Kirk Siegler

The homelessness crisis, especially in major West Coast metro areas grabs the headlines: tent cities lining freeways and spreading into busy entertainment districts. But every night an untold number of people are also sleeping outside in smaller inland cities.

"My tent's the second one there," says Frankie Clark, 63, gesturing toward her temporary home on a snowy patch of land in the mountain town of Missoula, Mont.

For the past couple of years, Clark has mostly been sleeping in cars.

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In Greenville, Miss., pop. 27,000, a modern, brightly lit juice bar stands out in the small downtown lined with mostly mom and pop businesses and a few taverns near the town's riverbank casino.

The chorus of friendly, neighborly hellos is a customer favorite, but what's really turning heads is the owner of Kay's Kute Fruit, 30 year-old Kenesha Lewis.

"I'm really excited for the young people to walk in, and they say, who's the owner, and they're like, what? I had somebody do that to me," Lewis says laughing.

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family's 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.

"Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years," Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. "This is a big change on one of our three pastures."

Updated October 29, 2021 at 6:02 PM ET

For Marge Loennig, 87, the COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up many old memories. The most vivid is of a childhood friend who was stricken with polio.

Loennig remembers reading to her while she lay in an iron lung ventilator.

"Her arms and her lower body were all in the lung," she recalls. "It was very frightening for her and very frightening for us."

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Joey and Scott Bailey are sitting in their kitchen trying to figure out how they'll get through these next few months.

"Just your grass hay that we would spend $30 a bale on, people are spending $150 a bale, and they're driving 250 miles to get it," Scott says.

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When Mimi Routh got orders to evacuate from the Tahoe Senior Plaza where she lives, she decided not to wait for the city bus like most of her neighbors who were also fleeing the flames of out of control Caldor Fire.

Instead, the 79-year-old Air Force veteran decided to head out on her own. She grabbed a few cherished essentials and drove herself to a shelter in Nevada about twenty miles away.

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By the heat of the afternoon, smoke from the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., the Dixie Fire, drifts into Paradise, Calif.

"Quite literally, it's hanging over your head," says Dan Efseaff, director of the Paradise Recreation and District.

Out-of-control wildfires in northern California are burning homes and again forcing thousands to evacuate.

One of the biggest concerns remains the Dixie Fire, the second largest wildfire in the U.S. It has now burned some 322,000 acres, including much of the northern Sierra Nevada town of Greenville.

Most days by about 8 a.m., the gates at Arches National Park in Utah close because all the parking lots are full and the trails are at capacity.

Many tourists then spill out onto the surrounding federal public lands — those red rock canyons and river cut gorges that first put one of the West's adventure tourism capitals, Moab, on the map.

On a recent hot afternoon, swimming holes along a federal Bureau of Land Management trail east of town, usually a quiet hideaway from the bustle of Arches and nearby Canyonlands national parks, were humming.

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The number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a ten-year high, according to federal data, prompting warnings of a long, potentially dangerous summer of fire.

One of the biggest areas of concern right now is the high desert Great Basin region in Utah, Nevada and eastern Oregon.

"When you have standing dead grass that's already out there and when we have high heat, that ignition potential raises dramatically," said Paul Peterson, a fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

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