Your uncomfortable Western corners

Readers respond with unique encounters and uneasy revelations in the region.


We asked readers: Where in the West have you traveled that helped you understand an uncomfortable truth about the West? Here is a sampling of their answers.

Noisy truth at 14,000 feet
Mount Sherman, Colorado
My husband has been working on Colorado’s Fourteeners since he was about 14. We are nearing 64. One year I decided I needed to climb at least one so I could experience what he held so dear. So we decided to climb Mount Sherman. As I slowly approached the summit, I started to hear the roar of a motor. What was that noise? I struggled to reach the top and looked over at the Henderson molybdenum mine. My heart sank as I realized my effort to achieve what I thought would be an enlightening experience just gave me a bird’s-eye view of a giant machine chewing up a mountain. It was then that I realized that the quaint mines dotting the hills were really just industrial sites in the middle of pristine wilderness. It was my first — and last — Fourteener.
— Kerry Coy

Rian Laub

Heartbreaking abstraction becomes reality
Tucson, Arizona
I lived two hours north of Tucson in 2011 and was in town the day Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot. My husband and I attended the vigil at the hospital later that evening. The fact that someone could so easily get a gun and shoot a group of people in a Safeway parking lot — including a child — had always felt like an abstraction until that day.
— Anna Wilde

From paintings to “progress” in remote places
Santa Barbara, California
I live in Santa Barbara and don’t travel much, but I have sailed and backpacked the remote areas of this county. The Chumash lived here for 15,000 years and left a few rock paintings. The newcomers settled here a little over 200 years ago and have nearly turned the area into a dead zone. That’s progress.
— Thomas Harper

Mike Baird/CC Flickr

A camping trip turned more rugged than planned
Mesa, Arizona
I took my new son-in-law for an overnight hike into the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. It was October, and the weather in the Phoenix Valley was sublime. This was not a backpacking initiation, as I had both a packhorse and a BLM-adopted wild burro to pack the gear. I put the “comforts of home” (our tent and two warm sleeping bags) in a duffel and securely — I thought — attached it to the horse’s pack saddle. With a late start, we could not reach the destination. It was pitch-dark. But somewhere along the way, the duffel fell off the horse, and we had to set up camp huddled under sweat-saturated saddle blankets at 4,100-foot elevation.
— Tom Taylor

Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/ CC Flickr

Fitting in a little too well post-election
Farmington, Utah
The day after the 2016 presidential election, my friends and I needed some recuperation time in the desert. We packed food, beer, whiskey and guns. A couple of us stopped at Cabela’s on the way to get ammunition and propane. During checkout the employee scanned our propane too many times, and when we pointed it out, his response was, “Oh, whoops, you don’t need that much propane. We won the election; no need to head to the hills now.” Little did he know, that was exactly what we were doing — because we had lost. But we were diesel-truck-driving, gun-toting, public-land-visiting Utahns, so how could we be disappointed with a Trump presidency? The assumption we shared his views was unnerving and uncomfortable. We left the store shaking our heads, bound for The Swell.
— Erin Bragg

Rachel Zurer/CC Flickr

Deep divides
Central Oregon
Seeking solace from the cacophony of the presidential election, my family traveled to our favorite place in our beloved state: central Oregon, with its striking volcanic edifices, ponderosa pine forests and sagebrush steppes. We stayed at our usual cabin in LaPine State Park and explored the Deschutes River with our 3-year-old son, nourishing ourselves in nature. We took a day trip to Christmas Valley, passing myriad election signs en route, predominantly reading “TRUMP / PENCE.” Our new president-elect, and all the moral and ethical bankruptcy he represented, was inescapable. These thoughts lingered as we visited Crack-in-the-Ground, a remarkable 1,000-year-old fissure deep in the earth with jumbles of intimidating boulders and grassy, intimate paths between them. It occurred to us that in descending this cleft we were also navigating a metaphorical divide among our own fellow citizens, one entrenched in the history of this country but now painfully pushed to the foreground.
— Matthew P.

Scott Dietz


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