All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a Boy Scout. That still holds true. As a young Scout, I dreamed of the day I could attend Philmont. Philmont to me was what it was all about. Hiking instead of riding to camp in a bus. Cooking on open fires and sitting on a rock instead of mess halls. Climbing mountains that I had never even seen before, yada, yada, yada.
Finally I turned 14 and got to go. It was my first trip away from home. I was the smallest boy on the trip. The year was 1959. Our contingent leader was a huge guy who played guard for Texas A & M under the tutelage of Bear Bryant. Bill Godwin was also director of the waterfront at Camp Bill Stark, our council summer camp. He was very a respected leader by both us boys and our parents.
We rode the commercial bus Greyhound to get to Philmont from our home in southeast Texas. No charters available back then. Today it is a 20 hour drive, it was a lot longer back then.
At first light when I woke up on the bus, I looked out the window and saw a neat mountain and took a picture with my Kodak box camera. I still have the photograph. Over twenty years later, I discovered it was Capulin Mountain I photographed that morning. Years later, I would assend Capulin with my family out of curiosity from that first sighting.
We arrived at Philmont on the ricketiest, scariest ride from Raton imaginable. The bus was an old at that time school bus that only held about twenty-five people. I don't remember much detail other than fear. If the driver wanted to instill that, he did.
At Philmont HQ we were issued U S Army surplus "mortar board" packboards to lash all our gear on via the infamous diamond hitch. After tying and untying that hitch every day, I can still tie it 48 years later.
Official Boy Scout "Trail Tents" which were no more than canvas tarps with a lot of tie tapes attached were issued as tents. We lashed all the gear to our packboards.
Included in our meal rations was the dreaded Seidels Veg-A-Rice. It was some kind of weird rendering of rice that made an otherwise good tasting grain almost cause one to gag.
First night on the trail was at Old Abreiu. Late in the evening, they set a bear trap right in the middle of our campsite, baited him in with more bread than we had been issued for a week and gallons of honey. The next morning the bear was in the trap and no bread or honey was left. He got it all before being tempted into the trap by that last morsel inside.
We fished Rayado with make shift outfits consisting of a stick with string and a fly from home. We were Boy Scouts, we came prepared. We "borrowed" butter to fry the trout in from a very unhelpful camp worker at the trail camp replenishment place whatever it was called.
We hiked to trail peak and sat in awe thinking of the tragic loss of lives on the side of that mountain, not knowing any more other than what we read on a metal plaque wired to a tree at the site.
We hauled one scout back to a staffed camp for help when he split his shin open with an axe at Clear Creak Trail camp instead of the log he was aiming at.
We climbed Clear Creek Mountain and used cotton gym sweat suits which served us well in the days before poly pro and Gore Tex. By the way, the cotton did not kill us.
We hiked all day in the mud along logging roads on the way to Cyphers Mine where we were thrilled to get to sleep out a rainy night in brand newly constructed Adirondak shelters with concrete floors.
We endured rain every day on the trail and usually in the evening also with nothing more than ponchos. Some official Boy Scout models, but most army surplus .ones. Some of those were worn by the boys dad in W.W.II just before we were born. I read where they don't work well. I beg to differ. If that is what you got, you make it work.
We learned what "put your food up because of the bears" meant and did it with no problems. A troop from New Jersey "put it up" by placing the chuck box on 18 inch sticks only to have a bear swat it into splinters to get at the food inside. I got a picture of what was left. They learned too.
I learned how to cook over fires made of wood that don't make coals like I am used to here in the south such as hickory and oak. I still savor the smell of the pitch containing woods. However the pinon used in Taos is much more pleasing to my olfactory senses.
Anyway, we did Philmont. We hiked from Carson Maxwell across Clear Creak to Cimarroncito. It was a long way, but we enjoyed it all the same. There were no programs for us to attend. We and what we did to not only survive, but enjoy outdoor living were the program. After all, we were scouts. Some things we did wrong, some things we did right. But in all things we learned about ourselves.
Finally we were presented our arrowhead patch. The arrowhead was first awarded in 1958. Had I been just two years older, I would have received one of the older Philmont circle P patches that are so rare today. That was the one I really wanted because all the older Scouts had them.
During a 12 year career of teaching science, I used to roll out my trail worn map and arrowhead patch and get down on the floor with my students that were going to Philmont the next summer. We had a common bond that spanned the ages. The next year, they always brought their maps and pictures by for me to see.
Philmont was one of those life experiences for me that means so much.
I stayed working with Boy Scouts until I started teaching school. I had to give it up as teaching consumed so much time.
God blessed me with two wonderful daughters. They tried Girl Scouts, but it is just not a good program down here.
My family had been to Colorado several times. We always drove like crazy on the shortest route to get to the mountains. I had always wanted to curve by Philmont just to see it again, but had not.
Then in 1992 a buddy and I went on an elk hunt in Gunnison, Colorado. We normally follow US 287/87 through Amarillo, up the Texas panhandle to Clayton, Raton, Walsenburg, etc.
On this trip we got to jawing and missed our turn in Amarillo. The next thing we knew we were in New Mexico. A quick check of the map showed us we could cut up to Springer and over to Cimmaron. Further modification took us right by Philmont starting at Carson Maxwell and on up to HQ.
We visited the Seton library and bought a couple of Rod Taylor tapes to get us on down the road. The place was all but deserted as it was mid October.
To my surprise, the welcome station was exactly as I remembered it. It has since been remodeled, but in '92 it was exactly as it was in '59. Tears ran down my cheeks.
That night we stayed at the NRA Whittington center. The next morning we planned to check the sight of our rifles on the range. We did not get to do that as over the night it had snowed eight inches. The place was a picture postcard.
That morning we drove through Cimmaron and Taos canyons slowly. Partially as a result of the snow, but mostly so we could soak in the beauty of the area.
We went on to have a successful hunt and a great time. I was so glad we missed our turn in Amarillo and got the chance I needed to go back for a short visit to Philmont.
In 1996, I got an unexpected vacation change, so my family headed for Colorado. On the way home, I took the Taos route. We first stopped at Taos Pueblo and soaked in the pinyon smoke and some fry bread. We were short on money, so did not spend much time in the shops.
When we got to Angle Fire, we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was a touching experience for me as I was in the Army in 1967, but was not sent to Vietnam. I lost a lot of friends in that war.
While in there, the weather was turning sour as it often does in the Sanger de Christos during the summer We intended to stop at Philmont. A previousp hone call told me that we could eat in the dining hall. I thought it would be a good experience for me and my girls.
We drove through Cimarron canyon around and over many downed trees. Obviously some high winds had preceded us. The date was July 25, 1996. As we would later find out, the tornado was right behind us. The reason I know is that when we got to Cimarron, the Post Office was still there. Just minutes later it would disappear when the tornado struck. We turned toward Raton to get away from the bad weatherand ate supper at the Matador.
We intended on going to Philmont just to drive through, but the lightning was so intense in that direction, that I let better judgment rule. We headed east toward Clayton, our destination for the night.
By the time it was dark and we counted 6 active thunderstorms in all directions. NE New Mexico was taking a pounding and we were right in the middle of it.
About 5 miles east of the town of Capulin, the lightning was so intense and striking right in the middle of that arrow straight road, that I turned around and drove back to Capulin to wait out the storm. This is the first time in all my travels that I have been compelled to turn around and drive away from a lightning storm. That was some kind of bad weather.
My wife asked what Scouts would do in weather like that at Philmont. We talked about it and the dangers of lightning and high winds in the mountains. A tornado never entered my mind although we live in a part of Texas that has frequent spring tornadoes
. We made it to Clayton amid flooding in the streets and heard on the news about the Cimarron tornado as they called it. The next morning I called Philmont and Heck's in Cimarron on my cell phone and found out about the damage and how lucky the scouts at Philmont were.
In 1998 we got to go back to Colorado and this time visit Philmont HQ. To make a long story short, we toured the museum at Carson Maxwell and attended the program there put on by a splendid group of people. They were so nice to my eleven year old daughter.
It was typically raining at HQ when I went in and got meal tickets for us at the HQ dining hall. When I returned to our car and told my wife, she asked what the menu was. Funny, I had not asked. I explained that it was probably something like spaghetti and that they served whatever the daily meal was. Honey, it's a Scout camp.
An hour later after finding some needed and not so needed things in the trading post, we ate. The meal was spaghetti. She still does not believe me when I tell her I really did not know.
My twenty year old daughter and I went through the line first. The scouts were all in a hurry to eat and she and I picked up on it and were gobbling down our meal. All of a sudden, we both burst out laughing. We were hurrying just like the Scouts were, only our scoutmaster had not told us to "hurry up and get through eating and thenů.." as I had done so many times before as a Scout leader.
My youngest daughter was impressed with the table with loaves of bread and gallons or peanut butter and jelly. My wife and two daughters were the only females in the place filled with boys and got all the attention they could handle. As a dad, I enjoyed being in good company of kids that I felt comfortable with as being the leaders of our future.
My eleven year old declared before we left, "I'm coming back and doing what they are going to do" as she pointed to a group carrying their packs. I asked "what are they going to do?" She told me "they carry their packs and climb mountains and camp out for more than a week and I am going to come back and do that".
Philmont is not perfect, no place is. But Philmont affords experiences in growing up that no other place provides.
It was a long time before I got to go back. I'd like to hike the
trails again. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But the experiences I
gained so many years ago there have stuck with me the rest of my life.
Eagle Scout and Philmont camper both in 1959
The above was written in 1999
Three years later, in 2002 John LeBlanc and his daughter Allison
ages 57 and 20 respectively went Philmont as part of a council
contingent. Allison was fulfilling a dream to return to Philmont as a
Venture crew member. The hiked many of the same trails that John
did back in 1959 and they stood atop Clear Creek mountain together as
John had done back in 1959, only today it's called Mount Phillips in
honor of a man who gave more than he could imagine to the youth of today.
Date: Sat, 04 Jun 2011 16:42:16 -0500
From: Melvin Dodd, Gilmer TX.
Subject: comments on "Philmont 1959"
Since I went on a Philmont trek in 1958, I read John LeBlanc's article called "Philmont 1959" with great interest. Then I was greatly interested that he was in Cimarron on July 25, 1996, when the tornado struck. My son Ben and I were at Philmont from Aug. 4 through Aug. 10 that year. I attended the Training Center and Ben attended NJLIC. There was a huge pile of debris just past the rodeo grounds west of town that was cleanup from the tornado. It was more peaceful in August than it was on that July day! I had the privilege of bringing some Scouts to Philmont in 1976. During that trek I vowed to bring all my sons to Philmont. I didn't know at that time that my wife and I would have ten sons (we also have three daughters. From 1987 to 2006 I managed to fulfill that dream--I took all ten sons on treks at Philmont. I went again in 2008 and our arrival date this year is July 31, 2011. In September of 2009 two of my grown sons, by brother and his son-in-law, and two of our friends went to the South country on a 5-day trek during the Autumn Program. When I learned you could have an all-adult crew in the Autumn Program I knew I had to give that a try. It was fantastic and we plan to do it again. I highly recommend it. Mr. LeBlanc has brought back a lot of memories for me.
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