Philmont’s 2021 Zia Experience

Red Zia image

The sacred blazing red zia of the Zia Pueblo people is the iconic sun symbol you see on everything New Mexico. This beautiful icon has a much deeper meaning than people realize. During the Zia Experience five very adventurous families lived out some of those meanings during the week of June 27 through July 3 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

Within those five families were young people with special needs and disabilities. They were looking for an opportunity to camp like Scouts camp and have fun like Scouts have but with disability awareness front and center. They wanted to experience the real Philmont, and they wanted to DO Philmont, like every other Scout who attends camp, but with support for their needs. So off they went on their adventures in the rain, mud, and sun and, like the other Scouts who attend Philmont, they had FUN, of course!

Just like a typical family camp program at Philmont, the five families scheduled times for things to do all week. The “Adaptive Campers,” as the Zia campers are known, picked what they wanted to do and then attended their sessions all week long – a typical family adventure. However, unlike the typical adventure, these campers experienced extra support and exclusive attention during shooting sports, which included BB gun shooting and tomahawk throwing; horsemanship at the Cattle HQ, which included riding on a trail with trained Philmont staff at hand; and hanging around on the famous COPE course, which included ropes and rappelling. These three sessions included full access to trained Philmont staffers who supported and worked with the families to make it happen for their Scouts. Those with physical limitations were able to rappel with the use of adaptive equipment about thirty feet up on their own power. Those who wanted to throw tomahawks had the assistance of many hands offered by the conference attendees from the Adaptive Special Needs Conference held in conjunction with the Zia track. The conference folks were able to experience Philmont along with the Scouts doing Zia activities. They were able to experience firsthand ways to adapt for those whose abilities needed a boost. They truly experienced taking the barriers down.

Zia ropes course

Many of the parents of the Scouts who needed special equipment brought what was needed from their homes. More adaptive equipment was brought in by National Special Needs committee member Chris Werhane. The specialized equipment (as basic as a tow strap, pulley system, or ramp) utilized by the campers provided opportunities that generally have been unavailable at most camps in the past. PTC also had some equipment on hand and, along with Mr. Werhane and community brawn, Scouting activities were ramped up in style and thrill factor. All the while everyone was learning. Everyone was grateful. And everyone had met amazing people to call their lifelong friends.

The Zia Experience was so successful that the camp director, Mr. Danny Tucker, said it’s already on the schedule for next summer. PTC brought in seasoned Scouter staff with special needs and disabilities experience in order to enhance the program with their expertise. Their presence also assured parents and Scouts that safety and comfort were just as important as fun and learning. The Health Lodge at PTC is certified to handle all kinds of situations, just like a mini hospital. Personnel who work there are well versed in assisting those in medical need. This is highly important to those participating in the Zia Experience. There is no worry that a medical need cannot be attended to professionally.

Zia participant on horseback

One Scout’s mom noted that before camp her son was afraid of thunderstorms. He was so determined to ride horses and participate as much as he could that he ignored the storms and was an active camper during every activity, rain (mostly) or shine. She said this was a totally unusual move for her son and he probably grew and matured right there at camp.

PTC also provided a classroom remade into a Tranquility Base for Scouts in need of down time and regrouping time. This necessary feature of the week came in handy as many of the Scouts that experienced sensory overload were encouraged to spend some time at the base, deescalating so that within a few minutes camp activities could be resumed and enjoyed.

The Zia Experience, with the support of many individuals, will now have a permanent place at PTC. Offering this program along with a Special Needs Conference track definitely enhances learning experiences for all involved from parents to Scouts and Scouters, to camp personnel, right down to each small fry attending! What an excellent way to spend a week in the summertime! Join us next summer! Watch the PTC website for the 2022 courses that will be offered and register for a week of amazing fun and downhome Philmont mountaintop experiences!