Thursday, September 27, 2012

'It's the closest thing to real freedom I've ever known...'

This is a great story, at the Los Angeles Times, "A Utah man and his ghost town: a love story":
WOODSIDE, Utah — Roy Pogue has loved a lot of things in his 63 years — like his wife, Chris, and her little Daffy Duck tattoo, not to mention the couple's six children.

Yet few things have made his heart go flip-flop more than a dry-gulch piece of land out in the middle of Utah's nowhere.

Sometimes, love truly is blind. A lot of words describe Pogue's backside-of-beyond parcel, where rust rules and the thermometers have all surrendered to the cold and the heat. One of those words is Godforsaken.

More than 700 dusty, rocky acres in all, the spread sits along the trickling Price River, under the boxy shadow of the Book Cliffs. Like Pogue himself, a man in bib overalls, handlebar mustache and well-oiled cowboy hat, the property exudes a bit of Wild West panache: At its core is a creaky old ghost town complete with an abandoned gold mine, cold-water geyser and a supposed onetime hide-out for the outlaw Butch Cassidy when he wasn't riding with the Sundance Kid.

But now, in a move that breaks Pogue's heart, he's put it all up for sale. Despite its scruffy "as is" condition, he's asking a pretty price: $3.9 million.

Potential buyers might see only isolation and neglect: a jumble of abandoned trailers, water tanks, squat-looking shacks and the shell of an old service station, all surrounded by a fence to keep out vandals.

If most towns rise up out of the desert, this one just lies there. But for Pogue, the place has been a refuge.

The little hamlet of Woodside, located along a lonely rural highway three hours southeast of Salt Lake City, was already long abandoned when Pogue settled here, but that suited him just fine. A disabled veteran from the nearby town of Moab who had a hard time finding steady carpentry work, Pogue says that in his 20 years here, he's ruled his own fate: He's been a one-man sheriff, judge, jury and good Samaritan.

Over the years, he made ends meet by ranching, farming (yes, farming) and running his gas station. And for a long time he made it work. For 70 miles along isolated U.S. Route 6, between the towns of Price and Green River, it's been just Pogue and a herd of free-range llamas. But maybe not for much longer.

After decades of sweat, labor, battles with the federal government over cattle and water rights, fights with his wife, who prefers people to llamas — and, finally, declining health — Pogue performed the toughest chore of his life: pounding in the for-sale sign.

"This place has meant so much to me," he said, sweating under a relentless midday sun. "It's the closest thing to real freedom I've ever known in my life. At this price, it might be a cold day in hell before someone buys it. And maybe that's good."