Re­al­ity check

It’s easy to fall in love with rolling hills and moun­tain vis­tas, but don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of do­ing your home­work, mak­ing prepa­ra­tions and be­ing will­ing to im­pro­vise when ven­tur­ing into un­charted ter­ri­tory.

EQUUS - - Equus -

It’s easy to fall in love with rolling hills and moun­tain vis­tas, but don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of do­ing your home­work, mak­ing prepa­ra­tions and be­ing will­ing to im­pro­vise when ven­tur­ing into un­charted ter­ri­tory.

The dream of re­lo­cat­ing to the moun­tains of the South­west has res­onated for many EQUUS read­ers. Here are some of the re­sponses to Part I of my story in the June is­sue:

“Great new se­ries will keep us in the loop of what it takes to build from noth­ing to your dream ranch!”--- Candy Gior­dano, Florida

“I just loved your ar­ti­cle about find­ing your dream ranch. My heart is over­flow­ing with joy for you guys and your herd.” ---MaryAsh­ley McGib­bon, Texas

“Can’t wait to read the next seg­ment!”--- Cindy Law­baugh, Illi­nois

“You have me re­ally in­trigued with Pie Town,” wrote Au­drey Scott, an en­durance friend and long­time Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dent. “I am look­ing for some­where to retire with a horse and dog in the next six years. Look­ing for­ward to read­ing more about your ad­ven­ture.”

Some read­ers have even gone so far as to be­gin re­search­ing ranches and prop­er­ties in the area. It all sounds very ro­man­tic and ad­ven­tur­ous ---and it is all of those things---but … there’s a lit­tle bit of sober­ing re­al­ity

to con­sider be­fore tak­ing the leap.

I’ve lived in many re­gions and cli­mates of the United States, from the heat and hu­mid­ity of Mary­land and Texas to the high arid deserts of Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona to the Mid­west­ern Snow­belt of Min­nesota and Illi­nois. All have their virtues and chal­lenges---as a kid and young adult, snow in the win­ter and mos­qui­toes in the sum­mer were sim­ply ac­cepted as a part of life.

I also spent close to a year in Grand Junc­tion, Colorado, which came pretty close to my per­sonal rank­ing as the ideal cli­mate for year-round rid­ing, pic­turesque trails and spec­tac­u­lar views of the Grand Mesa and Colorado’s Western Slope. Di­rectly south was Santa Fe and New Mex­ico, the fa­bled “Land of En­chant­ment.” A cou­ple of vis­its to par­tic­i­pate in Telling­ton TTouch clin­ics in the moun­tains above Santa Fe planted a seed in my imag­i­na­tion.

Decades later, that dream is com­ing to fruition. My hus­band Kenny We­ber and I would leave the heat of south­ern Texas for the cool tem­per­a­tures, moun­tain vis­tas and sheer beauty of New Mex­ico. After a year­long search, we de­cided to buy land and build a ranch from scratch near Pie Town.


Part­way through the process, I’d like to pause to re­port on some as­pects of life in our new home that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be­come ap­par­ent in web searches or rel­a­tively brief vis­its.

• High winds. Our area near Pie Town av­er­ages over 19 mph winds year-round with gusts as high as 60 to 70 mph. And with high winds comes dust, which in­fil­trates ev­ery­thing.

• Arid­ity. Ex­treme low hu­mid­ity (of­ten be­low 10 per­cent) can mean dry, itchy skin, de­hy­dra­tion and cracked lips. Drink­ing lots of wa­ter be­comes a ne­ces­sity.

• High al­ti­tude. While the views are stun­ning, the UV rays go right through cloth­ing. It’s easy to get sun­burned, and 75 de­grees of­ten feels like 95.

• Wild­fire risk. Few ar­eas of the West are immune from the risks and rav­ages of un­con­trolled wild­fires. A tell­tale plume of black smoke be­hind Ale­gres Moun­tain greeted us one May morn­ing, not long after snow had dusted the same moun­tain­top.

As much as we love our abun­dant ju­niper and pinyon trees, we see the ne­ces­sity of clear­ing more trees from the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of house, barn and stor­age ar­eas, and se­cur­ing suf­fi­cient horse trans­porta­tion to move our herd in a hurry. We pur­chased a 24-foot stock trailer in June to en­sure we had enough trailer space.

• In­sects. One of our main mo­ti­va­tors for de­fect­ing from Texas for the high coun­try of New Mex­ico was to es­cape from bit­ing pests. Some of our horses are al­ler­gic to Culi­coides spp. (no-seeums), and we are con­stantly bat­tling sweet itch, hives and other mal­adies of bit­ing pests. While ticks are rare to nonex­is­tent in New Mex­ico and we haven’t seen a mos­quito, there are flies. Mostly face flies; hence, we keep the fly masks on the ponies much of the time. I’ve also seen a few gnats swirling around An­nakate’s legs, but so far she doesn’t seem to be al­ler­gic to this va­ri­ety.

• Distance to ser­vices. We knew we were far from or­ganic pro­duce, sup­plies and med­i­cal and vet­eri­nary ser­vices when we pur­chased the land. Hook­ing up with friends in the area will help all of us be more ef­fi­cient and limit travel. It’s 80-plus

the same distance to Springerville, Ari­zona, to the west, and 2 ½ hours to a ma­jor city like Al­bu­querque. Care­ful plan­ning and list-mak­ing is needed since run­ning out for er­rands can be an all-day jour­ney.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing such a move, it’s very help­ful to be self-suf­fi­cient. I’m not sure we would have un­der­taken such a move had Kenny not been a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer who loves to re­pair,

While the views are stun­ning, the UV rays go right through cloth­ing. It’s easy to get sun­burned, and 75 de­grees of­ten feels like 95.

build and de­sign things. Es­pe­cially for those near­ing re­tire­ment age, be aware of this need to pos­sess in-house handyman skills.


If you de­cide to start from scratch, as we did, be ready to tackle the fol­low­ing:

• Per­mits and reg­u­la­tions. A jumble of county and state reg­u­la­tions and fine print, not to men­tion sub­di­vi­sion covenants, will re­quire your care­ful at­ten­tion to de­tail. We dis­cov­ered our sub­di­vi­sion’s Covenants, Con­di­tions and Re­stric­tions after we had made a down pay­ment on a man­u­fac­tured home, and spent a few pan­icky hours track­ing down the doc­u­ment at the Ca­tron County court­house. For­tu­nately, it al­lows “dou­ble-wide” struc­tures as long as they are on a per­ma­nent foun­da­tion (ce­ment, piers or pil­lars) with skirt­ing around the base. We were in the clear! (These rules vary from state to state and county to county.)

• Util­i­ties. How far is the near­est power pole from the prop­erty line? How many ad­di­tional poles will need to be con­structed, and how many feet of un­der­ground trenched wire will be needed? Our power provider, So­corro Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive, will be send­ing an es­ti­ma­tor out, but we are pre­pared for a long wait for in­stal­la­tion. Go­ing so­lar is another op­tion, but ex­pect a steep learn­ing curve and at least twice the ini­tial ex­pense.

• In­ter­net ser­vice. What most city folks take for granted---high-speed con­nec­tiv­ity---is not a given in many or most re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try. With Kenny and I re­ly­ing on high speed in­ter­net to work, write and re­search, this has proven to be a huge source of frus­tra­tion. Your tolerance for slower up­load and down­load speeds may vary, so check any prop­erty’s present and fu­ture prospects for high speed. Note: Satel­lite is avail­able any­where, but your speeds may vary, and it’s never as fast as DSL or line of sight. Kenny has in­stalled a “jet­pack” on a pole, which has greatly helped our con­nec­tion speeds. While mov­ing to the coun­try is in­tended to help us break free of the grip of the in­ter­net, it will def­i­nitely be a process!

• Cel­lu­lar ser­vice. Again, it can be spotty. In Texas, AT&T is the main provider in our area; here in New Mex­ico, Ver­i­zon pro­vides the only re­li­able con­nec­tion. So here we are jug­gling two cell phones apiece. Re­search ser­vice cov­er­age be­fore you head out to ex­plore new coun­try. Few things are more frus­trat­ing than spotty cell ser­vice.

• Wa­ter ac­cess. As dis­cussed in Part II, wa­ter is a con­tin­u­ous con­cern in many ar­eas of the South­west, in­clud­ing our own. We were lucky that the well-drilling gods smiled upon us. We should have plenty of wa­ter for our horses and our­selves (and we are go­ing with a so­lar pump).

All of this is not to dis­cour­age you from pur­su­ing your dream, but in­stead to help pre­pare you to go into it with eyes open and ready to be flex­i­ble. Most ev­ery­thing costs up to twice as much in the coun­try, es­pe­cially as far out as we are. Con­crete slabs, stick-built homes, barns and sheds---I’ve prac­ti­cally lost track of the checks I’ve writ­ten.

Of course, the con­cerns I’ve out­lined are spe­cific to our area of western New Mex­ico; many will not ap­ply to other lo­ca­tions, which will no doubt pose their own unique con­sid­er­a­tions and chal­lenges. But wher­ever you go, be dili­gent and check things out care­fully. Spend plenty of time there be­fore com­mit­ting; talk to the lo­cals as well as re­search­ing on­line.

None­the­less, we’ve con­cluded, the chal­lenges we en­coun­tered are sim­ply part and par­cel of the ad­ven­ture. It only took a brief re­turn to the heat and hu­mid­ity of Texas in mid-June to re­al­ize we had made the right choice. In the next in­stall­ment, our so­lar well is up and run­ning, our man­u­fac­tured home fi­nally ar­rives, and we dis­cover a lower cost al­ter­na­tive to build­ing a barn. Best of all, the an­nual sum­mer mon­soon kicks in, and the grama grass is rapidly turn­ing green.

MAN­AGE­MENT: The horses seem to like their new home, but horse­keep­ing in New Mex­ico poses its own set of chal­lenges.

NEW FRIENDS: One par­tic­u­lar joy has been dis­cov­er­ing the sense of com­mu­nity among Pie Town eques­tri­ans.

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