Where Smokey Bear Is King

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Everybody knows the Smokey Bear of advertising, but do you know there was a real living Smokey Bear.According to Wikipedia:

The living symbol of Smokey Bear was an American black bear three-month-old cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire, a wildfire that burned 17,000 acres (69 km2) in the Lincoln National Forest, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Smokey had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. According to some stories, he was rescued by a game warden after the fire, but according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, it was actually a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the fire, that discovered the bear cub and brought him back to the camp.

Originally called Hotfoot Teddy, his name was changed to Smokey and he became a living symbol, ensconced at the National Zoo in Washington until his death in 1976. His remains were returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where there was a museum and a funerary monument in his honor.

The museum is still there, as well as a Smokey Bear Motel and a Smokey Bear Restaurant. We visited in 2003, and plan to drop in again to pay our homage to Smokey. Martine has a special devotion to Smokey. She has a special 50th anniversary stuffed Smokey Bear, as well as a zipper pull. Our refrigerator has two Smokey Bear magnets.

This Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

This Warning Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

There is even an Idaho company called Woodland Enterprises, which Martine has visited and which sells Smokey Bear (and Woodsy Owl) memorabilia. We shop there annually for gifts.

So Capitan, New Mexico, you can expect us some time this summer.

From Chile Peppers to High Mountain Passes

A Stretch of the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

A Stretch of the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

Is it too early to start planning my next vacation? Not at all—especially since Martine agreed to come with me this time, but only if I limited it to two weeks. “I could do this,” I thought. Some years ago, we traveled through Arizona, New Mexico, and bits of Utah and Colorado. I thought we could take a shorter version, timewise, at least.

I thought we could fly into El Paso, rent a car, and drive north to Alamogordo with its space museum and Capitan, a village dedicated to its most famous resident, Smokey Bear. There we will stay at the Smoky Bear Motel, dine at the Smokey Bear Restaurant, and certainly visit the Smokey Bear Museum. (Martine loves Smokey Bear.)

Then it’s north to Albuquerque, where we’ll stay for several days and maybe take side trips to Acoma, one of the two oldest continuously inhabited places in North America (the other is Old Oraibi on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona) and El Morro National Monument. Perhaps we will also re-visit the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in nearby Ramah. And while in Albuquerque, I will drink deep of the smoldering juices of red and green chiles—the best in the world.

From Albuquerque, we head north to Chimayo to visit its famous Sanctuary and on to Chama. Thereupon, we will take a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which runs between Chama, NM and Antonito, CO. Next on the roster will be a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Yes, I am a railroad fanatic

From Silverton we drive north on one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in the United States, the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, CO.

Finally, we’ll make our way to Denver, from where we fly back to Los Angeles.

One of the nice things about so-called “open jaws” flights is that you do not have to spend any time backtracking. Originally, I thought of flying to and from Albuquerque, a city I dearly love; but half the time we would be backtracking from side trips. This way, it’s all on a more or less straight line from El Paso to Denver.

“What about White Sands, Santa Fe, Chaco Canyon, Taos, and Mesa Verde?” you might ask. Martine and I have been there, and we are concentrating on places we haven’t visited.