About an hour's drive from Lexington, Ky., is the Daniel Boone National Forest -- 700,000 acres of raw, rugged nature.
It was here last month that the body of Bill Sparkman, a part-time census worker, was found bound and gagged and hanging from a tree. The word "Fed" was scrawled across his chest.
"I couldn't believe it had happened," said Josh Sparkman, the victim's son. "I couldn't believe that anyone would want to harm my father, especially in such a brutal manner."
Sparkman's death is still being investigated. It has not been ruled a homicide.
But it's put renewed focus on what, for decades, has been the ugly side of this beautiful land.
It's not the setting most people associate with the war on drugs.
"Typically, in America today, they talk about the inner cities and people standing on street corners selling crack cocaine," said Clay County Sheriff Kevin Johnson. "This is our street corner. Here."
Johnson took an ABC News team deep into the forest. During the days of Prohibition, criminals made illicit alcohol -- moonshine -- here. But these days, marijuana and methamphetamine keep authorities busy.
Rich soil and ample rain make the forest ideal for growing pot. And the forest's thick canopy, rugged terrain and sheer size help to conceal criminal operations.
Johnson said the silence of the nature preserve makes it harder to police.
"That's one aspect that makes things difficult in apprehending people," he said. "For example, if somebody's 100 yards uphill from us, that they would have a potential of hearing us. Not to mention, the vehicle that we drove, they could hear a mile away."
Kentucky is second only to California in marijuana production. More than a half-million pot plants worth an estimated $1 billion are seized here annually.
But authorities estimate that an equal amount is successfully grown, harvested and sold.
The federal government designates the area the Appalachia High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Ed Shemelya is the marijuana coordinator.
"[Marijuana] is our No. 1 cash crop in the Appalachia HIDTA region," Shemelya said. "Tobacco, to corn, to soy beans, you name it. Marijuana is the cash crop. ... Not even close. No comparison."
The eradication effort is an air and ground war. From helicopters, trained spotters search for marijuana plots using only the naked eye.
"To each of us, it looks a little different," said Bob Goss, a spotter. "There's color, there's texture, there's the terrain, we're looking for cultivated ground, we're looking for foot trails, four-wheeler trails, any access points to remote areas."
"It's cat-and-mouse," said Shemelya. "You try to figure out their strategy, you adapt your tactics to their strategy, they change their tactics so your strategy changes."
After spotting the marijuana, agents swoop in, rappelling from the choppers or arriving in all-terrain vehicles.
The plants are cut and burned. But rarely are the culprits found and arrested.
"It's pretty hard unless we're fortunate enough to find evidence that leads us back to an individual or individuals," said Johnson. "It's usually pretty tough, usually pretty tough."
That's not to say criminals never leave a calling card. Authorities showed ABC News some of the booby traps pot growers have used over the years to guard their investments.