The Land (Epilogue)

So, I sold my Colorado land this week. I probably need to explain this. I used to have a page about it, but it went away two or three web redesigns ago. Here’s the whole story, in case you haven’t heard it.

Back in 2002, I bought forty acres of land in southern Colorado. I’d always had the idea to build a house in the middle of nowhere, probably going back to when I studied architecture in high school and watched too many episodes of This Old House. I don’t remember when or how I found the seller online, but I used to waste a lot of time at work falling down random google searches. (It may have been Alta Vista searches back then, actually.) I did various research on land in Montana, central Washington, and a few other places, but ended up with Colorado.

I think there were a few other things in my head when I bought the land. This was a few years into my New York experience, and I think the day-to-day of being crowded on the island with so many people put the zap on me. My thinking was that I’d stick around Manhattan for my prime earning years, then punch out and go into hiding to write. I was also going through a mild identity crisis around my 30th birthday, trying to figure out what to do with my life. And 9/11 multiplied all of this. I wasn’t a person who was going to wrap their house in duct tape because of domestic terrorism, but there was a real strong vibe in town that something was going to go down again. People seem to forget the Manhattan mass-exodus in 2001/2002, but it weighed heavily on my thought process at that time.

I bought the land right after my 31st birthday. Actually, I think I was exchanging emails with the seller while I was in an Elvis suite  at the Stardust in Vegas on a birthday trip with Bill, Lon, and Todd. The purchase sent me down a giant research k-hole of determining what to do. I bought every book I could find on alternative construction and Earthships and solar power and how to build your own house. I was constantly trying to figure out the best way to get started, maybe buy a geodesic dome kit or something, start planting trees and plowing under clover, whatever. I needed a well; I needed a tractor; I needed to learn how to grow my own food, and this was a time when every meal I ate was delivery food. There was a lot to learn.

Like any of my other hobbies, the land was something that would be white-hot for a week or two, and then quickly fade, get pushed to the back of the stove or off the stove. But I had to get out there, see the place, see the surrounding area. That summer, I booked another Vegas trip, then rented a car to drive out across Arizona and half of New Mexico, and take a left and get to the land.

About the area: this is maybe five miles north of the NM/CO border. Mesita is more or less a ghost town, a half-dozen houses and abandoned buildings are clustered around one intersection, and not much else is there. The nearest town is San Luis, about 15 minutes away. It’s the biggest town in the county, with just over 600 people, a Family Dollar, a gas station, and not much more. The next “big” town is Alamosa, which is an hour away, and is about 10,000 people. It reminds me of Goshen, Indiana back in the 80s, with a small college campus (Adams State) and the usual big box stores – Walmart, Safeway, a Chili’s, Big R, and so on. (There used to be a K-Mart, but you know how that went.)

The land was at about 7,800 feet, in the Sangre de Christo mountains. It’s a high mesa, basically a desert. It looks like it was maybe used for cattle ranching a century ago, and worn dead. The ground is loosely covered with scrub brush and wild pinion trees that are more like bushes. There’s a whole lot of nothing out by the land; every once in a while, you’ll see a farm, but it’s mostly completely abandoned land.

The first trip was somewhat disconcerting. First, that drive from Vegas was horrible. Then the stay in Alamosa was not entirely optimal. I booked a one-star motel that was right across from an AM radio station, and whenever I tried to use the phone, the entire wiring system rang with interference, so I would hear mariachi music in the background of every call. I drove out to the land, looked at it, walked around, and thought, “well, this was stupid.” I had some plans to go to K-Mart and buy a shovel, some water buckets, and a few sapling trees to transplant on a hail mary that they’d live. But this was a summer when there was a large wildfire hours west, and the sky made my eyes burn red the entire time. Plus I was woozy from altitude sickness. After about a day, I gave up and drove back to Vegas.

One ominous thing that stuck with me was that I was driving back to the motel on one of the hour-long loops down to the property, and I went past a graveyard. There was no green grass; just a bunch of tombstones stuck in an acre or two of dirt and brown crabgrass. I had this long thought about if this was where I’d end up someday, buried in a brown field hours away from civilization. This part of the trip made the budget room at the decades-old Tropicana I had back in Vegas a few days before feel absolutely regal.

I visited the land a couple more times after moving to Denver, but never got anything done. Mesita was maybe four hours away, but an incredibly long drive through the mountains and destitute plains. If I was super motivated, I would have spent my weekends hauling house parts bit-by-bit, building temporary shelter, setting up a cabin, whatever. But I never did. I’m lazy; I can barely keep my own house clean. I don’t have the gumption to build another one from scratch. And this whole project was the dream of a bachelor. After I got married, this compound/retreat thing wasn’t going to happen. If we want to spend time in a cabin, I’ll go to VRBO and search in Tahoe, and even then, we’d be sick of it after a few nights. Neither of us are the camping type, and the older I get, the more I think there’s no way I could ever dig a foundation or put a roof on my own house. I had to replace the plumbing under a sink the other day and it damn near killed me.

I get letters every few weeks about the land, blind offers made from investors who grab the tax records from the county and spam out form letters to everyone. They are usually ridiculously lowball offers, but they’ve slowly crept up in price. I finally decided to give up the ghost and see if I could line something up. I think it took a few months of paperwork and research on the buyer’s end, but I got a deal set up. I would lose money on it, but I no longer have to pay property tax on a land I will realistically never visit again. The only other two scenarios I could see here are that I stop paying taxes and the land eventually gets sold by the county at auction, or after I die, whoever handles my estate has to figure out how to sell the place. I’d rather have the cash in the bank now.

And I won’t go on and on about this (but am about to anyway), but everyone constantly hits me with “why don’t you…” scenarios that are impossible to do, which is annoying. The land has no water, no utilities, nothing on it. Drilling a well would easily cost $20,000 and not guarantee water. It only rains a foot a year. Despite nobody being around, the county has strict building codes that prevent any hippy-dippy alternative housing one might dream of: no rammed-earth; no yurts; no tire houses; no shipping containers; no tiny houses; septic field required; no composting toilets; no permanent RV parking. If you think “what about…” the answer is no, unless it’s a ranch house that meets every building code a house would need anywhere else. Winters are absolutely brutal up there, minus-40 temps and high winds; summers hit triple-digits and bone-dry, with that altitude making it even worse. There’s absolutely nothing around except live-free-or-die times hunkering down in makeshift trailer compounds, armed to the teeth and brimming with crazy ideologies that don’t mesh well with me (or anyone, really). It’s the poorest part of the state, absolutely abject property, pretty much half the population under the poverty line. If you built that expensive solar array and then left the house for a week, it would get stripped bare. There’s just no practical way to do anything there except struggle to live. It’s cheap for a reason: it’s like living on the surface of Mars.

Despite all of this, after I closed the deal and got the money, a profound sadness hit me. Having this land for twenty years was a big part of my identity, albeit one that has faded somewhat in recent years. I always joked about building a Hunter S. Thompson compound out there, or a writer’s retreat, or whatever. But the dream is dead. That really bothered me. I guess when I bought the place in 2002, there was some intense need to have that thing that defined me. I couldn’t work on a classic car in the city with no place to park it; I couldn’t afford to buy a boat; I couldn’t build a model railroad in the basement I didn’t have. I don’t know why I had (and have) such a strong desire to do something outside of my job and my bills, but I do. And that’s still going on, and I don’t have an answer to that issue yet. The depression over this mostly passed in a day or two, but I really need to figure out the big-picture void this leaves.

Anyway. More pictures, if you’re curious:



On the ranch

The zine is out, and available at lulu. You probably already know the details and are sick of hearing about it, but here’s more: This issue’s theme is “Weird, Paranoid, Insane”, and features 23 stories by 15 writers. I am very excited, because #12 has more published authors than ever; I also have a lot of solid work from some newcomers. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of writing from the usual gang of slobs that have contributed in previous issues. Authors include Grant Bailie, Keith Buckley, Tony Byrer, Joshua Citrak, Kurt Eisenlohr, Rebel Star Hobson, Stephen Huffman, Jon Konrath, R. Lee, Erin O’Brien, John Sheppard, Joseph Suglia, Todd Taylor, and Richard K. Weems. The stories range from tales of deranged relatives to secret coalitions to battle-maddened ‘Nam vets who can’t shop in Kroger without seeing VC behind every freezer cabinet, to a still-alive Richard Nixon snorting coke and listening to Dokken. Something for everyone. We created two video trailers for the book. (Yes, apparently books can now have trailers.) The first is at and the second one is – The second trailer was done by Matthew Pazzol, who also did the cover and interior art for the book. The book is now available at ( and will be available in about six weeks at,, and other fine online booksellers. It’s $14.95 + s/h. The book is 236 pages, and is 6×9″ with a very cool color glossy cover. The isbn is 978-0-6151-6314-7. Lulu has a free preview containing the first 20 or so pages that you can read online. Also check out, where you can download e-books of all previous issues for free, get information on submitting your work, and read news on Paragraph Line Books, the publishing company that I started with fellow author John Sheppard to put out AITPL and other books. As always, any links or mentions to the new issue out on the internets would be greatly appreciated. Since we’re not affiliated with any academic or corporate system, word of mouth is a godsend.

It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday morning, I woke up early, packed the car, and drove south on I-25, to my land. I hit the morning rush hour, but found it wasn’t terrible – it was possible to keep a good 50 or 60 going without touching the brakes. This will be my new morning commute, so it was good to time things. It was also nice to try out this whole podcast thing, by listening to Talking Metal, probably my favorite podcast as of late. I’ve got a fantasy baseball podcast on the iPod that’s okay, considering I just want news and not fantasy baseball stuff. Anyway, it passes the time, and within a half hour, I hit the big open mesa south of town, and got it up past 75 and on cruise.

This trip was more than just a look-see – I had in the back of the Subaru a set of three Colorado Blue Pine trees, each about a foot tall, in plastic pots. I also had a 50-pound bag of peat/manure mixture, some organic pesticide stuff, a shovel, and every large plastic container I could find, filled with about five gallons of water. i know three trees is not some huge undertaking, but the journey was more about timing the drive, and timing how long it would take me to haul out all of this shit and dig the holes in the ground. I also needed to do something to cap the end of my summer, before I got back to driving a desk for a living. And seeing something other than the parking lot across the street would be good for the soul.

I drove past the Air Force academy and saw a pair of Schweizer 2-33 gliders, one making his approach, and the other under tow, trying to get as much altitude as possible. (I have no idea how they fly at this altitude, with the thin air.) Then I cruised past Colorado City and its religious freakies, and Pueblo, and it’s beaten old factories. By 10:00, I got to Walsenberg, a tiny little town that sat at the intersection of 160. The biggest thing around was a gas station/truck stop, which happens to be the first place we ever filled up the Subaru. I took on a full tank of gas, then bought three gallons of water, and got a cheeseburger combo at the built-in micro-A&W. It was only ten and I wasn’t in the mood for burgers, but this would be the last stop before my land, and I’m a dozen miles from San Luis; their biggest eatery is a Checker station with a candybar shelf. Burgers it is.

The 160 drive is the roughest part of the trip, because the roads wind around tight mountain curves, and also raise and then drop about a half-mile above the mile-high altitudes. It’s all dual-lane stuff, and you’re always battling to pass a big rig hauling something that looks like a John Deere farm implement invented to mine the surface of Mars. Most of the terrain is reddish-brown, and you can occasionally see a bit of barbed wire surrounding a hundred acres and a hundred cattle, but a lot of it is overgrown scrub. The western haul is 47 miles according to the map, and you’re actually covering half that, because of the curves. Add in a transmission that keeps trying to jump down a gear because of the hills, and it took me about an hour until the speed limit dropped, and I hit the next town.

Fort Garland isn’t much, maybe the size of a couple of city blocks, and a diner or two, along with a museum and some gas stations. But it was also the intersection of 159 and 160, and 159 south was the home stretch. I drove south of town, and into the strange area where half of the land was scrub brush and desert, the place where the Air Force would drop bombs in mock combat drills. The other half was irrigated, green and glistening with huge agrarian machinery that pumped water through crops. Actually, a lot of the green had been mowed down by huge International Harvesters and baled into stacks of bright yellow hay. But it always strikes me as odd to look to the left and see nothing but loamy dirt, but to the right is this bright chlorophyll paradise. And don’t forget that the Sangre De Christo mountains are on either side of the valley.

After a dozen miles, I hit San Luis, the oldest city in Colorado. San Luis is pretty beat – most shopping malls are bigger, and even during the day, have larger populations. There are a few token attempts at being pretty for the tourists, the “come again” signs, the signs of the cross display and the old mission-style church high on a hill. By the time you slow down to 25 to match the speed limit, it’s time to get back to speed again, and the town’s done.

159 dumps out of San Luis going west, and then curves back south again, making its final run into New Mexico. My land is three miles south of there, and I always forget that they put in this recreation center since I bought the place, this pond about a quarter-mile square, where people fly fish. It’s so odd to see a body of water there, but nice. I start scanning for the county roads, and fall back to my training as a bicyclist in the Indiana cornfields, counting a mile per road on the grid. A big farm’s on the right, all green, maybe parsley. Then some busted-up house and barn buildings that are vacant, that look like they burned down. A mile south, I recognize the turn-off, County Road K. (For Konrath.) I hang a left, stop the car, and get out for pictures.

There are two roads from the highway to get to my property. First is CR. K, which is two dirt strips through a bunch of weeds, heading west. I get in the Subaru and drive west on that. It’s not a hard drive, but little weeds ping and snap on the undercarriage. Then, a quarter mile up, is the access road that goes in another quarter mile to a cul-de-sac. First, I drive west a mile, to the next big road on the grid. There’s an unnamed dirt road, but just past it is an eroded river bank, or maybe a farmer’s irrigation ditch. There’s only a tenth as much water as the banks would suggest, but it’s water! It’s like hiking Mt. Everest and finding a Ramada Inn halfway up, very unbelievable to me.

I back up, go down to the access road, and it is almost completely covered in flowers and weeds, so much that I could barely see it until I spied the ditches on either side. They dug out that road in late 2001 maybe, and I don’t think it’s been touched since. So I drove to the cul-de-sac and did a few donuts in the Subaru, to etch out some of the dirt underneath all of the tumbleweed.

Everything was the same as it was in March. I started this pile of stones then, anything bigger than a pack of matches I found while walking around the place. And the surveyor’s plastic stakes were still in. Most importantly, there wasn’t a ton of dumped trash. And no rabbits, deer, or horses. I started unloading the car, and looked for a place to start. There’s a 30-foot easement on each side, for the power company and whatnot. And I will eventually have my own little driveway coming out 45 degrees or whatever from the circle. And the best place to block with a treeline is north. So a pace is three feet, and I started making my marks.

Planting trees is a pain in the ass, but it’s also cathartic. I had to dig holes, water, put in peat, water, put in trees, put in driwater, put in peat, water, cover with dirt, water, spray with the pesticide. The ground was very clay-y, heavy with a recent rain, and I had trouble hiking around, because I’ve got this busted knee, and every surface is uneven from the ground and plants. But I finished in no time, and once the plants were in, I realized I had about an hour invested in the project.

(For those of you unfamiliar with DriWater, it’s like 99% water and 1% some inert ingredient that makes it a consistency of thick jello. When exposed to soil and the soil gets dry, the DriWater starts to melt and waters the soil. When the soil is wet or when the DriWater freezes, it stops melting. It comes in a biodegradable carton, like a carton of milk. You cut off the bottom, bury the carton against the root, and it melts and keeps things watered for up to three months. Very handy for when you’re planting trees in the middle of nowhere.)

I collected more stones – I have this dream that by the time I get the property cleared up, I will have a pile of stones big enough to make a driveway, although I realize that may take 500 years. I also watered the trees and sprayed on more of the bug stuff. And then I noticed a pain in my wrists, and realized that the bug stuff, or maybe some weed I touched, had caused my inner arms to burst out in red welts. My scalp and neck were also itchy, like I was being attacked by tiny bugs. So I packed up, doused the affected areas with water and then with purell, and decided that maybe it was time to get the fuck out of there.

The arm thing went away, and I have no idea what it was. Maybe heat rash. The pesticide only contained egg whites, cayenne pepper, and some other minor stuff. The neck/scalp thing – sunburn. I was very, very red by the time I got home. Much solarcaine was applied.

I’m back. Got the car washed in and out yesterday, then went to my last baseball game of the year – the Dodgers. It was a real nail-biter, too – went back and forth many times, then Brad Hawpe got a 2-run homer at the last minute to put over the Rockies. I forgot my radio, didn’t bring my binocs, and only took a few pictures. But it was awesome. I also like that pitcher Josh Fogg has a Foghat song for his walkup song. As we speak, the day game is 6-0 rockies in the 4th, so I expect good things to happen there. I will miss going to games. Maybe I could catch one more, and there’s a small chance that they will make playoffs, but then the tickets will be too expensive.

OK, gotta go get shit done.