UTV TRAILS IN SMOKEY BEAR’S HOME FOREST
WHERE TO RIDE: LINCOLN NATIONAL FOREST
We all ride UTVs for different reasons, and some of us for many
reasons. I’m in the camp of the latter, with one reason being getting my
mind right after being in a dark place. It has been more than seven
years since my Dad and all-time hero died, and I took care of him for
almost three months before colon cancer consumed him. In the first
week of May, 2015, I had to attend the Yamaha 2016 press introduction in Georgia,
and the three days of travel and being with my peers and pals was a
great break from some very dark days.
On the way back, I had a long layover at Phoenix Sky Harbor, and I ate
a BLT at a 24-hour breakfast place. I had to steel my nerves for what I
was going home to, as those two weeks or so were going to be the
worst of my life, watching my Dad die. “Shoot, who are you kidding?
Every time you give him those hospice drugs, you’re a participant,” I
thought, as a petit young lady sat down next to me. I looked around,
and the place was deserted. I thought, “A woman traveling alone
probably wants to make it look like she’s not,” but said nothing. I was in
no mood to talk.
After a while, she broke the silence. “Where are you going, or where
have you been?” Where I was going was unspeakable, so I told her
where I had been and why. She replied, “I have a Yamaha ATV, and I
use it to hunt elk. And I grew up riding dirt bikes with my brothers.” So, I
told her about working at UTV Action and for many years at Dirt Bike
Magazine. We talked bikes, and she was in the market for an enduro
I asked her about hunting, and she was also a trapper. After a while she
told me she had been at a US Forest Service training camp in Oregon
for running logging crews, which she did for New Mexico’s Lincoln
National Forest, stationed in Cloudcroft. It was like I was sitting next to a
female version of me, and I told her about my brief forestry career and
oil-field years. She had a catch her flight to Albuquerque, so she got up
and said, “I also bartend Friday and Saturday nights at the saloon, so
look me up if you’re ever in Cloudcroft. I’m Tina.” I told her mine, and
she said, “Tim and Tina – cool.”
I sat there, stunned. “Did that really happen – divine intervention?” I
thought. I was no longer in the depths of hopelessness. After Dad
passed, I took Cody, his ’97 Heritage Softtail Springer, to Skip for a total
rebuild. When it was ready, I loaded up my KLX450R in Flatbed Fred,
hooked up the Aluma, and drove to Phoenix to pick up Cody. I stayed a
night at the house in Mescal, drove to Cloudcroft, unloaded at the hotel,
and rode Cody to the saloon to see Tina. The next day, I rode some of
the best singletrack ever, along the escarpment overlooking
Alamogordo, the Holloman Air-Force base, and White Sands missile
base in the distance.
Then I rode Cody through the LNF to the Smokey Bear Museum; Dad
was a big museum buff and planned whole vacation rides around them.
I made a few adjustments in the parking lot, and dark clouds were
forming on the mountain. I rode towards it as it got darker, so I diverted
and rode down to Alamogordo. I rode up to Cloudcroft and into the
deluge; I was soaked when I got to Cloudcroft’s 8650 feet. No worries. I
returned later that year with a Pioneer 500 for Summer and Evan and
rode the KLX on the LNF’s 50-inch trails with them. I wrote the following
Where To Ride upon return and also reported on a NM DNR program
training kids to ride Polaris ATVs. Two summers later, I took two 50-inch
Trail UTVs and did a shootout with my cousins Matt and Jenny.
No doubt, when I retire, I’ll be spending a lot of time in and around
Cloudcroft exploring the LNF.
While traveling from Yamaha’s 2016 new model introduction, I
had a chance meeting with a quad-riding, dirt-biking Forest Service
employee, who told me about the ample OHV opportunities of 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, the home of the real Smokey the Bear, and the village of
I traveled there twice that 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 some 235 miles,
and 29 of those trails are 50-inch or less two-track trails, spanning 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
On my first trip to Cloudcroft, I stopped at the Allsups
convenience store and asked if I could buy a USFS Adventure Pass,
and 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, 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, so one could
spend the whole summer riding in cool forests. There are also
designated campgrounds, with tables, bathrooms and showers, that are
fee areas with camp hosts. Elevations are 4,400 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 green-bent
Angeles and Tahoe NFs in California, it operates like President
Theodore Roosevelt intended the US Forest Service to work. The USFS
was placed in the Agriculture Department so it could create revenue
through timber sales, cattle leases, and most-importantly recreation.
Where’s 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 little 50-inch or single-track
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 had started in 1944 (after the Japanese shelled the Los
Padres NF in 1942), a 17,000-acre fire broke out in 1950 near Capitan,
NM. 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 what routes are open for dispersed camping, free! There is
even a 50-inch Trestle trail that starts right in Cloudcroft and does an 8-
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. Cloudcrft and Mayhill also have several RV parks and cabins for
those that 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!
LNF Supervisor’s Office
3463 Las Palomos Rd.
Alamogordo, NM 88310
Smokey Bear Ranger District
901 Mechem Dr.
Ruidoso, NM 88345
Sacramento Ranger District
4 Lost Lodge Rd.
Cloudcroft, NM 88317
NM Dept. of Game & Fish OHV Program
3841 Midway Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109
SB1 of 1)
HEAD: 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 or a NM-OHV sticker ($50 for 2 years), or display a street-legal
plate. Non-resident permits are $18 for 90 days or $48 for 2 years, and
they can be bought at www.b4uride, www.wildlife.state.nm.us, any
Department of Game and Fish office or by calling (505) 222-4727.
* OHVs must have spark arrestors and sound output less than 96 dBs,
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 9 free ATV-
safety courses during spring and summer months in the LNF with
Polaris 50cc, 90cc and 200cc ATVs bought with OHV-sticker money.
Each 4-hour class covers vehicle controls, safety rules and laws,
demonstrations and riding drills, and even helmets and goggles are
provided. There are also 6 more schools in other areas, including
hunting/OHV safety, and online courses. New Mexico also recognizes
ATV-safety course from other states. Register for schools online at
* Other rules are explained in the “OHV Guide and Places to Ride in
New Mexico” pamphlet, available at USFS, BLM and MNDG&F offices.