The West is the stories we tell

To truly know a place, seek out its hidden histories.

 

I lived in Tucson, Arizona, for about six years, and one of the best things about that sometimes sweltering place was being surrounded by mountains. During my first week in town, new friends and I drove the steep, winding road to the top of Mount Lemmon, past cactus, then piñon and junipers, and finally into the pines. We threw down our packs in a hidden grassy patch just half a mile from a trail, a place most people hiked past. I snuggled into my sleeping bag that night, happy to be on the mountain, ignorant of its disturbing history.

Most Tucsonans know the road up Mount Lemmon for its stunning views of waterfalls, desert and blocky cliffs; its rock climbers, cyclists and backpackers; its log-cabin vacation homes. Fewer know the road’s origins. During World War II, Native Americans and Asian Americans, among others incarcerated in a prison camp on the mountain, carved the road from ancient rock as forced laborers. They included Japanese Americans who were conscientious objectors; they had refused to fight overseas for a country that had detained their families. As the U.S. entered the war, it incarcerated thousands of Americans of Japanese descent in camps without due process or legal recourse, through a presidential executive order.

Today, some place names — Prison Camp Road, Gordon Hirabayashi Campground — hint at the mountain’s history. But it’s easy to hike, drive or bike on Mount Lemmon and never realize that you’re traveling a highway dug by prisoners.

I did not learn about Mount Lemmon’s World War II history in school; I came across it while researching the region’s ecology for a writing project. Nor was I taught the peak’s Indigenous history, spanning thousands of years before European colonization. Now, I wonder: What other stories of place and displacement, of community and landscape, are hidden in archives, personal diaries, family stories? Which stories about the West are ignored, while other stories are told and retold?

Maya L. Kapoor, associate editor
Luna Anna Archey/High Country News
In this special issue of High Country News, we celebrate storytelling from many different corners of the West. Through his graphic novel, actor George Takei recalls his own childhood internment during World War II, an experience he finds painfully echoed in the lives of detained migrants today. Meanwhile, writer and scholar Beth Piatote, who is Nez Perce from Chief Joseph’s Band and an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, conjures a sister hoping for family connection in the long shadow of Indian school separations.

You’ll also read about the history and future of the West’s water woes; queer Indigenous life in the Four Corners; the challenge of teaching writing students to wield their art as a force for change; and more. I hope these pages encourage you to seek out many more stories of the West, including your own.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE EDUCATION AND STEWARDSHIP (CES) COMMUNICATIONS DESIGNER
    Seeking an individual to design and develop marketing and support materials for a 1-year, 30-hour per week, grant-funded climate education program. Based in Durango, CO....
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL OFFICE MANAGER - BOOKKEEPER
    The Wyoming Outdoor Council is seeking an office manager-bookkeeper to join our team. The office manager-bookkeeper supports the program and administrative functions of the Wyoming...
  • HEALTHY RIVERS SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY
    WRA seeks a passionate attorney to join our Healthy Rivers team. The Senior Staff Attorney will research and advocate for wiser water management and updated...
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and will be accepted until: February 03, 2020. Overview Conservation Voters for Idaho (CVI) protects Idaho's environment...
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...