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Wilderness Watch: Capitan Mountains Wilderness

A forested mountain slope in new Mexico

Photo: Near Padilla Spring, Capitan Mountains. Public domain; Patrick Alexander via Wikimedia Commons.

Once again we're turning our attention to a wilderness in southern New Mexico. The Capitan Mountains are a relatively small range of sloping granite peaks running east to west, separated from the sky islands of the Sacramento Mountains by the Rio Bonito. The Capitans loom over Lincoln, a town infamous for its ties to Billy the Kid and a host of other outlaws, fortune seekers, and lawmen who once called the region home.

The landscape is dotted with abandoned mines, relics of the boomtown era of the American West. While trails have been established in this 34,000 acre wilderness in the past, fires and the extreme desert weather have worn away these routes, making it almost impossible to follow certain trails; those who venture here would be wise to come prepared with map and compass navigation skills. Natural springs can be found in the area and wildlife gradually shift from the familiar Chihuahuan Desert critters like horned toads to forest-dwellers like black bears as elevation increases.

This wilderness is entirely within the Lincoln National Forest, and though reaching the heart of this wilderness can be a great challenge, even a short walk into the boundaries can offer fantastic opportunities for wildlife watching. Famously, "Hot Foot Teddy" was discovered in this wilderness in 1950, as you'll read below.

There isn't much published information about the wilderness online, but you can find more about how to navigate it in the Capitan Mountains Wilderness Map and the Lincoln National Forest Trail Guides.


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