For a couple of years prior to our launching on our Trajectory Towards Transformation, I’d been fighting late night financial despair demons plaguing my thoughts by cruising on-line realty sites like Zillow. So I had a pretty good idea of pricing and availability within our possible budget range long before we started to narrow our choices. I’d also been scanning loads of lists about “Best Places to Retire” or “….Start a Second Act” or “…Live Afforadbly,” taking extensive notes & compiling my own sub-lists, noting especially overlaps and repeat cities.
So with our sights set on Colorado or near Asheville, we headed out to scout both areas.
Within Colorado, we started off with another process of elimination, crossing off with Boulder (too expensive), Denver (too big), and Colorado Springs (too conservative) pretty quickly. We also had no interest in living up any narrow mountain roads. Asking old friends living in Colorado gave us a few other places to consider checking out. As we got closer to our scouting trip, we dropped Ft. Collins from consideration for being too far north. The comment in one article, “Ft. Collins is closer to Cheyenne, Wyoming than Denver — and not just in miles,” was the final thing that pushed that possibility out of consideration.
Pueblo, our first target detonation, popped up a couple of times on lists centered around affordability. They boast the lowest residential property prices in the state and ranked as the 6th most affordable city in the country on one list. The southern Colorado location would be a bit of an advantage as well, considering we intend to travel back to Texas for visits rather often. Using Zillow for a guide, we’d found a dozen or so homes to look at and booked a couple of nights in a hotel near downtown.
But I guess we got our first hint at a recurring theme in Pueblo when the clerk saw where we parked, and commented that was a good spot, as we would be able keep an eye on our car from our room. That sounded a little odd, but we took little note of it at the time. We enjoyed strolling part of downtown Pueblo that evening and mapped out some houses to look at the next day. As we drove around to view them, we noticed that nearly every house had anti-burglary bars, and somehow, in every conversation, the person from Pueblo would invariably say something about “security issues,” generally assuring us they didn’t have many problems like that in this part of town…with that dangling phrase hinting many other parts did.
We didn’t entirely cross Pueblo off the list yet, but headed west to check out a recommendation from my friend, Rory. Knowing how much we loved Boulder, he mentioned Paonia, in western Colorado, had the nickname, “Boulder West,” for its similar vibe — so we booked a room in a B&B there to check it out.
Indeed, Paonia was a hip little town in a beautiful valley in the western range — with an emphasis on “little.” We loved our B&B, we loved the funky main street drag and several of the shops, and we loved the overall vibe of the whole place. But after seeing only one general grocery store on the main street, we asked our B&B hostess where she picked up household and grocery staples. Well, it turned out, about once a month, she drives 45 miles over to Grand Junction to stock up. That killed it there for us. I’ve done that distance shopping routine before, and that was not in our plans. No, Paonia might make a great weekend retreat for us, but it would not be our new home.
At first, Cañon City was only a footnote on our scouting trip. I think it was my old buddy, Arnie, who had just recently retired to Florida after years living in Denver, who mentioned Cañon City, or maybe a mutual friend, Jill, who lives in nearby Penrose.
Well, we had to drive through Cañon City on our way westward from Pueblo, so we decided to take a quick look on the way through. Driving westward from Pueblo, you traverse a high, arid plain where tumbleweeds are not unusual sights — we were not impressed by the Pueblo West area at all. We passed Penrose a little further west, noting it as we went, since we’d also heard mention of that town as a possibility. But all the Penrose properties I found listed had a minimum of 5 acres attached — and I barely wanted to have to manage a small yard any more.
But just as you approach Cañon City, the road descends into a green bowl, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains rising behind the city, on the other side of the Arkansas River’s bend through the Royal Gorge. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it did take our breath away.
On our way west, we diverted to take a look at a couple of the listings there, noting that they actually looked pretty promising. Then we lunched at marvelous little deli, and the owner engaged us in friendly conversation and made us feel at home. So after visiting Paonia, we decided to spend the “free night” we’d built into the trip to check emergent possibilities in Cañon City. As we headed away from Paonia, the car’s “Maintenance Required” light appeared, adding further impetus to stopping to see a mechanic, just in case.
Well, I called a mechanic I spotted on Yelp the next morning, and he gave an estimate for checking it out and we agreed to come by in a couple of hours. First, we had some breakfast on Main Street, enjoying the food and the friendly feel of the place. Then, when we headed back out to our car, we discovered we had left the driver’s door not just unlocked, but hanging wide open for over an hour — and nothing had been disturbed! That just doesn’t happen in most places.
We headed over to see the mechanic, and waited in his office while his worker finished on another job and then checked our light. Fifteen minutes later, he strolled into the office and announced we had no problems and he simply reset the sensor. The mechanic looked at us and said, “Well, I can’t charge you for that–just tip him whatever you think it’s worth” — an honest mechanic, a treasure anywhere you can find one! Score another one for Cañon City!
So we wandered around town and looked at several lovely houses for sale, and struck up a conversation with some folks living by one of them. Again, they were friendly — in fact, everyone we met was unfailingly friendly. We grabbed lunch again at the same deli, as we continued to fall in love with the look and feel of the historic Main Street district downtown. Cañon City began to emerge as a front-runner for our landing spot.
As we returned to Texas, we knew we still a visit to Brevard to go, but it already seemed like a long shot. Mind you, that was the case when we took Lucas to Asheville the first time, in that he seemed set on going elsewhere before we got there — and then changed his mind almost overnight.
So, we bounced back to Austin and laid plans to go to Brevard in just a week or two on scouting trip #2.
To be continued…