A new trend found in many Western states: Old ranches being subdivided into still-large parcels of dozens to hundreds of acres, and people are moving here to build homesteads and lifestyles that are as individualized as they are.
Ever-more affordable solar power, modern hydrology, modern construction techniques and the ingenuity of landowners mean that you no longer need to cut yourself off from modern life to move into these remote areas. Even the most remote land is just an hour or so from a town, but the people here are often interested in less time with large groups of people and more time to pursue their passions.
Take a look at some the many different lifestyles they're leading.
To keep their airplane protected, the first they thing they built was an airplane hangar. So they had a place to live, they included an apartment in the back. For this couple, a parcel of land in a low, sloping valley set partway up a range of hills was the perfect setting. Good roads let them bring in heavy equipment to build a private airstrip at a gentle angle to make takeoffs and landing easier. Describing the land as “remote, but not distant,” the owners appreciate the relatively easy access to the Interstate and towns nearby.
Built first was a hanger to keep the plane protected that included an apartment in the back. The well fills water storage tanks set higher up the hill, so that the property has pressurized water without constant pumping. Installed on the hanger roof, the solar setup provides electricity, and the owners are hand-building a traditional wood-frame house, which will have a weaving room when complete.
Perhaps most surprising is the lush garden, where fruit trees are growing among asparagus, grapes, lettuce and chard. Chickens live in a large hutch to protect them from the local wildlife and provide eggs for the couple, who one day hope to raise goats as well.
This exotic-looking home is the result of seven years of work by the owner, who wanted to build a home that was affordable, self-sufficient and remote. Technically called “flexible-form rammed earth” construction, it involves filling sandbags with the local soil, laying them out in the form of walls in layers and tamping them down, letting them cure in the sun and covering them with a layer of stucco. “Everything costs time or money, and I have more time than money,” he joked. “The building material [soil] is free, the sandbags cost $300 for a thousand.”
The result is a cool, efficient dwelling that stands up well to the wind and temperature extremes. The owner carefully positioned the house to face southeast, getting more of the sun through windows to warm the space after cool nights, while shading the interior from the intense afternoon rays. Windows set in the roof bring light inside, reducing the need for electric lighting.
The owner, a musician who enjoys creating electronic music, intends to turn one outbuilding into his studio. A set of self-installed solar panels provides the power he needs, while a tractor – “the best thing I ever bought” – assists him as he expands and improves his home.
On one of the largest and most remote parcels of Highland Springs, Phil and Cheryl are loving every minute in the home they built for their retirement. From the outside it looks like many modern homes – a nice porch complete with rocking chairs, cozy interior, three-car garage, metal roof, full kitchen and bath, and a study where the computer and wi-fi router reside.
But turn one way and suburban illusions disappear. Their front yard stretches down a steep valley, giving them a breathtaking view of distant rangeland. Their backyard stretches for hundreds of acres, beyond the rugged hilltops that stand over their property. A large solar array connected to a battery backup powers their house day and night. A repeater station on one of their hills carries cellular and internet service to them.
Sociable but desiring privacy, and passionate about being out in nature, Phil and Cheryl feel they have the best of both worlds: their dream home in their dream location, with miles to explore and the view to themselves. Days are spent roaming the land on their all-terrain vehicles, making improvements with their small tractor and attachments or getting that perfect wildlife picture with Phil’s’ growing collection of camera gear.
Dotted among the permanent residents are a wide range of cabins, houses, lodges and all manner of other dwellings. These belong to the part-time residents: people from nearby towns, distant cities and even overseas who want that perfect place to get away.
No two look alike, but all are designed to work with the land and allow their owners to catch a little of that New West magic. Some are hunters, some are bankers, some are investors – but all of them are discovering the new opportunities this historic land offers.