For the three best summers of my life I worked at the Philmont Scout Ranch. 1994 and 1995 I was a Philmont Ranger, where I was effectively a backpacking guide (and at times babysitter) for the groups who came through the camp. In 1996 I moved into the Conservation Department where I was a Trail Crew Foreman. This job mean 18 days on a work site with 15 16-20 year old men building backpacking trails 12-14 hours a day. It was very rough work, hot, dusty, and somewhat dangerous. But it was also fun, educational, and beautiful. The payoff was that after 18 days they got to go on a 12 day backpacking trek of their choosing across the ranch. Because they had been acclimated for so long, were all generally in very good shape, and were ambitious we were able to cover rediculous milage in comparison to other groups. I could honestly talk for the next week and not run out of things to say, stories to tell about these three summer. Below is an article that captures a small bit of that experience. I remember getting my first hire letter. I think it is still in a box at my parent's house. Oh to be free again…

From The Charlotte World:

Not the Promised Land, but a land with promise


By Warren Smith

This Memorial Day, as most of the country was enjoying a long weekend, I was driving across the country, on a long-distance road trip with my 20-year-old daughter Brittany.

But before I tell you that story, let me back up a bit. You see, 30 years ago this summer – indeed, 30 years ago this very week — in June of 1976, I began a job at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. You may have heard of Philmont. Certainly if you've ever been involved in the Boy Scouts you have, because Philmont is the largest Boy Scout Camp in the world. Each summer, more than 25,000 Scouts and adult leaders go there, and they are served by about 1000 seasonal staff members. Thirty years ago, I was one of those staff members. And, for that matter, so was my wife, Missy. That's where we met, at Philmont. And almost 10 years later, in 1985, we worked there again as husband and wife. We were both teachers who had our summers off, so it was also at Philmont that we discovered that we were expecting our first child, this same Brittany.

This summer Brittany herself would be working at Philmont — in exactly the same backpacking guide job — they're called "rangers" — that I had 30 years ago. So on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, Brittany and I got in her little car at 5:30 in the morning, and started driving West. We had a sense, as Huck Finn famously said, of "lighting out for the territory." Robert Penn Warren less famously, but more directly, said that the West is where Americans have always gone to flee their lives, to remake themselves. To lose themselves, and to find themselves.

As we turned on to Interstate 40, which for much of its way follows the path of the famous Route 66, all the way to Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific Ocean, Phantom Planet's "California" came up randomly on the CD player. It's a song that many people today know as the theme for the television program "The O.C." But, more to the point here, it's a bittersweet song about reaching the end of the road, literally and spiritually. "California here I come, right back where I started from." The words are from an old "Tin Pan Alley" song, but the minor chords give this version a new meaning. The earlier song was one that fully embraced the idea of a Golden West. But this new version, with its minor chords, said something different. It said this: "What you discover at the end of this road is that there's no avoiding yourself. No matter where you go, there you are."

We were not going all the way to California, but we were headed into the Far West, ending up in Santa Fe by Sunday evening. And on this trip I would not go all the way to Philmont, either. This summer I would not, as Brittany would be able to do, throw away my watch and walk as I pleased in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, named for the cleansing Blood of Christ. For me, now, there was not enough time. I had to get back home and get to work. Like Moses, who led his people out of bondage but did not get to enter the Promised Land himself, so I had to return to the captivity of work, and the tyranny of the clock. But Brittany is a part of the Joshua generation, the generation that gets to enter the Promised Land. At least for now.

So on Memorial Day Monday, the third day of this expedition into the West, I catch a shuttle from Santa Fe to the Albuquerque airport and fly back to the East. Brittany would drive the last two hours to Philmont on her own. As I sat on the plane, literally on the runway in Albuquerque, my cell phone rang. It was Brittany. There was excitement in her voice. "I can see the mountains," she said, almost yelling into the phone above the road noise and the sound of her specially burned "road trip" CD. She called their names to me over the crackly cell phone, and I thought about how oddly appropriate these names were for this conversation. Brittany didn't know it, but she was describing my world at mid-life: Baldy. Touch-me-not. The Tooth of Time.

The flight attendant gave me a hard look that meant I had to turn off my "portable electronic device." So I told Brittany I loved her and hung up. What this summer held for her I did not know. Sure, I had an inkling, but every generation must make the journey for itself, and every journey is different. I did, though, recognize that excitement in her voice. It was the same excitement I had, at times, heard it in my own. It was the excitement you feel when you are at the edge of — well, not exactly the Promised Land, but a land of great promise. And you are about to enter in.

—- Warren Smith is the publisher of "The Charlotte World." He can be reached at

Other Philmont Links

Giardia Club

Phil Roman's Philmont Page (I was a Ranger with Phil, and his page is one of the BEST!)

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