Lincoln National Forest
In the shadow of Sierra Blanca, the southernmost peak in the United States, Lincoln National Forest surrounds the majestic mountain homeland of the Mescalero Apaches. After the establishment of Fort Stanton in 1855, farmers and stockmen settled along the Rio Bonito and in the nearby Capitan Mountains. Las Placitas, later renamed Lincoln, is the site of the bloody strife of the late 1870's (known as the Lincoln County War) and is today a well-known tourist attraction. A bear cub found in May 1950 in a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains became famous as Smokey Bear—a living symbol of forest fire prevention.
After the close of the Civil War, migrants from Texas moved into the Rio Penasco valley and the many canyons of the Sacramento Mountains, establishing sheep ranching, farming, orchards, and truck gardening. The forest served as an important source of fence posts, firewood, and lumber for the farmers of the Pecos Valley. In 1899, the Eddy brothers tapped the timber resource of the Sacramentos by building a railroad from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft, providing easy access to the cool mountain climate for residents of sweltering El Paso and the hot Tularosa Basin. Tourism and lumbering, along with ranching, became the principal industry in Alamogordo, the area's largest city. A portion of the "Cloud Climbing Railroad" can be seen today on Highway 82, just west of Cloudcroft.
The southern portion of Lincoln National Forest is the Guadalupe Mountains, with its spectacular canyons and world-renowned caves. They were the last stronghold of the Apaches before being settled by sheep ranchers in the 1880's.
In 1902 and 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt issued the proclamations that now comprise the Lincoln National Forest to protect this most important watershed and source of forest products in southeastern New Mexico. It serves a large population in two states and two nations as their nearest opportunity to enjoy winter sports and forest.
The Lincoln contains four ranger districts (Smokey Bear, Cloudcroft, Guadalupe, and Mayhill); includes three major mountain ranges (Sacramento, Guadalupe, and Capitan); and covers 1,103,441 acres in parts of four counties in southeastern New Mexico. Elevations of 4,000 to 11,500 feet pass through five different life zones—from Chihuahuan desert to subalpine forest. Vegetation ranges from rare cacti in the lower elevations to blue spruce in the highest areas.
A large variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians make their home on the Lincoln. Deer, elk, bear, and turkey draw a large percentage of New Mexico's game hunters to the forest. There are unlimited opportunities to observe and enjoy the songbirds and other small animals. Fishing is limited to a few streams, although some private fishing lakes are nearby. Also, Bonito Lake recreation area managed by Agamogordo City is adjacent to Smokey Bear Ranger District.
Sikes Act projects, funded through the sale of game and fish stamps, along with support from a broad spectrum of other sources, finance production and improvement of animal habitat.
Hundreds of miles of trails await hikers, horseback riders, and motorcyclists. The trails and several miles of old railroad grades are used by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. Wilderness trails are closed to mechanized forms of travel. Some trails have been adopted by volunteers who maintain them.
Points of Interest
Bonito Lake - North of Ruidoso, trout fishing, picnicking, and camping, surrounded by Lincoln National Forest
White-Oaks - Near Carrizozo, remnants of thriving gold rush town
Lincoln State Monument - In town of Lincoln, historic buildings, legends of Billy the Kid and other western history
Three Rivers Petroglyphs - Approximately 10 miles north of Tularosa, trail to Indian petroglyphs, picnic area
Ski Cloudcroft - Downhill skiing near village of Cloudcroft
Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory - South of Cloudcroft, one of the world's largest solar telescopes; guided and self-guided tours
White Sands National Monument - West of Alamogordo, more than 230 miles of white gypsum dunes
Carlsbad Caverns National Park - South of Carlsbad, one of the most impressive cave systems in the world, guided and self-guided tours
Capitan (birthplace of Smokey Bear)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication