Book shines new light on ‘occasionally turbulent relationship’ between Philmont and Mother Nature

By some accounts, as much as 18 inches of rain fell on Philmont during a three-day period in June of 1965.

Waters at Rayado Creek reached a height of more than 12 feet — 11 above normal.

“What used to be a creek that a person could jump across began to be a raging torrent that was almost a quarter-mile wide at some places,” recalled Joseph “Zink” Zinkiewicz, who was the assistant coordinator at Rayado Camp in 1965. “The water kept rising, taking down the patrol tent sites and dining shelters.”

And so begins Zink’s account of one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Philmont. While the flood destroyed campsites, it caused no injuries or loss of life — thanks largely to the courage and skill of Philmont staff members.

The story of the 1965 Philmont flood is among the many tales included in a new book published by the Philmont Staff Association and edited by William F. Cass.

Philmont and Mother Nature examines the natural disasters that have affected the Scouting high-adventure base in New Mexico over the past 80 years. Just as crucially, it also offers first-hand testimony of these events, shining a deserving spotlight on the dedication of Scouts, Scouters and Philmont staff to rebuild after natural disasters and tirelessly work to mitigate future risks.

With the Cooks Peak Fire currently burning on Philmont property, this particular topic has never been more relevant.

(Follow Cooks Peak Fire updates here and consider making a gift to Philmont’s Fire Recovery and Mitigation Fund.)

The 278-page book includes 82 photographs and illustrations — many of which have never been published before. The result is a comprehensive snapshot of the major forest fires, floods, droughts, tornadoes and damaging winds that have hit the world’s largest youth camp over the years.

The underlying message: the Scouting movement and Philmont Scout Ranch are resilient and unflappable.

Philmont preparedness

Philmont and Mother Nature also covers what happens before and after these disasters in a chapter aptly titled “Be Prepared.”

“It would be difficult to imagine an organization more committed to disaster preparedness than the Boy Scouts of America in general and Philmont Scout Ranch in particular,” the chapter begins. “That preparedness for natural calamities is pervasive all across the Ranch.”

And because Scouts respond quickly after tragedies, the book covers the aftermath of these disasters, too.

That’s how, on June 25, 1965 — just 10 days after the heavy rains began, Philmont was ready to receive campers for its summer season.

“It was a wonderful demonstration of the hard work, skill and cooperation by the Philmont seasonal staff and the year-round employees,” writes James Sundergill in a piece included in Philmont and Mother Nature.

Philmont staffers even quickly put together a publication called “Philmont Trails: A Guide for Expedition Planning” that showed crews how to navigate Philmont’s flood-altered landscape.

Because Scouts know that when one trail closes, another opens.

Putting it into perspective

With every flood or fire, Philmont’s landscape is irreversibly altered. For some, there’s comfort in knowing that Mother Nature has always and will always reshape the lands where we live and explore.

“If the recent past several million years is any guide,” Denny Dubois writes in the book, “the earth beneath Philmont remains restless and the mountains will continue to rise and the bordering plains with them. Floods such as 1965 will contribute to the creation of even grander vistas for our remote descendants to wonder at and enjoy.”

Cass, the book’s editor, adds a similarly hopeful note.

“While this book deals with Mother Nature’s dark side,” Cass writes, “let us never forget her generosity as evidenced in New Mexico rain, an abundant sun, nurturing snow packs, a truly remarkable variety of flora and fauna, and Philmont’s natural setting, which has been so appropriately described as ‘God’s country.’”

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