Our 7 favorite features of the year

Did you miss one of the stories that explored the lesser-known West?


This year, High Country News’ writers and editors were busy keeping up with nonstop news developments in our region. But as the year comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to pause and reflect on some of the stories that stuck with us long after they published, providing perspective on our complicated and ever-changing region. Here we share this year’s best deep dives into lesser-visited corners and communities of the West. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did:

Busting the tree ring
Contributor Ben Goldfarb tells the tale of a Washington man at the center of a timber-poaching gang. Harold Kupers wanted to help investigators — but he probably didn’t think it would backfire and lead to an investigation that would land him in jail.

Ron Malamphy inspects blocks of wood believed to be poached at the Slaughterhouse, and found in the garage of Ryan Justice’s grandmother’s house.
U.S. Forest Service photo courtesy Phil Huff

River of healing
Writer Florence Williams tags along on an Idaho outing along a “River of No Return.” The experience proved deeply transformative for many women veterans, damaged by their service in the military, who found solace in nature.

Graham Smith

Prison Town
Correspondent Sarah Tory takes a look at the ties that bind struggling rural towns in the West to the immigration incarceration economy. She tells the story of Abdul Khan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. Khan fled violence in Ghana before his fate became intertwined with one such place: Adelanto, California, a struggling town on the edge of the Mojave Desert that has hitched itself to America’s booming incarceration economy. Go even deeper with the numbers and policies behind the immigration-incarceration economy.

Abdul Khan, who fled New York out of fear of deportation after Donald Trump was sworn in, currently resides in Montreal. His name has been changed in this story to protect his identity.
Nicolas Gouin

How a rural clinic sparked a small-town addiction crisis
Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler’s investigation from tiny Craig, Colorado, uncovered a private practice that spurred a complicated drug crisis. That crisis continues to outpace the available resources for addicts, the health care community and law enforcement.

A woman and her husband discuss housing options while they stand on the street with their family’s belongings after leaving the place they were staying because of a physical altercation. Meanwhile, the local authorities had come to arrest the owners of the house, where as many as 10 people had been staying.
Brooke Warren/High Country News

The teenage whaler’s tale
Before his story made the Anchorage paper, before the first death threat arrived from across the world, before his elders began to worry and his mother cried over the things she read on Facebook, Chris Apassingok, age 16, caught a whale.

Chris Apassingok, 16, holds the darting gun he used to harpoon a whale this spring outside his family’s home in Gambell, Alaska.
Ash Adams

What happens when the church comes for your kids?
This feature explores a small corner of the region: A fundamentalist empire in the town of Short Creek on the Arizona-Utah border that’s feeling pressure from the encroaching modern-day West. There, parents kicked out of the community try to retrieve their children from the confines of the church.

A girl — who sticks out her tongue when she spots a photographer — rides with others wearing traditional FLDS prairie dresses in Hildale, Utah.
George Frey

So what if we’re doomed?
HCN Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert delves into the choices we must make as we begin to face the consequences of the Anthropocene, reckoning with the grinding anxiety of climate change and the grief of losing our most precious species. How we cope with these fears will define us, he argues.

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 1, 2015.
Elena Dorfman
Want more deep dives? Check out our features from this year here.

Note: This piece has been corrected.

High Country News Classifieds