Heading deep into the desert with a friend who has made a forgotten piece of the world into her new home.
“It’s a drive,” Patricia told me, then held up the map. About an hour down the highway, we’d take an exit, drive for twenty minutes, then turn down a dirt road. “It’s another hour from there.”
I told her she was giving new meaning to “off the grid.”
It was late, so I did my best to follow her in the maze of taillights along Interstate 40. Near the New Mexico state line, we took an exit and stopped for gas, then continued down to that first dirt road. I didn’t quite believe her when she said it would be another hour, but as the road twisted and wound, as the lights of everything except our two trucks disappeared and the increasingly high weeds started to whack the undercarriage of my Ford, I started to realize how completely screwed I would be if my truck chose that moment to break down.
This is where Patricia has chosen to build her life.
The road to Patricia’s land, as seen the following morning.
There are few places in the country more isolated than this area that Patricia has set up. It’s not just the geography. The weather has a bone to pick with anyone who decides to make this place home. Temperatures soar over 100 degrees in the summer and plummet below freezing in the winter. The wind gusts, at times, over 50 miles per hour. There are few trees for shade. There are critters aplenty (I saw a couple coyotes in the morning), minimal rainfall, and few opportunities for growing one’s own food.
Patricia loves it.
This isn’t just about going off the grid for her. There’s a higher purpose at work. She sees the land as neglected, degraded. She wants to put her time in and help it regenerate, grow, and bloom. Ideally, this eventually becomes land she could live off of full time.
We hit her property at around midnight and I looked up at the Milky Way scattered across the sky. Among other advantages, places like Patricia’s spot offer some of the greatest stargazing in the world.
“You take the Yurpee,” she said. “I’ll sleep in my truck.”
“I can’t take your house, Patricia.”
“You take it. You’re the first houseguest I’ve ever had.”
Patricia bought this land two years ago. A little over a year ago, she raised the Yurpee (a combination yurt/teepee). It’s a small operation, just big enough for one person to sleep in. Many nights, particularly when the wind is howling, she sleeps in her truck. But the structure is solid, standing up to the brutal winds that roll uninterrupted across the Colorado Plateau.
Little by little, she’s putting her home together. It’s a pioneer existence, though the Yurpee makes me think more the nomads of Mongolia than of any settlers of the American West. For money, she works as a copy editor, driving into town to use the Internet, post her work, then head back to the middle of nowhere.
I’ve known Patricia for around eight years, and what makes her existence so astounding to me is that she’d never done anything like this before. Sure, she learned a lot of permaculture work while living on a farm before she moved out here, but she was working with a team of people, many of whom had been living this way for years. To suddenly snag twenty acres of land far away from anything she knows and attempt to homestead on it takes a staggering amount of guts.
Morning view from inside the Yurpee.
In the morning, she takes me around the property. Over here, the future orchard. Over here, the strawbale. And right here, the greenhouse.
She tells me the land already looks different than when she first arrived. She heats some water on a Coleman stove, pulls out a couple of oranges, and we have a breakfast of fruit and tea in the middle of the endless sagebrush.
“I like it out here,” I say.
“You’re welcome anytime,” Patricia tells me. “I don’t get a lot of visitors.”
And from the way she says it, I gather she’s just fine with that.
Patricia is keeping a blog of her progress on the land. It’s called Fringed Sage, and you can find it here.