…and why I’ve been out of touch.
For those of you who want the TLDR version, in short, I bought a 40 acre ranch in North Eastern Wyoming, right on the edge of the Black Hills, half an hour from Devil’s Tower. The ranch has no covenants, meaning I can do whatever I want, and it came with a modest manufactured home with an extension and a basement, a good well, electricity, and a septic system. Continued below pics…
After spending the month of March fishing in the Florida Everglades, I stopped back at my parent’s house in PA to get a few ducks in a row, and then headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota. As soon as I arrived in the Black Hills I got snowed in high up on a mesa for a week, but luckily made it out before my propane ran out and my pipes froze. I spent the next couple months mostly camped out in the driveway of an old friend in Custer, SD while working with a realtor actively scoping out properties in the Black Hills area. I felt a real urgency to acquire property before the housing market and economy got any worse. Many people have been fleeing costal cities and seeking real estate in the wild and free states of the West, and I cannot deny that I am one of these. My plan was to start looking in the Black Hills, and if that didn’t work out, I’d move over to Wyoming and start looking. If that didn’t work out, I’d scope out Montana and Idaho. I knew it would be wise to acquire property while I still could, but I basically left it in God’s hands to help me find the right home. I was not let down, despite a trying and demoralizing start.
The housing market in the Black Hills of South Dakota was insultingly bad. My realtor confessed to me that the other realtors in the area had decided to “test the market” due to the influx of potential homebuyers by inflating home prices up to 60% above their actual value. In addition to this, no one was selling, and their was very slim pickings to be found. Rich people from out of state were constantly combing Zillow for their western dream homes, snapping up every decent property with cash buys, site unseen. The only properties I could afford were either small, exposed, tracts of land right on the roadside with no utilities, or shabby homes on quarter or half an acre. Nevertheless, I stuck it out for at least a month and kept searching, constantly being let down upon viewing the properties offered. In the meantime I had started looking on the Zillow app for properties across the border in Wyoming.
Things looked a lot more promising in Wyoming. There were more homes and tracts of land for sale, and the prices were reasonable if not cheap. I could have afforded parcels up to 150 or so acres, but none of them had utilities and I was very intimidated by the costs of building a home, drilling a well, installing a septic system, running electric lines, etc… Finally I found this 40 acre parcel in a ideal location with a modest home, no covenants, and all the utilities installed for what wouldn’t even buy a rundown townhome in the northern Virginia area. Not only could I afford it, but I’d have money left over for improvements and savings. I jumped on it, drove out on my motorcycle from Custer to view the property, had a quick powwow about it with my parents to receive their blessing, and then headed straight into the nearby town to find a realtor and make an offer. We offered $15k under the selling price and they accepted the offer.
Anyone who has ever bought a home can tell you how stressful the time between having the offer accepted and closing the deal can be. During the month it took to close, another buyer made a provisional offer for the place at full price, so the seller basically did everything she could to shake me off and have me back out of the deal. Yet everyone I talked to familiar with the local housing market agreed that I had scored a great deal, and that finding good tracts of land with no covenants and all the utilities installed was becoming very rare across the entire state. Compared to the inflated home values I had witnessed in South Dakota, this would have been a good buy even if the home was a pile of ashes.
To calm the anxiety of closing, I spent much of the month of June camping and fishing in the Bighorn Mountains of central Wyoming, one of my favorite places on Earth. That was about the only play time I’ve had all summer, being so focused on buying a home. The Bighorns are heaven on Earth, and it blows my mind that I now live only a short morning drive from them. To my great joy, finally the closing day came on July 1st, and despite all my worries and anxiety, I pulled into the driveway of my new ranch, keys in hand.
Almost immediately I flew back east to get the rest of my things from storage, and drove a uhaul truck back with a friend following me in my Toyota pickup. Since then I’ve been incredibly busy moving in and scurrying to fix up the place before the harsh winter sets in. They do have real winters here. Lots of snow and below zero temps. But that’s okay. I plan to be a reverse snowbird; instead of heading south in my van each winter, I will stay home and work hard on recording music, then spend my summers touring around the west in my van.
The house has needed a lot of work. I had a badly leaking roof, a broken but highly necessary water-softening system, a propane leak, damaged siding, a questionable old furnace, and several shoddy windows that need replaced. At first I found it very hard to find contractors out here to help me with all this, but to my great fortune, I finally found a new friend, JW, a very competent independent builder who seems to have mastered all aspects of home building and repair. He’s also a true Wyoming rancher and former rodeo competitor. He’s sort of taken me under his wing and has helped me get up to speed on many aspects of ranch life, and he even brought two of his horses to graze on my land until winter since the past couple years of drought have made good grass hard to come by.
Quite unexpectedly, horses have become one of the main themes of my life out here, and the center of much of my joy. The very first time I drove down my driveway with the keys in hand, the first thing I witnessed was my neighbor’s four horses galloping along my fence line. Fewer things are more beautiful than watching horses gallop across the rolling Wyoming prairie, and this moment sparked a new love in my heart and fascination with horses. Since that day, I’ve become very good friends with my neighbor’s horses. They are often at my fenceline, and we chat and nuzzle every day. Now I have two more horses on my property that I can spend time with whenever I want and even ride. These horses have only caused my neighbor’s horses to spend more time at my fence line, so now I basically have a tribe of horses I get to bond with daily. It’s a total game changer, and does so much for my peace of mind, groundedness, and wellbeing. I’ve never really had the opportunity to get to know horses in my lifetime. Where I lived in Loudoun County VA, horses seemed to be exclusively a luxury of the rich, and I guess I projected that association onto the horses themselves, seeing them as some sort of elitist, snobbish animal. It’s not like that out here at all. Everybody has horses. They are a constant part of the landscape, free ranging on vast tracts of prairie. So now I’ve finally had the opportunity to get to know horses intimately and spend time with them daily. What sweet, sensitive, and graceful beasts! It’s changed my life.
All in all, I am very happy out here. For the first time since leaving my boyhood home, I have finally found a true home, and I intend to live here for all the rest of my days. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. My property is a secluded, true slice of the wild, Wyoming, prairie, adjacent to the awe-inspiring and magical Black Hills. The more I contemplate this land, the more I realize it is like a living ocean. All day long, antelope come and go grazing across the rolling hills. These grasses and sinkholes contain so much life. There are coyotes, enormous jack rabbits, tame cottontails, porcupines, skunks, raptors, songbirds, rattlesnakes, and even the occasinal elk. I am never alone here, but part of a much greater family coexisting together. I am committed to keeping my land wild and pure. As much as I love guns, I won’t be shooting on my own land nor hunting. There’s a nearby gun range for that. I want to encourage wild animals to live on my land and feel safe here rather than scare them away. The only farming I’ll be doing will be contained to a hoophouse garden, gravity fed with collected rainwater. The only mark upon this land I’ve really made is a simple walking path around the mile-long perimeter. It is truly quiet here. My entire western horizon is absolutely unblemished by any sign of man apart from a cattle herd that comes and goes, making for perfect Wyoming sunsets every day. My entire county has zero traffic lights and zero traffic. I get along great with the locals; they are some of the most genuine, self-reliant, and sincere people I’ve met. And I have the entire Black Hills National forest at my disposal just across the main road and another section north of town. I live in the same state as Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Bighorns, the Wind River Range, and Devil’s Tower. This is truly God’s country, and I am grateful beyond all expression to be able to dwell here in simplicity and peace.
I plan to put up a yurt and a tipi in the northwest corner of my lot by next summer, as well as construct an outdoor kitchen and shower, and a composting toilet for guests. All my life I’ve wanted to acquire a little slice of wilderness to be able to provide a place of rest and retreat for world weary souls. I see this land as a gift from the universe, and I certainly intend to give back and share what I can. All my friends and good-hearted acquaintances will be welcome here, and will have a place to rest and decompress, to rediscover their center and connection with Nature.
Throughout the summer I did still manage to collect some excellent wildlife footage for future music videos. As soon as I get this house fixed up for winter, I may take another short van trip while the weather allows, but then I’m getting right to work on new creative content, new music and videos. Very soon, I also plan to start another blog project all about my discovery of and experiences with horses. Stay tuned! Stay in touch.
Peace and love,