Philmont Scout Ranch

From Academic Kids

Philmont Scout Ranch is the oldest of the national "high-adventure bases" operated by the Boy Scouts of America, along with the Florida High Adventure Sea Base and the Northern Tier High Adventure Bases. It is one of the most renowned BSA facilities.


Location and geography

Philmont is located in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. The closest town is Cimarron, New Mexico, but perhaps it is better to say that it is about 20 miles (30 km) west-northwest of Springer, New Mexico, or 35 miles southwest of Raton, New Mexico. It is shaped somewhat like the letter 'I,' with the bottom section larger than the top. It is about 12 miles across (east to west) at its widest point, and about 30 miles (50 km) long. There are no mountains to the south of Philmont, or to the east (indeed, part of the eastern fringe of the ranch is flatland) but the interior is quite mountainous.

The lowest elevation is 6500 feet, at the southeast corner. The highest point is the peak of Baldy Mountain 12,441 feet (3792 m), on the northwest boundary. The most recognizable landmark at Philmont is the Tooth of Time (9003 feet), a granite monolith protruding 500 feet (150 m) vertically from an east-west ridge. Tooth of Time Ridge, and the latitude line it sits on, mark the boundary between the central and southern sections of Philmont. The boundary between the central and northern sections is the narrowest part of the 'I'-shape, only a few miles across. U.S. Highway 64 runs through Philmont just south of this line.


Native Americans of the Jicarilla Apache tribe and Ute tribe once inhabited Philmont. At least one Native American archaeological site exists in the northern section, and various camps seek to preserve Philmont's Native American heritage.

Private ownership

In the mid-19th century, the Santa Fe Trail crossed the plains just southwest of Philmont. The Tooth of Time owes its name to this trail; travelers knew that once they passed it, they had only a few weeks to go until they reached Santa Fe, New Mexico. Philmont's strategic location along the trail spurred some interest in it. In 1841, Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda obtained a large land grant from the Mexican government, including the present ranch. Soon the grant fell into the hands of Beaubien's son-in-law Lucien Maxwell, who played an important role in developing and settling it. Maxwell sold the ranch to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company, which gave up and handed it on to a Dutch development company, which decided to parcel it out to ranchers.

An old Mexican homestead was preserved on the ranch, as part of Abreu camp, for many years until it burned down, leaving only a stone fireplace and chimney. A reconstructed homestead may be seen less than a mile away at New Abreu camp. Herds of cattle, another relic of this era, graze in the numerous meadows of southeastern Philmont.

The history of mining at Philmont dates back to the years immediately after the Civil War. At the time, many U.S. soldiers were stationed in the West, as the U.S. Army was driving out the American Indians. The story is that one of these soldiers befriended an Indian, who happened to give him a shiny rock. The shiny material in the rock was found to be copper. According to the story, the soldier and two of his friends went up to investigate, and found gold. However, they could not stay and mine the gold, and by the time they returned the next year, the area was overrun by miners. Scores of gold mines were excavated in Philmont, and operated into the early 20th century. A large vein of gold is said to lie under Baldy Mountain to this day, but extracting it has not been feasible.
The Contention Mine, located at Cyphers Mine camp, is open to guided tours.

The penultimate owner of Philmont was wealthy oil magnate and wilderness enthusiast Waite Phillips, who amassed a large part of the old land grant in the 1920s, totalling over 300,000 acres (1,200 km²). Phillips built a large residence in the lowlands of Philmont, and called it the Villa Philmonte. The ranch became a private game reserve for Phillips and his friends, and a number of hunting lodges and day-use camps were built. It would not have been beyond his means to bring electricity to those camps, but he decided not to. Some of these camps have been preserved, complete with wood-burning stoves, oil lamps, and unique design features indicative of Phillips's often eccentric taste.

Boy Scout involvement

Phillips sometimes allowed others to visit his ranch, including a few Boy Scout troops. He was so impressed with the Scouts that in 1938, he donated 35,857 acres (145 km²) to the Boy Scouts of America. They initially named it the "Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp" [sic]. The word 'Philturn' comes from Waite Phillips's name, together with the "Good Turn" he did by donating the property. In 1941, Phillips added more Philmont property, including the Villa Philmonte, bringing the total to 127,395 acres (516 km²). (Contrary to popular belief, Phillips did not give his entire ranch to the BSA, but only those properties that would have the most recreational value. The total donation comprised about 40% of the ranch.) To help fund the upkeep of Philmont, he threw in a large office building in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The ranch's name was changed at this time to the "Philmont Scout Ranch and Explorer Base".

Philmont was run differently in the early years than it is now. Half a dozen "base camps" were constructed at strategic locations. A visiting group of Scouts would stay at one of these camps for a week, and day-hike to surrounding locations of interest. If the Scouts wanted to visit a different area, they would pack up their gear, hoist it onto donkeys, and hike to another base camp. Eventually, possibly due to the advent of modern lightweight metal-frame backpacks and other backpacking technology, the program was restructured to be backpacking-based.

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 was the Baldy Mountain mining area, consisting of 10,098 acres (41 km²).

In recent years, Philmont has also been able to gain use of the "Valle Vidal" section of the Carson National Forest. Since 1989, Philmont has had a series of five-year special-use permits from the Forest Service, allowing crews to hike and camp in the Valle Vidal as part of their Philmont treks. Philmont operates three staffed camps (Whiteman Vega, Seally Canyon, and Ring Place) and two trail camps in that part of the Valle. Those camps serve around 3,000 Philmont campers each summer. Each camper performs four hours of conservation work in the Valle on projects approved by the Forest Service.

Program and activities

Most of those who come to Philmont come for the trek, an 11-day backpacking trip. (A group of Scouts on a trek is called a crew.) Other program options include:

  • Cavalcades are similar to standard treks, but conducted on horseback.
  • Rayado Treks are twice as long as standard treks, and considerably more strenuous. Rayado crews are put together by Philmont staff, and consist of people from different parts of the country.
  • The Philmont Training Center offers weeklong training programs for adult leaders, and a variety of outdoor programs for trainees' families, including week-long 'Mountain Men' treks (mini-treks) for older children.
  • The Roving Outdoor Conservation School and various Trail Crew programs teach participants about ecology, conservation techniques, and trail construction methods.
  • OA Trail Crew program
  • Autumn Adventure program
  • Kanik winter program
  • Ranch Hands
  • Guided activities such as fishing, winter camping, and skiing, are offered throughout the year.
  • Philbreak, an 'alternate spring break' progam started in 2003 to help restore Philmont from the devestating fires.

Base Camp and related topics

Base Camp is a town unto itself. It has a post office, half a dozen chapels (operating daily), two dining halls, a clinic, a store for souvenirs and sundry camping gear, housing (mainly tents) for roughly 900 staff, and tents for between 800 and 1000 trekkers. Trekkers are organized into crews of seven to twelve (usually closer to twelve than to seven), with two to four adult leaders. A contingent consists of one or more crews from the same council (see Boy Scouts of America: Organization), traveling together. Around 360 trekkers arrive at Base Camp every day of the season. When they arrive, they are assigned a ranger, a young man or woman highly skilled in backpacking. The ranger's task is to guide the crew through "processing," (basically, registration), to make sure that the trekkers actually know how to backpack, and to teach them Philmont-specific camping practices.

Crews are required to pick up a dining fly. This is a 12-foot-square tarp with two collapsible aluminium poles. Its purpose (quite contrary to the name) is to serve as a rain cover for the crew's backpacks. It is supposed to be set up as an A-frame, with two opposite sides staked down, the middle held up by the poles, and the ends open. Many crews experiment with the use of trees, hiking poles, and other devices to obtain a roomier configuration so that it can be used for crew activities such as card games. Crews may also pick up Philmont tents. These tents are also A-frame, five feet wide by seven feet long, with a rain fly. They are more difficult to set up than conventional dome tents, but very easy to break down. They have a bad reputation, which this contributor considers to be undeserved, since they are not significantly heavier than commonly used dome tents.
Crews also pick up several days' worth of Philmont food (see "Commissaries" below). Philmont also provides optional cooking supplies.

After processing, crews are loaded up onto busses and shipped off to any of several trailheads, called "turnarounds" because there is a loop in the road for the bus to turn around. The crew and its ranger are now alone.


Philmont now has one large base camp, 34 staffed camps, and over 50 unstaffed camps, generally set no more than a couple of miles apart. Each camp may have over 15 crew campsites, but they are often spread out over half a mile of trail or more, so that there is no sense of crowding. Facilities at every campsite are:

  • A fire ring.
  • A sump. This is an L-shaped plastic pipe, with a two-foot vertical section and a four-foot horizontal section perforated like a sieve. Most of it is underground, and the top is capped with a piece of mesh. Sumps are used to dispose of dirty dishwater.
  • Several campsites share a bear cable. This is a metal cable, at least ten feet above the ground, used to hang bear bags.
  • Several campsites also share a latrine. Latrines come in numerous configurations. The enclosed configuration, with walls and a red roof (but no door), is known for obvious reasons as a Red Roof Inn. The open-air style with two adjacent seats is affectionately called the "pilot to copilot" design. The other configuration, called the "pilot to bombardier", is better in that it has two seats back to back, so that, in a pinch, they can be used simultaneously and with marginal privacy. This act is known as a double deuce. Occasionally a "single pilot" - one open-air seat - may be found. Philmont latrines of both types are known to house spiders, whose bite induces a rash.
  • There is usually a camp map or two, posted on a wooden billboard or on the side of a Red Roof Inn latrine.

Staffed camps and "program"

Some camps have several live-in staff members, in charge of the camp's "program." "Program" may be quite poorly defined as special activities run by staff. Program at any one camp includes several activities with a common theme, such as fur trapping, Apache Indian life, Mexican homestead, rock climbing, mining, fishing, ranching, etc.


A few staffed camps have "commissaries." A commissary is a small warehouse, located on a dirt road and stocked with Philmont food. A small room in the warehouse holds a store, which sells a small variety of odds and ends that just might be useful. Commissaries also sell white gas fuel for crews' stoves. A crew typically stops by a commissary every few days, so that it does not have to carry a huge amount of consumables.

External links

  • unofficial Philmont website ( has complete information with a basic message board. It (particularly the history section) has been used as a source for this article.
  • Tooth of Time Traders ( official website of the Philmont Trading Post
  • is an online group of persons interested in Philmont, including former staff members and includes a virtual tour of Philmont as well as pictures and other resources.

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