The Cimarron Cutoff and the BSA

Ideas and Issues

Springer, New Mexico     Breaking camp on the East Fork of the San Juan River, we dried out our gear and were off again.  Chaco caught and released a small brown trout in the San Juan as we dodged tubers going down the river towards Pagosa Springs, then both jumped in for a cold moment to rinse a couple of layers of dirt off, before hitting the road.  We were headed through northern New Mexico.  We glanced at the expansion of the famous clinic in Tierra Amarilla, and I told Chaco about the Tijerina courthouse raid and tried to explain Spanish land grants.  We stopped at an abandoned rest area at the unmarked continental divide for lunch.  We passed over the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge, noted the changes that continue to mark Taos, and headed east.

We didn’t stop.  We were bound for the often spectacular and little recognized drive between Taos and Cimarron, New Mexico, a curvy route through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and then a wonderful drive past Eagle Nest along the spectacular canyon as the Cimarron River curves its way down to the Canadian River.

Cimarron is best known for two reasons.  The Cimarron Cutoff or Cimarron Branch was for a time the most popular route of the Santa Fe Trail, cutting southwest from Fort Dodge, Kansas to Cimarron and over the mountains to Santa Fe.  Cimarron is also the headquarters of Philmont Scout Ranch operated by the Boy Scouts of America.  I have a soft spot for the area, having participated in the Philmont program at 13 on the verge of my 14th birthday.  I had mowed yards in New Orleans all that summer to come up with the portion then required to make the trip.  Once there, we then humped a backpack over a strenuous trail going up and down, crossing streams, and camping rough under a poncho lean-to.  In my tour we were hit by 4 inches of hail in mid-summer.  We tried fly fishing and tying our own flies.  We qualified on a gun range with the NRA.  It was a great experience in wonderful and unforgettable country.

The ranch is now over 140,000 acres or about 219 square miles.  Waite Phillips, the rich oil baron founder of Phillips 66, a piece of which is now owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and another piece of which is ConocoPhillips when the company was split.  He had also deeded his building in Oklahoma to support maintenance of the scout ranch.  In 1938, the Boy Scouts and Phillips founded the ranch based on his gift conditions.  Philmont’s continues to operate under the protection of the BSA’s bankruptcy filing in dealing with claims of not dealing responsibly about sexual abuse of boys.  Controversially in the Boy Scouts time of troubles, they recently mortgaged the ranch, which many believe violates Phillips original gift.  Lawyers for those abused see Philmont as the BSA’s primary asset of course.

This is rugged, dry, beautiful country that always seems caught on the edges of history, but still endures, hopefully to make continued contributions to the whole country in the future.  The land deserves that its best values be shared and maintained, but that may be a struggle against the contradictions of its managers, and whether they can act on the values and oaths they claim to hold.