Philmont Training Center: Teaching Basic Outdoor Skills

Date: Fri, 02 Aug 2002 12:37:50 -0500
From: "Calvin H. Gray" <>
Subject: PTC Report
Hi Selden,

This report is by Andy Welch, one of our leaders who attended the PTC July 7-12. Andy is a veteran Philmont camper as he took part in Autumn Adventures in 1996 and 2000, a Cavalcade in 1998 and a backpacking expedition in 1999. Andy gives you permission to post his report on your web site.

Calvin H. Gray
Scoutmaster, Troop 405
Georgetown, Texas

Was it because I attended an excellent training course? Was it the cooler, dry climate? Was it the opportunity to meet hundreds of talented and dedicated Scout leaders from across the United States? Was it a stress-free week away from the office, mobile phone and pager, enjoying quality time with the family? Or was it just being at Philmont?

Whatever the reasons, I'll heartily endorse a week at the Philmont Training Center for any adult Scout. And if the opportunity affords itself by all means, make it a family vacation.

Even if it sounds a little like an advertising slogan for Disneyworld, there is truly "something for every one" at the PTC. Participants when we were there literally ranged in age from 2-3 years old to 70-plus years young. While the training programs are designed for adult Scout leaders, there is a week full of activities available for spouses and youth of all ages.

My non-camping wife Lisa, our 12-year old son Cody, and I certainly spent a most-enjoyable week at PTC, where I took the course Teaching Basic Outdoor Skills. I had two principal reasons for attending: 1) to see what the PTC is all about, and 2) to see if I can’t do a better job of helping our first-year Scouts learn and retain their fundamental outdoor skills.

If you're not familiar with the Philmont Training Center, it is located adjacent to the Villa Philmonte in the heart of the headquarters for the 137,000-acre Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. The altitude at Base Camp is roughly 7,800 feet above sea level.

The week that we were at Philmont, approximately 800 adult Scout volunteers, spouses, youth, staff and professional Scouters from across the United States were involved in various PTC programs. For this particular week, most of the classes focused on the affiliation of Scouting in various faith-based institutions, including the Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Methodist religions.

As with Base Camp, located across the two-lane road and a couple of hundred yards a way, PTC activities tend to run like clockwork, from one week to the next.

Typically, you arrive at one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon for check-in and orientation. After supper, there's a brief Chapel Service and then the formal Opening Session in the PTC Assembly Hall, which Cody and I skipped in order to attend the campfire that is held each evening for the outward-bound Philmont crews. I think he found the campfire to be a lot more meaningful.

PTC Classes are held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is reserved for Family Day. Departure is the next Saturday morning.

While at PTC, you sleep in a wall tent that is mounted over either a wooden or concrete platform in one of the two "Tent Cities." Cots and mattresses are provided. Each tent also has 110-volt electrical outlet and an overhead light bulb. There are hot-water shower/restroom facilities in each "Tent City," and a covered pavilion where instant coffee is available in the morning; where a Cracker Barrel is held several evenings during the week; and where cards and dominoes are played late into the evening. The meals are served cafeteria-style in a comfortable dining hall, and the quality of the food is very good. (Certainly better than any summer camp I've ever attended.)

Tuesday evening, there is a Buffalo Burger Barbecue on the Villa Philmonte grounds. Then Philmont Ranch wranglers come over to brand boots, belts, hats, etc., followed by country dancing in the Assembly Hall.

There were 30 other adult Scout leaders from across the United States who had come to Philmont the same week as I to learn how to teach basic camping and outdoor skills. Our class was "taught" by Mary & Paul Anderson from Oren, Utah, and Jeannie & Fred Bradshaw from Hailey, Idaho.

Really, Mary, Paul, Jeannie and Fred were our facilitators. When we needed axes or rope, or poster board or easels, they provided it.

Between the camping skills we already possessed, and the very thorough syllabus we followed, most of the teaching skills we developed were largely through the demonstrations, presentations and games that we taught ourselves. There was very little lecture, and unlike other PTC classes, there was no classroom setting in this course. We were outdoors, within eyesight of Philmont's landmark Tooth of Time every day!

Of course, we divided into Patrols our first day. Two "Okies," as well as adult Scouts from Pennsylvania and Virginia and myself, formed the Wascally Weasel Patrol. With a name like that, we naturally developed quite an "attitude," and both dished-out and received lots of good-natured ribbing from the other Patrols. That rivalry, in turn, helped generate a real sense of teambuilding throughout the other four Patrols.

Over the course of the week, we set up model campsites, utilizing the "leave no trace" approach; we practiced our Dutch oven cooking; we taught each other knife and axe safety; we brushed upon our first aid, backpacking, and knot-tying skills; and taught each other compass and map reading. And we did it in four very active days!

While I was immersed in camping skills, Cody was enjoying Philmont's activities for second-year Boy Scouts. There were 12 boys in the program, including Cody and his tentmate Sam, from Los Angeles, whose dad was attending the PTC program for Scouting in the Jewish faith. Their activities were supervised by three of Philmont’s college-age staffers.

The boys first got to know a little bit about each other while playing games on the grounds of the Villa, by eating ice cream over at the Snack Bar at Base Camp, and by touring the Kit Carson Museum at Rayado. Cody was especially impressed by the Indian dancing program that took place Monday evening at the PTC Assembly Hall.

On Tuesday, the Scouts were out hiking all day, up to Cathedral Rock and then to Window Rock for their first experience with a Philmont trail lunch, and then down to Waite Phillips' Hunting Lodge, before hiking over to the Cimarroncito Turnaround for a bus ride back to the PTC.

There was more hiking on Thursday: up to Lover's Leap and then to Crater Lake, and finally to the Stockade where the Scouts ate supper and spent the night. Friday morning, the Scouts hiked down from the Stockade into Base Camp and over to the PTC, where they toured the Villa. Friday afternoon they spent several hours on a horseback ride, Cody's second of the week.

All total, Cody calculated (by utilizing the map-reading skills I learned?!!?) that his crew hiked 11-12 miles over some of Philmont's more well-known landmark during the week. His only disappointment was that he wasn't old enough to hike over Philmont's rugged Tooth of Time.

Lisa said she would probably just spend most of her week reading a good book. Ha!

Clearly, the highlight of Lisa’s week was the day she spent as part of an archeology crew up in the Ponil and Indian Writings area. Not only was I surprised that Lisa would sign up to be part of the eight-person crew, lead by a team of archeologists from Oklahoma University, I was envious that she was one of the first people to go back up into Philmont's North Country, following the forest fires which occurred up in that area of the Scout Ranch earlier this summer.

The archeological crew is working at a new site where the Anasazi Indians lived in the 7th Century, A.D, before disappearing. Numerous artifacts are being recovered at the site, which is not identified on any of Philmont's trail maps.

As a reward for their hard day's work, the archeologists also provide the volunteers with side hike over to the site of a second Tyrannosaurus Rex footprint that has been uncovered in the area. Nor is it identified on any Philmont map.

The downside of Lisa's long, physical activity was a pretty serious bout of dehydration and altitude sickness, which left her ill and camp-bound for the next day, sipping Gatorade and munching on Saltine crackers. She was unable to make the hike to Lover's Leap that she had planned.

Still, Lisa found the week very rewarding by making an attractive leather belt and several other items at the PTC's extensive craft shop, an extended tour of the Villa, and a trip to Raton for shopping.

Wednesday is Family Day at the PTC. There are no classes, and it's a day off for much of the PTC staff.

Some families drive to Taos for the day, but because we'd already driven 750 miles from Central Texas, we decided to stay much closer to home.

Also, our family had been picked from a "lottery" of PTC participants for an early-morning horseback ride out to Urraca Mesa and down in front of the Tooth of Time. As a former participant in a Philmont Cavalcade, it was nice to be back on the trail for a couple of hours.

The rest of our day off was spend touring the Philmont Museum/Seton Memorial Library, which included a nice exhibit of the evolution of Philmont's backpacking gear since the 1940s. Cody especially enjoyed the old St. James Hotel in downtown Cimarron, with its history of gunfighters and legends of ghosts. By chance, we also stumbled upon a local resident who told us how to obtain the key to the circa 1880s Cimarron Jail, which can best be described as dark, dank and dirty.

And, of course, any trip into Cimarron must include a stop at the art gallery/soda shop for an ice cream float!

Family Day ends in the PTC Assembly Hall with the showing of the classic movie Follow Me, Boys! staring Fred MacMurray as the Scoutmaster of Troop 1, Vera Miles as his wife, and featuring a young Kurt Russell.

Friday afternoon comes too quickly at PTC. There are patches to be awarded and pictures to take Goodbyes and Gear to begin packing for the long trip home.

Scouts who didn't know each other five days ago are now trading local Council patches and e-mail addresses. Daughters who shared tents and activities for a week now cling to their new best friends.

Our class "acquired" a couple of watermelons from the Dining Hall and carved them up on the Villa grounds, after presenting our instructors with Philmont maps that we all signed.

For all intents and purposes, the week at PTC officially ends with the Friday evening campfire, just as the sun is beginning to set, and with the staff leading us in singing Philmont's version of "This Land is Your Land."

Every age group of Scouts and siblings performs skits. But the highlight of the evening is clearly the staff skits, which, among other things, include such props as golf clubs, lots of water and duct tape, and involves eating cereal out of each other's mouths.

(It's one of those things you really can't explain; you just need to see it. As PTC Director Brian Gray acknowledged in his closing remarks, "I'm not really sure when I lost control of my staff?!")

No, I think the best thing about attending the Philmont Training Center is the people you meet and the memories you have.

There are some incredibly talented, knowledgeable, experienced, dedicated Scout leaders in this country, and at one time or another, most of them probably spent some time at the Philmont Training Center.

Where else can you sit with Michael Harris, a member of the BSA National Council, and discuss openly with him some of the major issues facing the Boy Scouts: sexual orientation of its adult leaders; public relations; Council financial endowments, etc?

Where else can you have lunch with a Jewish Scout leader from Los Angeles, a Lutheran Scout leader from Fort Worth and a Catholic Scout leader from the Philadelphia area? If it never occurred to you before, a lunchtime discussion like that is certainly a meaningful reminder of the deep extent to which Scouting is a faith-based institution regardless of the faith.

I think the closeness of the Scouting world hit home with Cody the day he was stopped by Huey Ford, a Scoutmaster from Georgia. Mr. Ford spotted Cody in his red Troop 405 tee shirt and cap. "I've never had the pleasure of meeting your Scoutmaster, Calvin Gray, but please tell Mr. Gray how much I appreciate all his help," Huey told my son. "Any time I have a question, Calvin can give me the answer by e-mail, or point me to the place where I can get an answer."

For me, one of the most rewarding moments of the entire week came on the Thursday we visited the Scouts who were participating in the week-long National Junior Leader Instruction Certification program. Our older son Creighton had attended NJLIC in 2000, so it was a real joy for me to have the opportunity to visit with this year's Senior Patrol Leaders and to see the composure and maturity they possessed, as they talked about the purpose of NJLIC. And it was informative to actually walk among the various Patrols of Scouts at NJLIC and to observe them practicing their various leadership skills.

There's a pavilion at NJLIC under which the Patrol flags of previous participants now hang. Alan, a fellow adult Scouter from Collinsville, Illinois, happened to focus on one particular flag upon which all the Patrol members had written their names. Included on this particular flag was the name "Creighton." I just pointed at the flag, looked at Allan and said, "That's my son." He understood my pride.

And then there's Ed.

One morning while both Lisa and Cody had early-morning activities, I had breakfast with Ed.

Ed's in his late sixties and retired.

For most of his professional life, Ed was a construction superintendent and traveled the country supervising large commercial building projects, including one back in the 1970s in Austin.

The only extended time off that Ed ever received was over Labor Day each year. As a result, he never had much time to participate in his son's Scouting activities.

Ed's a widower now. His wife died a couple of years ago, after a 15-year struggle with multiple sclerosis. His kids are grown with families of their own and live in nearby cities.

So there was Ed at the PTC, learning how he and his local Colorado church could do to better job of supporting their Cub Scout Pack. Ed wanted to contribute to some of the Scouting experiences he missed decades earlier with his son.

Like I said: there's something for everybody at the Philmont Training Center.

And like my visit with Ed reminded me, you're never too old to make a contribution to Scouting.

Andy Welch
Troop 405
Georgetown, Texas
I Used to be a Weasel

July 2002

Postscript: When you go to the PTC (notice I didn't use the preposition "if"), consider these "hints" for a more enjoyable experience:

See also:

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