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Wherever you move, there you are

Column by Hal Walter

Mountan Life – January 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

I SWORE UP AND DOWN the main range when I set _up shop here in the Wet Mountains back in 1991 that I would never move again. I came here to stay. But that was then — nearly eight years ago — and this is now. If I’ve learned anything from the experience, it’s to never say never.

Now it’s a new year, 1999, and I find myself with a litany of reasons I don’t want to live here anymore. The topper was the other day when a grader came over the top of the big boulder pile behind my property, cutting the driveway to the site for a new trophy home which, among its many amenities, will have an unobstructed view of the Out There Pack-Burro Training Ranch and the palatial Walter residence, as well as hot-and cold-running rattlesnakes during the warmer months. The latter shouldn’t be much of a problem, since there aren’t that many of them.

Warmer months, that is.

Deciding to move is one thing. Getting it done is another. First you need to decide where you’re going. I’ve narrowed the geographical area down to somewhere in the Arkansas Valley between Cotopaxi and Granite. The determining factors: below 8,800 feet elevation (which my friend who owns a global positioning system says is the precise elevation of my current home), and central location within driving distance of a decent grocery store, restaurants, and flyfishing.

It’s easy enough to narrow down the geography, but once you start to look for actual property, it becomes an entirely different matter.

Central Colorado is not exactly a real-estate buyer’s market, unless you just happen to be wealthy. So while I should have some decent equity in my place here, unless I’m able to find a real bargain I’m going to take it in the shorts on the next property. I’ve done enough research to know what I’m in for.

Among the real estate I’ve inquired about, and summarily removed from consideration, are some smaller parcels just west of Salida at about $20,000 per acre with restrictive covenants that would allow burros but require homes to be of large square footage with a two-car garage. A really nice 35-acre property just outside of Howard with hayfields, trees, and water rights is listed at $259,000. No, that’s not a typo — the price is $259,000.

Those water rights must be for Perrier.

Two properties also near Howard, a $64,000 9-acre lot, and a $185,000 log house on 3 acres, were under contract within a week of my finding them.

In addition, from a very helpful real-estate agent, Steve Peuser, I’ve learned of three 35- to 40-acre lots in the Coaldale and Howard areas priced in the $90,000-plus range. Seems to be the going rate for that size of property. It’s shocking to think that in 1991 I bought the house in which I currently live (see Colorado Central’s first and only classified ad section above) for about the same price as these raw acreages.

JUST FOR REFERENCE, I also looked into a subdivision in the Wetmore area. The only 35-acre lot _remaining was priced at $95,000. The covenants would allow burros, but would not allow fencing of more than 5 of the 35 acres. Also, the discharge of firearms is strictly prohibited to keep the noise down in this exclusive neighborhood which ironically is routinely rocked by the sound of artillery fire from Fort Carson to the northeast. I thought about this only briefly before concentrating my efforts back to a place where I could see the silvery rills of a river more often than the amber glow of the maximum-security federal prison near Florence.

Looking at Wetmore property was nostalgic. Ironically my real-estate sojourn began in Wetmore back in 1984, when I was 24, with the purchase of a home with a small acreage from Chris and Paul Brown. I worked with Chris at the Pueblo Chieftain where I was a copy-editor and she was a photographer; she’s now the photo chief there.

Anything goes in Wetmore — burros, chickens, nocturnal gunfire — and I got kind of used to that sort of freedom. When I took a job editing the Herald Democrat in Leadville my wife and I leased out the Wetmore house, giving the renters an option to buy. We’d been in Leadville nine months when our renters moved out and left the Wetmore house a shambles.

Meanwhile, up in Leadville, we had been unable to find our own place and were getting a lesson in the suburbanization of the New West. In short, practically nothing in Lake County at that time was zoned for livestock. Kate and Dan Larkin were very generous in letting us keep our critters in their corrals for most of our time in Leadville. I once left a burro picketed for one night at the house we were renting in Leadville and was served the subdivision covenants the next day at the newspaper.

Now we were paying rent to live in Leadville, and paying more rent to have a vacant house in Wetmore. Suddenly it occurred to us that my full-time newspaper job and my wife’s part-time nursing job weren’t going to support rent on two places, and we could keep our animals on our place back in Wetmore.

SO BACK TO WETMORE we moved. We spent a year and a half cleaning up and making some improvements to that property before placing it on the market and selling it in a matter of days. Looking at the prospect of homelessness, we searched Central Colorado again for property and ended up here. In my life, this is by far the longest I’ve ever lived in one place. But I feel it’s time to move on.

One of the more intriguing properties I’ve toured is near Cotopaxi. It’s 35 acres covered in piƱon and juniper trees and bordered by BLM land. There are no covenants and the property fronts a county-maintained road with power and phone. The price is $59,000, but getting to a building site will take some road-building. I like the concept of having the Bureau of Livestock and Mining as my neighbor because, in theory, there won’t be a trophy home going in next door in the near future. Then again, the BLM has allowed such things as clear-cutting and strip-mining on our public lands, and flat out sold off some of our public property as well.

Could this someday be the new El Rancho Walter? It’s tough to say. All things considered, there’s still a lot to consider. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In a sick way, writer Hal Walter is somewhat amused at the prospect of having a trophy home right in his own back yard.