Philmont Scout Ranch

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 1938

Waite Phillips was one of the progenitors of the American oil and gas business, building Phillips Petroleum into an industry leader. He also loved the outdoors, and later in his life he and his wife gradually assembled land and built a magnificent wilderness retreat in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. Some of the land had previously been owned by legendary mountain man and explorer Lucien Maxwell, and it was rich on many levels: The Santa Fe trail ran right through it. It includes numerous high-altitude peaks as well as lovely alpine flats. Artifacts document centuries of use by Apache and Ute Indians. There are tracks that were left by T-Rex wanderers in prehistoric times. Interesting abandoned mines riddle the hillsides.

As he aged, Waite Phillips enjoyed sharing his escape with others. At one point he invited a group of Boy Scouts to spend some time at the ranch, and he was struck by the deep impression made on the boys by their exposure to American wilderness. In 1938 he decided to donate 38,000 acres from his spread so the Boy Scouts of America could create an active outdoor program on it for scouts from all across America. He later expanded the gift to cover 140,000 acres of mountainside. He also donated one of America’s early skyscrapers, the Philtower in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so its rents could be used to subsidize operation of the property—which became known as the Philmont Scout Ranch.

The BSA has made excellent use of the property. Every year, more than 23,000 Boy Scouts embark on week- or 12-day-long high-adventure backpacking treks across the spread. They carry all their supplies on their backs, sleep outdoors, climb peaks, shoot and fish, practice cowboy skills, and enjoy the dramatic topography and animal life. The trips emphasize self-sufficiency and stamina under challenging conditions, and several generations of Boy Scouts have now been deeply influenced by treks across this wild land. Many astronauts, politicians, soldiers, and business leaders report that their Philmont sojourn taught them independence, respect for the outdoors, and a love of adventure.

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