Snyder: Camp Hamilton – A Place Of Colorful History

Camp Hamilton as it looked circa 1951. Courtesy/Paul Bombardt

Camp Hamilton as it looks today. Courtesy/Craig Martin

Los Alamos Historical Society

Two weeks ago I wrote about Camp May, the getaway for senior boys at the Los Alamos Ranch School (LARS), but there was also another camp, one primarily used by the younger boys. Camp Hamilton has a longer, more detailed history.

In 1918, the year after the Ranch School was founded, a man known only as F. Coomer leased a bit of land from the U.S. Forest Service to build a two-room log cabin in Pueblo Canyon east of the Otowi Pueblo site. Coomer was the general manager of the Rocky Mountain Camp Company, and he guided tours out of Santa Fe into Pueblo Canyon to an area he called Tent Cities of the Rockies. He showed his guests the rock-capped, cone-shaped mounds of tuff scattered through the area.

In the early 1900s there was a fascination with the West. Automobiles were becoming more popular, and tourism was developing, helped along with the railroad’s See America First campaign. On the way to the tent rocks, Coomer escorted tourists to Buckman, Tsirege and Tsankawi. Coomer’s cabin, called Camp Awanyu, gave visitors a place to rest and refresh while traveling the back roads in a seven-passenger touring car.

Eventually, Coomer gave up the strenuous tours, and in 1926, the father of LARS student Sam Hamilton donated money to acquire the lease and renovate the cabin. A kitchen, a stone fireplace, and a window looking down canyon were added to the small structure. Thus, the name of Hamilton was added to the site. It soon became a special place for welcoming new boys to LARS life.

Camp Hamilton could be reached by road, so boys coming to the ranch school for the first time, who were usually not proficient in horseback riding, could be taken to the cabin by road. The visit to Camp Hamilton was always one of the first trips made at the beginning of the year, and the new boys were introduced to nearby ruins and cliffs and explored the canyon and its small intermittent stream. The young boys had their first taste of the wonders of the Pajarito Plateau and sleeping in the rough at Camp Hamilton.

The camp was occasionally used by older boys, as in the case of eight students who were interested in exploring the ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings in Pueblo Canyon. Headmaster Lawrence Hitchcock and Master Tommy Waring accompanied the adventurers. While there, the boys assisted with the care of the cabin and cooking.

When older students visited Camp Hamilton, they rode their horses into the canyon. The Camp Hamilton Trail, originally improved by LARS boys as a community service project, is still in use today. Remnants of the cabin still exist, as well, but the roof is no longer there. The remains of the structure in the canyon share little resemblance to the long-ago cabin. According to Craig Martin’s Los Alamos Place Names, the missing logs were moved to the site of the old Ice House on the south side of Ashley Pond, where they became a part of the National Historic Registry Landmark for the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Thus, a noble end to a well-used cabin that stood for many years in Pueblo Canyon.

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