2021 Editor’s Picks

This year, stories of uranium fortunes, tragic accidents, and creek freaks stood out to Alta Journal’s editors.

year in review, editors picks
Alta

We weighed web traffic, reader engagement, and input from the Alta Journal staff to come up with this list of must-read stories from Alta contributors who explored innovation, travel, history, and art throughout 2021.

“THE ACCIDENT ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL,” BY LOUISE FARR
pacific crest trail, san jacinto mountains, coachella valley
REUTERS/Alamy

Trevor Laher’s dream was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. But, despite the best efforts of fellow hikers and rescuers, he never made it home.
READ

“THE SAFE PLACE THAT BECAME UNSAFE,” BY JULIA FLYNN SILER
cameron house, san francisco
Penni Gladstone

A shelter for trafficked Chinese girls became a new place of horror after it was repurposed into a school run by a child abuser for decades.
READ

“BUTCHERING THE MYTHIC WEST,” BY JOHN FREEMAN
longhorn skull, cadillac
Cannon Photography/Alamy

Believing in the magic of the American West requires buying into some twisted versions of the truth. For one writer, those myths were built by his uncle’s ranch and John Williams novels.
READ

“THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT,” BY JOHN MARKOFF
xerces blue butterfly
Joel Sartore

The Xerces blue butterfly seemed lost forever when it went extinct in the 1940s. Now, a team of scientists in San Francisco are trying to bring it back.
READ

“FLIGHT OF THE CONDORS,” BY JOY LANZENDORFER
fuego, california condor, big sur
Tim Huntington

California condors are making a slow but strong recovery from being on the brink of extinction. But they remain rare and a sight to behold in the wild.
READ

“CALIFORNIA’S WHITE WINE PROBLEM,” BY SYDNEY LOVE
simonne mitchelson, justin trabue, cal poly san luis obispo
Christina Gandolfo

As the nation was confronted with systematic racism and police violence in 2020, one woman wrote an open letter to her colleagues that started a reckoning in her industry: wine.
READ

“AN OCCURRENCE AT SIERRA MOJADA,” BY GEOFFREY GRAY
ambrose bierce
Bettmann Archive

One of the greatest California writers, Ambrose Bierce, disappeared in Mexico when he was 71 and was never found. Gray imagined Bierce’s last moments, then took Alta on a trip to the Mexico desert to find his body.
READ

“BIDDY MASON AND HANNAH EMBERS WERE HERE,” BY SUSAN STRAIGHT
fort benson
James Ransome

California Historical Marker 617 in San Bernardino commemorates where Fort Benson once stood, but it neglects the lives of many who lived and died there, including two remarkable women, Biddy Mason and Hannah Embers.
READ

“THE MUSHROOM MAN’S MAGIC,” BY ADAM FISHER
phil ross
Penni Gladstone

Phil Ross made the transition from artist to entrepreneur through an odd medium: mushrooms.
READ

“SOAKED THROUGH,” BY DENISE HAMILTON
kenter creek, los angeles, creekfreaks
Christina Gandolfo

Even in a city known for its droughts, streams and rivers find ways to thrive in the city, and they are protected by an enthusiastic and eccentric group of “creek freaks.”
READ

“A RETROSPECTIVE LONG OVERDUE,” BY BRIDGET QUINN
judy chicago, through the flower 2, 1973, by judy chicago
© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Collection of Diane Gelon; Photo BY Donald Woodman; Judy Chicago photo by Penni Gladstone

Judy Chicago built her reputation as an artist in California, and her retrospective at the de Young in San Francisco earlier this year was a fitting tribute to her vibrant art career.
READ

“THE URANIUMAIRE,” BY JULIAN SMITH
urainium illustration
Mark Smith

In the 1950s, a man named Charlie Steen risked it all—his family, his finances, his reputation—to hunt for uranium in Utah. He found it and struck it rich beyond his dreams.
READ

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