Kirk Siegler

Reporter

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.

Siegler grew up near Missoula, MT, and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado.  He’s an avid skier and traveler in his spare time.

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When the icy wind blows off the Spokane River, the temperature can routinely plunge below zero on this city's worn streets near downtown and the I-90 freeway. Trying to survive without shelter out here is almost impossible.

Just ask Mariah Hodges.

"The first night I came here I was almost frozen to the sidewalk," Hodges says.

The Bureau of Land Management's new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., is a long 1,900 miles away from Washington, D.C.

In the small western Colorado city, it's impossible to ignore you are surrounded by federal public land: the towering mesas, red rock canyons and the Colorado National Monument.

This past fall, Idaho officials took the extraordinary step of closing the Clearwater River to salmon and steelhead trout fishing, leaving guides like Jeremy Sabus scrambling to find other work.

"It's six weeks of my favorite time of the year, you get to shake hands with 3-foot trout," Sabus says.

It's billed as one of the most livable places in the country with its good schools, leafy streets and safe neighborhoods. That's what makes Boise, Idaho, an odd backdrop for a heated legal fight around homelessness that is reverberating across the western United States and may soon be taken up by the Supreme Court.

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you'll find bits of plastic.

"I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish," she says.

In the early 1990s, Wilmot Collins and his wife, Maddie, escaped the Liberian Civil War. Broke and starving, they ended up in Helena, Mont.

"Why do you think we fled?" Collins asked. "We fled because we wanted a second chance."

Soon after moving to their first home, a neighbor knocked on their door and alerted Collins to hateful graffiti outside his house.

"On my wall was 'KKK, Go back to Africa,' " Collins said.

It's the first day of school in Missoula, Mont., and Elongo Gabriel, a Congolese refugee, is dropping off his young son and two daughters.

A proud father, he has a wide grin. "For me it's like a dream to get a chance for my kids to study here," he says.

Getting here, to a safe place, has been a long and traumatic saga. His family fled war in their home country where Elongo worked for a human rights NGO. They then spent six years in Tanzania in a destitute refugee camp, with little to no schooling available and on most days only cassava to eat.

Tammy Waller thought she was one of the lucky ones after her home in Magalia survived California's most destructive wildfire ever, but her community remains a ghostly skeleton of its former self.

Hazmat crews are still clearing properties, and giant dump trucks haul away toxic debris. Signs on the water fountains in the town hall say, "Don't drink."

Waller remembers the day she came back home after the Camp Fire.

"When I first walked in, I went to my kitchen sink and turned on the water, and it was just literally black," Waller says.

Rural southern Utah is cowboy country, and with it comes a deserved reputation of being a meat and potatoes kind of place. So after a recent three-day hiking trip in Bryce Canyon National Park, when Kim Johnson saw a sign advertising a Tandoori Taqueria, she pulled over immediately.

Johnson and her family, who live in Salt Lake City, are vegetarian.

"We've eaten a lot of Subway sandwiches [this trip]," she says, laughing. "And a lot of large side salads because it's a pretty meaty environment here."

About 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. Famous for its red rock canyons, arches and fossil beds, the rugged land is punctuated by sites like Death Ridge, Carcass Canyon and Hell's Backbone Road.

Those names staked on the old maps by the region's first white settlers tell you all you need to know about how harsh, brutal and beautiful the land is.

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