Going down in flames

 

Long ago, many West Coast and Rocky Mountain tribes cremated their dead to purify them and free their souls, which were borne to the afterlife "on chariots of smoke." Today, going out in a blaze is again the region's most popular funerary rite.

In 2010, the mountain and Pacific states (including Alaska and Hawaii) had the highest collective cremation rates in the country (60 and 59 percent, respectively). Cremation saves money, but its popularity in the West may also reflect Westerners' tendency to identify as less religious than other Americans (save deeply religious Utah, which has one of the lowest rates at 28 percent; the Mormon Church feels cremation is at odds with its doctrine regarding the body and soul). Or perhaps it's Westerners' love for the land: People who choose cremation often say they want to reduce land-use impacts associated with traditional burial. And cremation gives mourners the option to scatter ashes at a loved one's favorite place.