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On Walkabout In: Capitan, New Mexico

I really like the exploring the Sacramento and White Mountains to the north of El Paso.  However, another mountain range adjacent to these two ranges is the Capitan Mountains.


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This much smaller mountain range  is not as high or as scenic as either the Sacramento or White Mountains, but it is here in these mountains that one of the most beloved American icons came to life, Smokey Bear:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

The mascot for fighting forest fires, Smokey Bear was developed in 1944 in an effort to protect the American woodlands at a time when World War II was still happening and America’s forest were a precious natural resource for the war effort. You have got to love this propaganda poster below that was used to emphasize this:

Eventually the ad campaign would develop in the post-war years to include the now famous phrase from Smokey, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”.  As successful as this ad campaign would be the Forest Service lack a real life mascot for Smokey.  Well that would change when a bear cub was rescued during the Capitan Gap Fire in the spring of 1950 in the Capitan Mountains pictured below:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

The bear cub was nursed back to health by New Mexico wildlife officials who eventually settled on the name Smokey for him.  Eventually the media picked up on this story and this cub became a national celebrity.  The cub was eventually flown to the National Zoo where he lived for 26 years until his death in 1976.  Here is a picture of Smokey at the National Zoo:

At the look out where the previous picture of the cut out of Smokey Bear was taken, there was a nice plaque that named all the peaks of the Capitan Mountains to include where Capitan Gap is located, which is where the real life Smokey Bear was found:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

The Capitan Mountains have a number of peaks, but none of them are very prominent, which causes the mountains to look like one giant ridgeline.  Here is a stitched together panorama photograph of the Capitan Mountains I made, where Capitan Gap is clearly visible:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

What is kind of interesting about the Capitan Mountains is that it is the only singular mountain chain in America that runs east to west while all the other mountain chains run north to south.  These mountains are composed of exposed granite that extend for a length of about 32 kilometers (20 miles).  The highest point of the range is Palko Peak at 10,201 feet.  Besides having a nice clear day to enjoy the views of the Capitan Mountains, something else I am often rewarded with in this part of the state is views of wildlife such as this herd of elk:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

I have seen just about every type of wildlife you can imagine in this area, but the one thing I haven’t seen is a bear yet, which is ironically what this area of the state is famous for due to its Smokey Bear connection.  Hopefully one day I will see a bear, but during my trip to Capitan I didn’t see one either.  Anyway at the base of the Capitan Mountains is the small village of Capitan that of course has a park dedicated to who else, Smokey Bear:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

The historical park has a very well done museum that is well worth checking out with its various displays that explains the history of Smokey Bear:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

Besides the history of Smokey Bear the museum also explains how Smokey has influenced the ad campaigns to prevent forest fires in other countries such as using the koala in Australia as a mascot against bushfires:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

There was also a number of other displays that shows how firefighters combat these forest fires:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

Of course the museum wouldn’t be complete without a life size replica of Smokey Bear to take pictures with:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

Outside the museum there is a nice garden that depicts all the various plant life that can be found in the region as well as the grave for Smokey Bear:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

Right before the exit to the park Smokey Bear is there to give one last final reminder to visitors about preventing forest fires:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

For anyone that hasn’t had enough of Smokey Bear after visiting the museum there is a gift shop right next store to buy all the Smokey Bear suvenoirs that you can imagine:

Picture from Capitan, New Mexico

All in all my family and I had a nice visit to the Smokey Bear Historical Park and found the lady that worked there to be quite friendly and helpful as she explained the history of Smokey Bear to us and showed us around the museum. If staying a few days at Ruidoso it is well worth combining a stop at Capitan with a must see visit to the historic city of Lincoln just down the road. The people of Capitan and Smokey Bear will be glad to see you.

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