Philmont is 137,000 acres in New Mexico. It's the largest camp in the world and hosts over 20,000 Boy Scouts each summer. A lot like Outward Bound, but with less emphasis on the hard skills. The best part: these people paid me to spend two summers backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo range...which I wish I was doing right now.

vinn's last comment shows part of its infrastructure. People go to Philmont Scout Ranch, enjoy one of the greatest experiences of their lives, and often show up later willing to work there. There are many, many jobs to do out there, from kitchen staff on the base, to the ecological planners, to the Philmont Rangers (the people who guide the crews around and give advice), to the campsite staff (since many of the staffed camps have activities, these jobs are often difficult to obtain. Some require extensive musical skills, while others require certain physical prowesses).

While describing Philmont to anyone who hasn't been there is impossible (Can you describe what downtown Seattle is like to someone from rural Iowa?), here's a quick list of activities that I have personally participated in:

  • Hiking - the most prevalent activity. You hike everywhere.
  • Chuckwagon dinners and Southern Cooking - several authentic-style food nights, very welcome after too much pemmican
  • Projectile firing - There are a couple of these:
      Black powder rifles (in a civil-war era camp)
    • Thirty-ought-six
    • Shotgun (20 gauge, iirc)
    • Axe and knife throwing
  • Challenge course
  • Rock climbing
  • Donkey racing (i kid you not)
  • Various-themed campfires
  • Spar-pole climbing
  • Gold panning
  • Gold mine tour
  • Toughman contest (where one describes one's feats of toughness)
  • Fishing

The main package is the 14-day Boy Scout trip. Others include the 30-day OA trail crew, Reyado crew (ride horseback to different camps), YMCA trips, and Valle Vidale (a super-secret trek in an untouched valley). The Scout trips are divided into Treks, rated by their difficulty. The treks I have been on were both "strenuous", the highest being "super strenuous". One of the most strenuous treks is called "Black Death", where you top the five highest peaks in Philmont, plus many others. The trek is some 90-100 miles over the two-week hike, with little time for extra activities. My hikes were 73 and 78 miles long.

Finally, I'd like to share my own feelings about Philmont. There isn't anyone I've met who has been to Philmont and not had it change their lives. It is an experience that tests you mentally, physically, and spiritually. In fact, my first trip to Philmont was the first time my birth religion seemed wrong. Some of my friends are more committed to their religions because of it. One may be considering conversion. Another friend found Philmont to be his proving ground, a battle against his asthma. He won: he went both times that I did, topping the highest mountain twice despite complications, and never gave up on himself.

I have met others who have gone there, and there is a kind of secret knowledge about one another. It's in the nod of the head, the way each stands, the look in their eyes. Usually all that is said is "Oh, you went to Philmont? So did I..." and silence for a while while memories surface. If you are a Scout, or in another organization that may be able to go, do so. I don't know what you'll find out there among the mountains and stars, but I don't think you'll regret it.

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