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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello all,

I have some questions about the possibility of homesteading in the desert. I have this fascination with arid land and it's a real dream of mine to be able to own a little plot and start building something out of nothing. But, I currently know next to nothing about how to start.

For some context, I'm interested in getting a little plot something like this: https://www.landwatch.com/Colorado-Land-for-sale/pid/37001550. I think of it as "scrubland" or "semi-arid" but it's probably fair to call it the desert. My questions are pretty basic:

- How do I find what kinds of crops I could plant? I know that I associate certain kinds of fruit trees, like dates, or certain crops, like millet, with being able to grow in the semi-desert, but how can I figure out what would actually work where I am? Should I be focusing on goats or some other animal instead?

- Should I be concerned that there are no trees where I'm looking? I've read a lot about how they get trees to grow in places like the Sahel in Africa by building holes and burns to manage the little water that's there, but I have no practical knowledge.

- What's the best way to look to find the best land? How can I tell if land is good without seeing it.

- What are the major costs I'm not necessarily thinking of?

I would appreciate any help and advice!! I've been reading all I can on this site, but please please send as many useful links/guides as you can.

Also, I tried to search to see if someone else posted the same thing, but there's a lot of threads to go back through. If I'm duplicating another post let me know!

Edit: For what it's worth, I think this would be a part time situation for the first few years. I would enjoy going out for a month or two a year to begin work, but don't worry, I wouldn't quit my day job.
 

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first off I see major water problems. kinda goes down hill from that. I like the look of that country myself. Just don't see makin a go of a homestead there.
 
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Personally, I wouldn't buy land without looking at it first.

Water is your main concern in the desert. You'll have to drill deep to get it, if you can get it. You'll want lots of horse manure to till into the sand or a greenhouse. You could find a job as a ranch caretaker, if those exist anymore.

Good Luck with your search!
 

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There isn't water to be had in the Colorado wastelands. That's why they are wastelands. That and the average wind speed is 30 mph and up. 40 below some winters and 110 above in the summer. I lived in eastern Colorado for several years and we would drive across 15 from Julesburg to Fort Collins on occasion. Might see 3 vehicles in 40 miles. NOTHING there.

I don't know if this is the area you are looking at but other areas the same.
 

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Just went back and looked at site you were looking at. Forget it. Nothing there but scrub and won't be.

There was a advertisement like that for Wyoming a few yrs ago. 40 acres cheap. Same problems. A lot of people got screwed big time.
 

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There isn't water to be had in the Colorado wastelands. That's why they are wastelands. That and the average wind speed is 30 mph and up. 40 below some winters and 110 above in the summer. I lived in eastern Colorado for several years and we would drive across 15 from Julesburg to Fort Collins on occasion. Might see 3 vehicles in 40 miles. NOTHING there.

I don't know if this is the area you are looking at but other areas the same.
I lived on the Front Range near Denver in Colorado, not the plains, but sometimes that 40 below and 110 seem to happen during the same day. Short growing season made more difficult by unpredictable snap freezes or heat waves. I've been out on the plains visiting enough to know that the wind can quite literally drive you crazy.

Cannot for the life of me imagine trying to homestead under all those conditions (water, weather, and wind being the main, but not only, issues). I know people do it and have done it in the past, but I cannot imagine how difficult it is/was.

There are a lot of more hospitable desert climates for homesteading, where you won't have the unpredictable weather issues, aren't out in the middle of nowhere for things like hospital services, or, more importantly, have better access to water and water rights than eastern CO. Especially if you're new to gardening (and I'd assume animal husbandry, no experience here) in an arid climate, it is a steep learning curve coming from more temperate areas.
 

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good first step check with the ag department at either CSU or UC will be able to help with what you can raise or grow, Water will be a major issue can you put in a well, truck it in my understanding it is illegal to catch water in Co, but not sure, will need to build up the land, run the numbers and buying good land could be about the same price as making desert land workable.

best of luck and go in with your eyes wide open
 

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There is a company in Tuscon Arizona called Native Seeds. You can go online I believe an order their catalogs.
https://www.nativeseeds.org/
They produce and sell all varieties of corn, beans, etc quite close to what was grown generations ago, hundreds of years before modern gmos. Basically what the Indians before us farmed with, in the deserts.
I won't pee on your dream but you are up for quite a steep learning curve and heavy odds.

I was in Arizona last year to visit my sister, and turned off of I10 onto what would be considered the southwestern version of a "country road". Real estate signs planted every so often for "10 acres" "17 acres" "32 acres" that all looked about the same; parking lot flat parcels with dead brush and dirt devils respraying the dust. How does one decide on one piece over the other?

Yet there was a house, set back at least a half mile off the road, with no drive, surrounded by metal fencing and reinforced with old tires. He had what appeared to be a half dozen lemon trees and several container gardens under lean toos.

A couple of cows mostly ribs and skin and a few goats and some chickens. His house and truck covered with orange dirt to the point of masking the color underneath. It was about 110 that day and monsoon season was still a few months away. I don't know- they seemed to be making it work.
 

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I have traveled a good bit in Colorado & the surrounding areas. I like visiting out there a lot, but would not want to live out there full-time.
Many years ago, you would see Colorado land ads in the back of magazines. " Land for $7 an acre !" My uncle traveled all over the states as a Land Procurement Agent, for the military. I asked him about those ads. He said that the land was super cheap, but not $7 an acre. He said the reason it was cheap was because it wasn't worth a sh*t !
 

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............You had better acquaint yourself with the zoning laws for any county you might buy land , IN ! They can BE a major Pain in the rear ! Can you haul water ? Do you have to connect to local electric grid ?
.............There is lots of cheap scrub land in Tx along I20 west of Odessa Tx but with a lot less zoning laws to deal with.........and you can probably drill a water well if you have the $$$$$ to do so . Look up Mentone or Kermit,tx for cheap land ! , fordy
 

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I don't know if their laws have changed or not, but at one time, homeowners could not " catch" water is rain barrels/cisterns, etc. !!
............You had better acquaint yourself with the zoning laws for any county you might buy land , IN ! They can BE a major Pain in the rear ! Can you haul water ? Do you have to connect to local electric grid ?
.............There is lots of cheap scrub land in Tx along I20 west of Odessa Tx but with a lot less zoning laws to deal with.........and you can probably drill a water well if you have the $$$$$ to do so . Look up Mentone or Kermit,tx for cheap land ! , fordy
 

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Good lord stay out of Colorado everyone moving out of Hollywood has mad it. Greatly overpriced.
For instance these lots should be priced about $500 total not per acre.
Those five acres might be able to raise ONE tree or a small garden.
Not much more.
When I was passing through once I think s local told me they plan on raising one cow on a section!(640 acres)!
I think we have some on the board that are more local and might be able to give ya some closer ideas.
 

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I live in a nearby county, and have driven through that area ... Alamosa is your nearest "big town" (small college town, farming area); this area is in a valley (bowl) between mountain ranges. It is arid, but also lots of farming on a "large" scale (wells, irrigation equipment, money), yielding those "round" green farmland plots you see in the aerial property pictures. Cold in winter, hot in summer ... but, there is some fantastic views in all directions, if you like "looking" at the good stuff, vs living in it.

If the land is priced right for you, and you can't find better land for that price (whatever that is to you), this would be workable, with solar, hauling water (for some, hauling water is year-round, greenhouse, rv (while you built), etc. Plenty of other folks live/work in that area, even out into those arid parts you are looking at. San Luis has some history, as well ...

I'd agree with those that you have to visit the area before buying ... and after that, think on it awhile, as there is lots to consider to get a homestead going, including all that others have mentioned. Not insurmountable problems, but problems that need to be dealt with ...

To get your money back on "over-priced" useless land, you have to build value into it and make it "useful"; sooner or later, to the right buyer, someone in that area will want/buy what you labored to build into it. So, for a DIY, you can build a lot of valuable things into that useless land, and make it productive. Perhaps when you visit it, you'll see what others around there have done.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks everyone for the advice!

It seems like those who thought you can't collect rainwater in Colorado are right. Having looked into a few western states in the past few days, Colorado seems to be among the strictest with its water laws.

Another area that I've been looking into is Elko, Nevada. Perhaps people have experience with that area? The water laws and building laws are much more permissive, and land is similarly priced. We're looking at this parcel, for instance https://www.landwatch.com/Elko-County-Nevada-Land-for-sale/pid/352014730

Thanks for the suggestion about Native Seeds! I had read about that organization a while ago but forgot the name, it sounds really useful.
 

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Colorado is one of the western states with a history of water issues/rights, and the lawyers have made tons of money off of it. But, in general, CO has relaxed some of its water rights laws. There is a magic number of acres, and it is 35 ... with 35 or more acres, you can do pretty much what you want with water on your property. You can drill a well that can be used for anything; you can even catch rainwater (legally). You'll see lots of ads for land in the 35 acres or more range, and that is because of water rights ... it takes a bit of reading ...

For smaller parcels, the rules are different, and/or the developer of the smaller parcel has worked in water rights in some form or fashion. But, the point is that the smaller parcels usually have some rights as well ... you can still drill a well, but the state may say it can only be used thusly (and, once permitted, people do what they want anyway). Verify before you buy, or buy more than 35 acres. If out in the country, you also have to verify that you have legal road access to your parcel; usually you do, but verify ...

However, out in the country, nobody pays attention to rainwater catchment ... just do it, and don't be obvious about it. There are no rainwater police. There might be "pond" police, where they buzz a drone over your property, and see if a non-permitted pond is taking shape. This is because water isn't going back into the watershed, and thence to those folks who "purchased" all the water rights long ago; money means more enforcement. Even here, folks build ponds left and right ... Haven't attempted to build a pond yet on my 40, but have plans to do that one day.

I can't imagine any state not being a great place to buy land, build your homestead on it, and live there ... CO is no exception, and there is no problem that is insurmountable. Plus, in CO you have the benefit of tons of play land (national forest, blm, etc.) around ...
 

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Finally found the right link to water rights ... national page is at:
http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/rainwater-harvesting.aspx
and Colorado executive summary in there. Upshot: can do rainwater collection from your roof, and use it around the property (greenhouse, etc.) ... they don't want you drinking it, but most people use it for irrigation, and some just surreptitiously (wow, got 20 points for that word) run it into their filtering system.
Those with a well (the right kind of well, on 35 acres or more) can do more with rainwater collection ...
 

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first of all, water, 10 acres as started is not enough to get a well permit, and water may not even be reachable by wells, the land is overpriced, IMO, if you "want to farm" do not buy, there is a reason it has not be broke up to farm, and that is either the land will blow away, and most like in that area the rain fall my be just a bit above 10" a year, not enough to grow a crop on, to do cattle (my area) is 20 acres for a cow calf, the san luis area I understand it is dryer than my area, it may take 30 or 50 acres for a cow calf, "In the San Luis Valley area, stocking rates can range from 6 to 120 acres per animal unit." https://ask.extension.org/questions/540576"
employment most likely would be hard to get anything over min, wage, and if you do farm work I don't think one needs to pay min, wage,

unless your looking at 160 acres+, I would not even consider it, (in my area, on 160 acres, one could run 8 cows, maybe, say to have 100% birth rate, and sell 7 calves, you my have an annual income of about $4900, (one held back for cow replacement), and some place one will need a bull, but the picture you showed (IMO is only suitable for some animal grazing),

I will not say it is a scam, but in a sense it is, (this has been done in some places in WYO, out of towners see an add for cheap land and do not realize there is little or no water, and to get to the property is not easy, so a rancher sells them 10 or so acers, and when the buyer comes out to see it say I made a mistake, (in most western states the owner needs to fence livestock out of the property, (open range laws), they usually abandon the lots or lot, and in the meantime the rancher still grazes the acreage, in a few years the taxes are not payed and the rancher buys it back for next to nothing, and most likely waiting for the next sucker, to buy the land all over again,

this is most likely appropriately priced for the value of the land, https://www.landwatch.com/Costilla-County-Colorado-Land-for-sale/pid/333696891
and this may have been some one who bought one of the lots or simular, your looking at,

I do not know land prices down there, but the looks of it (I would not want to pay over $200 an acre for it),


 
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