7 (hidden) wonders of the West

A tropical retreat, a desert oasis, and maybe the most beautiful mountain in the world … follow us to these saved natural treasures

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Moanalua Valley Hawaii

Oahu's Moanalua Valley dazzles with lush vegetation and IMAX-worthy views.

Thomas J. Story

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1. LUSHEST TROPICAL HIDEAWAY

Moanalua Valley, HI

The dense vegetation, the glimpses of the Ko'olau Mountains wrapped in mist, even the odd petroglyph - yeah, it does feel like you've been transported to the island in Lost. But this new 3,716-acre preserve (purchased by the Trust for Public Land and now owned by the state) is just minutes from downtown Honolulu. A short hike takes you into the gorgeous valley; if you're feeling more ambitious, continue up the ridge for stirring views of windward Oahu.

Where it is: At the end of Ala Aolani St., off I-H1 highway at exit 2, Honolulu.

When to go: Anytime.

INFO:  tpl.org

-Peter Fish

2. BEST PLACE TO SEE WHERE ANTELOPE PLAY

American Prairie Reserve, MT

With wide-open vistas and lumbering bison, the Great Plains grasslands exemplify the West. Now the American Prairie Foundation has begun to buy Montana ranchlands to stitch together federally protected land. The goal is to create a 5,000-square-mile preserve, 1 million acres bigger than Yellowstone, where not just buffalo roam but pronghorn antelope and elk bound, black-footed ferrets scamper, and hundreds of bird species swirl overhead. According to Sean Gerrity, president of the foundation, "We've got a chance to preserve an entire ecosystem. It's like protecting our own Serengeti." Rent something with four-wheel-drive, and experience the spectacle on a new, free self-guided tour.

Where it is: Off U.S. 191, 40 miles south of Malta, MT.

When to go: May and June to avoid early spring's muddy roads.

INFO:  americanprairie.org or 406/585-4600.

-Harriot Manley

3. MOST UNEXPECTED WILDERNESS

Wind Wolves Preserve, Kern County, CA

The San Joaquin Valley is California's most utilitarian landscape: flat farm fields divided by Interstate 5. But the Wildland's Conservancy's Wind Wolves Preserve shows what this world was like before agribusiness and SUVs. The 97,000-acre preserve runs from the valley into the Transverse Ranges, offering amazing views and refuge for animals like the San Joaquin kit fox. New this year: a visitor center and campgrounds.

Where it is: Off State 166 near Maricopa, CA.

When to go: Spring and fall are best.

INFO: Open Sat-Sun only; 661/858-1115.

-P.F.

4. BEST VIEW

Sperling Preserve, Goleta, CA

Entertainment types regularly pay millions for Santa Barbara blufftop views like this one. But at Ellwood Mesa's Sperling Preserve, you get the Pacific vista for free. Not that getting the preserve set aside was easy - it took Goleta residents (eventually aided by the Trust for Public Land and other local groups) three decades and about $20 million to acquire the land. "It's an extraordinary piece of property," says Cynthia Brock, former Goleta mayor. "Once you know it, you just love it."

Where it is: Hollister Ave., Goleta, CA.

When to go: Now, for vernal pools and the last of the preserve's monarch butterflies (they come back in November).

INFO: 805/961-7500.

-MacKenzie Geidt

 

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