Table of Contents


Mountain biker on Rutabaga Trail
Photo by Todd Abbotts/Abbotts Photography

Colorado Mountain Bike Association

It’s hard to believe, but as late as 2018, there were zero purpose-built, mountain bike-only trails in the pedal-happy Front Range. Today there are five, with at least three more scheduled to open in Idaho Springs next summer. This isn’t just a boon for local fat tire fanatics, who have long clamored for the professionally designed two-wheel turnpikes growing in popularity throughout the West, says Gary Moore, executive director of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COMBA), the driving force behind the building spree. Separating user groups can create a better experience for everyone. Take Rutabaga Ride, COMBA’s latest project. Before the intermediate, 3.5-mile singletrack opened in Jefferson County’s Lair o’ the Bear Park in May, everyone was forced to share the park’s steep, narrow, and rocky Bear Creek Trail. “Now,” Moore says, “hikers and runners are like, ‘We really appreciate you taking those hooligan mountain bikers and putting them on another trail so that we don’t have to fear for our lives!’ ” —Nicholas Hunt


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Samuel D. Hunter

An Oscar darling this year, The Whale won two Academy Awards, including a best actor statue for Brendan Fraser for his portrayal of an obese writing instructor in his final days. But the film also owes some of its success to its setting: Moscow, Idaho, which happens to be the hometown of the screenwriter, Samuel D. Hunter. In fact, the New York–based playwright sets most of his works in Idaho because its geographic seclusion makes it an unknown entity and therefore a blank slate for his audiences. In The Whale, which was based on Hunter’s play of the same name and draws on his experience attending a fundamentalist Christian school as a young gay man, that remoteness also reinforces the film’s themes of isolation and redemption. “I just feel so connected to Idaho,” says Hunter, whose great-great-grandfather was Moscow’s first postmaster, “in this almost generational way.” —Andrea Clark Mason

Vladem Contemporary

Beaded artwork
Inspired by bloomers, Angela Ellsworth’s sculpture, Pantaloncini Work No. (indeterminate
stillness) (Emma), is made of thousands of tiny pins. Photo courtesy of the artist and Lisa Sette Gallery

New Mexico
A few years before the New Mexico Museum of Art celebrated its 100th birthday in 2017, staffers realized the state-run institution had strayed from exhibiting living artists. Its new Vladem Contemporary gallery, a museum annex located in a converted warehouse that previously housed the state records and archive center, rectifies that. The space devotes nearly 10,000 square feet strictly to contemporary art, including a chandelier of gnarled crystal by Lee Bul and a chrome, polka-dot pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. The extra room, however, isn’t just about displaying more art; it’s about being able to amplify creators from diverse cultural backgrounds who were largely excluded from older styles, such as the modern art movement extending from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Along with September’s grand opening, the museum also debuted its inaugural show, Shadow and Light ($12; through April), a celebration of the natural illumination that has lured artists such as Angela Ellsworth to the Land of Enchantment for decades. —Barbara O’Neil

Chip Thomas

Chip Thomas head shot
Photo by Kyle RM Johnson

In August, Chip Thomas retired after 36 years as a physician at the Navajo Nation’s Inscription House Health Center in Arizona, giving him more time to devote to his alter ego: the artist Jetsonorama. Travel U.S. 89 north from Flagstaff, and you can’t miss the larger-than-life, black-and-white portraits of Navajo people he’s been placing on abandoned buildings, billboards, and water towers since 2009. Closer to home, you can find “Buffalo Soldiers: reVision,” a permanent collaborative exhibition with seven other artists that debuted at Colorado’s Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center in June. In the show, Thomas’ works examine the 9th Cavalry—an all-Black Army regiment that was stationed at Fort Garland from 1875 to 1879—and the role it played in the displacement of Indigenous peoples. “As a Black man who has spent the last 36 years living and working on the Navajo Nation,” says Thomas, who now resides in Flagstaff, “I wanted to try to answer the question of why a Black person would come West and take part in massacring people whose situations weren’t dissimilar to his own.” —Stephanie Pearson


Huge eye installation
Photo courtesy of Sphere Entertainment

The Las Vegas Strip boasts no shortage of distinctive landmarks, so it’s quite an achievement for a new attraction to immediately steal the show. Yet that’s exactly what Sphere did in July when its 580,000 square feet of programmable LED lights—capable of transforming the entire exterior of the 17,385-seat performing and visual arts venue into a blinking eyeball, rippling drop of water, or photorealistic clone of the moon—debuted in Sin City. The interior of the $2.3 billion building is no less impressive: another 160,000-square-foot LED screen wraps around the audience, seats vibrate with the action, and a state-of-the-art audio system can even direct specific sounds to different sections of the audience so patrons have unique experiences, including hearing shows in different languages. —Brock Muñoz

Yellowstone Film Ranch

Western landscape with church & buildings
Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson/Yellowstone Productions

Just north of Yellowstone National Park sits what appears to be an 1880s-era ghost town—but it’s actually possessed by Hollywood. The collection of 30 buildings, including a saloon, church, and brothel, is a giant movie set and a growing economic engine for its corner of rural Montana. “When we do a movie, we first seek [vendors] from Park County, then we go into [greater] Montana,” says Carter Boehm, a producer who founded Yellowstone Film Ranch in 2020 with director Richard Gray and businessman Cullen Davis, two fellow Livingston, Montana, locals. So far, eight feature-length films, including this year’s Nicolas Cage vehicle The Old Way, have been shot at the ranch, and that kind of steady work has helped convince a handful of professionals to relocate from both coasts. But everyone benefits, from area restaurants and hotels to the Livingston thrift shops where costume designers often spend their budgets. —Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Vauhini Vara

Portrait of Vara
Photo by Rachel Woolf

After tech journalist Vauhini Vara became disillusioned by the industry she covered and left to go to grad school, her father joked that she should write a book about their family’s coconut grove. Little did he know that the jest would inspire Vara to pen her debut novel, The Immortal King Rao. Published in 2022, the sci-fi family saga follows a young Dalit boy (a member of India’s lowest caste) raised on a coconut farm who grows up to become the most influential CEO in a world run by corporations. “I ended up finding in fiction a way to critique things about the tech scene that I [couldn’t in journalism],” says the Fort Collins–based author. The acclaim was immediate: In 2023, Rao was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the Colorado Book Award for general fiction. As her own star rises—including the publication of her highly anticipated short story collection This Is Salvaged in September—Vara is elevating other writers of color as a mentor with Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Book Project and Periplus, a national writers’ community. —Daliah Singer


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Hecho en Westwood

Founded in 2020 as the RISE Westwood Collective, Hecho en Westwood’s original mission was simply to help the Denver neighborhood’s Latino- and BIPOC-owned businesses survive the pandemic. But what started as a support system, including an online shopping platform and centralized curbside pickup location for its members, has blossomed into a cultural force that bolsters Westwood’s economy and celebrates its community. Just this year, the neighborhood group launched the biannual Saigon-Azteca Night Market, in collaboration with other partners such as the Far East Center, and a free Danza Mexika after-school program for 18-and-unders. The Indigenous dance and spiritual tradition, which survived underground in Mexico after Spanish colonization, has seen a resurgence, says Hecho en Westwood Danza Mexika instructor Metzli Aragon. “We’re teaching the art of movement, the art of healing through movement,” she says, and that healing means reclaiming the culture that was forcibly taken from them. —Nicholas Hunt

Republic of Molossia

Man in uniform pictured at Republic of Molossia
Photo by Amy Lombard

The Republic of Molossia celebrated its 25th birthday on May 26—an impressive feat considering the tongue-in-cheek micronation’s 38 citizens, three of which are dogs, have won multiple wars with no army. (It certainly helps when your enemies are imaginary.) Located about 45 minutes outside of Reno in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Molossia does, however, have a navy of inflatable kayaks, a space program, currency backed by the value of cookie dough, and at least 29 national holidays. To mark His Excellency President Grand Admiral Colonel Doctor Kevin Baugh’s birthday, for example, there’s an annual pilgrimage to Olive Garden. Foreign tourists are welcome to visit the private, 11.3-acre property during monthly tours (April through October), but they should make a reservation due to the country’s petite proportions. Once there, His Excellency himself will give you a tour and even let you launch one of the space program’s model rockets. Just be careful not to accidentally start another war with neighboring Mustachistan. —­Jessica Giles

Zooey Zephyr

Zooey Zephyr portrait
Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

When Zooey Zephyr, the state representative for Missoula and Montana’s first transgender lawmaker, criticized a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors in April, Republican leaders forbade her from speaking, silencing her and her nearly 11,000 constituents. Then, her legislative colleagues voted to exile her from the House floor for the remainder of the session after Zephyr held her mic up to protesters in the house gallery chanting “Let her speak.” “I wanted to stand with them and raise my mic and say, ‘I hear you,’ ” Zephyr says. Instead of muzzling her, the expulsion led to more invitations from across the country to speak about LGBTQ rights, women’s leadership, and democracy, and the support she’s received back home has underlined her pride in her home state. “Montana, that’s where we stand up,” she says. “That’s where we fight back.” —Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Tribal Heritage Center Yellowstone National Park

The National Park Service has recently begun intentionally highlighting a terrible truth: For its parks to exist, Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their homelands. At Yellowstone, part of that recognition takes the form of Old Faithful Village’s new Tribal Heritage Center. Launched last year by the park and its nonprofit partner, Yellowstone Forever, the center spotlights 27 tribes historically associated with the land. “It’s not a museum,” says tribal engagement manager Alyssa McGeeley, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “It’s very much a living space. The people are here and able to tell their own stories.” That includes hosting a different tribal artist each week from May to October with specialties ranging from beadwork to photography to storytelling. During its second year, the center’s popularity has boomed, and it now attracts thousands of visitors each day. Says McGeeley: “I hear people saying, ‘I came here for this.’ ” ­—EKH

Tailyr Irvine

Woman sitting in golden landscape holding camera
Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

In journalism, the loudest work often attracts immediate attention. Loud stories can also flatten intricacies, and they do not always age well. Tailyr Irvine’s photography is not loud. Instead, the 30-year-old, Montana-based Salish and Kootenai photojournalist embraces the subtleties of life within diverse communities, many of them Indigenous. Whether she’s documenting the powwow circuit, a ceremony for a newly federally recognized tribe, or the traumatic legacy of residential schools, she embraces moments of candid surprise with a deep respect for her subjects. This is both an art and a public service, and for it, Irvine, who contributes to the New York Times and National Geographic, was recognized with a Vital Impacts Environmental Photography Grant last May. The $20,000 award is helping Irvine chronicle the return of Montana’s 18,766-acre Bison Range, a wildlife refuge that the federal government carved out of the Flathead Indian Reservation, to the stewardship of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. That transfer—and the connection between people and land it enables—is crucial and complex, so Irvine’s work will surely speak volumes. —Abe Streep


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Hand pouring sake
Photo by Grace Stufkosky

Atsuo Sakurai

Despite 10 years of training and certification as a first-grade sake maker, Atsuo Sakurai wasn’t able to land a government license to start his own brewery in his native Japan. So in 2017, he struck out on his own in Holbrook, Arizona, population 4,858. He would have made the move anyway—the tiny Southwestern city is his wife’s hometown—but Sakurai wasn’t sure how Holbrook’s arid climate would affect sake’s production process. He needn’t have worried; the town’s dry air is perfect for small batch, premium junmai ginjo sakes, some of which he infuses with ingredients from the surrounding desert, including prickly pears and, at the suggestion of his Navajo father-in-law, herbaceous greenthread whose leaves are traditionally used for tea. His East meets Wild West creations are earning plenty of awards, including a best-of-class recognition for his new golden-hued Petrified Wood sake at the 2023 Los Angeles International Wine Competition. —Ethan Pan

Restoration Pizza

New Mexico
When this Albuquerque pizza joint opened in 2019, it likely became the first for-profit restaurant in the state to actively recruit employees with disabilities—a strategy the company continued when it expanded to Santa Fe this past December. At both locations, staffers learn how to churn out Restoration’s fluffy-crusted pies using picture-centric recipes, color-coded measuring cups, and other visual tools with help from recruiting and experiences manager Audrey McCoy and, occasionally, mentors from organizations such as Best Buddies International, a Miami-based nonprofit that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the workforce. “Hopefully, our model encourages others in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to adopt more diverse hiring practices,” says co-owner and chief operating officer Jess Griego. After all, everyone deserves their piece of the pie. —Patricia Kaowthumrong


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Don’t call it used. It’s “unnew.” At least that’s how Salt Lake City–based Geartrade describes recycled gear. The digital consignment service underwent an overhaul in 2021 to make selling your old equipment and technical apparel painless. In practice, that means Geartrade sends you a free shipping label for the stuff you want to get rid of and, once the items arrive at its warehouse, set prices (which you have 48 hours to change to your liking), takes glamour shots, whips up product descriptions, markets the items on its website, and takes a small cut when they sell. That eco-friendly business plan earned Geartrade an Outdoor Retailer Innovation Award in front of a hometown crowd at January’s Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in SLC because the more used equipment we buy, the less that ends up in a landfill. But the company isn’t resting on its well-deserved laurels: It launched its own AI tool last winter to help identify and list the key features of each item, reducing processing time by more than 60 percent. —NH


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Milky Way seen over tent
Photo courtesy of Travis Burke

Under Canvas Lake Powell– Grand staircase

With a private slot canyon, locally sourced dishes, West Elm–appointed safari tents, and a limitless red rock panorama, it’s no surprise this Utah glamping outpost from Denver-based Under Canvas has won a slew of awards since it opened in 2021. This past August, however, the Lake Powell location earned its most impressive accolade yet as the world’s first DarkSky-certified resort. In fact, Under Canvas didn’t just receive the designation; it helped develop the certification in partnership with DarkSky International, a nonprofit that’s been protecting the heavens from light pollution since 1988. The process took two years to complete and included ensuring the resort’s starry nights would continue to do van Gogh proud by installing low-intensity light fixtures, developing educational materials for its guests, and protecting local nocturnal species. —NH

Field Station Moab

Interior of Field Station Moab
Photo by Matt Kisiday/Courtesy of Field Station Moab

If packing for your adventures often renders your Subaru’s rearview mirror useless, book a stay at Field Station Moab. The lodge, which opened in its namesake town in April, earns its adventure-ready reputation thanks to an on-site rental fleet of trekking poles, kid carriers, mountain bikes, sleeping bags, tents, and climbing equipment. The rooms lean into the outdoor vibe, too, with a campy (in the literal sense) aesthetic that includes portable electric coolers instead of mini-fridges and select rooms with climbing portaledges rather than love seats. To help you put its gear to good use, the hotel also hosts Mappy Mornings where staff and fellow guests will point you toward the best hikes, rides, and rock climbing routes. Whatever your chosen adventure, a roaring campfire will welcome you back each evening. So go ahead and linger over that hot chocolate—you might be heading home soon, but all you have to pack for the return trip is a duffel bag. —Courtney Holden

Kristie Wolfe

Crystal Peak Lookout
Photo courtesy of Crystal Peak Lookout

Kristie Wolfe started constructing her first short-term rental in 2013 on a half-acre plot on Hawaii’s Big Island. When that jungle treehouse became one of Airbnb’s most-wish-listed properties, the hammer-slinging Idaho native recognized that duplicating the design elsewhere would be good for business—but also boring. So, guided by a belief that “the fun part is doing something completely different,” she has since added a hobbit hole in Washington state and a six-ton, mixed-media potato-turned-micro-hotel (sleeps two) in Idaho to her portfolio. This summer, Wolfe returned to the skies with MoonPass Lookouts, a quintet of hand-built, glass-roofed fire watchtowers set to open in Wallace, Idaho, next summer. “I just do the thing I am most interested in doing,” she says, “and then hope that people show up.” With her Indiegogo fundraising campaign, which offered discounted stays in return for help on construction costs, crushing its $20,000 goal by more than 2,000 percent in August, it’s safe to say visitors will do exactly that. —CH


New Mexico
Hospitality executive Chip Conley didn’t think of himself as middle-aged—until he was asked to mentor the young team behind Airbnb in his 50s. The experience inspired the now 63-year-old to found MEA (formerly Modern Elder Academy) to help individuals ranging in age from 30 to 70 embrace their middle years. In 2018, MEA opened its first resort in El Pescadero, Mexico—where guests can attend workshops on navigating life transitions between walks along the Pacific Ocean and yoga classes—and the company is now expanding. This past summer, it launched a wisdom booth in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, where locally nominated elders offer free advice to the community, and in 2024, it will debut a second resort on a 2,600-acre ranch 25 minutes outside the city. In addition to MEA’s core curriculum, the retreat will host thought leaders such as British essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, who often writes about how travel can change lives. —Jen Murphy


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Exterior of The Record Exchange
Photo courtesy of the Record Exchange

The Record Exchange

When Record Exchange marketing director Chad Dryden and three of his co-workers took ownership of the 46-year-old downtown Boise music shop in 2021, their mission was to help the store thrive. So they partnered with its neighbor Neurolux (the Idaho capital’s legendary indie rock venue) and a private investor with strong ties to the local music scene this past spring to buy the building the store had been leasing. With its home secure for the foreseeable future, the Exchange leaned into the latest music trend: vinyl. To help do that, the store purchased 4,000 LPs from the family of a former customer who had lost a battle with cancer and placed memorial cards inside each album to share his story. It’s a perfect example of how Dryden and his co-owners see themselves less as the Exchange’s proprietors and more as its stewards. “If all goes as planned,” Dryden says, “when it comes time for us to retire, we will hand the store over to a group of employees much like the founders did with us.” —Visvajit Sriramrajan


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Mama bear & cub
Photo by Syler Peralta-Ramos

No. 399

Since their listing as an endangered species in 1975, grizzly bears have rebounded in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a three-state region that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. A large part of that success can be attributed to No. 399. The 27-year-old sow bear became the region’s oldest known ursine mom when she was spotted emerging from hibernation this past May with her 18th documented cub in tow. The birth was a borderline miracle: Not only have Greater Yellowstone grizzlies seen sharp decreases in recent decades of the foods they depend on, such as cutthroat trout and whitebark pine seeds, but female Yellowstone grizzlies also only have about a nine percent chance of reaching No. 399’s age, much less reproducing at it. She faced plenty of adversity to get there, including losing cubs to car crashes and almost being culled after she chomped a hiker in self-defense in 2007. To help keep her safe, Grand Teton’s volunteer Wildlife Brigade scours the park for unsecured food and helps manage the paparazzi that No. 399’s celebrity can’t help but attract. —NH

Native Seeds/SEARCH

A lot has changed for Native Seeds/SEARCH since it was founded 40 years ago. During its first two decades, the Tucson-based nonprofit focused on documenting and gathering seeds from heirloom crops across the Southwest before they disappeared, eventually stockpiling some 1,800-plus varieties. Since then, its mission has shifted to managing the seed bank it’s created, says executive director Alexandra Zamecnik. That means cyclically planting and harvesting its entire catalog to maintain its stores and distributing those seeds to Indigenous families and to schools and community gardens with regional or cultural ties to the Southwest. But Native Seeds makes some varieties available to gardeners and farmers everywhere, so its website is one of the few places you can procure certain native heirloom seeds, such as Colorado’s creamy Garcia Bolita beans. —EP