We got a chance to stop at the Smokey Bear Historical Park on our way to see the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
Smokey Bear wasn’t just some made-up fictional animal that you remember from your childhood reminding you that “only you can prevent forest fires”. Smokey Bear was an actual bear rescued as a cub from a wildfire.
History of Smokey Bear
While Smokey Bear did start out as an advertising campaign back in 1944 as a way to raise awareness on what a valuable resource our national forests are, Smokey Bear became a real bear in 1950.
In early May of 1950, two huge human-caused wildfires started in the Capitan Mountains of Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. These two fires burned more than 17,000 acres causing a catastrophic loss to the wildlife and environment.
On May 9th one of the firefighters saw a baby cub weighing about 5 pounds clinging to a dying tree. The firefighter, who was part of the fire crew from Fort Bliss, Texas, rescued the badly burned baby cub and brought it back to camp where firefighters tried to feed him and tend to his wounds.
The next day, a game warden retrieved the cub and flew him to see a veterinarian in Santa Fe. While the cub was being tended to, a press photographer snapped a few shots and the next day’s headline was “Teddy With a Hot Foot”.
After the cub had been treated, the game warden brought the cub back to his house for several weeks while the cub healed. Ray, the game warden, renamed the cub Smokey after the fire prevention bear of the 1940s. After a lot of work and convincing, Smokey Bear became the official living symbol of the fire prevention campaign in July of 1950.
Smokey Bear lived out his years at the National Zoo and passed away in November of 1976.
Upon his death, his body was flown back home to Capitan, New Mexico and he was buried in what is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Things to Do at the Smokey Bear Historical Park
Smokey Bear Historical Park sits on over three acres and hosts several indoor and outdoor exhibits. Below are just a couple you will find during your visit:
Before you head to pay your respects to Smokey Bear, take a moment to visit the museum where you will find exhibits about the true story of Smokey Bear as well as exhibits on fire ecology, forest conservation, and more.
New Mexico Wildland Firefighter Memorial
Installed within the park in 2019, the New Mexico Wildland Firefighter Memorial was built to honor more than 30 New Mexico Wildland Firefighters and fire support personnel who have lost their life in the line of duty.
Smokey Bear Gravesite
Of course, you can (and should) visit where Smokey Bear is buried.
Know Before You Go & Tips
Cash Only – They only accept cash and exact change is encouraged.
Smokey Bear Historical Park Information
118 Smokey Bear Blvd
Capitan, NM 88316
Summer Hours: 9-5; Winter Hours: 9 am – 4:30 pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year’s Day
Adults & Teens: $2
Youth 7-12 years: $1
Under 6: Free
They only accept Cash, so keep that in mind!