Wednesday, March 5, 2014

16 Philmont

I went to Philmont and Cimarron, in 1979.

I was supposed to have been going to Iran.

Iran, aka Persia, back in 1978 was a different place to how it is now. Iran was to have hosted the 15th World Scout Jamboree. I'd been selected to participate in it and represent the Greater London North West Troop. Given the recent revolution, issues with the Shah and the Ayatollah, and then the earthquake, it was decided by the the nobs with the poshest woggles that we'd all be safer doing our Jamboree thing in the USA. In Philmont. So that's where we were sent.

Before we got through Philmont's camp gate (over which hung dozens of old hiking boots), for a fortnight of hiking the trails surviving on dehydrated rations and bug juice, we were given a last chance to gorge on double cheeseburgers and drown ourselves in litre buckets of Dr Pepper... in Cimarron.

Cimarron's the nearest town to Philmont. It's the last place for youths to buy an all American fast food fix.
Cimarron grew in fits and starts as a handy cowboy and wild west stopover on the Santa Fe Trail; a Granada motorway service centre for roaming gold miners, loggers and Kit Carson types. It had stores for weekly provisions. It had an important laundry, and the Chinese that went with it, for the single wild west men's bi-annual underpants wash festival. Pony Express riders strutted up and down Cimarron's High Street mud with that three days in a saddle gait they had back in the day. Gamblers with crooked teeth, reeking of whisky, fell off their bar stools in a choice of saloons. Shady New Mexican characters sat in even shadier New Mexican corners wearing big straw hats, chewing cigars and muttering "el gringo" at the sound recordists.

Oh yes. Cimarron was definitely a “Magnificent Seven” squeaky sign in the wind kinda town.

With hundreds of earthy, lack of personal hygiene fellahs concentrated in one spot it probably comes as no surprise that Cimarron had a fair few testosterone “issues.” These often kicked off up at the Hotel end of the main drag. I read somewhere that whilst the boarding house (cough cough) may not have been one hundred per cent "Hotel California" album subject matter it did get pretty close. Twenty six "guests" checked in to find they would never leave. They got shot dead. Scouting for Boys back then would have had had a rather different meaning, I am assuming.

In the 1840s, Lucien Maxwell set up a ranch near Cimarron. The area he chose was a fragrant spot. He opted for a plot where the air didn’t niff of unwashed armpits. But by 1870 Lucien was so fed up with the annual Thanksgiving Shooting in the hotel bar (and with uncouth people taking the mickey out of his daft first name) that he sold his ranch to Waite Phillips.

Waite Phillips was a very, very, rich man. Really rich. Waite went on and on and on buying up more New Mexico to add to his ranch purchase. By the end of his buying spree he'd got a farm over 300,000 acres in size. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty big. He named the ranch “Philmont”. “Phil,” the abbreviation for Phillip and “monte" for mountain. Big purchase big ego.

A while after Waite died, his ancestors gave some of the estate to the Boy Scouts of America to make a camp site. (Good job Luicen sold it it to Mr Phillips huh? If Lucien had donated it to the scouts I would have ended up hiking around "Lucymont" and I think that would be a rather pants name for Boy Scouts to write on their letters home.)

300,000 acres of land became a boy scout camp site. A Dr Pepper super sized bucket boy scout camp site. In England a Scout (we don't say Boy Scout) camp site is a five acre field with a portacabin lavatory plonked in its wettest corner. A car park doubles up as a mud wrestling pit. A small shed called a "providore" sells outdated Mars Bars (where the chocolate has gone dry, flaky and speckled white) and Cold War era guide books about the local parish church.
For the Boy Scouts of America a campsite is a significant portion of the world’s crust, ideally the size of North Wales, plonked way out on the edge of a half populated Mid-West State, with a ruddy great mountain range slapped through the middle of it. Like our providores the Americans also have camp shops, except their shops are the size of an Asda on the ring road, and they contains a better assortment of products than Harrods.

The Waites lobbed into their farming land gift a fair few other decent bits and pieces of New Mexico to keep the Boy Scouts of America delighted and spinning human carthweels with glee. Oh for the charitable days of unconditional global giving, before the era of eBay.

Into the Boy Scouts' care package went the Villa Philmonte, Cimarroncito, Urraca Mesa, North Fork Urraca, House Canyon, Seally Canyon, Whiteman Vega, Sawmill, Comanche Peak, Crater Lake, Black Mountain, Beaubien, Tooth Ridge, Horse Ridge, Buffalo Ridge, and more besides. Aren't they all such sumptious, tasty names? These labels allude to interesting things, imagination flaming events and daring deeds and goings ons. In Philmont, losing yourself in your map can be nearly as recreational as looking at the scenery.

Forty years after Philmont was first opened, my chums and I were rolling in though the Philmont’s camp site gates... ...picking burger pickle off our uniforms and belching. We walked the red line on the maps shown below. We kept walking the red line  off one part of the map and onto other red lines on other maps. It took us two weeks. We did American rural back to the planet things. We appreciated native north American indian camping techniques, we took scurries deep into deserted gold mines, the patrol hiked up peaks called The Tooth of Time and Baldy Mountain. Yul Brynner horse rides and black powder gun shooting were a popular pick and a right laugh. Lumberjacking and climbing up poles with spiked things on our boots was a good one for the photographs. We over nighted in smoky log cabins that put an fragrance in my head that will never leave and I am reminded of each time I watch a cowboy film (or Little House on the Prairie). I can remember everyone shitting themselves when a brace of brown bears popped by to eat the Cheez Whizz before we had got our bear bag hung up safely and high in the trees.

The camp head honchos even awarded us an Arrowhead Patch for working on campsite conservation projects, doing what we were asked, meeting other lads from around the world and completing our seventy mile trek. As we had not broken our necks abseiling down “Lovers Leap” we were delighted to receive them.

One day I am sure I will get to Iran.

In the meantime, the teenage memories of a trip to Philmont and Cimarron will do just fine.

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