Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to Decide Where to Live in the Country

So, I'm researching desirable places to live in Colorado. I had a very scientific method (*snort snort*) if you'd like to try it yourself:
  1. Go through your four back issues of Country Magazine and that book you have, A Year in the Country, 2nd Editon. Very Good. Now, whenever you see somewhere you like the looks of, write down the name of the town. If it's a nat'l park or something, get out your atlas and find a nearby town. If you like, only write down names of placesin a particular region. Like, I only wrote down the places in the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado). 
  2. You should have a nice, list of about twenty five various places by this time. My list included: Jackson, Wyoming. Telluride, Colorado. Noxon, Montana. Silverton, Colorado. Bozeman, Montana. Winston, Oregon. Chattaroy, Washington. Yampa, Colorado. Belgrade, Montana. Alsea, Oregon, Montrose, Colorado. Monument, Colorado. And several more. At this point I could see I had a definite preference for Colorado scenery, so I made a new list of the Colorado locations only. 
  3. I definitely wanted to live in the Rockies, so I got out my big Rand McNally 2010 Road Atlas (you can usually also get maps of states for free from the states' tourist site, Colorado's is here). Next, I looked at the index of towns in the back and all the towns farther over than column 14 (just past Denver's longitude) got crossed off. I now had a list of about ten towns which I listed in alphabetical order on a page in my notebook I have where I write all the details of my homesteading plans. I wrote down the Rand McNally coordinates (you can find those by looking up the towns in the index in the back). Then I went on City-Data.com and found the county, population, elevation, and temperature average for each location and wrote that down next to each town. 
  4. That's when I noticed this handy little link on City-Data's home page: Small Towns. If you follow the link, you will be taken to a list of all fifty states. Click on whichever state you wish. Naturally, I picked Colorado. I was now at a page with fairly long list of all the towns in Colorado with less than 1,000 residents and a map with pins on it showing their location. I copy and pasted the entire list into a blank Notepad document. Then, I used the index in my Atlas to take all the towns off the list that were farther over than column 14. There were a few towns that weren't in the Atlas. Those I left on there to look at later. 
  5. I decided to take the elimination process a step further and cross off all the towns that were farther over than column ten (in other words, keeping only the towns on the left page). Then, I went to the map on City-Data where the list of small towns were and invented my own coordinates for the towns not on the map. Mountain Village, CO--for example--is not on the Atlas or found in the index. It's coordinates are K-6 (row K, column 6). Rico, CO was on the atlas but not in the index (also located in K-6). 
  6. Temperature came next. Using the information found on City-Data, I crossed off all the towns whose average temperature at the hottest time of the year (usually July) was less than 60 degrees or so got marked off. Then, I got rid of all the towns that I felt were too close to Denver. At this point, the entire list (a culmination of the previous steps) was down to twenty-seven. I decided this was enough. You may wish to continue narrowing down. If so, you can use any of the following criteria:  county/state, snowfall, sunshine, precipitation, distance from major metropolitan areas, proximity to houses of worship, population, taxes, laws, average age, employment opportunities average income, schools, grocery stores, etc. Most of that info can be found on the City-Data page or one of City-Data's forums. 
  7. Once your list is as short as you wish, open a word processing or similar document and type in the following categories on the first line: Name, Population, Rand McNally Atlas coordinate (I shortened it to just "RMcN"), Temperature at different times of the year, County, and any other details that are important to you. Now type in your list of towns and their information in each of your chosen categories (one town per line is how I organized mine). Now it's time to decide which category to sort your list by. Mine was originally sorted by name, but I decided that temperature was most important and so I sorted that way. The quickest way to do that is to highlight your list and click the button that makes it a bulleted list. Then, use the bullet toolbar to move each bullet point up and down the list as desired. You can highlight the list and click the bullet button again to remove the bullets if you don't want them there later. 
You now have a fine list of different areas to check out. You don't have to visit them all in person (especially if your list has about twenty-five places on it like mine does). Start by trawling the internet. Read its page on City-Data and the forums on City-Data that it's mentioned in. Google the town's name in quotes (ie, "Crawford, CO"). Request tourist info (to look at the pretty pictures). Read the state, county and town websites (if they exist). Find out about building codes and remodeling codes (did you know Cheyenne County in Colorado doesn't have building codes? Think of all the different alternative buildings you could construct without worrying about convincing Planning & Zoning!). Check out climate maps and gardening zones. Look for population maps and county maps. Read the Wikipedia entry for the state, county, and town, then visit all the relevant links in the article.

You are, of course probably looking for rural land, so use the town as a jumping-off point to find an area that suits you best. You're not really looking for the town, so much as the area. Google search the name of your town and "real estate" (ie, Pagosa Springs, CO real estate). Look through the listings. You don't have to be looking seriously. The point of this exercise is to get a feel for the land before you spend money to go scout it out. Real estate listings will reveal what kind of land is available, the going rate for the different kinds, and (best of all) it will probably provide pictures of the place which are always so much fun, but also give you a good visual of the area. Note things like what kind of vegetation grows there, is it too cold for deciduous trees?

Go on GoogleMaps and find the town on there. With this tool, you can look at traffic, road maps only, the terrain and road map together (it's called "Satellite"), and under "More" there's photos, videos, Wikipedia, webcams, etc so you can see the land from more than just a bird's-eye view. Another favorite of mine is "Terrain." With this filter, you can see a map of the terrain and if you zoom in to a certain level, the different elevations are labeled to about every 1,000 feet. This way, it's easy to tell the location you're viewing is in a valley, on a mountain, in the midst of flatland, etc and how high above sea level it is.

This is fun, whether or not you're seriously looking for a place to live or just daydreaming about "someday." After all this internet exploring, you'll probably be able to narrow down the area to just a few places. I have found that area I like best is Southwest Colorado, specifically the area that includes Delta County, Gunnison County, and Hinsdale County. 

Blah, Blah, Blah

Wow, that last post was looong. But I think I stayed on topic for that most part, so it's all good. Our plans at this point are so up-in-the-air at this point that we don't even know what we're doing. So far we've come up with the following locations:
  • Southeastern AZ (where my acre is located)
  • St George, UT
  • Spokane,WA/Coeur d'Alene, ID
  • Tacoma, WA (where a cousin of my mother's lives)
  • And Rural Colorado. But I think that at this point it's kind of one of those castles in the air that Louisa May Alcott frequently referred to in her books. Ooooh! A pertaining quote!
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
--Henry David Thoreau
Of course my vote is all for Colorado (except I did mention once that I thought we should move to Romania). Right now what we're doing is hoping and praying. Tomorrow my mom is going to call about some rentals in St. George, UT since that's the closest and therefore most feasible of the five.

But enough with the Realism already lol. I've been researching a lot of places and even considered other places outside of Colorado, but I keep coming back to Colorado. The more I research, the better I like it. Why? Well, it's fairly natural disaster-free: it's not particularly earthquake prone, no tsunamis or Hurricanes (since it's nowhere near any oceans), it's mountainous and therefore tornadoes are unlikely. Also, out of all the states, it is the only state where all of it is above 3,281 feet. Its lowest point (where the Arikaree River flows into Kansas) is the highest of all the states low points: 3,315 feet.

It's amazing the things you can learn from Wikipedia.

Of course Colorado has the Rocky Mountains which naturally makes it my favorite (shhh, don't tell her that Idaho and Wyoming and Montana do, too!). There are points against it of course: Daylight Savings Time is one big one. Arizona doesn't have that and that's one thing I really like about it. Also, it gets really cold in some places. Cold doesn't necessarily = bad thing, but cold + short growing season does = bad thing. Greenhouses are a solution, but having all your gardens and orchards in greenhouses just seems...sad...

Also, the testing part of the homeschooling laws are just dumb (Arizona and Idaho don't have homeschool student testing). I do see the upside to testing (making sure that the children are actually learning), but, in my mind at least, the downside is worse. You see, if you're homeschooling your child because they're doing poorly in school, then if they don't improve enough to pass that year's testing then back to school they go. There are ways around this evaluation (like having a teacher who's a family friend come in and do it in a non-testing way), but it's still a drawback. On the brighter side, they don't require school/teacher supervision for the actual schooling part.