The best photos of 2017: wildfire, protests and bears

What caught our eye this year.


This year was one of upheaval in our region. Natural wonders such as super blooms and a solar eclipse stilled watchers in awe, while pipeline protests and national monument reductions transformed the political landscape. And yet much remained the same: the work of caring for cattle, the struggle of hunting to survive, the beauty of facing the wild. Our favorite photos of the year caught glimpses of all that. Together, they offer a record of a historic year of change for the West. Take a look: 


Kyle Mateo, Marisa Pelletier, and Rick Buckman Coe (from left) pose for a photograph in the Oceti Sakowin camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November. Pelletier is Ojibwe. The three traveled from Vancouver, British Columbia, to oppose the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Terray Sylvester

What Standing Rock meant for those who took part
The protestors in North Dakota took the experiences and lessons they learned back to their daily lives and to other movements.
Read the story and see more photos.


Josh Flaharty visits his bedroom in an old trailer, damaged during the years he and other drug users stayed and partied there. Flaharty and his mother are now working to repair holes in the walls and other damage in preparation for renting it.
Brooke Warren/High Country News

When private pain becomes a community problem
In Craig, Colorado, a rural clinic sparked a small-town opioid crisis and individuals like the man pictured above got caught in a cycle of addiction.
Read the story and see more photos.


The superbloom has become a verifiable tourist attraction in Southern California as hundreds of people come out to hike and photograph — themselves as well as the flowers. Thick fields of California poppies like this one at Walker Canyon are particularly popular, sometimes stopping traffic along the adjacent freeway.
Andrew Cullen

California’s desert wildflowers burst into bright ‘super bloom’
A drawn-out drought followed by plenty of spring rain brought thousands of bright wildflowers out of dormancy in a rare event called a “super bloom.” 
Read the story and see more photos.


Smoke rises from the Pioneer Fire, burning in the Boise National Forest in Idaho in 2016. Scientists are discovering new ways to see inside the smoke to better predict fire behavior.
Kari Greer

Inside the Firestorm
In this award-winning feature, Douglas Fox delves into the technology that allows scientists to study the extreme forces in smoke plumes and other fire weather.
Read the story and see more photos.


The shadow of a LightHawk plane is seen on the desert surrounding Tucson, Arizona.
Jordan Glenn with support from LightHawk Flights

An end to Tucson’s growth wars
After 20 years of work, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved an aggressive and ambitious urban land conservation plan that has transformed the politics of a region that was infamous for endless sprawl. It protects dozens of vulnerable species and conserves biologically sensitive lands while permitting development on other lands.
Read the story and see more photos.


Trucks at a Shell truck stop in Farista, just outside Walsenburg, Colorado, which switched from blue to red in the 2016 presidential election.
Brooke Warren/High Country News

The Big Swing: Why a blue Colorado county voted for Trump
A wave of retirees and a shift in economics reshaped the dominant politics of this rural town.
Read the story and see more photos.


Two girls ride a bicycle together early in the morning in Gambell, a town of about 700 residents that is perched on the northwestern tip of St. Lawrence Island off the coast of Alaska.
Ash Adams

In remote Alaska, subsistence hunting helps villagers survive
This photo essay shows how people live in places like Gambell, Alaska, which is susceptible to risks associated with climate change.
Read the story and see more photos.


Cady Shoutis, a Lander local, looks at the “bite” out of the sun during the solar eclipse in Jaycee Park, Lander, Wyoming. Her husband, Art, lower right, expected it to be busier.
Brooke Warren/High Country News

An unexpectedly quiet eclipse viewing
The solar eclipse that crossed the entire United States spurred many travelers to visit places along the path of totality, and campsites and hotels were filled. But in some places, people were able to experience the celestial phenomenon with relative quietude. 
Read the story and see more photos.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

These six Western monuments face reductions
After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reviewed national monument designations, he advised that six sites be reduced in size, including Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou national monuments. By December, President Donald Trump attempted to cut the Utah monuments into smaller allocations of protected land.
Read the story and see more photos.

Bonnet, one of the oldest mares on the Anderson Ranch, has lived through 24 winters in Tom Miner Basin, Montana. Horses like Bonnet represent strength, endurance and warmth for the Andersons.
Louise Johns

A glimpse of a family in the shifting West
Photographer Louise Johns documented daily moments of the Andersons, a multi-generation ranching family in Montana, over the course of four years. Her photographs provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of a family of range riders, modern-day shepherds who try to prevent predation of livestock by coexisting more harmoniously with wildlife.
Read the story and see more photos.


A well pad complex is constructed just outside Little Missouri State Park, its lights flooding the park campground.
Andrew Cullen

How the Bakken boom transformed a landscape
Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Little Missouri State Park in North Dakota encompass nearly identical terrain, but the parks feel distinctly different. The national park is an oasis from the oil boom while the Little Missouri State Park has been engulfed by it, with some oil wells within park boundaries.
Read the story and see more photos.


Eggs squirt from a salmon snagged by a brown bear in Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary.

In the home of the bear
At Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, bears roam free. When writer Chris Solomon visited the limited access place, he learns how bears live in the wild, and finds tranquility in the fact that human lives are so small.
Read the story and see more photos. 

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