So, the off grid ranch got off to a romantic start. But then things sputtered…
Daughter Sarah came out to help pack and move, doing long, hard hours without which we’d have been four days late making the move instead of just one. How can any two people collect and hoard this much stuff? In my defense, stuff is part of my job description. I’m regularly testing new boots, hunting clothing, packs, scopes, rifles, ammo, flashlights, tents… And T-shirts! I must have donated 30 T-shirts to Good Will, packed 30 more for future use, and rediscovered a couple dozen in odd corners. Used those for packing filler. All had some manufacturer’s name emblazoned front or back. Don’t even ask about ball caps…
But I digress. With all the packing done, we blinked our former home bye bye in the rearview mirror and drove to the new ranch, arriving about two hours before sunset. Greeting us were four red hens and Brewster the Rooster donated by the former owners. These chickens had been living free-range for four weeks amidst hawks, bobcats, coyotes, badgers and mountain lions. We never thought they’d make it. Surprised as we were by that, we were even more shocked at our reactions. The laying hens had survived. OUR laying hens. Funny what little things bring one joy.
But I digress again. The real focus of this blog is the wild birds and beasts that greeted us, and I wanted to show those to Sarah. “Want to take a quick ATV tour to the nether reaches of the estate?” I asked.
“But of course.”
“Then climb aboard m’lady!” We saddled the old, red Honda Foreman 4-wheeler that came with the place and headed into the hills. Rather substantial hills. I haven’t made a complete GPS survey yet, but the ranch appears to start at about 5,200 feet. It climbs to 5,680 feet. It is covered with a healthy quilt of sage-steppe species interspersed with too much invasive smooth brome. But not so much that it completely discourages native wildlife. During our month’s long assessment of the property prior to buying, we saw mule deer and elk plus moose sign. And one rooster pheasant, one sharptail grouse, one goshawk, and a pair of resident red tailed hawks.
So I proudly took Sarah to see some of this. Up, up, up we putted on the noisy 4-wheeler, the mountain landscape spreading behind us. But no elk. No deer. No coyotes, pheasants, or grouse. The grass and shrubs stood parched after a long, dry summer. But the maples were still green. The distant peaks on both sides of the valley stood dark with firs and pines. Critters or no critters, the land was spectacular.
Let’s be honest. In the world of ranches and ranching, 300+ acres is a drop in very large bucket. But when it’s YOUR 300+ acres… It’s a vast, veritable fiefdom. We’re trying not to be proprietary, but it’s hard. We are well aware that we don’t own land so much as lease it from the future. Our intent is to return it in better condition than we found it, which will be difficult because the former crop fields are already protected by CRP grass, and the former owners had rarely grazed the rest. Native shrubs and wildflowers appear to be thriving. I can’t wait to compile a vegetative census of the place.
There I go, digressing again. Sheesh. I’ll lose you all before we get rolling. Speaking of rolling, Sarah and I finally rolled to a stop in the far corner of the land. U.S. Forest Service land spread to the horizon miles away and more than 9,000 feet up. Sarah was duly impressed and the sun was setting, so we started back. That’s when two sharptailed grouse flushed across our path. Then our resident red tails sailed overhead. Sarah took the controls and motored us right next to a herd of eight mule deer. Pale yellow northern orioles flitted from hawthorns dripping with purple apples.
When we’d returned to the barn and shut the machine down, a rooster pheasant gave us a crowing salute. Seconds later a coyote chorus tuned up in the distance. Our off grid, wild ranch was living up to its wild, romantic billing. Unfortunately, that would be compromised the very next morning… We’ll describe that trouble in our next blog.
Ron and Betsy Spomer hope to share many of their joys and tribulations as they celebrate and struggle with their new way of living — off the grid.