Here and Gone

Our Homeland's Backyard Boondocks

Greeting the midnight sun, Brooks Range, Alaska.     Photo: Clyde H. Smith/ Peter Arnold

Baffin Island
WHERE THE HELL? Northern Canada, just shy of the Arctic Circle. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Baffin Island harbors some of the best big-wall climbing on the planet, but it's no mystery why the vertical-minded masses haven't exactly turned it into the next Yosemite. Nine months of below-freezing temperatures, no roads to the lonely interior, and the high cost of getting there are a few of the more delightful characteristics that keep its five-star granite cliffs the exclusive domain of die-hard or well-sponsored climbers. But roughly 12,000 Inuit occupy the coastal fjords, and their traditional dogsled routes provide highways for hardy explorers wishing to take on the spire-studded interior via sled or skis. The 125-mile Southwest Baffin Traverse takes you over sweeping snow valleys, frozen waterfalls, and the 3,000-foot Meta Incognita Peninsula, where nothing but the muted sound of skis breaking snow will cut the silence. ACCESS: Fly into Iqaluit from Ottawa ($375; First Air and Canadian North). NorthWinds Arctic Adventures offers a 12-day dogsled trip on the Baffin Traverse in March 2002 ($2,700; 800-549-0551; www.northwinds arctic.com). RISKS: You'll be asked to mush the sleds for part of the time—hold on tight. ESSENTIAL: A four-season tent built to withstand nylon-shredding Arctic winds.

Everglades National Park
WHERE THE HELL? Florida, 50 miles west of Miami. WHAT IN THE WORLD? The biggest wilderness east of the Rockies, the Everglades looks roughly the same as it did in 1889, when outlaw Edgar J. Watson went on the lam for an Oklahoma murder and successfully found sanctuary in its mazelike saw-grass jungle. Though near Miami's urban fray, the park's interior offers an untamed, island-speckled waterworld—home to crocodiles, manatees, panthers, and porpoises&3151;in which fit canoeists can reach mangrove-veiled chickees (wooden camping platforms), 500-year-old calusa-shell mounds with dry ground for camping, and meditative silence save for the late-night, Zen-like splashes of jumping mullet. Odds of seeing a ranger deep inside the park are low, so if Watson's success inspired any modern-day fugitives, you'll have to fend for yourself. ACCESS: Call Everglades National Park (305-242-7700; www.nps.gov/ever) for itineraries and $10 backcountry passes. For guided trips, contact North American Canoe Tours Incorporated (941-695-3299; www.evergladesadventures.com). RISKS: The labyrinthine mangrove swamps will leave inexperienced navigators lost in five minutes. ESSENTIAL: GPS receiver; Peter Matthiessen's chilling tale of Watson's demise, Killing Mister Watson.
Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness
WHERE THE HELL? Idaho, 100 miles north of Boise. WHAT IN THE WORLD? The 1.3-million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness has changed about as much as cold winters in Fargo since it was established nearly four decades ago. There are no roads, more than half of its trails haven't been maintained for 20 years, and the Forest Service's prescribed-burn policy allows wildfire—along with wolves and mountain lions—to govern land management. With a map and backcountry smarts, make tracks in September to the high and cool Bighorn Crags, a 10-by-30-mile stretch along the Lochsa Divide where deep ponderosa forests, glacial lakes, headwater streams, and barbed 8,000-foot peaks form a hermitworthy kingdom. Only four trails encroach on the entire area, says Bill Goosman, wilderness resource assistant at Moose Creek: "The likelihood previous to this article—and who knows what will happen after this article—of seeing another person is very low." ACCESS: Backpack into the Bighorn Crags by launching at the trailhead northeast of Selway Falls, at the dead end of Fog Mountain Road. RISKS: "It's very intimidating," Goosman says of the frequent wildfires. "Mother Nature's in full control." ESSENTIAL: Bear repellent (encounters are probable).

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
WHERE THE HELL? Northeastern Alaska, 258 miles north of Fairbanks. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Compliments of President Bush's energy plan, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been, well, drilled into the national consciousness. Result: A whopping 65-percent increase in tourism is expected this summer. Before you lose sleep over this potential second coming of Yellowstone, consider that if all 2,500 expected visitors arrive on the same day, each could still grab his own 8,000 acres of solitude. In an area the size of South Carolina, ANWR comprises a continent's worth of ecosystems in the form of coastal plains, rolling tundra, 18 major rivers, miles-long glaciers, and the 8,000-foot peaks of the Brooks Range, which fan down the North Slope to the Beaufort Sea. No visitor services exist here, but with bush plane—and bushwhacking—access only, all you'll need is crack orienteering skills, plenty of provisions, and an unlimited supply of free time. ACCESS: Fly commercially to Kaktovik, where you can hire a bush plane to your destination ($1,200­$3,000). Contact the refuge manager (907-456-0259; arcticrefuge@fws.gov) for a list of outfitters. RISKS: Fording raging rivers. Frequent grizzly encounters. ESSENTIAL: A fly rod. Arctic grayling and arctic char could provide an emergency meal.

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