Homesteading in the High Desert

By taking jobs as ranch caretakers, one enterprising couple made their dream of independent living come true.

| July/August 1976

In every issue of MOTHER, I read reports from folks who've "gotten it together" and gotten themselves back to the country. One thing I've noticed is that most of these people—prior to making the Big Move—endured city life long enough to save sufficient money to buy a piece of property.

That's fine, but there are other ways of "goin' back" . . . quicker ways. I know, because Ladd and I were able to settle down here in the mid-California high desert without first toiling for years to buy our own farm. Instead, we're caretakers of a 40-acre one-time-boys'-camp called the Silver Spur Ranch.

Two years ago, Ladd and I made the mistake of moving away from the Kern Valley (where we first met and where we now live) in order to make money in the big city. We found, though, that six months in northern Los Angeles County was all we could take. Our firsthand experience with "city life" left us stifled and uptight . . . and not significantly richer.

So we moved back to the Kern Valley with only a few more dollars to our name than we'd set out with (certainly not enough to allow us to buy our own land). We simply returned with hopes of finding: [1] a place to live, [2] some work to do, and [3] time for all the crafts we loved and missed. We wanted to slow down again.

During our first few months back in the valley, we stayed with Ladd's brother, who lived in a house rent-free in exchange for working at a local ranch. (This is what I mean about "other ways" of getting back to the country. The ranches around here always need hired help, and working for them is a good way to learn a lot about ranching/farming.)

One day, while looking for parts for our 1942 Dodge, Ladd met old Fred (the "Goatman"). Upon learning of our situation, Fred invited us to come live on the Silver Spur Ranch—he was caretaker then—in exchange for a little work. Needless to say, we took him up on the offer and moved into one of the four cabins.

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