This story originally appeared in the January-February 2020 issue of Scouting magazine.
This is Philmont Scout Ranch. On any given summer day, there are around 3,500 Scouts BSA members and Venturers somewhere in the 220 square miles of pristine New Mexico backcountry exploring the wilderness, testing themselves both physically and mentally, and in the process making memories that will last a lifetime.
Somewhere much closer, a toddler pets a small animal. A 6-year-old Cub Scout rides a pony. Another Cub Scout, 8, goes on an hour-and-a-half-long horseback ride.
This, too, is Philmont Scout Ranch.
In the dining hall, a husband and wife celebrate their 50th anniversary with friends and family at their sides.
In another building, a group of seven siblings and their spouses enjoy a family reunion with a round of games like Yahtzee and dominoes.
On the front porch of a villa, a group of ladies — all in their 60s — sip iced tea.
In the crafts area, a young boy makes his own neckerchief slide. He enjoys it so much that he’ll come back later to make his own belt.
On a nearby trail, a group of families and children are making the 2.5-mile round-trip hike to Lover’s Leap, one of the most iconic spots on the entire property. Other families are hiking the Urraca Trail loop, while still others challenge themselves at the Tooth of Time, one of Philmont’s most popular sights.
This — all of this — is Philmont Scout Ranch.
For the Family
Families have been going to Philmont for decades. When Scout leaders would come to the Philmont Training Center in the 1950s, they were allowed to bring family members.
While the Scout leader was learning how to better contribute to their unit back home, the rest of the family could participate in all kinds of fun activities. That program continues to this day.
BSA Family Adventure Camp at Philmont takes that to a whole new level.
With its launch in 2018, the BSA Family Adventure Camp program offers so many options that literally anybody can do it, from toddlers to grandparents. The big difference: No training required.
For years and years, Scout families have been forced to vacation at non-BSA properties to participate in the same activities offered in Scouting: camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing and on and on.
Now they can do it all — together — at Philmont.
“We had the option as a family of deciding what we wanted to do,” says Jen Lawrence, Scoutmaster of all-girls Scouts BSA Troop 890 in The Woodlands, Texas, who traveled to Philmont with her husband and two young children last summer. “We could sign up for riflery in the morning. Then we’d decide in the afternoon to go fishing. Or we might say, ‘Let’s go horseback riding.’
“You just sign up and then get out there and do it.”
‘A Dream Come True’
Judy and Bob Sudomir met when they were both Philmont rangers in the 1990s. She was an Explorer from Tulsa. He was an Eagle Scout from a small town in Ohio.
They stayed in touch, eventually got married and now have two children while living in Canton, Ohio. Both of them are den leaders in their kids’ pack.
Obviously, Philmont holds a special place in their hearts. When they heard about the family adventure, their summer vacation plans were set.
“This program could not have come at a better time for us,” Judy says. “Our kids are just getting into Cub Scouts. We had already been looking at how we could get them to Philmont as part of the PTC program. So this is just a dream come true.”
Their son, 8, proved himself exceptionally proficient at crate stacking. He managed to get 24 crates stacked on top of each other while harnessed and safe under the watchful eye of Philmont staffers. Their daughter enjoyed multiple pony rides.
“It was just a wonderful experience,” Bob says. “Everybody could find things entertaining to them and enjoyable and challenging.”
Roy Griffin, 69, went on his first Philmont trek in 1967. He and his wife, Glenda, 66, are the committee chair and Advisor, respectively, for Venturing Crew 182 in Victoria, Texas. They estimate that they have been to Philmont a combined 20 times for a variety of treks and training events.
When it came time to choose a location for their annual family reunion, well, let’s just say it was a no-brainer — even though Roy has six siblings, none of whom had previously been to Philmont.
“We did a one-day hike out in the backcountry just so they could see what it was like,” Roy says. “We shot rifles. We did archery. We did tomahawk throws. They had a great time.”
Glenda, whose first-ever camping experience came at Philmont shortly after she married Roy, says they seem to have chosen wisely when they selected Philmont for the site of their reunion.
“I received many emails of thanks for the good time they had,” she says. “They liked everything they did.”
Yep. This is definitely Philmont Scout Ranch.
How Will You Philmont?
The BSA Family Adventure Camp at Philmont is designed to meet the needs of families and build bonds through exciting and interactive programs. The program operates in an open enrollment format where you and your family will have the chance to choose activities that appeal to all of you.
Learn more — and sign up — at philmontscoutranch.org/ptc/philmontfamilyadventure
The BSA will open BSA Family Adventure Camp locations at the Summit Bechtel Reserve and Florida Sea Base this year.
A Philmont Timeline
• 1922: Tulsa oilman Waite Phillips purchased what is now Philmont Scout Ranch.
• 1938: Phillips donated Philmont to the Boy Scouts of America and designated his summer home — which he called Villa Philmonte — to be used as a training center. The first Scouts attended Philmont that summer.
• 1943: The first Philmont Training Center office was built and was used to house conference participants.
• 1950s: The BSA expanded the facilities throughout the decade by building the dining hall, tent cities and the classrooms, allowing conference participants to share the experience with their families.
• Today: Philmont is the world’s largest youth camp, consisting of 140,171 acres, or about 220 square miles. There are 315 miles of trails, 35 staffed backcountry camps and 770 campsites.
It’s also a working cattle ranch, with 250 horses, 85 burros, 320 cattle, 140 bison and seven ponies. Three hundred tons of hay are produced each year.
Photos by W. Garth Dowling