Faraway, favorite and less-than-famous places

  • Death Valley's "racetrack"

    Paul Lovine, CC via Flickr
  • EP Kosmicki
  • Bear tracks

    Tina Neal, USGS
  • Grand Mesa

    Paul Larmer

We asked our readers and staff to send in some of their favorite places in the West. Here's a sampling of their responses. Add your own in the comments!

California's Alabama Hills -- Not only was this rolling desert stippled with boulder outcrops the setting for Tremors, my family's favorite cult film, in which giant subterranean worms terrorize a rural outpost, it's also an ideal place to have an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner. Within striking distance are the craggy, gorgeous Eastern Sierra and Death Valley, the only place I know of where rocks move unassisted across flat ground. --Sarah Gilman, associate editor

A stretch of badland country between Powell and Cody, Wyo.:

In Wyoming's castled badlands 
I prefer to be near the ground
Where darkling beetles play

And marrow-marbled chunks
Of fossil bone lay waiting
For my father and me to find

There's so much to see in the badlands
In the wind-licked stony wash
Near blistered buttes and rusty slicks

Like the teeth of long-dead beasts
Gone ebony with age 
Eroding from the bone  --Marian Lyman Kirst, HCN fellow

Clipper Mills, Calif., is the zaniest "lost Sierra" town ever. It's between Challenge and La Porte, and is home to leftover hippies, lumbermen, sculptors and writers. It deserves not to be "lost" any longer. --Betty Ann Beauchamp, HCN reader

When you round a certain dun and dry corner of a trail in far southeastern Death Valley, your head sick with sun and your sinuses packed with particulate matter, and come upon Saratoga Springs, you might accuse a human of having constructed it, like some sort of birders' theme park. Egrets, mallard ducks and subtropical songbirds hang out within its spring-green ring of bulrush and saltgrass; animal tracks through sand mark a highway to that rarest of desert resources: water. But, of course, it's not for you to drink. If you go (February is best), bring your own. Lots of it. --Judith Lewis Mernit, contributing editor

I think one of the best places to visit is Bosque del Apache, N.M., for the Festival of the Cranes. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese arrive in the winter, in this national wildlife refuge that is over 57,000 acres along the Rio Grande River. It is also an important migration corridor. --Janine Spencer, HCN reader

West of Cripple Creek, Colo., in the Rocky Mountains in the late ‘70s and mid-'80s, mysterious country beckoned: Dead Ox and Rattlesnake gulches, Four Mile Creek and Nipple Mountain, not to mention the evocatively named "Long Hungry Gulch." And there was one small but tall and flat-topped mountain my friends and I christened "Hole in the Ground," where you could look out at miles of rumpled land to the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo -- not a human light to be seen at night, except for your own glowing campfire. During certain sunsets, the valleys below you filled with colorful clouds, and you felt like you were perched on an island, the clouds a sea that surged beneath you and called you, always, to new adventures. --Diane Sylvain, copy editor and artist

I like Rabbit Valley. It's Mile 2 of I-70, just coming into or leaving western Colorado. Simple on/off the interstate, easy parking and a walk of less than a mile takes you out into the field where there are unrecovered dinosaur skeletons in the rocks. Usually, there's a guide folder available in a box at the beginning of the trail. You can see the whole place in less than an hour. --R.W. "Doc" Boyle, HCN reader

The town of Gold Beach, Ore., where the Rogue meets the Pacific. Kayaking, fishing, natural beauty and miles of unpopulated beaches. --Mike Maxwell, director of operations

Hot springs, which are plentiful in the West. I seek them out as I travel. For developed pools, my favorites include Ouray, Colo., snuggled below tall mountain cliffs, and Norris Hot Springs, a little funky Montana scene, where the operators have a tongue-in-cheek motto -- "Water of the Gods" -- and serve local-beef tacos and beer and wine to people soaking in the pool. --Ray Ring, senior editor

The main drag of Green River, Utah, is littered with the corpses of ‘70s-era motels, a gold mine for those fascinated by urban decay. Amtrak runs through there, and the roadside stands are bursting with locally grown melons in the fall. One of the only open bars in town, Ray's Tavern, has a good microbrew selection, and their hamburgers are huge. Don't miss the John Wesley Powell River History Museum; the man, a Civil War hero, only had one arm! The state park's campground advertises "No Hookups," which always makes me laugh. -- Emily Guerin, HCN reader (and soon-to-be intern)

At the beginning of every summer, I head up through extensive aspen forests to the small lakes/reservoirs dotting western Colorado's Grand Mesa. Here I can languidly paddle the marshy shorelines, looking at brook and rainbow trout below, and glacier lilies, damselflies and western tanagers above. To avoid crowds, go on a weekday in late May or early June, when the snow has just left the roads. --Paul Larmer, executive director

Any place where you can follow the distinctive trails created by grizzlies, and feel the shivery awe of putting your feet precisely where hundreds of the huge bears have stepped. One such spot: a grassy bluff on the banks of the Utukok River in northwest Alaska, where, over decades or even centuries, bears walking in each other's tracks have left a distinct line of separate, foot-long pawprints, each worn deep into the tundra and fringed all around with grass. --Jodi Peterson, managing editor

The far northwest corner of Colorado is the little sister of Four Corners and should be called Three Corners, where Utah, Colorado and Wyoming meet. Why go here? It's quieter and more remote than Four Corners. Some of the largest elk in the United States inhabit the area. And the star-gazing is extraordinary. --E.P. Kosmicki, HCN reader and photographer

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