Not As Bad, But Still Not Nice

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1994

Not As Bad, But Still Not Nice

Seven other places where you can expect the unexpected
By Debra Shore

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
This is a drive-through park, so it's not surprising that much of the crime involves vehicles. In one sad case, a drunk driver collided head-on with an elderly couple, killing the husband. More of a threat to the average visitor, though, is the flotsam that cruises the major thoroughfare, U.S. 441, looking for cars to steal or loot. Bobby Joe Phillips, who's been linked to 114 break-ins in the region, was arrested in the park for the third time last November. Last year the park recorded 152 break-ins and six auto thefts, but criminal investigator Bill Acree estimates that half the break-ins go unreported. Be especially careful at the Davenport Gap trailhead in Cocke County, Tennessee--known locally as the chop shop capital of the East Coast.

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
Thirty percent of the people we contact have a warrant out for their arrest," says special agent Ron Pugh. Most of these unsavory characters are attracted to the area because it's prime hunting turf for entrepreneurs seeking valuable wild mushrooms, most notably the matsutake, worth anywhere from $10 to $600 a pound. These pickers are secretive about their favorite spots, work for cash, and are reluctant to report conflicts to the authorities. Hence forest law-enforcement officers were unable to prove--or disprove--rumors that four Asian pickers were killed last season. (It's a fact, however, that one was murdered in the fall of 1992.) Pugh also predicts conflicts between game and mushroom hunters this fall. "The hunters are trying to sneak through the brush quietly. The pickers yell and shoot into the air to communicate," he explains. "This is obviously not an ideal situation."

Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas and Oklahoma
Ironically enough, here in Clinton's home state sprawls one of the top five national forests in marijuana cultivation. Last year a drug interdiction team made 14 felony arrests and eradicated 41,938 marijuana plants from 1,936 sites. In 1992, agents found eight booby traps at five sites in and just outside the park. Law-enforcement officers have also discovered a rifle attached to a trip wire, a bear trap, and fishhooks strung at eye-level. Hot spots in the last three years have been along the Arkansas-Oklahoma line, though more growers are moving onto paper-company inholdings: Weyerhaeuser alone owns (and rarely polices) 600,000 acres within the 1.7-million-acre forest.

BLM Las Vegas District, Nevada
The city of Las Vegas casts more than its lurid neon glow into the surrounding desert. The malcontents who frequent the 6.6 million acres that radiate from the city will shoot anything that moves and much that doesn't: parked cars, utility poles, wild horses, one another. Last November, three members of the 28th Street Gang were caught practicing drive-by shooting with silhouette targets on a side road. Chief ranger Randy August estimates that half of the incidents dealt with by his staff involve weapons. The magazine Soldier of Fortune hosts its annual gathering of would-be merceneries and commandos here, natch.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
Rangers at this lonely monument, which shares 31 miles of international border with Mexico, estimate that they detain 15 to 20 illegal aliens a month and that the $3.5 million worth of drugs they confiscated last year wass only about 8 percent of what actually came through. On New Year's Day 1993, rangers found 154 pounds of marijuana hidden near an employee housing complex--and three armed men casing the area dressed in full camouflage gear. And last April, rangers and the Border Patrol concluded a five-week series of busts in which more than 600 pounds of pot were confiscated, mostly from backpackers en route to drop-off points along Arizona 85.

Olympic National Park and National Forest, Washington
In October 1993, a park crew unearthed $702,500 Canadian buried in five canisters on the park's coastal strip--later determined to be a fraction of the profits from an estimated 25 tons of hashish smuggled in through the area the year before. In 1991, investigators also found a methamphetamine lab, a hash-oil processing facility, and two marijuana grow-rooms on a five-acre private inholding near Quinault Lake--and have yet to deal with the chemical residue that drained into the ground 30 feet from a stream. Park rangers have made 116 drug busts in the last three years on park roads and in campgrounds, while local addicts have taken to mugging the adjacent forest, felling and selling cedar to feed their habits. What they're leaving behind isn't great either: Law-enforcement officers have learned to step lightly in the Sol Duc District, where this year alone they've found more than 240 used hypodermic needles. Last but not least, five sexual assaults have been reported in the park in the last two years, including a case in which a concession employee attacked a 16-year-old visitor.

Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Just 20 miles from Deschutes National Forest, this is a playground for a different breed of miscreant. Cruise Oregon 224 above the Clackamas River near North Fork Reservoir and check out the bull's-eyes and photographs tacked up by Portland gangs for drive-by target practice. Anyone remotely interested in a family camping experience should avoid the vicinity of Bagby Hot Springs, 65 miles from Portland, between 4 P.M. and 10 A.M., when weapons-toting neo-Nazis and a variety of gangs occasionally butt heads. But Larch Mountain, adjacent to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, is the forest's most popular shooting gallery. You can't miss it: The trees look like they've been mowed down with a .60-caliber machine gun.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!