Lookout Towers of the Lincoln National Forest

FIRE LOOKOUTS – A SYMBOL OF OUR NATIONAL FORESTS

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     Of the ninety-two fire lookout sites in the State of New Mexico, sixty-nine can be found on her National Forests (Carson – 5, Cibola – 14, Gila – 20, Lincoln - 16, and Santa Fe – 14).  While not all lookouts have withstood the ravages of time or even fire, the Lincoln is fortunate to have nine of the original sixteen still standing, and six of those are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)..

     The public lands and the facilities upon them that make up the Lincoln National Forest, are managed by three Ranger Districts (Smokey Bear, Sacramento, and Guadalupe), with oversight and support by the Supervisor's Office in Alamogordo, NM.

     Within the Smokey Bear Ranger District’s original boundaries (a portion of the District was transfered to the Cibola NF) are six sites, including the Block Lookout (now gone) that, in 1950, spotted the Capitan Gap fire from which the famous cub known as Smokey Bear was rescued. The District currently manages two fire lookouts, Monjeau, the most unique lookout in the Southwestern Region, and Ruidoso, one of the two remaining 14’ X 14’ cabs on the Lincoln (Block was a 14’ X 14’ ground cab).  Both of these active lookouts are listed on the NRHP, bringing more than a thousand visitors a year to Monjeau alone. 

     The Sacramento Ranger District manages eight lookouts, and has the distinction and honor of having the most historic lookout sites on the LNF.  Of their eight sites, six still have standing lookouts, and four of these are listed on the NRHP.  Two sites, Carissa and Wofford, are being converted for use as recreational cabin rentals.  The Sacramento Ranger District's Sacramento Lookout is the other 14’ X 14’ cab on the Forest, and on a clear day you can see all the way into Mexico.

     The Guadalupe Ranger District, the Lincoln’s southernmost district, is the home of one lookout, Dark Canyon, and provides a fantastic view of Dark Canyon's steep canyoned landscape.

     Of the nine sites on the Lincoln, all have steel towers of varying hights except Monjeau which is a stone tower.  Seven lookouts have 7’ X 7’ cabs, while two have 14' X14" cabs as mentioned above, and five of the sites still have their Observer’s Cabins and storage sheds.


Forest Fire Lookout Association  logo      In addition to the NRHP which is administered by the Department of the Interior, there is another organization that strives to preserve our national fire lookout heritage, and that is the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) (www.ffla.org).  The FFLA has Chapters in every State, and maintains a Registry of its own known as the National Fire Lookout Registry.  These registries are symbolic in that they show the desire of American’s to preserve their history and heritage, and mark the locations of many historic lookouts that have been restored, providing heritage tourism opportunities to the public.  Many of these historic lookouts are being operated once again, this time by volunteers, showing that their existence is not obsolete despite the many attempts to replace them by modern technology.  There is no substitute for an individual sitting on a remote mountaintop reporting fire ignition locations as they happen, whether it be careless people or lightning strikes.

     The New Mexico Chapter of the FFLA in partnership with the Lincoln National Forest hosted the 2013 FFLA Western Conference; held in Mayhill, NM, September 19th – 23rd.  The weather cooperated and we had a great conference. For a post conference review, click here.