Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dead dreams, bizarre logic and a ray of hope


The weather has been very nice, other than a wind-storm which provided yet more free power. We won’t know if the sale goes through on the neighboring 12 acres for some time, but have done a bit of research and believe we have found out why such a remote, unsuitable parcel sold for such a ridiculous price.

The problem is that property values in this area have shot up at an almost unbelievable pace over the last few years. Back when we bought this land, there were quite a number of parcels of land in the area priced between $200 and $300 per acre. Today there are none in that price range or anything near it. This is a relatively high price for dry pastureland in any western state even today. People from areas where real estate is astronomically priced like Los Angeles or Connecticut probably find this difficult to believe, but the fact of the matter is vast areas of the western states are quite arid; grasses DO grow on them but they are not the eastern sod-type grasses, they are bunch grasses and grow very sparsely compared to sod grasses. To get some idea of the difference in pasture value (and thus the value of the land, since it is really suitable for raising livestock with little investment) it requires about 1 acre of grassland in most of the east to provide pasture for one “animal unit” which is a mother cow and calf, or mare horse and foal, or four sheep or six goats and so on. This should provide fodder to feed the livestock for over six months at a minimum. As you look westward, where sod grasses do not grow, the amount of acres required to provide the same amount of fodder is increased exponentially. For example, the area where we lived in Wyoming (Thunder Basin) a general rule of thumb was 30 to 40 acres of pasture per animal unit. In parts of Wyoming’s Red Desert as well as some areas near us here the requirement is 80 acres per animal unit! If you calculate the cost of buying hay or other fodder to feed the animal, you can compare this to the cost of land and get what it is actually worth. Not every square foot of land is suitable to build houses on, despite what realtors and developers would have us believe; and land is valued by banks and lending institutions based on what it can produce not what it MIGHT be worth if used to build a house on every tenth of an acre.

Even with hay prices high, most western land (not in and adjacent to large cities) based on the animal-unit calculation is worth $40 to $75 an acre in the 80 acre area, and $80 to $150 in the 40 acre animal unit areas. So when someone pays more than $2000 an acre for this type of land, the land cannot ever pay for itself much less cover what the taxes would be. I do not believe land should be just for looking at, it ought to produce something even if that something is growing valuable timber or providing pasture for livestock or wildlife. What is causing the distortion in land values? Hollywood is partially to blame; for when movie stars go out and buy big ranches and pay far more than it is worth or can ever earn, it drives up the value of all the regions’ land, again even though the chances of –another- movie star coming in and buying those hard, empty lands is as remote as many of the ranches are. Ted Turner is the most famous of these asses, the result of his buying a large ranch in Montana has been to drive up the price of ALL land there to the point that it is not possible to run a ranch there economically unless you already own the land or are given it as a bequeathment.

It is useless for me to rail against the tidal wave of realtors and developers, no amount of logic or argument is going to convince them of the folly of their actions – despite the fact that ranching has been degraded now to the point that the United States no longer produces enough beef to feed itself (we now are forced to import HALF of what is needed!) and the permanent destruction of agricultural land can only end in a very bad way; but so long as they can convince buyers to buy and lenders to lend, the destruction and degradation will proceed.

I may have given the impression that my wife and I hate people, which is far from the truth. We do love people, but in small doses and at far more than arm’s length – more like rifle range. One of the deciding factors in buying this place was that it is remote enough and has no neighbors, an important safety factor for firing guns. True, I can still go fire my weapons in relative safety, just that I cannot fire to the north now or risk hitting the new neighbor or their home and possessions. The area is very rocky so the danger of a ricochet causing a bullet to head in their direction, so will probably have to resort to building a bullet-stop to be sure of safety. I must admit the thought has passed my mind that perhaps we should have behaved like our friend back in the El Paso mountains, Crazy Otto – who would start shooting at any strange vehicle that approached anywhere near his home and mine.

Otto really took a lot of chances when he would do that, and the last time we visited him he was still doing it – his gold mine is in a remote canyon and little changes there. One incident was funny though; another friend and fellow gold miner of ours, Bob, who owned and operated a one-man mine in the canyon between our place there and Otto’s finally broke down and bought himself a brand new pickup truck. He was thrilled with his new truck and decided to drive over to Otto’s and show him his new pickup. He may have forgotten how Otto responds to strangers suddenly showing up – as he rounded the bend and came within sight of Otto, Otto opened fire and hit Bob’s new pickup right through the engine block! Bob was furious, and Otto did pay for the repairs (he did well in his mine for a while) but Bob about turned the air blue with his words! Otto never tried to actually hit a human being, but if a warning shot or two didn’t dissuade the curious he might put a round through their engine.

Now I do not condone such behavior, it is far too risky as a ricochet could easily hit and kill or grievously injure someone; however I begin to understand how one can feel driven to that point.

So we have been discussing the matter and our choices as to what to do. It looks like we ought to continue to proceed with almost all of our plans, with an eye to selling the place; the way real estate values have risen we will be able to get more than a fair price for the place; in fact the presence of a near neighbor might be an attractive feature for some folks who would not feel “safe” being far from any possible source of assistance. (Despite the fact you are in far more danger in “civilized” places than in remote regions.) The reasons for this decision are two fold; for one thing the folks who are buying that 12 acres very likely will close the deal – it was apparently the least expensive land they could find. On the other hand if they fail to close the deal, there is every reason to believe that some other damned fool WILL buy it and move right in. We cannot afford to buy it at that price if the deal were to fail, and though there is little risk that the other bordering properties will get developed that 12 acre parcel is not going to “go away”. Now you might ask, why did we buy this place is we knew there was a small parcel bordering it that could well be developed? At the time we bought this place, there WAS no 12 acre parcel within a mile in any direction. It was subdivided a couple of years ago, and during all the time since we bought this place no one was fool enough to move into this remote area. Now however it appears that they are going to be developing the land, not working from the paved road in, they are starting from right next door! So our best chance of ever having our dream home, remote from close and crowding b-stards stands in selling out and moving. It might even be most profitable to do to this property the very thing I despise the most – subdivide it into five or ten acre parcels and sell them off individually. When buyers are willing to pay $49,000 for a five acre parcel of dry pastureland, 100 acres would equate to nearly a million dollars. The area would be utterly degraded even for most wildlife, (deer and some pest critters adapt readily to human presence) and I would never, ever come anywhere near the area again as I might break into tears at the sight. (I must admit that I nearly fell into tears after we learned about the sale of that parcel, I was VERY depressed to have our dream destroyed after so many years of searching for the right property and the years of waiting to even get here.) However since we are forced to move to find serenity and seclusion, the logical thing is to get the greatest amount of money we can so that our “war chest” will be fat enough to buy a larger parcel of land.

What bugs me is that they could have bought and built homes in a large area around us, with better chances of getting utilities, better roads etc for very nearly the same sort of prices but they chose to buy the single small parcel that borders US. We live not at the end of the road (it actually loops on our land) but you cannot drive any farther “in” than our place. I do not mind people traipsing around the area, in fact we made it a point NOT to post our land against trespass – I despise the very sight of the “KEEP OUT” sign. However we went and bought our first pair of those very signs I hate so much. They will be going on the north border where the asses bought that 12 acres. They might be “well thought of” and have “…many friends in the area” (a particularly strange statement since there are only TWO occupied homes for miles in any direction and we are one) but they are NOT welcome to come hunt, rock-hound, hike or otherwise trespass on our place for any reason. I don’t even know them but hate them already.

I could not understand the mindset that caused them to buy that land. For one thing, the ride in to even SEE it should have been a red flag – the “road” (a trail actually) passes through several miles of undeveloped pastureland. Yes, those cows are NOT fenced in, they WILL be wandering over their land, crapping everywhere, rubbing against their house and cars to scratch themselves, and devouring anything green planted on it. Unless they put up an Arizona-legal fence to keep them out, it is illegal to molest those cattle too! A second related point ought to have been a second red flag, the “road” runs across their land yes, but it is SO washed out (the gully is more than six feet deep and nearly twenty wide) at the very beginning of their land that even the realtor’s oversized 4WD pickup truck could not pass it – they had to park on the adjacent property and walk in to even look at it. That property is the very worst in the entire hills, it has no less than eight major dry washes – the runoff from many hundreds of acres floods that land annually, sweeping everything before it in flash floods. There is one spot on the entire lot that is halfway suitable to build upon, and naturally that is right up next to our land. Another red flag should have been raised as to utilities. The cost of running public electricity in to that parcel will be very nearly $175,000 and that for un-reliable power (you are subject to power outages for any fool who happens to hit a utility pole many miles from your home) and a monthly bill to go with it. The alternative is to go solar and-or wind, however that land is in a valley that is quite unsuitable for solar power (it is in a north face valley between the hills and gets only an hour or so of sun at the end of the day) and unsuitable for wind (the hills surrounding it block off most of the wind!) so they would probably have to put in a huge diesel generator. Whee, we will get to have the beautiful silence of the desert destroyed by the blare of a loud diesel engine, roaring away for hours on end! What sort of an idiot would pay a fortune ($175,000 is a fortune to me) to connect to public power? The same sort of idiot that would buy 12 flash-flood acres in a remote canyon! Once power lines are run in, you will see houses crop up like weeds in a well watered lawn.

So I pondered, just what motivated these asses to ruin our dream? If they were seeking seclusion (like us) then they failed, for they have a neighbor right close by – US. If they were seeking to live in a neighborhood, they failed as well because there IS only one neighbor, us and we are not only NOT going to be friendly and neighborly but openly hostile. The only idea I could come up with is they wanted “semi-seclusion” in which case they chose badly as well, for there are literally dozens of areas where they could have that situation and have nice, friendly, welcoming neighbors. The bottom line appears to be they were either desperate and could not afford any other land (which appears most likely) or so stupid they swallowed the BS sales pitch of the realtors. I say realtors in plural because it took not just one but TWO realtors to talk them into buying that nearly worthless land.

I do not blame these asses entirely either, it is also the work of the realtors. The one realtor also runs a bed-n-breakfast over in the Dragoon mountains just to the west of us; their online ads show “their” canyon (public land, they do not own it) and the surrounding desert beauty – well I realize that they were only doing “their job” (just like it is the nature of maggots to eat rotten flesh) but in this case not only were they destroying our dream but they were cheating the buyers into buying virtually un-usable land. I can pray that these realtors get to have their dream destroyed like they did for us, and I know a way to do it; all perfectly legal and without killing anyone (as tempting as that thought may be!) which would make their bed and breakfast worthless as NO ONE would pay to go stay next to the type of disturbance that could arrive on their doorstep. I may even go and do this nasty thing, as it would even make us money in the process; I may not too, but the thought is tempting; however the power that made the universe has a way of bringing justice to those who would destroy the dreams and happiness of others simply so they can turn a profit so I do not need to. Do I hate the realtors as much as I hate the buyers? More so, for they are in the business of degrading and ruination of some of the most beautiful land in our nation, all so they can drive around in oversized new pickup trucks and have guests in their admittedly beautiful bed and breakfast; yes I despise them and surely they will be repaid in kind.

If or rather when we do sell and move, I will greatly miss this area as I do love it so. However like so many areas destroyed by the mass spread of suburbia in the past, I would not care even to return to look at it once they have polluted it with fancy homes for the wealthy. Even the gorgeous views are degraded to the point that they are no longer gorgeous once those homes are built; who wants to look out over other people’s houses? We will most likely be planting a great number of fast growing evergreens to block out the view of the asses and hopefully much of the noise they will surely generate, of course this means no view of the Dos Cabezas, and the new asshole neighbors view to the south will be of a row of trees, but until we can sell and leave it is the only thing we can legally do.

Apologies for the post dripping with venom, there is news to tell that is not filled with depression and anger. The dwarf pomegranate trees I planted as seeds have begun to grow! The first one sprouted through the soil today! It is somewhat pointless now as we will almost certainly be forced to move to a cold region to escape the madding crowd, but it was a fun experiment anyway. I guess I should have known that beautiful desert places where the climate is pleasant exist only for the wealthy. The fruit trees are all doing well, the garden has some things up (beets came up the other day) and even the nut orchard trees have buds swelling and ready to open leaves.

There is even an “upside” to the destruction of our dream. Real estate prices have risen so dramatically here that we very likely will be able to sell the stump of our dream for what is to me a king’s ransom. With that much in proceeds we can certainly find a piece of remote land with no possibility of close neighbors (I will not say here how it can be done, but there IS a way) however it will be far to the north with cold winters and plenty of snow. I will hate the climate for half the year, but at least the summers are dry and warm. We won’t be able to grow many of the things we wished to do (here) but at least we won’t have to be gazing out at some asshole and his glitzy suburbia home or listen to them blasting away some kind of music we dislike. We may get people traipsing around hunting or rock-hounding etc on the new location but I do not mind that at all. I won’t ever forgive these asses or their realtors for what they have done to us, and as much as I hate the idea of having to start all over again at least we can KNOW that there will be NO chance of any neighbors moving in on our doorstep. Again we don’t hate people, in fact if the new neighbors were say a mile and half away I would not care but no, they must move in just as close as they can get. Sorry for drifting back into the depression-anger thing again, anyway there is light in the tunnel and our –next- home will be safe from crowding asses forever, regardless of how nasty the climate is.

Got to get back to work writing again soon too, several friends (or I suppose they could be referred to as “fans”?) have sent me emails asking when I will be contributing articles again. Our common avocation of treasure hunting and prospecting have been good to us, so in a sense I owe it to our hobby to contribute something back. The book project also ought to be wrapped up and sent to the publisher, while Preston Peet’s anthology is still on the market. Need to get some good photos to go with the articles though so will have to make a few day trips, may get in some extra research too.

Well that is it for this update, sorry if I offended anyone and will not be quite so negative in future posts.


“We must find a way, or we will make one.” –Hannibal Barca

(Almost forgot my “tag” line!)


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