Over the years, a few dozen loyal readers have written me asking about industry best practices regarding unauthorized disposal of human remains in the National Park system.
With park enforcement severely curtailed at the moment, now is a good time to answer.
Ideally, you'd want fairly thorough disposal. A modern crematorium is your best bet, though even a modest one can set you back considerably, not including the price of fuel, rent, etc.
Most of my readers will also know to ask a friendly pig farmer if he's willing to starve a few hogs for a few days. I advise against this approach, as maintaining silence can be expensive and risky.
Most likely, you've carved up the body into hunks that can be comfortably hauled in kitchen-sized trash bags. This is fine. Load them into your Subaru and head west.
Depending on the distance you have to travel, you might strongly consider buying some lime.
Not the fruit. The mineral. Toss a few handfuls in each bag to help control the stench. You'll thank me later.
There are loads of parks to choose from. I'll omit parks in Alaska, because let's be fair: if you have a body to get rid of in Alaska, you already know what to do. Drop it right there on the tundra. It might get discovered in 10K years as a mummy, but it's fine till then
Depending on where you're coming from, you'll either hit Glacier or Yellowstone first (nb, this thread is for Easterners, obv. If you're already on the WC, you know what to do)
Let me explain why.
First, the wildlife is a hassle. The bears can be bold even when all you have is a bag of Funyuns*. They can smell carrion from miles away and aren't shy about investigating.
There are also wolves there now.
*this thread not sponsored by Frito-Lay
Second, the place is swarming with grad students. They earn college credits for biology by counting newts and gathering squirrel turds. I wish I were joking about this. I am not joking. To some extent, this is a problem in most parks.
Third, the soil is bothersome. The few places where it's relatively easy to dig are in the prairies. Dig there, and you have to contend with herd animals. Also, the mud problem cannot be overstated. Mud everywhere.
Now, you may be thinking, "why not just toss it into one of those bubbling mud pots?"
Well, the suitable ones all have tourists swarming them, and the backcountry ones are too dangerous to get near.
But at least you're thinking about disposal, so gold star.
Let's consider Glacier instead. It's a big park, visitor numbers are a fraction of what you see in Yellowstone, and in terms of sheer acreage, it's enormous.
It will also tax your hiking ability. So, you know, tradeoffs.
The chief problem with Glacier is its terrain. Backcountry access is limited by rugged cliffs, scree fields, and loads of watersheds.
Assuming you're toting a ~150 lb load, that could mean several trips across a rough landscape.
We can do better.
Now, years ago, I'd recommend Zion. The red rock canyons are gorgeous, and the contours of the land mean that hiding a bag or two in hidden crevices is a breeze.
Sadly, this option is no longer as viable as it once was.
The last time I checked, private vehicle access to Zion NP had been banned. Pity, really. The one time I drove through was in '94 in a decrepit '78 Dodge Aspen with bad brakes and a U-Haul. At dusk.
Truly breathtaking scenery.
Bad place to dump a corpse though.
How about the good ol' Grand Canyon?
That's a better idea. Even coming up to the South Rim from Flagstaff, there are unmarked entrances into the park that allow you to bypass the front gate.
There are also plenty of trails other than Bright Angel. Hidden trails.
Unfortunately, the grad student problem is still a big issue, only this time it's geology students. I remember running into two separate groups on a single two-night foray out to the Horseshoe Mesa in 2002.
Skip Saguaro. Sure, one more body out there in that desert won't draw much additional attention, but the chance you'll run into some Yeehaw weekend warrior with Border Patrol on speed dial makes it a bit too risky.
There's also a handful of high desert parks and monuments in and around Utah/Colorado/Arizona: Arches, Natural Bridge, Monument Valley, & al.
Upside: plenty of carrion birds
Downside: plenty of dickheads on mountain bikes.
I don't know anything about Joshua Tree. I sort of regret never visiting, but a good opportunity never presented itself.
There's only one park in California I'd like you to seriously consider.
Enter from the Nevada side. Yes, you'll have to drive through Pahrump. Bite the bullet and do it anyway.
Most visitors don't know it, but Death Valley is simply loaded with abandoned mines. Gold, silver, bauxite, even a few uranium test shafts pepper the place. Most of them have been sealed off over the years, but it's tough to get them all.
There's also a mansion built by an eccentric, a golf course, a ghost town originally named 23 Skidoo before the USPS directed them to drop the "23", and most importantly, a bunch of old, disused charcoal kilns.
Try not to think of Death Valley as just the valley itself. Sure, that's a big part of the park, but Telescope Peak is also there. It's forested. And seldom visited. Most tourists just go to Furnace Creek, maybe out to the dunes.
Imagine that you park your, what did we agree you drive? A Subaru? Sure. Imagine you park your Subaru under the dappled Telescope Peak pines on a moonlit night before grabbing those bags in the back and burying them in the gravel mounds next to the kilns.
Overall, remember that Death Valley's peak season is in the winter. Temperatures even as late as October can still be triple digits at night.
Plan accordingly, but remember that it's a big, arid park. Also, bones bleach quickly with all the borax just lying around.
The Northwest offers, in my opinion, the best opportunities. I'll limit discussion to the parks I know best: Crater Lake, the Olympics, and Mt. Rainier.
Let's start with the first.
Crater Lake is one of America's most beautiful parks. The drive to the caldera is stunning, with a good mix of mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine, and red fir.
Unfortunately, these woods are resinous, and there is a lot of rainfall there. Bad for a pyre.
Your big problem with Crater Lake is the snow. You obviously won't want to dump your load in the lake. Even in the off-season, someone's always watching the water. You need to head into the backcountry. Which is snowy even into late June.
There's another, more idiosyncratic problem with Crater Lake.
That problem is Bend. It is your closest major settlement.
It is a weird place. If you don't already know how to deal with Oregon, I strongly advise avoiding it.