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Know the West

Good news still exists

The West saw many challenges this year, but there were also joys to be found.


What does last month’s Election Day mean for the West? A lot happened outside the drawn-out, deeply divisive presidential contest, as our roundup of down-ballot races and measures reveals. Will gray wolves make a comeback in Colorado?  What’s up with guns in Montana, drugs in Oregon and California’s gig economy? Are Westerners really serious about criminal justice reform, or willing to pay more for climate and conservation? Which states flipped blue, or went deep red? Outside the headlines, this election saw many firsts, including an influx of Native women into state politics.

Evanston, Wyoming, where the historic Railroad Roundhouse (curved building, center), built by Union Pacific Railroad in the early 1900s, still anchors the town.
Russel Albert Daniels/High Country News

Our feature takes us to the Wyoming city of Evanston, which is still recovering from a bitter fight over a proposed detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation. Where supporters saw the promise of well-paying jobs, opponents beheld the specter of a system that splits up families at the border. The question “What price for economic salvation?” isn’t a new one in the West, but it’s instructive to look at how abruptly divisions can form between friends and neighbors, in a dynamic that clearly isn’t confined to just one part of the nation.

“What Works” is HCN’s solutions-oriented department, and I like to think it’s near the front of the magazine for a reason: to remind readers and editors that good news still exists. This issue, we learn how health officials in Newport, Oregon, responded once they realized that essential information on COVID-19 wasn’t reaching some immigrant farmworkers, who spoke neither English nor Spanish, but rather an Indigenous Mayan language. Newport’s solution — a hotline that connected people in Oregon with Mam speakers in Guatemala — could prove a boon for the West’s growing number of Indigenous immigrants.

Don’t miss our photo essay on the annual Arizona Black Rodeo in Phoenix, a necessary and joyous correction to the erasure of Black cowboys from standard Western mythology. Then mosey over to our reviews section for new titles, including recommendations from some of the West’s most interesting authors. I defy you to not find at least one volume you’ll long to immerse yourself in.

Katherine Lanpher, interim editor-in-chief

I flat-out love Olivia Durif’s essay about the time she spent working at a rural Washington ranch with a conservation cemetery.  In digging graves for natural burials, Durif discovered the joy and humanity that can be found in mourning. As she writes: “One small cemetery makes death feel human-sized.”

This has been such a challenging year, with troubles that feel supersized, not human-sized. May your own worries shrink to burdens you can carry. May you find your very own “What Works.”  Stick your head in a book or throw your arms around the neck of a horse. Remember that the mysteries of life go beyond politics. We’ll see you next year.

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