin’s books on Amazon, go to: amazon.com/author/kevinhunt

Contact Kevin directly via email: kevin@scoutingtrails.com

 

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