Women Ranger History

From the beginning...

Women Rangers add something very special to Philmont. We make that incredible Philmont experience something beyond “reaching manhood” or beyond the bond of “sisterhood.” We make Philmont a deeply moving HUMAN experience that expands out to include all.  Our presence on the trail makes that life-changing ten-day journey available to young women in a world that still does not offer these women many opportunities for that kind of growth.

Women Rangers Through The Decades...


Articles About Woman Rangers

1972 Pilot Mt Women

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The Stories of Philmont Women Rangers


From the 1973 journal of Ranger Dennis Gilpin


JUNE 1973

On June 15, a Friday, I was sitting on the loading dock with Roger Rowlett and Ed Jensen when a bus pulled up. Just like old times, we ran across the parking lot while other rangers directed the bus to our location. As the bus pulled up, we realized that it was full of girls. We were about to become rangers for Philmont’s first all-girl expedition, the “Girl Rangers” of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Their itinerary went from Lovers Leap to Miners Park to Clark’s Fork and beyond, with a side hike to the Tooth on their third day. Ed, Roger, and I accompanied them to the Tooth and hiked on in to Camping Headquarters on the afternoon of June 18.

The adult leader was Mr. Withers, and he had two assistants, Mrs. Irvin and Johanna Wilson. I took Johanna’s crew (615F3), Ed took Mrs. Irvin’s crew, and Roger got Mr. Withers. As we went through Camping Headquarters processing (expedition photographs, medical checkups, equipment checkout, shakedown), the girls were in the spotlight, and they knew it.  We got special treatment at every stop.

At the shakedown, though, I was confronted with questions I had never had to consider in my previous two years as a ranger. When I mentioned pants (“one on your back, one in your pack”), one of the girls wanted to know what color. Johanna suggested the long blue pants and the blue shorts, but a couple of the girls didn’t have the long blue pants, although they did have the corduroy pants. I thought corduroy would be fine. Mr. Withers, however, appeared about then and ordered each girl to take their blue shorts and their long blue pants. Once again, two girls protested that they didn’t have the long blue pants, although they did have blue corduroy. Mr. Withers was shocked. “Why don’t you have your long blue pants?!” Debbie explained that hers were torn and that she’d tried to tell him so and that she had some blue corduroy pants. Mr. Withers said that the corduroy would have to do, and went back to his crew in defeat.

I learned the girls’ names pretty quickly. Johanna Wilson was the advisor, Robin Pilling the crew chief. The other girls were Debbie Pilling, Robin Irvin, Debbie Griffin, Carol Ann, Susan, Maggie, and Mary.

June 16 we took the 9:00 A.M. bus to Lovers Leap. As we were getting ready to leave, we learned that Director of Camping, Joe Davis, had asked Johanna Wilson if she wanted to become a Philmont ranger when she finished her trek. She was really elated, but of course needed to call her parents and ask permission. They apparently weren’t too keen on the idea,

but said they’d let her if she still wanted to after a few days on the trail. They wanted to know what she’d done to get the offer, and she said she’d just sat there at the adviser’s meeting, not knowing that she was making an impression.

At Lovers Leap we had a pretty average day. Map and compass were pretty confusing to them, but they did everything else really well. At lunch, Robin Pilling shuddered when an ant crawled into her drink, so I decided to show them that ants were edible. They all screamed in horror, but it wasn’t long before Maggie tried one, too. Before long, I had most of the group

eating ants. Ed and Roger didn’t think it was such a near trick, however, because my group immediately went over to their groups to say, “Our

ranger eats ants. Has your Ranger eaten any ants?”

Dinner went pretty smoothly, and later we had a campfire. The girls sang and sang, and Mr. Withers insisted that they say their Ranger Creed, and then they sang their Ranger Song, and finally sang a song about “Prune

Face” Withers, which was really funny.

Roger ended the campfire by telling “The Blue Light of Urraca Mesa” [a scary story that takes place right at Lovers Leap, where we were camped, and which ends with the narrator screaming “HELP!!!,” startling everyone].

That scared the girls and got them screaming, and I had girls on each elbow, in front, and hanging onto my coattail all the way back to our campsite. I then had to accompany each pair to their tent and finally got into my sleeping back to drift off to sleep to the sound of screaming, shrieking, giggling girls.

We had a quick breakfast the morning of the 17th, so we got off in good shape and took an uneventful hike to Miner’s Park. The Miner’s Park staff weren’t expecting us, an oversight that really blew their minds when all those girls wandered in. The program, Lumbering Days, was really a lot of fun. In fact, the enthusiasm of the girls made it the funnest program I’ve ever had at Philmont.

Debbie Pilling was really quiet, so we got her into the contest where the object is to light a match with the swing of an axe. She lit the match on the second swing and went back to her tree where she wrote letters to her parents. Carol Ann lit the match on her first swing. Ed, Roger, and I participated in the log-raising contest, but Roger couldn’t tie knots or throw the rope too well, and we lost miserably.

We took an excruciatingly long hike with the geologist up the South Fork of Urraca Creek, cooked dinner, and gathered at the windmill in the circular meadow ringed by ponderosa pine to go down to the campfire ring, where we had a totally informal Philmont Story Campfire, with everyone participating. Just before breaking up to go to our campsites, Roger, Ed, and I gathered the girls together and sang the Philmont Ranger Song.

On the morning of the 18th, we were ready to move out when the photographers from Exploring Magazine arrived. They took picture for over

an hour and really delayed our departure. The girls then lined up Roger, Ed, and me and took pictures of us as the Exploring Magazine photographers took pictures of the girls taking pictures. Then the girls surrounded Roger, Ed, and me and sang songs during more pictures. Finally we left.

Normally rangers head back to Camping Headquarters on the morning of the third day on the trail, but Roger, Ed, and I hiked with the group down to the North Fork of Urraca Creek and up to Shaefers Pass, where we all ate lunch. Mr. Withers took most of the group on a side hike to the Tooth of Time, going over Shaefers Peak and down Tooth Ridge to the Tooth.

Roger, Ed, and I hiked with them to the Tooth and said goodbye. They headed back to Shaefers Pass and on to Clarks Fork, while we sat at the top of the Tooth for about 45 minutes dejected and worried about how the girls would fare without us. Finally we pulled ourselves together, and continued down Tooth Ridge to Camping Headquarters, arriving in time for 5:30 dinner.

Epilogue: The year 1973 was a jamboree year, which usually meant fewer campers at Philmont. Moreover, in 1973 there were two jamborees, one at Farragut State Park in Idaho, and the other at Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania. In hiring for 1973, Philmont had greatly underestimated the number of campers who would actually attend. Philmont had a shortage of rangers and continued to hire rangers well after the camping season was underway. The morning after hiking in from the Tooth, I was promoted to the position of training ranger, and received a group of first-year rangers to train.

After a few days training them and taking them on a training backpack, I returned to Camping Headquarters. My journal doesn’t mention it, but I recall that one evening after finishing with my training crew, Roger, Ed, and I drove up Cimarron Canyon and hiked up to The Bench (which may have been called Visto Grande by then), where the Girl Rangers of Spartanburg were camped.

My recollection is that they were glad to see us, and I was glad to see that they had become old hands at Philmont camping, exhibiting toughness and confidence from several days on the trail. I believe I saw them again in Camping Headquarters when they got off the trail. Johanna stayed on for the rest of the summer, working as a Philmont Ranger, and for three more summers after that.

Betsy Roof

Betsy Roof, Newlywed Ranger

Betsy Bryant, a girl from a small west Texas town, married her sweetheart John Roof on May 12, 1973 in Lubbock, Texas. It seemed much like the start of a traditional life, but within 30 days they both started their summer jobs on staff at Philmont Scout Ranch, Betsy in the CHQ Photo Lab and John as the Camp Director for Clear Creek, a high mountain camp at the base of Mount Phillips, featuring a Living History program about the mountain men of yesteryear.

Within a month Betsy had transferred over to the Ranger Dept, receiving training from Ranger Wally Berg, who later became a well-known mountaineer guide. Betsy was the tenth female Ranger working at Philmont that summer of 1973. She turned many heads on the trail with her brilliant red curls.

After taking out a handful of treks, Betsy got the idea to join her husband in the backcountry as part of his program staff. At the next Camp Directors meeting at HQ, she told her husband “I’m joining you!” Of course, it took the collective consent from HQ Program Director Joe Clay, Sector Director/Central Country Dave Caffey, and lastly, HQ Director of Camping Joe Davis. It seems her husband John had little say in the matter.

Thus Betsy Bryant Roof became the FIRST female to be employed as backcountry staff at Philmont, making all her Ranger associates proud of her grit and determination to find a way to be with her husband.

Betsy and John, both artists, moved back to Texas to the outskirts of San Marcos where they operate an art gallery/furniture refinishing business. Perhaps an old black powder rifle can be seen hanging next to John’s photographs. Only one photograph survives to capture that magic time in Philmont’s backcountry in 1973.

The Unflappable Ms. Sue Van Gorp



~Written by fellow Ranger Kathy Leach~

In addition to undaunted and undeterred and unsinkable, words that describe great Women Rangers over the years, we can add another un*** word to our Ranger lexicon – UNFLAPPABLE. The year 1973 was a formative year for Women Rangers as everyone tried to figure out how to react to each other. Besides a great sea-going adventure, Susan’s story is a cautionary tale about judging too harshly and too soon, and trouble caused by loose lips.

Susan “Sue” Van Gorp is the epitome of the word UNFLAPPABLE, starting with the fact that this gorgeous slender blonde beauty survived the rough halls of Cimarron High School in northern New Mexico, while her dad Darwyn Van Gorp was the Director of the Philmont Training Center in 1968. The best part, she remembers, was seeing the ubiquitous Philmont mule deer grazing outside her bedroom window every morning.

Susan and her brothers worked summers for the various PTC programs. While her dad moved on to a position as Scout Executive in Columbia, Missouri, she was again hired for the PTC summer staff in 1971, along with her brothers Dirk and Peter.

Our future Philmont Ranger picked the unlikely subject of Textile and Fashion Design for her college major. In 1972, her senior year in college, she felt the first heady lure of adventure. That siren song sent her to the tiny country of Ghana near equatorial Africa to collect data for an undergraduate research thesis through the Honors Program. She encountered primitive conditions that did not even rise to the high standard of Philmont’s Red Roof inns.

In 1973 Sue was the right age to work as a Philmont Woman Ranger and was immediately hired into that expanding program. She recalls encounters with bears, crew pranks and rattlesnakes. It was all part of a Ranger’s day – sometimes difficult, sometimes greatly rewarding.

One night while she attended the advisor’s coffee, her crew decided to move her tent and re-pitched it in an unknown location. Sue came back in pitch dark to find her tent was gone! But a few minutes of searching found the tent in some dense brush, and Sue was soon fast asleep. No hysterics!

Another trek found Sue and crew traversing a sunny ridge when Sue came upon a fat but sassy rattlesnake. She abruptly stopped and felt all the scouts behind her immediately run into her backpack. When the scouts saw the cause of Sue’s sudden halt in the trail, they were shocked. One scout exclaimed, “But she didn’t even scream!” To Sue, it was not even worth observation, just part of sharing space with the wilderness.

The year 1973 was the first summer that Philmont had ten women in the Ranger Department and in the back country. Five lone green canvas staff tents occupied “no man’s land” in the field by the Health Lodge. It was like living in a fish bowl; every move or conversation by a female Ranger was observed with immense interest. With her long blonde hair, Sue was eminently noticeable. Those random observations were not always benign.

We have all met the type of person who is willing to instantly believe the worst, and then wants to gossip about it. It was Sue’s fate to cross paths with such a person, while leaving her crew at Cito one hot summer day. Sue’s thoughts were on the camp shower-house, where she patiently waited for the “All Clear” sign from the staff. How often have we Women Rangers done that very same thing?

When Sue got the “All Clear” sign, she eagerly took possession of the shower-house. Nearby a male advisor on trek, who had nothing better to do, quietly observed this interaction between Sue and staff. He promptly jumped to the conclusion that Sue and the male Cito staff planned to take a shower together. This advisor carried his malicious observation back to HQ and with false virtue reported it to anyone who would listen, including the Chief Ranger. The Chief Ranger laid wait for Sue to return to HQ, then immediately gave her a good scalding and a thorough raking across the coals, as only the self-righteous can do, leaving a completely dismayed and de-moralized young Ranger.

Women Rangers in those early years did not have a support system.

Because of Ranger schedules, we rarely saw each other. In fact I remember seeing Sue only once and only in passing, no words exchanged. We had no way to counter vicious, unfounded rumors. We just kept our heads down and did our jobs to the best of our ability.

Thankfully, this particular Chief Ranger did not return the following summer to Philmont.

We don’t know the ramifications of this event with Sue. I hold her blameless. But for the grace of God go I. At the end of the summer in 1973, the Ranch Committee became horrified by unspecified advisor “reports.” In true Western fashion, the governing body of Philmont

spooked and stampeded off the nearest cliff, proclaiming a quarantine window for the following summer, thus restoring the sanctity of the male- only Philmont trails – where, except for good fortune and intervention by the national BSA office, our proud Woman Rangers might have been forced to endure more than one summer’s backcountry quarantine.

The next summer brought happier times. Sue married Lee Davis, her Philmont sweetheart in 1974, in Columbia, Missouri. Lee was legendary for his rappel down the face of the Tooth of Time in June 1972. Their honeymoon was the result of their mutual love of nature and adventure: an epic float trip down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Fresh from that fantastic adventure, Sue and Lee found 70 acres in Virginia with an old house and a barn in the Appalachian Mountains near the small town of Floyd. For nine years they lived a simple ‘back to the land’ life, milking cows, restoring the old farmhouse, and enjoying country living. Lee had a VW/Porsche engine re-building business that funded the farm and Sue’s graduate studies. Sue got her PhD from Virginia Tech in 1985, and the couple moved to Rhode Island and later, Hawaii so she could teach. She recently moved back to Floyd, Virginia after retirement to live close to nature on the Blue Ridge and enjoy great friends with similar thoughts.

In 1989 Sue and Lee were able to make the purchase of their dreams.

They ordered an ocean-going sailboat from Taiwan, which eventually arrived by container ship at Long Beach, CA, where Sue and Lee outfitted it and caught a freshening breeze toward Hawaii.

The thought had originally been for Lee to obtain a Captain’s License and establish a charter business, but once the 365 days of “commanding a vessel” were completed for licensure, Sue’s unexpected pregnancy brought that to a screeching halt.

Sue and Lee sailed up the Thames, docked the boat and flew home to the States out of London Heathrow to await the birth of their daughter. At three months of age, daughter Kelsey became an official crew member and continued until she was two-and-half. At ten months of age she had been in 18 countries. One memorable junket with Kelsey took them across the Atlantic from Portugal to Grenada in the Caribbean on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the exact month.

Sue admits that many days were exhausting with cooking and manning a sailing vessel while breast-feeding a young child. They did have an auto-pilot but that merely relieved “hands on the wheel”, not the ever-changing sail trim or the lookout for other vessels crossing their path. One time Sue remembered coming up from below deck to check on things and looking at the stern of a huge freighter, followed by trying to triangulate how close the ship had come. Unfortunately, Kelsey was prone to sea sickness, and ocean voyages dropped out of future plans. The decision was made to sell the boat after 32,000+ nautical miles and return to terra firma.

The family returned to Albuquerque, New Mexico to Lee’s family roots. Sue decided that running a home business was most conducive to having a preschool age child, while Lee was back in contracting/construction business. After meeting all the challenges of high-seas journeys, the couple’s marriage dissolved during the most normal phase of their life together. Sue worked until age 66, then gratefully retired to the Appalachian Mountains again. Lee found his own quiet niche in Belen, NM along the Rio Grande where he built yet another business making custom trims, table legs, ceiling fans, rifle stocks, you name it. Daughter Kelsey proudly serves in the U.S. Army as Physician Assistant currently stationed in Iraq.