Posts Tagged ‘Philmont’


Christmas at Philmont

If you have been on a Philmont trek that included the northern and central portions of the ranch, then chances are good that you have hiked through Santa Claus Camp. The camp is located in Santa Claus Canyon, north of Bear Canyon and southeast of Head of Dean Camp.

I have been through Santa Claus Camp a few times on my Philmont treks. Usually, it was an unstaffed camp, but in 1992 I was surprised to discover that it had become a staffed camp, complete with a volleyball court for the day and a telescope for the evening. The crew had a great time there.

The 1992 staff invited campers to write a story about how Santa Claus Camp received its name. A few members of my crew took the challenge. Al, one of our crew advisers, wrote a great story about the history of the site. Since it is the Christmas season I would like to share it with you.

There was a lot of snow that winter of 1853, too much for the horses and tired people moving through the mountains of northern New Mexico. They had left in a train of wagons on the Santa Fe Trail, but were down to one wagon for two families; and they were lost. The wagon master, who knew the way to Cimarron, had died of typhoid on the plains of eastern Colorado. Now, they were nearing exhaustion as they searched through the canyons for human life.

It was December 24, and there were tears in the eyes of the parents as they kissed their children good night, for there was a chance that some of them would never wake up.


The sky was clear, with uncountable millions of stars, but the beauty of the night was swallowed by the intense cold. The Borgerdings and the Hansons were typical pioneer families, and they were near to meeting the fate that so many others met on the Westward march.


It took a few minutes before they realized that there was a stranger at the fire, before their cold-numbed senses could react. He was an old mountain man that the Utes called White Cheeks due to the soft white beard on his face. He had on snow shoes and a pack which was full of freshly butchered mountain lion.
Asking no questions, he stepped up to the fire and cooked his lion steaks for everyone. After eating he led them up to his cabin and safety.

Of course the children called him Santa Claus, and since he offered no other name, the parents joined in. The mountain man stayed with them through that long winter, teaching them the skills they needed to survive in the mountains.
In the spring, he loaded his beaver pelts in his pack and headed for the Taos Rendezvous. The Borgerdings and Hansons followed the clearly given directions to Cimarron where they told the story of Santa Claus to its inhabitants.

White Cheeks never got to Taos, nor was he ever again seen alive. The people who come to his canyon on Christmas Eve know that there is an old white faced mountain man sitting over a fire, and even though no lion has lived here for many years, there are always plenty of lion steaks for everyone. If you ask him, he’ll tell you about the winter of 1853, and the families that called him Santa Claus.

Do you have any Christmas stories about your Scouts? Share them with us and leave a comment.

1996YPS03(The following article was written by Brad Kramer, an alumni of Melrose Boy Scout Troop 68. Brad was a member of the troop from 1995 to 1997. He earned the rank of Life Scout. It is the fourth of a series of guest articles written by former members of Troop 68.)

What I got out of Scouts.

I was in the Scouting program from the age of 8-18. It has made me who I am more than anything else in my youth. I can directly attribute some of my favorite jobs and adventures to my time as a Scout. After high school, I headed up to the Boundary Waters where I was a Dogsled and Canoe Guide/Outfitter. There is no doubt that the skills I learned in Scouts, whether it was camping, survival, leadership, or many other skills, were what landed me this dream job. Being a Dogsled Guide up in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota allowed me to run dogsled in the middle of the night with a close-knit group of guides and amazing dogs, with only the northern lights and stars on the horizon rather than city lights. The only thing that resembled smog was the breath of a living creature in the -40 degree temperature. The scenery was beyond amazing, and the memories are some of the fondest I’ve ever had.

My clients were people from all over the world who spent thousands of dollars on a vacation to do what I did every day. The skills I learned in Scouts taught me to tie any knot that was needed out in the wilderness, whether it was rigging a shelter, repairing a dog’s harness, starting a fire in windy weather in temperatures so cold that water was frozen before it hit the fresh snow, or how to splint my wrist when I broke it on a canoe trip by myself three days into the wilderness in the crisp October weather. Scouting taught me how to dress for the wilderness so I could be comfortable all day long on an eight hour trip, whether I was on the back of the sled getting whipped with -60 windchill, or out front, sweating and hot, while breaking trail through waist deep snow.

In Scouting, I learned the value of community service, and taking pride in your community, as well as the camaraderie from being with others. Over the years, the skills and confidence from Scouting were directly used as a Firefighter and First Responder. All the first aid and CPR training prepared me for the First Responder program in college. In the years to come, I became involved in the community where I would apply my leadership and citizenship skills to the Constitution Party when I was my county’s Vice-Chairman and acting Chairman. Currently, I am a member of my community’s Chamber of Commerce, where I sit on the Business Education Partnership Committee and Government Affairs Committee. Learning compassion for animals and responsibility were ingrained in me in Scouting, and I used to volunteer for a horse rescue where I would help take care of abused and neglected horses.In my professional career, as a business manager, I have much of the leadership abilities I learned as a Scout to thank.

As a Boy Scout, I rose through the ranks from Assistant Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and Senior Patrol Leader. My troop put me through Junior Leadership Training, where I was asked to come back the following year to teach others what I had learned. The skills I learned in these roles have followed me everywhere I go and prepared me to lead others.

As a Scout, we are taught to love our country and honor our heritage, taught to know our history, and respecting our flag is mandatory. Shortly after I graduated, when our country was attacked on 9-11, I enlisted in the military, and was part of the honor division in basic training. The self-discipline instilled in me as a Scout gave me the strength to march through endless drills, which were no more difficult than the miles we’d put on as Scouts at Philmont Scout Camp, where we’d march through 100+ degree temperatures for mile after mile over different terrain, and our bed was a tiny foam mat on the rocky ground, and our water was from creeks that had to be treated with iodine. To this day, I often think back to the many great memories from when I was 13 years old and experienced Philmont. Unfortunately, I was discharged from the Navy because of the hearing loss I’ve had since childhood, but I am proud of the many Scouts I’ve known over the years who have represented us well in our military, who served honorably and answered the call.

As I think back to Scouting, and some of the experiences I had, whether it was whitewater rafting, rock climbing, backpacking, or camping, going to Philmont in New Mexico, Many Point Scout Camp in northern Minnesota, or winter camping at Troop 68′s own Watchamagumee, or just playing basketball with my fellow Scouts after a meeting, I have many fond memories. All the merit badges we were able to work on taught me a broad range of skills that I have used many times since, or expanded my horizons to interest me in new hobbies. The values that were taught to us as Scouts have helped me over the years to be a better person. Now, 15 years after I last wore the uniform, I can still recite as quickly from memory the Scout Law: A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

scout dvd movie collectionLike many Scout leaders and families I have collected a few Scouting-themed movies over the years. I know my collection is far from complete but it does contain some of what we could call “classics”.

Scouts To The Rescue, starring a young Jackie Cooper, is the only VHS tape I own for this collection. It is a twelve part series from many decades ago, 1938. Cooper plays an Eagle Scout of a troop which finds a buried treasure which turns out to be a stash of counterfeit money. Unfortunately, It is the only movie of my collection I have not watched yet since I bought it after I got rid of my VHS player for my television. Some day I will have to transfer it to dvd.

Mr. Scoutmaster is a 1953 comedy featuring Clifton Webb as a television personality who becomes a scoutmaster to learn more about teenage boys when his tv show begins to lose ratings. I saw this on tv a couple decades ago and found someone on eBay who was selling DVD copies. Today there are several online stores which sell this movie.

Follow Me Boys is probably the most well known movie about Scouting. It was released by Disney in 1966 and features Fred MacMurray as he serves as a scoutmaster for twenty years with the same troop. A young Kurt Russell is a member of that Boy Scout Troop. I first saw this movie in 1984 when I attended scoutmaster training at Philmont Scout Ranch. I quickly picked up a copy when it came out on DVD. This movie belongs in everyone’s Scouting collection.

The Wrong Guys is a 1988 movie which features popular comedians of the time, including Louie Anderson, Richard Lewis, and Richard Belzer. The plot follows a group of men who where members of a Cub Scout den in their youth as they gather for a camping reunion. Of course, none of them know much about camping. And to top it off, a couple of escaped convicts get mixed up in the story. Not a strong plot but still fun to watch.

Down And Derby is a comedy with a Cub Scout Pinewood Derby at the core of its story. Or I should say how some fathers take a Pinewood Derby too far and try to win no matter what the cost. This 2005 movie features Greg German and Pat Morita. This family film is a great one for this time of year as packs across the country prepare for their own Pinewood Derby. One of my favorite lines from the movie is when one of the Cub Scouts says that he cannot wait to grow up so he can race his own car.

Pixar’s Up really is not a movie about Scouting but has a main charater that is 100 percent Boy Scout, or should I say Wilderness Scout? Some of Russell’s (the Scout) Scouting knowledge comes in handy as he and the old man Carl have an adventure that takes them to South America. The movie pokes fun of Scouting but does it gently and with respect. This movie is a must for a Scout collection.

Scout Camp, The Movie came out in 2009. It follows the adventures of one Boy Scout troop during their week at summer camp. While some people did not feel that this was a very good movie about Scouting, after all, the Scouts do not always follow the Scout Oath and Law (sound familiar?), I enjoyed it as a fun story. I was surprised to see a wide number of Scouts-types in the film who I could identify as members of my own troop over the years. There was also one or two scenes that struck home a little too closely.

759: Boy Scouts Of Harlem is a 2009 documentary filmed by Justin Szlasa and Jake Boritt as they follow four Boy Scouts from Harlem troop when they attended summer camp. The newest Scout, eleven-year-old Keith, spends his first week at camp and faces the challenges of the woods: the dock test in the deep lake, creatures of the night, and the climbing tower. The film is well done and you really get to know the boys and their leaders during the film.

The last film of my collection is the Philmont Documentary Collection. If you have been to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico you need to have this DVD in your collection. I feel it really captures the sense of what it is like being at the ranch. It not only gives the viewer an in-depth history of Philmont but also follows a Venture co-ed crew and they partake in a twelve day trek. I call this dvd the best thing next to being there. Be sure to purchase the blu-ray version of the film for your HiDef television.

Which of these movies do you have in your collection? Which ones am I missing?

The year was 1986. It was a good year for the Melrose Boy Scout Troop 68 program. There was a large membership for Troop 68, and good turnout for the monthly activities and courts of honor. Winter camp, a primitive campout, the Ripley Rendezvous, a Scout-O-Rama, and a local camporee were just some of the events. It was the first year we sent a crew to Philmont Scout Ranch. I recently finished a video featuring pictures from the year which I hope to share with the troop alumni. I thought you might enjoy traveling back in time also and see what the troop program looked like in 1986.

Were you a Boy Scout in 1986?

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Philmont Group 1986Philmont Scout Ranch. Land of adventure, living history, and magical wonders.  It is a place where deer walk through your campsite, billions of stars can be seen at night, and the views can literally take your breath away. It is a place to get away from the stress of modern society. Leave you computers, iPods, and cell phones at home because you will be without electricity for ten days while backpacking in the Philmont wilderness. In other words, this can be a great place for that “get away from everything” vacation.

Well, maybe not quite away from it all. As an adult crew advisor you will be with a crew of up to ten teenage boys (and girls if you are with a venture crew.) That youthful group can present you with an unique perspective of the backcountry, but they will also challenge you from day to day. Believe it or not, but there will be times when the adults and the Scouts will not quite see things the same way or even agree on things.

Philmont is a great place to relax. There is nothing like finding that special spot in or near the campsite that overlooks the valley below, or the mountains above. Just lay back and enjoy the peace and quiet. That is, if the boys are peaceful and quiet. Oh, and your body might be a little sore from hiking that last 13 miles with a 45 pound pack strapped to you back. If it rains you can always crawl into you tent and catch a quick nap. That can be very relaxing.

Some people consider a vacation to be great when they get to participate in new experiences. Philmont has plenty of those to choose from. How about rock climbing, panning for gold, or burro racing? Standing on top of a mountain and watching the clouds float by below you is a great one. Hiking with a heavy pack during a downpour while you are marching up the side of a mountain is not so great.

If you have a chance to participate in a Philmont trek GRAB IT! Yes, there will be moments when you may wish you were at home, sitting in front of the television in your comfy recliner, but it is the other moments that will be fondly remembered ten years later. I should know. I have been on five Philmont treks and I would not mind going back for a sixth time. Philmont IS a great place for a vacation.

In 1986, The Boy Scouts of Melrose Troop 68 went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for the first time, but it was a trip that almost did not happen. Here is part 2 of what happened and the problems that needed to be overcome. (Taken from my journal of the adventure.)

Only one major item was left to be dealt with: transportation. Airlines were too expensive. If we took a vehicle, and it broke down, we would miss part of the trek. This problem took us several months to solve. Sam, an assistant scoutmaster, came up with an answer. He would borrow his friend’s camper, bring us to Philmont, take his family on a vacation into Colorado while we were on the trek, and then bring us home again. That sounded great! Our troubles were over, or so we thought.

Actually, they were just beginning.

Summer arrived, and Gerry (dad) decided he would like to go along on the trip. I had mixed feelings about this news. My first reaction was “why?” He earlier said he didn’t have time to go. His wedding anniversary was at that time. All of a sudden he had time to go along. I couldn’t understand it. My second thought was that now I would not be the only adult with the Scouts. I had planned to spend with the boys, just me and them. I felt like he was intruding. But then I starting to think a bit more. I would not be the only adult. That was not such a bad idea. What if something would happen to me on the trail. Another adult could come in quite handy.

Now, our number had risen to a crew of eight. Add Sam, Betty, and Heather Schnell and the camper we had planned to take was no longer able to take all of us and the gear. Gerry offered to drive his car to carry the extra gear. It was shorty after this that we found out that Betty could not get her vacation at that time. That meant no camper. That was strike one. The search began for a rental station wagon, or hopefully a van. The committee members began to search. Car rental outlets were called and all of them wanted more then we could pay.

In late June, Gerry checked with William’s Busing in Freeport. They told him they had a van available for rent at a very reasonable price. A few days later they called Gerry so say that they had sold that one but had another we could use. As it turned out, this second van was not road worthy for the long trip that we planned to take. So here we were, three weeks before we were to leave, and we still did not have a way down there. Strike two! I told myself not to worry about it. The committee would take care of it. Besides, I was getting ready to take eleven Scouts to Wisconsin for summer camp. Nope, I wasn’t going to worry about it.

I wish I had.

While I was gone to camp, Gerry, the troop’s outdoor committee member, who had been doing a lot of checking around to find transportation, had gone to a national guard’s camp for two weeks. While the two of us were gone his wife and my committee chairman had a bit of an argument on the phone while talking about the transportation problem. It seems that both of them said something to the other that should not have been said.

The first thing I heard about Philmont when I got back from camp was that we were going to New Mexico by train. The second thing was that there had been some serious bear attacks at Philmont. Then I was told about the argument. I called the troop chairman, Mike. I also talked to Gerry when he returned. Things didn’t sound very good. Each was angry at the other. This was the first time two committee members had had such an argument. Luckily, Mike had called Gerry and the two of them mended things pretty well. Things still did not feel right though. I could still detect a bit of friction between them.

Two things had changed in the game plans due to that fateful call. Gerry (dad) would no longer be going on the trip. He did not want to attend any longer. I got the feeling after speaking to him that he felt caught in the middle and wouldn’t feel comfortable with Jeff, Mike’s son, who would also be going on the trip. It took a few days, but Gerry (dad) and I finally convinced Gerry (son) to go along and not leave this opportunity pass him by.

We may have kept Gerry, but we still lost one Scout from the roster. I received a call during my first day back at work after summer camp. It was Dave, Chris; father. He asked me to stop by his house on my way home. No reason was given over the phone to cause me any alarm.

Dave and Chris met me by the garage when I arrived. Dave informed me that Chris would not be attending the trek and could no longer hold the office of senior patrol leader. In fact, Chris would probably be dropping from the Scout troop. He then let Chris tell me why. All he said was, “I got caught shoplifting.”

I didn’t know what to say. I agreed with Dave that Chris should step down as senior patrol leader. I was undecided as to whether we should kick him out the the troop or not. I would have to think about it. As for Chris going along to Philmont? I felt that was something the family would have to decide. Besides, at that moment I agreed with Chris’ father.

Our group was done to six, five Scouts and myself. (Keep in mind that this was before the BSA had instituted the two deep leadership policy that they now have.) Our transportation was arranged. Our fees were paid. It looked like we were ready to go. We had one meeting to check over the gear and one to discover what it would be like to climb up hills with full packs.

All we had left to do was wait. We could handle that.

Philmont Group 1986In 1986, The Boy Scouts of Melrose Troop 68 went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for the first time, but it was a trip that almost did not happen. Here is part 1 of what happened and the problems that needed to be overcome. (Taken from my journal of the adventure.)

Why Philmont? Why now? These were two important questions. Both were considered when the Melrose Troop 68 committee and I began to plan for a high adventure trek for the Scouts of our troop.

It was the spring of 1985 when we become serious about giving the Scouts the opportunity to go to one of the high adventure bases. Several boys had been in the troop for a number of years. The regular program was becoming a bit stale for them. We needed something exciting for them to look forward to. Something for just the older Scouts.

I had been to Philmont Scout Ranch in June, 1994, for a one week scoutmaster training course. While I was there I was captured by the spell of the place. I knew that someday I would have to go back to participate in a trek through the mountain wilderness with the Scouts of my troop.

When the opportunity came for a high adventure trip I strongly suggested Philmont. It was challenging. It was rugged. It was Scouting. And it was reasonably priced. A thirteen day, twelve night stay, would cost each boy only one hundred seventy five dollars. If we had at least five boys attend an adult leader would be able to go along free of charge.

We agreed to commit ourselves to this project. We chose the month of August for three reasons. August was supposed to be the drying of the three months that Philmont was open. It would not interfere with our summer camp plans. And last, I wanted to go in August. But before we could make a definite commitment there were two things that needed to be taken care of. The first was to see if I could get the time off from work. We all knew, though no one really said it, that if I didn’t go neither would the kids. There would be a very slim chance of any of the fathers being able or willing to take the boys on a journey of this magnitude.

I asked my boss about it. It took several days to get a firm answer. There were several things he had to consider. August happened to be the busy season at the lumberyard at which I worked. Would they be able to manage for a couple of weeks without their draftsman and estimator?

Another consideration for me was from looking at the two week period from another angle. I would be gone to Hawaii for the first few days of the year to attend my brother’s wedding. In July I would be gone for a week as I took the Scouts to Wisconsin for summer camp. This, of course, does not include all the weekend camp outs during the course of the year. Within a one year period I would be gone for four weeks. I only received one week of paid vacation during the year.

It was my turn to think about it. Did I want to take all this time off work, time during which I would not be receiving a paycheck? It did not take me long to answer that question. As soon as I received permission from my boss, the committee received my commitment.

It was time to work on the second problem. Did we have enough scouts who wanted to go to Philmont? No, change that. How many Scouts were qualified and wanted to attend?

What were the qualifications? Philmont requires that any Scout who participates in a trek must be thirteen years old by January first of the year the trek is to be made. The committee and I added one more requirement. A Scout must be at least First Class Rank to participate. These two requirements eliminated about two thirds of the troop membership. How many of the remaining Scouts would want to go?

Five boys were both able and willing to go on the trip. They were Scott, Jeff, Robert, Chris and Gerry. Chris was not yet a First Class Scout but we gave him until February, 1986, to earn it.

Things were starting to look good. We sent in our reservation and were approved for arrival on August 4, 1986.

The fall of 1985 saw the collapse of our neighboring troop in Freeport. We extended an invitation to those Scouts to join our troop, but only two Scouts took us up on the offer. One of these boys, Brian, joined the list of Scouts going to Philmont.

Nothing much happened during the winter, but as spring approached the wheels began to spin once again. Every Scout had now earned his First Class Rank. The first half of the fee had been sent to Philmont. We had received the information packet for the 1986 season.

It was time to choose an itinerary of programs that we wished to partake in while we would be on our trek. The choice of itineraries began with fifty mile hikes and ended with a 109 mile hike.I held a meeting with the Scouts and they chose some of the things they wanted to do. These choices included panning for gold, blacksmithing, burro packing, a trip to the cantina, a chuck wagon dinner, rock climbing, and something called the Dean’s Challenge. They then had to decide on how rugged and long of a hike they wanted to partake in while there. They almost immediately turned down all the hikes between the 50-60 mile range.”Those would be too easy,” they said. A hike of over eighty miles would leave us little time for programs and resting. They decided that a 65-70 mile hike should be about right.

Itinerary #15 was their first choice. It was a 66 mile hike that included everything they wanted plus a side hike of the Tooth of Time and Mount Baldy. Their second choice was itinerary #17 which would was pretty much the same as #15 except that the camps would be different ones. We mailed our card with with our five chosen itineraries. A short time later I received a post card from New Mexico stating that we had been given our second choice, #17.

(To be continued…)

I know there have been quite a few books written about that magical place we Scouters know as Philmont Scout Ranch. I own a few of them. Four to be precise. Here is a quick description of each of them.

Return To The Summit Of Scouting is “A Scouter’s midlife journey back to Philmont” written by William F Cass. It follows Mr. Cass’ return to Philmont as an advisor and father after having left the ranch as a summer staffer over two decades earlier. Not only does the book follow the expedition of him and his son, but it also gives great nice in-depth outlook from the staff and rangers point of view. This book was first printed in April, 1993.

Head For The High Country was written by David L. Caffey and published in 1973. Mr. Caffey was a member of the Philmont Scout Ranch staff for several seasons. He is also an Eagle Scout and has received the Vigil Honor in the Order of the Arrow. The book covers the five years he spent working on the staff in various camps around the ranch.

The oldest Philmont-themed book in the collection is The Tooth Of Time, A Philmont Adventure, written by the radio scoutmaster the 1940′s, Gray Sterling. This book was published in 1955. I picked up my copy at a used book store which must have received it from a library because it still has the sign out card on the back cover. I have not read it yet but when I skimmed it for this article I noticed it may be a fictional account of a Scout crew’s trip to Philmont Scout Ranch. I also noticed one more thing today. The book appears to have the author’s signature on the first page of the book, under his picture. Cool.

Beyond The Hills, The Journey of Waite Phillips, written by Michael Wallis, is really not about Philmont Scout Ranch. It is about the life of Waite Phillips, the man who donated to land to the Boy Scouts of America. It is a fascinating book that belongs in any collection of Philmont-themed books. This book does contain a lot of photos.

The final two books, The Scoutmaster and The Scoutmaster II, are not actually books about Philmont. They are written by scoutmaster Jim Boeger who was one of two excellent instructors for Scoutmaster’s Fundamentals, a course I took at the Philmont Training Center in 1984. The books are about Mr. Boeger’s experiences as a scoutmaster. (By the way, he is 6′-9″ tall, which brings some unique experiences to the Scouting table.) The first chapter about his first experience going on a camping trip with a troop of Boy Scouts had me laughing out loud. Mr. Boeger did sign my copy of The Scoutmaster before I left Philmont.

What Philmont-themed books do have own? Do you have any suggestions for us. or a special book perhaps? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

100 Days of Scouting: Day 84.