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BLM Hiking: Land of Opportunity

If you look beyond the occasional cow, you'll find the BLM has lots of ruggedly beautiful land to offer. No mining, no oil rigs, just lots of solitude.

Lockhart Basin, Utah

“See the area before it’s filled with oil wells.” A pitch from the West’s most inept tourism bureau? Hardly. It’s sage, and a tad sarcastic, advice from Kevin Walker of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (www.suwa.org). BLM officials have approved two wells but the National Park Service considers Lockhart Basin “a logical part” of nearby Canyonlands National Park, says Walker. Still, it could take two years to annex the area. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you’re hankering for true Edward Abbey backcountry, this is your destination: vertical orange walls rise above blue-gray shale badlands, minus the crowds or trails of more popular national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon. And are the folks sticking to those national parks missing out! Rocks balance precariously on tiny spires and yellow prickly pear flowers peek out from between sharp spines. Pottery shards litter the deep backcountry and lucky hikers may cross paths with mountain sheep or cougars.

Location: About an hour south of Moab. To reach Hatch Point on the basin’s rim, take UT 191 south to the exit for Needles Overlook. Proceed west toward the tablelands. To reach the basin, continue south on UT 191 to the Needles exit, and head for Canyonlands National Park. Turn north on the dirt road near the park boundary.

Hiking it: It’s about a 2,000-foot drop in some places from rim to basin, and there are no established routes up or down. In other words, proceed with caution and carry a compass and accurate maps. Pack in all your water. It’s best to hike in the cooler, snowless months of March, April, October, or November.

Resources: Above the basin’s rim: BLM, 82 E. Dogwood, Suite M, Moab, UT 84532; (435) 259-6111. Below the rim: BLM, 435 N. Main St., Monticello, UT 84535; (435) 587-1500. Topos include LaSalle 1:100,000-scale map and 7.5-minute quads Eight Mile Rock, Harts Point North, Lockhart Basin, North Six-Shooter Peak, Schafer Basin, and Trough Springs.

White Mountains National

Recreation Area, Alaska

You half expect Jack London and White Fang to step out from behind a black spruce or rock outcrop in this million-acre tundra-lover’s paradise.

Beginning about 30 miles north of Fairbanks, the White Mountains offer ridgelines speckled with alpine tundra and lush riparian lowlands fed by rushing waters, most notably the National Wild and Scenic Beaver Creek. The fauna, too, is from the pages of The Call of the Wild: grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou, and dall sheep.

Two trails provide access to the area. Summit Trail runs 22 miles above treeline, then plunges into the Beaver Creek drainage to a newly built recreation cabin. Quartz Creek Trail stretches 16 miles into the Alaskan high country to its namesake watershed.

Location: North out of Fairbanks, take Elliott Highway to milepost 28, which accesses the Summit trailhead. For Quartz Creek, follow Steens Highway to milepost 57 and turn toward Mt. Prindle Campground.

Hiking it: The White Mountains’ two trails undulate gently across alpine ridges before ending with steep descents into riparian bottomlands. Elevations range from about 1,200 to 2,700 feet. Alaskan weather is notoriously unpredictable and arctic winds can send temperatures plunging within minutes, so be prepared for all conditions. This is bear country, so watch for grizzlies; food must be stored according to recommended methods. Stream crossings can be risky in summer, when heavy runoff raises the water levels.

Resources: BLM, 1150 University Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99709; (907) 474-2200. Ask for recommended maps.

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