We are quickly approaching our two year anniversary of being on the road, and we have no intention of stopping. We’ll keep traveling and working seasonally around the country, but we’d still like to park occasionally on our own piece of land.
Our plan is to buy a small parcel in Colorado, and another one somewhere in Texas. Still, we’re keeping our options open as far as locations go. On our way to Texas, we stopped in three towns I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
Town #1: Rodeo, New Mexico
Ever since our road tripping friends Kim and Sam wrote about Rodeo, I’ve been curious about it. Rodeo is located in a remote area of Southwestern New Mexico, way down along the bottom left corner, just a couple of miles from the Arizona border. It’s high desert country that doesn’t get too cold in the wintertime. The region’s dark, clear skies are known worldwide for stargazing, and birdwatching is a way of life.
Exactly Why is there So Much Money in Rodeo?
What’s really intrigued me about Rodeo was the influx of money that’s been showing up in a region that has seemingly little going on. As an example, John McAffee, founder of McAfeee Antivirus Software, started a huge development there, centered around his favorite sport, ultralight airplane flying (“aerotrekking”). Others have followed, building homes with their own private airstrips and observatories. The only grocery store, a small natural foods shop, is swanky and ranks up there with Whole Foods, but we couldn’t see how a rural area like Rodeo can support it. We imagined that that some rich guy built it for himself, using it as a tax writeoff.
So why is all of this money showing up? You tell me, because I can’t figure it out. Rodeo is 100 miles from anywhere, and the town isn’t more than a few doublewides and adobe structures. There’s plenty of natural beauty, if you like scrubby desert and rock formations, but there aren’t any rivers or bodies of water, and it’s not a mecca for sports except birdwatching, and aerotrekking (if you can afford it).
We talked to locals, and scoured the area to find out why people are showing up. The locals did their best to sell us on the benefits of buying property (still relatively affordable), but we still didn’t understand the big deal. I guess as the saying goes, the rich are different, and they obviously know something we don’t.
Town #2: Silver City, New Mexico
Our friends Dru and Michael own a piece of property here, and told us that land is still relatively affordable but going up. They compared it to what Durango, Colorado used to be like a decade ago, just before it got “discovered.” On our way to Texas, we went 160 miles out of our way to see Silver City.
Like Rodeo, Silver City is 100 miles off the beaten path. Located near Southwestern New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, it’s high desert country at around 7,000′ feet elevation, so there’s plenty of pine trees and high desert mountain-type scenery. Originally a mining town that was on a downslide for a number of years, Silver City is seeing more artists, new agers and creative types moving there to take advantage of the lower prices. It even has a university, which is always a good sign. We had heard that the downtown is getting revitalized, so we headed there first.
Silver City reminded us of our old hometown, Eureka, California, when we moved there in 1998. The half mile long downtown area does have some thriving little businesses, but there were still more vacant storefronts than leased ones. Half of the buildings were for sale, and even refurbed ones had tattered edges. Things died out as soon as the sun went down.
Despite the artsy edge to Silver City, it still wasn’t enough to convince us that this dusty mining town is going to be the next Durango. While locals may consider it a diamond in the rough, we know by our experience of living in a similar area that talk is cheap, and decades might pass before economic development takes a foothold in a rural town.
If land was affordable, we might have had a different impression. But for some reason, real estate is still pricey, even with the region’s precarious water situation. The price didn’t justify what we saw. We spent the night at Wallyworld and left the next day. Again, if someone knows something we don’t, please share!
Town #3: Marfa, Texas
This is the “re-discovered” town that left us the most puzzled. After leaving Silver City, we headed south east to Big Bend National Park. As we drove through ranchlands and wide open country with skies that went on forever. Longhorn cows were everywhere, stone houses and windmills dotted the countryside. This is my kind of country!
We were headed toward Marfa, Texas. Thinking it was just a pit stop on the way to Big Bend, we thought we’d stop for a night, look for the Lights some Texans told us about last year at the Ranch, and then drive 200 more miles to get to our destination.
A brochure we picked up earlier informed us that this little hamlet, 100 miles from anywhere with less than 3,000 people, was made internationally famous because the James Dean movie “Giant,” filmed on-site in the 1950s. Today, Marfa has been “re-discovered” by urbanites and movie producers.
Pulling into Marfa, we thought we’d been transported back to the 1950s. Marfa has a beautiful revitalized downtown area with high end galleries, restaurants, stores, a public radio station and even a ballroom. Many original buildings are completely redone, and The Hotel Paisano, where Giant was filmed and actors like Dean stayed, was a restored work of art.
We were perplexed. We just couldn’t figure out where all of this money came from. How did one little town find the funds to revitalize to this extent, when bigger “artsty” towns like Silver City could barely stay afloat?
We strolled through the neighborhoods, and saw a mashup of old, weathered rock houses alongside many rehabbed homes restored with tremendous care and accuracy. Old churches and vacant factories were now restored and occupied by artists. Art cars were practically on every corner, and posters announcing gallery shows were plastered throughout town. Marfa is funky and cool with an edgy feel to it . I was absolutely in love with this little town . . . at first.
We thought “wow, things must be cheap here!” and walked to a real estate office to check out listings in the window.
I hope the realtors inside saw our faces as we pointed at the flyers, then started laughing hysterically.
Marfa real estate is incredibly overpriced! Tiny, two bedroom ranch houses were going for a minimum of $250k and up, and the only affordable land was located 50 miles away. Anything in Marfa could be comparably priced to places on the East or West Coast. These people are smoking crack!
Darn City People!
We guessed that city people had swooped into this town, bought low, restored everything, and drove up real estate prices so high that now they’re stuck with overpriced real estate that they can’t get rid of.
Maybe they were mad about the downturn,which could explain why locals weren’t exactly friendly. People on the streets didn’t say “Hi” which is unusual for small towns like this. We didn’t see any cowboys or ranchers in town, but instead went past trendy looking pretty people with snazzy getups on their way to somewhere. Nobody made eye contact, but instead did the city thing where they look right through you as they walk by.
We thought perhaps we stank or something, until we ran into a nice elderly native woman. She told us, “These new people, they’re coming here, and they’re bringing their ways with them. We try to get along, but they’re so different”
At the chamber of commerce office, locals were talking about how a movie producer says Marfa is “the next Santa Fe.” We snickered. That seems like a serious stretch of the imagination. There’s nothing here!, we thought.
Later, we learned from a local guy in Alpine, the next closest town at 50 miles away, that New Yorkers have taken over Marfa and were doing exactly what we suspected; they bought cheap and tried to make money off of this “quaint” historically accurate restored Western town by trying to attract movie producers and artists. They might’ve been successful in doing that, but as for real people like us, we’re not insane enough to pay so much for property in the middle of nowhere, art town nor not.
Onward we traveled, south to Big Bend and beyond.