Did you ever go out into the woods to cut your own Christmas tree? There’s something very elemental about it. We decided this year we’d take advantage of the opportunity of cutting a Christmas tree in Santa Fe National Forest.
The process is simple. You need a tag which can be purchased from the National Forest office on NM 14 or from REI in the Railyard District. We chose REI as it was more accessible for us. With the tag we got maps of the areas we could cut in: the Pecos Wilderness, Caja del Rio, Cuba and Coyote. The map wasn’t really clear. A call to the ranger station in Pecos yielded the info that if it was within National Forest boundaries, wasn’t fenced and wasn’t posted we could cut a tree on the land. We discovered after our adventure that there are more rules (see the bottom of the page). This turned out to be more difficult than it sounded. Depending on road and weather conditions you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle. We stayed on paved roads with our front-wheel drive Toyota Corolla and we were fine.
Off to cut our Christmas tree
We decided to head for Pecos; we love the area. We forgot about the forest fire there a few years ago or we would have headed to Caja del Rio. Before heading to the forest we stopped for lunch at Frankie’s at the Casanova in Pecos before. The historic adobe building was once home to Western Mercantile, a general store and later Harrison’s Casa Nova, a hopping roadhouse on pre-1937 Rte 66. You’ll feel like you’ve returned to the past, dining on traditional New Mexican fare in the retro dining room with murals, circa 1948, on the plastered walls. After a green chile cheeseburger lunch we headed into the Pecos Wilderness in search of our tree.
We searched the forest for our perfect tree. We wanted something on the short side, not more than five feet tall and fairly full. Most of what we found was either on the scrawny side, had a trunk charred by the forest fire or was perched at an angle too precarious to cut. Finally, frustrated we decided to head back home treeless. We’d reluctantly head for Caja de Rio the next day. And then, we found it – a fairly small but bushy blue spruce (we think) tree.
Cutting the tree
We were ready to cut our tree. Before cutting your tree put the tag around the trunk above where you’ll make the cut. Steve got out the trusty bow saw that we’ve had for decades. It doesn’t get much use these days but occasionally, it comes in handy and set to work. Work may be a bit of an exaggeration as it took a few cuts to fell our small tree. Although we’d brought rope to tie the tree to the car roof this tree was so small it fit in the trunk. We accomplished our mission of cutting a Christmas tree in the Santa Fe National Forest. Tree and saw stowed in trunk, we headed for home.
Info on Cutting a Christmas tree in Santa Fe National Forest
Things you should know fore cutting a tree in Santa Fe National Forest
- Tags, $10 each, are sold from the Monday before Thanksgiving to the last business day before Christmas.
- Each tag allows the holder to cut a tree up to five inches in diameter and up to 10 feet tall. You can get bigger trees by purchasing extra tags. There’s a three tag limit per person.
- Tags may be purchased at the Santa Fe National Forest office or at ranger stations in areas where tree cutting is permitted as well as at designated private business throughout the area.
- Tree cutting is prohibited within 300 feet of streams, rivers and paved roads, and in all recreation camp areas.
- To make sure you’ll be cutting a Christmas tree in Santa Fe National Forest, get your permit early. There are a finite number of permits.
The tree with lights
Almost all decked out
Almost all decked out, photo/Steve Collins
All decked out and lit up
Every ornament on our tree has a story behind it. We’ve bought a few each year since 1979. That year we moved from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains to the Hudson Valley but our carefully curated ornament collection didn’t make the move. The first Christmas was a bit sad. We had hand-colored paper medieval angels that could be folded into cones (there’s one at the top of our current tree) and strings of popcorn and cranberries. We’ve come a long way!
If you want to cut a tree in a National Forest near you- here are some tips.