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A cut above the rest

Hiking into the woods, selecting a Christmas tree and chopping it down for the family’s living room is something Blake Wood had never really considered before moving to Los Alamos from California.

“It was kind of an amazing surprise that you could actually go out and cut a Christmas tree,” he said. “The thought that you could actually go out and pick out your own tree in the woods was quite exciting.”

It quickly became a family tradition.

For Blake Wood, heading to the mountains to cut a Christmas tree has been a family tradition for almost 30 years. Here Wood, left, and his son-in-law, Ryan McNiff, both of Los Alamos, pick out a winner. (Courtesy of Blake Wood)

“When we moved here we had small children,” Wood said. “We always made it a real family thing. We went the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes there would be snow but we’d go out with the kids and have fun. They’d pick out a tree.”

That program that the Woods used to get their Christmas tree continues as strong now as it was in 1992 when they got their first one.

As a matter of fact, the old-fashioned program is even moving if not into the future, at least into the present as permits are now available online.

“Venturing into the national forest to find the perfect tree is an annual tradition for many families in New Mexico,” said James Melonas, Santa Fe Forest supervisor. “This year when COVID-19 has disrupted so many things, we really wanted to make at least one holiday tradition as convenient as possible. We are very happy to be offering the opportunity to purchase a Christmas tree permit online.”

Online sales that have already begun are available at The website also has dates, tips and guidelines for Christmas tree harvesting in national forests.

Permit prices start at $10, plus a $2.50 service fee, and online customers can print a permit and place it on the dashboard of their vehicle before heading into the woods.

Tree permits are also available via phone by calling any national forest headquarters or district offices, and will be delivered by mail along with maps and guidelines for harvesting a tree.

As part of the “Every Kid Outdoors” initiative, free trees for fourth graders not only remains, but has been expanded to include fifth-graders. To be eligible, participants must have a valid Every Kid Outdoors pass, downloaded from Online orders still require the service fee.

“It’s a great way to get out and enjoy the forest with the family,” said Gennaro Falco, a forestry programmer with the Santa Fe National Forest. “It’s a fun time of the year, and we do this in hopes that people want to get outside and celebrate the holiday with family that way to enjoy the outdoors.”

That’s what the Wood family does annually.

“It’s a fun thing,” he said. “We have hot chocolate and make an afternoon of it.”

Over the years, the excursions have gotten farther from home, but that’s just part of the charm, Wood said.

“We used to be able to go 10 minutes above town,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve pushed farther and farther out. The last few years, we go on the back side of Chacoma off of Forest Road 376 or near Fenton Lake. Those are both at least an hour’s drive from here but that is certainly worth going out to do.”

Now that his children have grown up, the tradition is expanding into new generations, Wood said.

“I have three daughters and two live here in town and each have kids,” he said. “We usually go out with one or the other or sometimes, both of them. The oldest ones (grandchildren) can run around and help pick out the trees. They get a real kick out of it. We cut them a branch that they can carry around themselves.”

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