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Backpacker Magazine – April 2003

The Wild List: A Guide To The Best Outdoor Spots

A definitive guide to the hottest, sweetest, looniest, and most colorful spots in the great outdoors.

by: BACKPACKER Editors

Easiest Place To Find Rattlers
Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

Jeez, just ask any decent herpetologist, and he'll point you to these mountain islands in southwestern Arizona. It's the only place you'll ever spot very rare species like the banded rock, ridgenose, or twin-spotted rattler. Just keep one eye out for blacktails and the other on the soaring, rocky scenery.

Where To Hear Yourself Think
Olympic National Park, WA

There's no quieter spot in the Lower 48. So says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has exhaustively measured sound levels in many of our national parks. Why is Olympic so silent? Our sound man says it's a combination of no bisecting roads, few chattering tourists, even fewer commercial overflights, and dense, wet forest.

Best Place To View Wild Sex
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL

From hundreds of yards you hear a clacking cacophony, like the collision of a million plastic bowls. Move closer and it gets weirder. A bizarre orgy takes place each spring on this barrier island refuge, during the high tides of the new and full moons. The beach is pocked with writhing mounds--the climactic mating of thousands of horseshoe crabs, ancient kin of the spider, the scorpion, and the tick.

Sweetest Backcountry Aroma
Kalalau Trail, HI

There are hundreds of miles of prime hiking on Kauai, but we're drawn to the serpentine 11-mile Kalalau Trail. And not for the stunning views of deeply fluted valleys and cloud-shrouded cliffs, but because the Na Pali Coast Trail--as it is more commonly known--is, quite simply, the best-smelling walk we've ever taken.

Any tropical hike presents a riot of olfactory delight, especially to someone who lives in suburbia. But the Kalalau is a true symphony of smell. As you traverse the beaches and valleys along the trail, occasional oboe-like highlights reach out: Is that curry? (You bet, in the form of buffalo grass.) Come on, eucalyptus and pine, down here? (Certainly, if the wind blows through the forests of nearby Kokee State Park.) What smells like fruit punch? (That would be the thousands of crushed guava that turn the trail into a sticky, aromatic mess, and the mangoes that grow wild in the valleys.) It's sweet enough to keep keep us haoles coming back time after time.

Best Place To Work On Your Tan
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

Slather on your sunscreen and drive 40 clicks north of Yuma to this uncrowded desert park. The payoff: more than 325 days of sunshine a year, 7 inches of annual rainfall, and an average high temperature of 84°F. Avoid summer and the conditions will likely be perfect.

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