Published in High Country News, Readers’ essays on favorite spots to recreate

Location: The West
By Aaron Anderson

The best place to recreate in the West? It’s the unexpected place, the impulsive detour into the unknown.

I once drove the West with a good friend, on a trip that took three weeks. The hours behind the wheel were sometimes intolerable. Every day, we stopped to run, to stretch our legs and keep ourselves sane. (It reduced any sibling-style road-trip bickering.) Armed with only a Rand McNally Road Atlas, we would pick a patch of green on the map and hope for a trail.

These unplanned detours were the highlights of our trip. A quick exit off I-80 revealed Turtle Rock jutting out of the Wyoming plains, sunset illuminating the pine-ringed rock. We spent a joyful afternoon on the Skyline-to-Sea Trail, washed in the scent of eucalyptus and golden meadow on the California coast. A hot night run in the Mojave showered us with meteors, framed by sparkling stars and the craggy silhouettes of Joshua trees.

We spent one night in a roadside ditch in a national forest in Utah, stringing up our “emergency tube tent” just below the road. When the first dump truck roared overhead at 5 in the morning, our groggy annoyance was tempered by a view of golden peaks reflecting the soft sunrise.

This is not to disparage the Big Surs and Grand Canyons of the West — — there’s a reason people visit those places. (Heck, we certainly did.) Go explore the national parks, the mountains, the canyons, the coastlines! But whenever the opportunity strikes, on a trip or at home, take a moment and detour to someplace unknown.