Covering 1.1 million acres of Eddy, Otero, Chaves, and Lincoln counties, the magnificent Lincoln National Forest encompasses two distinct regions: the arid lower elevations near Carlsbad, and the towering pines and mountain peaks of the Ruidoso area. The piñon and juniper of the southernmost region stretch through the Guadalupe Mountains to connect with the Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. The forestland has many caves, some of which can be accessed with a free permit available at the Guadalupe Ranger District.
These caves are not developed, so be prepared for primitive conditions. The only private development you can find other than scattered ranches is at Queen (49 mi southwest of Carlsbad, on NM 137). This site consists of a small mobile-home community, restaurant, store, gas station, and church camp. This forested area is hugely popular with hunters lured by ample populations of mule deer.
The northernmost portion of the Lincoln forest, surrounding the resort community of Ruidoso, is a more traditional sanctuary, with snowy mountain peaks, lakes, and gurgling mountain streams. Developers have capitalized on this beauty, so the forest is interspersed with cabins, resorts, church camps, condos, and ski runs. Still, there are miles of pristine wilderness, many of which can be accessed by hiking trails.
More than 25 camping areas are scattered throughout Lincoln National Forest. Although fishing lakes and streams are available on private, municipal, or tribal lands, there's very little opportunity for the sport on these public forestlands. To obtain more information about hiking, camping, hunting, and other recreation, contact the forest service's main headquarters in Alamogordo
Call or visit the Guadalupe Ranger District for permit information. Federal Bldg., Room 159, 114 S. Halagueno St., Carlsbad. 505/885–4181.
You truly have to see Sitting Bull Falls to believe that a cascading, 150-foot-tall waterfall flowing into beautiful, crystal-clear pools exists in southeastern New Mexico. It's no mirage—and you can even swim in the waters of this oasis. A 1-mi hike from the parking lot over a paved trail takes you to a desert riparian area lush with ferns, watercress, and cottonwoods. At the parking lot, the forest service provides rock ramadas for picnics. There are viewing decks and restrooms, and 16 mi of hiking trails lace the area. The park is open for day use only. If you want to camp overnight, drive southwest on NM 137 until you reach the New Mexico–Texas state line and Dog Canyon Campground in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. During extreme drought conditions, call first to make sure the area hasn't been closed.
From Carlsbad take U.S. 285 north about 12 mi, then turn west on NM 137 for 27 mi, 88256. 575/885–4181. $5 per vehicle, free Wed. Apr.–Sept., daily 8:30–6; Oct.–Mar., daily 8:30–5.