Photos of the American West
Don White/istockphoto

30 Stunning Photos of Iconic Landscapes in the American West

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Photos of the American West
Don White/istockphoto

Photos of the American West

The American West takes more than its fair share of attention in the world’s imagination — unless you’re talking square footage, and then the West gets exactly its fair share. Diverse and dramatic, stunning scenes of America’s beauty abound, but they aren’t easy to access. A six-hour drive is nothing unusual for residents of the area, and many of the best scenes require long drives down rutted roads or hikes under difficult conditions. Here, though, we have access that requires nothing but some Wi-Fi and your most comfortable chair.

Related: 18 Towns Where You Can Still Experience the Wild West

Death Valley, California
Dean_Fikar/istockphoto

Death Valley, California

The desert is a place to get lost in your thoughts, where subtle gradations of color and light require close attention. It’s also a place where getting lost can be deadly. At 3.3 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the continental United States. It’s a land of extremes, with elevations ranging from 282 feet below sea level to mountains above 11,000 feet. Summer temperatures rise to 120 degrees, and an average of 2 inches of rain falls a year. Check out today’s conditions in Timbisha Village, home of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.

Crater Lake, Oregon
Dendron/istockphoto

Crater Lake, Oregon

The deepest lake in the nation (and in the top 10-deepest on Earth) isn’t near any large cities, but tourists still flock there for the intensity and clarity of its blue waters. It fills a near 2,000-foot-deep caldera formed more than 7,000 years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mt. Mazama. Because of its great depth, longer waves of light are absorbed, leaving shorter waves, such as blue, to dominate the color of the water.

Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana
mtnmichelle/istockphoto

Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana

It’s never easy to tour the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, and that’s part of its magic. There are no roads through "The Bob," and the only permanent structures are a few ranger stations and horse bridges. Staggering views abound here, from crystal lakes to craggy mountains. The area is home to the densest collection of grizzly bears in the lower 48.

Coldfoot, Alaska
Fantastic Geographic/istockphoto

Coldfoot, Alaska

This last-chance truck stop on the Dalton Highway is home to only 10 people, and the only lodging is a converted pipeline workers’ camp where rooms run more than $200 a night. Located above the Arctic Circle, it’s known for its proximity to the Brooks Range wilderness, its snowy mountain vistas, and the stunning Northern Lights.

Related: 30 Spectacular Photos of Hard-to-Reach Places

The Wave, Utah
tiny-al/istockphoto

The Wave, Utah

Just north of the Arizona border, these striated rock formations are strictly limited to the public, with only 20 hikers allowed a day — and only 10 of those can sign up in advance. Jurassic-Age sandstone dunes hardened and eroded into a vermillion ocean, where every view feels like stepping into an art gallery. After a rainstorm, depressions fill with water and tadpole shrimp.

Hanging Lake, Colorado
Jeremy Janus/istockphoto

Hanging Lake, Colorado

Just off of Interstate 70 is one of Colorado’s best-loved and best-hidden treasures. In fact, it was so loved that the U.S. Forest Service temporarily closed it to prevent irreparable damage, and a permit is now required to visit. No wonder it’s so popular: Up a rugged hiking trail, an emerald-green lake is tucked into the rocky cliffs, its jewel tones coming from dissolved carbonate in the water. It’s a view so magical, you expect to see fairies dancing upon the shore.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
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Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

At 8,200 feet, these massive, constantly shifting dunes are created by wind patterns in a niche of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Throughout the day, shifts in the light create a series of living Ansel Adams panoramas. Each May, the area is transformed by snowmelt as Medano Creek moves from a trickle to a torrent and Colorado finally gets its own waterfront beach.

White Sands, New Mexico
ferrantraite/istockphoto

White Sands, New Mexico

It’s the gypsum that gives White Sands dunes their blindingly white, glittering surface. In fact, though, those particles aren’t white; rather their scratched surfaces reflect the sun’s rays. On a moonlit night, the effect is otherworldly, as can be the summer heat, although the dunes’ surfaces remain cool to the touch.

Winfield, Colorado
DonaldEugeneHammond/istockphoto

Winfield, Colorado

Winfield, home base for area gold, silver, and copper mines, reached a population peak in 1890 at 1,500 residents. It’s been downhill since then, but plenty of ghosts still remain, brought to life by remarkably well-preserved log cabins and an outdoor audio tour. In all directions, the 14,000-foot stunners of the Collegiate Peaks soar, while down on the ground, Clear Creek runs alongside the town.

Related: 30 Great American Road Trips Through History

Lake Quinault, Washington
Photographer from Ukraine/istockphoto

Lake Quinault, Washington

This small wedge of privately owned land is inserted between Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest in northwestern Washington State. As a result, the towering pines of this temperate rainforest shade the rustic cabins and lodges that encircle the lake. How rainy is it? The area receives over 130 inches of precipitation a year. From the 1926 Lake Quinault Lodge, a National Historic Landmark, you can find panoramic views of the landscape.

Salton Sea, California
paule858/istockphoto

Salton Sea, California

This great inland sea is shrinking quickly. Its beginnings were rooted in disaster in the first decade of the 20th century, when the Colorado River overran irrigation controls in western Arizona. Long a destination for migratory birds and RV retirees, this body of water in the middle of the desert has a stark, otherworldly beauty.

Related: Once Popular Tourist Hotspots That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Sedona, Arizona
Dominic Jeanmaire/istockphoto

Sedona, Arizona

Iron oxide lends Sedona’s rocks the intense red hue that has made them famous; the evergreens surrounding the city offer a cool contrast. The area is a New Age mecca and the purported home of several energy vortexes. More prosaically, it is also home to the only McDonald’s with turquoise, rather than golden, arches. Cathedral Rock is a famed destination for its views of geology as well as the city.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Gerald Corsi/istockphoto

Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

Yellowstone River and Old Faithful draw crowds for their fame and their ease of access. Mammoth Hot Springs, in the northernmost area of Yellowstone National Park, is harder to reach but stunning for its travertine terraces, created by the slow drips that cause deposits of two tons of calcium carbonate a day. Water emerges at about 170 degrees, and algae give the terraces their colors of red, orange, green, and ochre.

Related: Stunning Photos of Every National Park in America

Wind River Valley, Wyoming
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Wind River Valley, Wyoming

This is "Brokeback Mountain" country, home to lush mountain meadows, rocky terrain, and the small towns featured in the 2005 film based on Annie Proulx’s short story. Just a few hours outside the posh Jackson Hole, this is a wild landscape that doesn’t see fleets of private jets. It’s also the home to Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation.

Denali National Park, Alaska
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Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali’s variety and intensity of experiences are matched only by its lack of accessibility. The 6 million-acre park is served by a single 92-mile road, and most visitors can travel it only by the school buses run by the park. Once there, chances of seeing North America’s tallest mountain are slim, as it is often hidden by clouds. Once you’re on the ground, of course, you have the elements and grizzlies to contend with. Online visuals abound; hear the sounds of the park through the National Park Service's Soundscapes feature.

Malaspina Glacier, Alaska
Malaspina Glacier, Alaska by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY)

Malaspina Glacier, Alaska

Malaspina spills from the Saint Elias mountains onto the coastal plain facing the Gulf of Alaska. With an area of 1 million acres, the glacier is up to 600 meters deep. Malaspina has lost 20 meters of depth in the past 50 years, contributing one-half of one percent of the world’s rising seas. Time-lapse satellite photos capture the shrinkage.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
AndrewSoundarajan/istockphoto

Cannon Beach, Oregon

The entire 362 miles of the Oregon coast is known for stormy waves crashing against the many rocks and sea stacks that cover it. The most-photographed of the bunch is Haystack Rock at the resort town of Cannon Beach. Watch the ocean roar in this TV news footage.

Related: The 20 Best Beaches on the West Coast

Mount St. Helens, Washington
thyegn/istockphoto

Mount St. Helens, Washington

The sight of the most destructive volcano in U.S. history inspires awe and a bit of horror 40 years later. But the area holds much more than just that shocking view of the caved-in mountain. The Ape Caves, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, are the name given to a more than two-mile-long lava tube, created nearly 2,000 years earlier when the same volcano erupted. Cool and dark, they inspire their own kind of awe, with a lot less fear.

Morenci Mine, Arizona
galinast/istockphoto

Morenci Mine, Arizona

A decidedly unnatural exception to this list, Morenci Mine is one of the largest copper mines in the United States, with 3.2 billion tons of copper reserves. High country pines turn into an arid, otherworldly landscape dominated by this engineering marvel/massive earthen scar. First prospected in the 1860s, it was the site of a massive military response to strikers in the 1980s. For good and for bad, it is a symbol of what humans can do.

Valley of Fire Road, Nevada
Wildroze/istockphoto

Valley of Fire Road, Nevada

Valley of Fire Road offers a drive through untamed desert just a few miles outside of Las Vegas. The road is rutted and twisty, and meanders through blazing red sandstone. Petroglyphs testify to the presence of humans 11,000 years ago, and the history of the area is important both to the Paiutes and Mormons. Get off the pavement with Hike with Mike.

Beartooth Highway, Montana
Danielrao/istockphoto

Beartooth Highway, Montana

Beginning in Yellowstone and continuing through northwestern Wyoming and southern Montana, Beartooth Highway winds through the Absaroka and Beartooth mountains. The road has views of glaciers on the surrounding mountains. Moose, elk, deer, and grizzly and black bears have free reign in the area. Its highest point is Beartooth Pass in Wyoming, at 10,947 feet above sea level.

City of Rocks, Idaho
thinair28/istockphoto

City of Rocks, Idaho

Idaho usually calls to mind thick, green forests and high mountains, but City of Rocks National Reserve reflects its proximity to the Utah border. At about three hours from either Salt Lake City or Boise, the park isn’t an easy place to access. The severe islands of rock were a major landmark on the California Trail in the 19th century; some still bear the names of travelers, written in axle grease from their covered wagons.

Monument Valley, Arizona
Don White/istockphoto

Monument Valley, Arizona

There’s nothing hidden about the scenery made famous in John Ford movies, but its distance from the highway makes Monument Valley a perfect destination to visit online. The Mittens, two enormous sandstone mutes with distinctive "thumbs," are its most photographed feature. Monument Valley is contained entirely within the Navajo Nation, which owns and manages the park.

Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, Arizona
Adventure_Photo/istockphoto

Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, Arizona

In a classic Southwest color scheme, water plunges over the red cliffs into turquoise pools below. The falls are in a part of the Grand Canyon contained within Havasupai tribal lands. The falls are accessible only by horseback, helicopter, or hiking.

Badlands, South Dakota
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Badlands, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is a geology buff’s dream, with its starkly striated pinnacles, buttes, and canyons. Fossilized skeletons of three-toed sloths and sabertooth cats have been found here, and legions of wildlife still make the area their home. The southern part of the park is co-managed between the National Park Service and the Oglala Lakota tribe.

Superstition Mountains, Arizona
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Superstition Mountains, Arizona

Just outside of Phoenix, the cooler air of the Superstitions comes with steep trails and hairpin turns in the road. Saguaros are scattered through the lower elevations, and other cacti make the volcanic peaks their home. The tiny town of Apache Junction is hidden within the mountains; it was once the location of Apacheland, an 1,800-acre movie set that burned down in 1969.

Related: 77 Attractions to See While Driving Across the Country

Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California
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Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Sequoia National Park is famed for behemoths you can drive and walk through, but farther north in California is the less-trafficked Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The largest remaining old-growth redwood forest on Earth has more than 17,000 acres of virgin forest. Scattered about are albino "ghost redwood trees," stripped of color and absorbing poisons from the soil.

Santa Fe Plaza, New Mexico
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Santa Fe Plaza, New Mexico

The Santa Fe Plaza bears witness to nearly 500 years of the Pueblo Indian, Spanish, and Anglo cultures that flavor New Mexico. The adobe and wood buildings bore witness to both the Pueblo Revolt and the War for Mexican Independence. The 1610 Palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States; today it houses a state history museum.

Canyonlands National Park
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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Another unforgettable and iconic national park in Utah, Canyonlands showcases more of the unique and dramatic arches, buttes, and expansive desert landscapes that southeastern Utah is so famous for. Its immense desert landscape is home to hundreds of colorful canyons.

Great Basin National Park
Elizabeth M. Ruggiero/istockphoto

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

With its alpine lakes, limestone caverns, and some of the oldest trees on the planet, Great Basin National Park is a nature lover's dream. Park visitors will also find some of the darkest night skies in the country.