New Mexico has a ton of National Parks. But there are also many sites in Southern New Mexico that are not facilitated by the National Parks Service that are notable and worth visiting. New Mexico is best visited by driving a lot, it is so amazing to watch the scenery because it changes so drastically. New Mexico is home to 6 of the 7 climatic life zones, and there are a number of places you can quickly run through the spectrum. If you are ever in Capitan you can find a wonderful garden that maintains all 6 zones in a single garden at the Smokey the Bear Museum. Smokey was a real bear that survived a horrible fire. He had climbed a tree and was burned quite badly. He was rescued and became the face of forest fire prevention.
The museum is really interesting and as you can see above, they offer a Junior Ranger Program. The book is a little intense for the younger kids, and they were VERY strict about the age. They let my 7 year old nephew, and 7 year old son do the booklet but would not let my 4 year old daughter, which was hard especially since neither 7 year old was a competent reader so I was reading the book and all of the signs to EVERYONE so she was just as capable of answering. There is a short film and a lot about fighting forest fires. There is a lot of great Americana paraphernalia with Smokey’s image and great information about bears in general. They squeeze a lot of education into a small museum. Smokey lived at the National Zoo in Washington but returned home and is buried in Capitan on the park grounds there is plaque memorializing him on a giant boulder in a peaceful garden. Smokey the Bear is a great hook, but I think the real star is their garden.
It’s no small feat to maintain different climatic regions in the same garden. It takes about an hour to walk through all the exhibits if you read everything. I have been here a few times, but this was my kids’ first time. I like to read the signs and then go around the circle again just admiring the changes from one zone to another. Interestingly the zone map below (from the park) states that New Mexico has 7 of the climatic zones, but only 6 in the park because Arctic Tundra is probably much harder to recreate! But I was taught 6 of 7 in my New Mexico high school and when I looked it up after noticing the discrepancy I only found citations for 6 of 7. But I tend to believe the authority of signs, so make what you will of the contradiction! This juicy tidbit about the climatic diversity of New Mexico is one of my favorite New Mexico Things. After Green Chile, not much comes before Green Chile.