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In south central New Mexico, most of the Sacramento, Jicarilla, Guadalupe and Capitan mountains lie within the three districts of Lincoln National Forest. Covering 1,103,441 acres of pine, juniper and fir timber lands, the terrain in this vast region ranges from desert to subalpine.
Within the Smokey Bear Ranger District are two wilderness areas offering unspoiled back country for hikes and horseback rides. The district office is located in Ruidoso, a popular recreation center and resort.
The Smokey Bear Ranger District also was home to the original Smokey Bear, the living symbol of fire prevention. The Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, north of Ruidoso, displays memorabilia about the tiny cub and information about wildfire prevention along with the town's original train depot. In fire season from April through July, campfires and charcoal grills may be prohibited. Points of interest and a bevy of scenic vistas along Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway make it a drive well worth exploring.
The Sacramento Ranger District is located in and around the mountain community of Cloudcroft. Shaded by tall pines, it's a haven for those wishing to escape the desert heat below. At an elevation of 9,000 feet, the nine-hole golf course at The Lodge Resort & Spa is not only one of the highest courses in the nation but offers challenging terrain as well (picture a 150-foot vertical drop at the first hole tee-off). The course is open April through October, and calling ahead for a tee time is recommended; phone (800) 395-6343.
In addition to golf, the area around Cloudcroft offers camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, skiing and off-road ATV trails. Take a drive along the Sunspot Scenic Highway (SR 6563) and marvel at spectacular views of the Tularosa Basin and the dunes of White Sands National Monument.
The southern Guadalupe Ranger District encompasses the relatively less-traveled Guadalupe Mountains. A 150-foot waterfall, an uncommon feature in this semi-arid region, is the scenic centerpiece of an oasis in the otherwise desert-like environment at Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area, 49 miles southwest of Carlsbad via US 285, SR 137 and CR 409. The area is open daily 8:30-6; last admittance is 1 hour before closing. Phone ahead to confirm hours. Admission $5 (per private vehicle; exact change is required), free for Federal Recreational Lands Pass holders. Phone (575) 885-4181.
Numerous caves can be explored; permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. For further information contact the Lincoln Forest Supervisor's Office, 3463 Las Palomas Rd., Alamogordo, NM 88310. It's advisable to check current road and trail conditions before planning a visit, especially during the winter months; phone (575) 434-7200.
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Current Location: Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico