Thank you for your interest in helping this huge but tiny community!
The month of September is a near-holy month in the vast yet sparsely populated one-bar town of Bondurant Wyoming. We mark our calendars by opening days and know which camps to find friends and frequent accordingly. Elk illude the best. We wear our camo and guns to the bar. We can our deer in camp. We have a damn good time.
On Deer Opener this September, a fire started on a steep, wooded hillside and was reported. Within two days, the wind was blowing hard into the pristine wilderness of the Upper Hoback and Noble Basin. The two hunters that reported the fire barely escaped it and are actually still in the hospital recovering from their severe burns.
The fire grew. In a town of one hundred, many are volunteer firefighters. That meant folks were now leaving camps on sacred days and heading out in a hurry. Within another day, folks were packing up their camps and evacuating out of the woods as the fire and speculation grew.
This is big country. It seemed too large a space for something to go as far as it eventually did yet years of dead timber courtesy of the Pine Bark Beetle, aka "Beetle kill", left tremendous amounts of dry fuel in its path and the wind was relentless. With each day the response grew and incident teams increased and arrived to a point where we had over 1000 firefighters descend onto this enormous valley.
The community of Hoback Ranches was just west of this fire. Hoback Ranches is known for its stubborn remoteness. It's a community that when subdivided in 1973, was the largest "subdivision" in Wyoming. That said, the smallest lot allowed is ten acres. Access is four miles down a dirt road. Properties lay miles beyond that, tucked in the sprawling landscape. It's a very hard place to live. In the boom and bust run-up of real estate prices in Jackson Hole, Hoback Ranches offered the tempting prospect of not only home ownership but land ownership! Middle class and blue collar workers that want the Wyoming solitude have been commuting and carving out lives in Hoback Ranches from the beginning. It is a neighborhood centered around taking care of things themselves. I often describe living there as unrivaled bliss or The Donner Party part II. There isn't a lot of in between. For the first 36 years, plowing the roads in the winter was unheard of and you would be sued if you tried. Many of the 26 miles of roads within the community were never planned to be much more than summer roads and had never been designed with respect to plowability or were even platted to be maintained. The ISD teeters uneasily between a quasi Homeowners Association and just a service district with strict, minimal guidelines on what to take care of and how to take care of things. Or not take care of things.
We bought our lot in 2006. In January. We never even met the real estate agent. Nobody in their right mind would head out there to show a lot. We went out on snow machines with one of our best friends, a plat map and a GPS and found our future and currently undeveloped lot. We marked the corners. In hip deep snow. We bought it the next week. We built our own home with the world's tightest budget in 2010 right in the middle of the recession. Our daughter's footprints are in the basement concrete floor. That summer we backed a truck up at Weber Drilling and dumped two cords of split firewood in their yard as an offering to literally beg old Jack to come out and find us water with his magic witching sticks. And he did. By 2010 someone had unnecessarily died of exposure on their four mile ride in and said four mile access road was finally being plowed, powered by community donations and resident equipment. But we still had two miles to our house to contend with by ourselves. The weather held until Thanksgiving that year but when it let loose, it was relentless. We barely got our cars out in time that afternoon. Our first year in was the "biggest winter in 30 years!" and we weren't snow plowing. We snow machined in. Our cars didn't see the new garages until Mother's Day. Over the next five years, we did successfully plow that two miles, contended with powerful and terrifying storms, wind drifts that shut roads constantly, broken equipment, money we didn't have, a resistant and menacing Winter ISD committee and several neighbors who saw us as a vile threat to their quiet empty roads and way of life. But we did it. Like so many others before us, we found a way to make it out there.
Everyone in Jackson Hole has had that crazy friend who made it by packing babies and groceries on snow machines and somehow managed to pull off a life in Hoback Ranches. Even so, after what could be 20 more blog posts, we didn't make it as a couple. We sold the home, complete with our memories, after two and a half years of trying in March of this year.
So when this horrific fire started marching closer to what we had built, my heart grew anxious. I personally knew the excruciating lengths that we all go through to live there. It was a hopeful week but then the perfect conditions made their claim on a Sunday: 50mph winds forced evacuations of firefighters and marched the fire completely across my old neighborhood. It spared a few but utterly destroyed so many homes and all of the vast landscape we cherished.
In the post-apocalyptic burned landscape that remains, the fierce independence that built Hoback Ranches is what may be its detriment and I want to help in the one way I can. The infrastructure maintenance is handled privately. The road care is handled privately. The full time residents are not the wealthy ones so callously written off by the mean-spirited keyboard warriors of social media. They are staring at winter - that terrifies me on a good year - with nothing left. Some are insured. Some are underinsured and some are not insured at all. Some of it isn't financially worth rebuilding but the neighborhood will remain regardless and needs any help that it can get.
Follow the link above to purchase a print and contribute to the recovery. Thank you! xo