More than pretty parks

  The secret's out. Some Bureau of Land Management land can rival the scenery of more famous - and more crowded - national parks. The BLM, in cooperation with more than 20 conservation and recreation groups, has just published Beyond the National Parks, a guide to Western public lands, which covers all the Western states, including Alaska and the Dakotas. It describes activities ranging from birdwatching and backpacking to four-wheel-drive touring. The broad scope may make the guide too general for longtime residents, but the guide's photographs, maps, and area descriptions are a good starting point for visitors who want to enjoy some of the West's "other" public lands. The book doesn't give it all away: a Colorado BLM official said she was relieved to see her favorite spots left out of the guide. Edited by Mary Tisdale and Bibi Booth, the 418-page book is available from the Smithsonian Institution Press for $19.95. Contact the press at 800/782-4612.

* Michelle Nijhuis