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Know the West

Savoring the horror stories


(This is the editor's note for an April 2014 special issue of the HCN magazine devoted to travel in the West.)

I'll never forget the time I was hiking with my five-months-pregnant wife in Bryce Canyon National Park in remote rural Utah. An unexpected November snowstorm hit us, and Linda slipped on an icy path, fell and broke her wrist badly. As she rested in the passenger seat, cradling her swollen wrist on a pillow and battling the pain, I wound up driving all night, for more than nine hours, all the way back to our hometown, Tucson, because several small-town clinics we visited said the fracture was too complicated for them to set.

I'll also never forget the time Linda and I sought natural solitude by camping in cow-flop-ridden sagebrush near the Mexican border – lying atop our sleeping bags, sweating in the desert heat, while a loud Border Patrol helicopter flew back and forth over us all night, occasionally using its searchlight to make sure we weren't doing something illegal.

Or that time at the end of a trip to Yellowstone National Park, with Linda at the wheel, doing 55 on a Montana two-lane: We rounded a curve at dusk and ran over sharp rocks that had tumbled off a cliff, blowing out both front tires. Once she wrestled the crippled car to a stop without skidding into the Yellowstone River, and our pulses returned to normal, we realized we were 15 miles from the nearest tire shop. And when I hitchhiked there, it was closed on that Sunday night.

Those of us who love traveling around the American West – the backcountry, the rural settlements and the front-country cities – inevitably encounter difficulties like these. After we somehow muddle through, we tend to savor the memories. They're like good horror stories – a refreshing counterpoint to the gushing hype found in conventional travel magazines.

So I'm not surprised that more than 50 High Country News readers submitted their own horror stories to the contest we ran for our third annual special issue devoted to travel in the West. We're publishing some of those horror stories beginning on page 20, and the rest can be read on our website. They're a good exercise in empathy, and often hilarious; HCN readers have a gift for displaying good humor in the face of adversity.

The other, not-so-horrible stories in this travel issue range from the Southwest to Alaska, with detours to swat epic backcountry mosquitoes, see a display of junk car sculptures, slurp frosties at classic roadside stands, and more. We visit quirky museums, seek out Native American-related tourism, and meet a partly paralyzed hiker using crutches in the Grand Canyon. The stories embrace both the West's natural world and its human culture – the two primary facets of HCN's mission. We hope they inspire you to venture out, too, and explore this wonderful, endlessly fascinating region.

Ray Ring is an HCN senior editor based in Bozeman, Mont.