While traveling for Yamaha’s 2016 newmodel introduction, I had a chance meeting with a quad-riding, dirt-biking Forest Service employee who told me about the ample OHV opportunities in the Lincoln National Forest (LNF), specifically the Sacramento district adjacent to Cloudcroft, New Mexico. What makes it so special is that Cloudcroft is at 8650 feet elevation, and the village’s name is old English for “a clearing covered in clouds.” Intrigued, I had to check out the LNF, home to the real Smokey Bear, and the village of Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
I traveled there twice this summer—at the end of May and end of June—and I was very impressed with both the LNF and Cloudcroft, which, true to its name, received rain before and during both visits. The Sacramento Ranger District has 102 trails covering around 235 miles, and 29 of those trails are 50-inch-or-narrower two-track trails that span some 78 miles. There are several single track trails for dirt and mountain biking, and there are several Forest Service roads for UTVs wider than 50 inches. On my first trip to Cloudcroft, I stopped at the Allsup’s convenience store and asked if I could buy a USFS Adventure Pass. The clerk didn’t know what I was talking about. I replied, “You know, a pass so I can park in the forest and go riding.”
He said, “Never heard of it.” It turns out that you can park anywhere in the LNF and dry camp for up to 30 days for free! After 30 days, you have to move your camp somewhere else, like to the other side of the fire ring. You could spend the whole summer riding in cool forests for free. There are also designated campgrounds with tables, bathrooms and showers that are fee areas with camp hosts. Elevation is 4400 to 11,500 feet within the southern Sacramento and northern Smokey Bear Ranger Districts. The LNF covers some 1.1 million acres and is split in half by the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, and unlike the greenbent Los Angeles and Tahoe National Forests in California, it operates like President Theodore Roosevelt intended the U.S. Forest Service to work. The USFS was placed in the Agriculture Department so it could create revenue through timber sales, cattle leases and, most important, recreation. We’re talking OHV recreation, hunting, trapping, fishing, biking, hiking, camping, or simply driving USFS roads and enjoying the scenery, like the spectacular Bluff Springs.
HOME OF THE REAL SMOKEY BEAR
The Smokey Bear Ranger District has no 50-inch or singletrack trails, but it’s UTV heaven with many miles of USFS roads, several campgrounds, Bonito Lake, lookouts, and points of interest like the Smokey Bear State Park. Although the Smokey Bear advertising campaign started in 1944 (after the Japanese shelled the Los Padres National Forest in 1942), a 17,000-acre fire broke out in 1950 near Capitan, New Mexico. Firefighters found a small bear cub clinging to a charred tree, and it was nursed back to health and eventually sent to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. He was visited by millions of families over 26 years. In 1976 Smokey retired, as all federal employees do, at 70 years old (26 in human years), and he died a year later. He was buried in Capitan, in his own state park, and the museum is really cool. It touts prescribed burns for healthy forests, and the LNF is as healthy as they come. There are also many other points of interest, like the town of Lincoln, home of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County wars.
Best yet, the people are super friendly and helpful. Both Ranger District offices have maps, including a free Motor Vehicle Use Map that also shows which routes are open for dispersed camping that is free! There is even a 50-inch Trestle trail that starts right in Cloudcroft and does an eight-mile loop. So next year, plan on spending part of those hot summer months cooling off in the rare air and beautiful evergreen forests of the LNF. Cloudcroft and Mayhill also have several RV parks and cabins for those who don’t want to dry camp in the woods. In the colder fall and winter months, local OHV enthusiasts go to Red Sands Dunes (between Alamogordo and El Paso) or Mescalero Sand Dunes (35 miles east of Roswell). The LNF is New Mexico’s secret OHV heaven!
BEFORE YOU RIDE
• New Mexico has its own OHV registration program, and OHVs operated on public lands must have a valid OHV sticker from their home state, an NM-OHV sticker ($50 for two years), or display a street-legal plate. Non-resident permits are $18 for 90 days or $48 for two years, and they can be bought at www.b4uride.com, www.wildlife.state.nm.us, any Department of Game and Fish office, or by calling (505) 222-4727.
• OHVs must have spark arrestors, sound output less than 96 decibels, and lights if operated after dark.
• Children under 6 cannot operate an ATV on public land, and those younger than 18 must complete an OHV safety course and wear a helmet and goggles. Children must be supervised unless they’re 13 and have a motorcycle license or 15 and have a driver’s license. What’s really cool is that the Game and Fish/LNF people put on nine free ATV-safety courses during the spring and summer months in the LNF with Polaris 50cc, 90cc and 200cc ATVs bought with OHV sticker money. Each four-hour class covers vehicle controls, safety rules and laws, demonstrations and riding drills, and helmets and goggles are provided. There are also six more schools in other areas, including hunting/OHV safety and online courses. New Mexico also recognizes ATV-safety courses from other states. Register for schools online at www.b4uride.com.
• Other rules are explained in the “OHV Guide and Places to Ride in New Mexico” pamphlet, available at USFS, BLM and NMDG&F offices.