The modern West: a roundup of our best photos of the year

In 2019, photographers captured nuance in the people and places around the region.


In 2019, High Country News photographers captured dynamic landscapes and complicated relationships, deepening reader's understanding of the people and places that make up the West. From close-ups of native bees, to a canoe journey through San Francisco Bay, to the mythology of Texan stockyards, see the year through High Country News images.


A Diadasia rinconis with cacti pollen still stuck in her hairs, collected by Don Harvey in Pima County, Arizona.
Sam Droege

See the West’s overlooked pollinators — like never before

Sam Droege has worked on many wildlife surveys for the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Now, hes cataloguing our nations bees. Volunteers send specimens that Droege and fellow researchers photograph with care, giving viewers a close look at the wild pollinators of the West.


With Picacho Peak in the background, Rodney Shedd turns a cotton field. According to the Shedds, getting loans for new equipment will be difficult for them under new drought negotiations.
Ash Ponders for High Country News

One family makes sense of losing its Colorado River water

Tony Davis explores what the over-allocation of the Colorado River means for one family farm. Ash Ponders photographs show the small details of the Shedd familys drying land as they plan for a new water reality.


Brian Cornell and Alberto Rulloda, Hayward, California, 1989.
Blake Little

A photo exhibit asks viewers to ponder whether, in reclaiming the idea of the cowboy, gay rodeos renounce violence or reinvest in it

As gay rodeo expands the notion of what a rodeo can look like, it also creates a more expansive view of queer culture — one that isn’t focused exclusively on cities, and in which LGBTQ people who embrace a rural lifestyle can feel at home, too. Emily Benson analyzes the hyper-masculine pageantry in Blake Little’s images from the late 1980s and early 1990s.


Wabiska Maengun and daughter Charlie. Maengun is a mother, softball coach, artist, arts administrator and a founding member of The Ephemerals, a musical group. She is of Cree/English descent from Kistiganwacheeng, Garden Hill First Nation, Canada.
Kali Spitzer

Through tintypes, Kaska Dena photographer Kali Spitzer creates collaborative images of her community

Instead of ‘Can I take your photo? I say, ‘Can we make an image together? Those small things can be followed up with action. I also try to check in with people that Ive created images with and talk about how I use them or where they end up.” Kali Spitzer delves into her image-making process.


Mono Lake, California
Aya Okawa

Salt lakes fade from chartreuse, to rust, to pale wastelands in photos taken by Aya Okawa

Soaring in a small plane above the desert landscape, photographer Aya Okawa captures these unique ecosystems at different stages of their progressions, as salt becomes more concentrated.


Miranda, joined by his mother, stepson, and partner, Erin Cuseo, holds his and Cuseo's newborn son, Wekta. The buffalos are extremely affectionate toward him and his family.
Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

One rancher’s plan to establish water buffalo in Colorado

Political and economic turmoil in rancher José Miranda’s home of Venezuela brought him to Carbondale, Colorado. He and his family now manage a herd of 18 water buffalo, a species that was listed as “exotic” in the state until 2014. Luna Anna Archeys photos show the close relationship the family has with their herd.


Researchers set fire to escaping methane gas trapped beneath a frozen pond near the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The naturally occurring phenomenon is exacerbated by thawing permafrost and increased plant decay caused by global warming.
Todd Paris/University of Alaska Fairbanks

Climate change research threatened by University of Alaska budget cuts

The University of Alaska stands to lose $130 million — about a 41% slash in state support to the university system, and 17% of UA’s overall budget. It is one of the biggest annual cuts to public higher education by a state in history, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. 


Enoch Foster embraces his third wife, Lydia, left, and his second wife, Lillian, right, as she holds her son Elijah, during a closing hymn and prayer at the testimony meeting.
Shannon Mullane for High Country News

Each year, Mormon fundamentalists gather on a remote slice of southeastern Utah

The Rock Rally is a private gathering; visitors need the hosts’ permission to attend. But every year, hundreds of polygamists visit Rockland Ranch, where they can carve out a place of their own in a remote corner of the West. Here, polygamy is accepted, even though the practice is illegal in the U.S. Shannon Mullane and Nate Carlisle give viewers a glimpse into the gathering.


After the shooting of sea lions was outlawed, their numbers nearly tripled between 1975 and 2008. Fishermen are left with few options to deter them.
David Merrett/CC via Flickr

West Coast fishermen have few options against sea lions

Until the late 1950s, fishermen freely shot at sea lions encroaching on their boats. Oregon even paid people to track down and kill the animals for $10 per carcass. But when the species’ population plummeted to the verge of collapse in the 1960s, conservationists stepped in. Now, seal bombs are the deterrent of choice, and they’re not very effective.


While making a circle around Alcatraz Island, Chief Cortney Russell leads her canoe in a song.
Jolene Yazzie/High Country News

A canoe journey to Alcatraz on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Nineteen families from the U.S. and Canada, in 32-foot-long canoes, paddled from San Francisco’s Aquatic Park out to Alcatraz Island. Some drove from Chilliwack, British Columbia — over 900 miles — to be a part of the commemorative journey. Photographer Jolene Yazzie rode with them, and presents images from 50 years after the original Alacatraz occupation. 


Condon, Montana residents learn about managing bears in their community at a Bear Fair hosted by Swan Valley Connections.
Andrea DiNino/Swan Valley Connections

From electric fences to special garbage cans, rural communities find new tools to help them coexist with bears

A rebound in Montana’s grizzly bear population means a rise in human-bear encounters. Helen Santoro reports on how small towns in the state are living with their new neighbors.


Twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays the acting troupe known as the Legends of Texas provides spectators with pistol duels and historic reenactments from the mid- to late-1800s in High Noon-style showdowns.
TOMO for High Country News

When it comes to the myths and images of the West, Fort Worth, Texas, has created a cottage industry

If the Old West is a fantasy, the Stockyards is its muse. It’s clean and tidy, with no hint of the brutal scalp-hunters or paramilitaries who attended to the expansion of the nation’s frontier, no acknowledgement of their victims or their violent legacy. Tristan Ahtone and photographer TOMO document the attractions drawing visitors from around the world

Can’t get enough photography? Check out our photo galleriesEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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