Wins and losses when moving from Fort Collins to the southern Colorado foothills

We moved from Fort Collins to here in June of 2014 to build a direct gain passive solar home in the foothills west of Walsenburg. We rented a hundred-year-old house in town for 13 months while building our own version of a retirement dream home. There would be few surprises when we finally arrived in our new home, but moving to Walsenburg was the greatest culture shock.

When you decide to move to a very small town after living in the city most of your life, false assumptions can be made. After all, you really don’t know exactly what to expect, because you have never lived in such a tiny town before.

The first mistake we made was assuming that rentals would be available in both La Veta and Walsenburg in June. We discovered the end of May there were none we would even consider living in, and we were closing on our house the middle of June! We quickly made friends with Susie, the primary realtor in Walsenburg, and offered her a hefty bonus if she would find us something quick.

We also assumed utilities would be much cheaper in a small town, but we were wrong about that too. We did call the utility departments for both La Veta and Walsenburg before renting, and quickly discovered that only propane heating was available in La Veta. That would add up quite quickly in this cold part of the country, so we began leaning more towards Walsenburg in our selection process.

One thing we never would have guessed is that city water in Walsenburg would cost over $60 a month BEFORE you figured in how much you used that month! This town has lost about a third of its population in the past decade, so their water capacity is far larger than they need or can pay for, one reason why they are welcoming marijuana grow operations at present.

We did find a decent house to rent just in time, but it was so small we had to find additional storage for some of our furniture. The local realtor helped us with that too.

Work finally began on our new passive solar home in December 2014!

One total win for us was how friendly and welcoming our new landlord Bob was. He helped us whenever he could, and even provided new music for us to listen to as we explored our new home county. He then invited us up to his commune home near Gardner, where he has lived since the 1970s. The people who live in the communes in the northern part of Huerfano county have been so friendly and welcoming!

Another total win has been the quiet beauty of this part of Colorado. The views are phenomenal down here, and the weather is just a bit milder than up north. We love it! It’s definitely big sky country!

Most of the people we have met here have been friendly at least at first, although most seem hesitant to truly welcome new people. Most don’t seem to want to be friends. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I have heard a few interesting explanations so far!

I wrote quite a bit about making friends here in my journal, which then turned into a published memoir. When asked whether it was OK to write about how others have treated me here, I turn to Anne Lamott:

“Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


Sunrises are outrageous at 7,000 feet with no neighbors!

It’s been a long & winding road to this wonderful home in the foothills below those beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains, one I’d love to share with you!


31 thoughts on “Wins and losses when moving from Fort Collins to the southern Colorado foothills

  1. Interesting question. I’m from Detroit Michigan and will always have the “city” in me. BUT… husband moved us (and it was the best thing for the kids growing up — would never change that) to the far North on a huge acreage. I hated it for a variety of reasons but it changed me — I think small town life does that. The friends you will make will be closer but it takes time. We have since moved from the rural North a bit South but it is still a small town. It takes time for people to trust you but when they do — they will always have your back.


  2. It may take some kind of organizational involvement like church, environmental working group or even the prospects of locally grown pot creating a bond leading to friendship. I do like the idea of a pot luck gathering to show off your new solar home just to see who is the least bit interested in expanding their friendships. Believe me, being older and single makes it even more difficult because unless you are a newcomer people tend to like the tried and true.

    You sound very happy, and I hope that in time this too will pass. So much going for you and your husband in your beautiful location.


  3. Thanks for all of your kind words here. Dellann: I’ve tried many things to meet people here… Mike and I are happy here and I feel certain I will eventually connect with a few like-minded people. IN the meantime I find it interesting to wonder why. That’s who I am I guess…


  4. Actually, I’ve found this to be true in a lot of places, not just small towns. It seems like most people don’t want to make the effort. However, I saw that if I reached out more, it came back to me. It’s a hard thing, though, and I wish you luck.


  5. Your pictures are beautiful! As far as making new friends, it seems that it is harder to do than you would hope. But, just like building an online following, you have to be present to win. Human nature keeps us to our own tribe. The more you are there – giving, cheerful, helpful (you sure seem that way) you’ll lean in and so will they. Good luck!


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  7. Hubs and I moved to a small town in Maine nearly 10 years ago. It’s outside the town where I grew up, but I’d been away so long that it didn’t really feel like “coming home,” and I didn’t really know anyone here anymore–so it was like starting over. But we found a sense of community here that was sorely lacking in areas we’d lived before. Hubs volunteers with our local fire and rescue service and got involved with some other community groups, and I’ve forged some friendships with a handful of amazing women who I’ve met through neighborhood social events, yoga classes and just serendipity. So I’d say yes, you can make new friends after 60. And because we’re clearer about who we are and what we value at this age, I think we recognize and connect with like-minded folks more quickly and easily. Hang in there!


  8. Absolutely, you can make new friends after 60! I retired at 62 and now, five years later, most of my friends are new since then. I volunteer in the community and at my church and have met most of them that way. We live in Tucson in the winter and, because almost everyone here is a snowbird, we make friends easily through the activities.

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  9. It can be a process. I moved from Germany to Dallas, and then from Dallas to Littleton Colorado (which is the most out in the suburbs I have ever lived), I’m looking at snowbirding or retiring to the gulf coast. While I would not push religion or certain activities, like LInda and someone else, I made friends in Denver through that kind of thing. I belong to a church that has things like rotating dinner groups and lots of volunteer opportunities, I knit so I go to a knitting group at the tattered cover (that does lunch or a road trip once a month), and I take a 55 plus lifelong learning class. I think making new friends requires joining often at the beginning,


  10. It is hard to find a new friendship at that age because so many have friendships that have spanned a lifetime. Their friendship basket is full. I found that when we moved.

    Then I joined a country club with my husband and found that fitting in became more and more important. It was and still is a unpleasant experience.

    But we are good and life goes on. We do what we want, when we want and don’t really want anything more.



  11. I am glad I found your blog today and will follow it. As for making new friends after 60, of course I make new friends and cherish the old too. I made 2 new dear friends in the past year or two, one through my Christian writers group and one through Bible Study at church. Keep looking and join groups with similar interests and you will attract friends like a magnet.


  12. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and found it remarkably easy to make excellent friends in San Diego in the late seventies. All other eras and geographies have been measured against it. I relocated a lot for work. The Northeast and Northwest were terrible for making friends regardless of locale. To generalize, big cities up north and small Southern towns were better. But the abiding factor seems to be as I aged I acquired more and more friendly acquaintances and less and less real friends. I am now down to one friend in my sixties. I think that had to do with how authentic, open and fearless I grew with age more than any other aspect. Those who are not are very often intimidated and there sadly are many who are not in this country.


  13. WOW Suze, you are very wise. Yes my problem does seem to be “friendly acquaintances and less and less real friends.” Yes I am quite authentic and open to others. What do I have to lose at 60 by being fearless? I must be intimidating in some way. This is very interesting and may lead to a whole new post about friendships later in life. Perhaps those who are more conservative don’t trust others. We are finding that those a decade or more younger than us are more open to friendships. Thanks for sharing with us all!

    I also relocated a lot for work Suze and the best group of friends I ever had was when I lived in Salt Lake City in the early 1980s. We were the non-Mormons in town and had the best parties, etc.


    • Thanks for the feedback, Queenie. Perhaps there was sometime to being out west (San Diego and Salt Lake City) in earlier times? I believe much has changed here — for conservative and liberal folks alike. I meet many Americans (all ages) unable to open up. Their fear is palpable but what’s worse is their obvious denial, a product of a particularly destructive subcategory of fear. They mostly aren’t what I consider highly functional folks or when they are, they don’t know their way around dysfunctional folks. I trust but verify both for personal and business, albeit to different criteria — a technique that serves well.

      I like to think I am typical, plain spoken Midwestern with a laid back quality that was once a well known Southern Cal trait, short-lived as that was. It makes me fit in a lot easier in some other cultures today but in the American culture, the fit has grown worse over time. Most of the American ex-patriots I’ve met are like me (conservative and liberal alike) which may partly explain why they are ex-pats. I don’t mean that to sound discouraging to those who are planning to age in place here in the US but offer it for further illumination on the interesting friends question you raised.


    • I think it is hard for people who have had very active lives and are still relatively young and healthy to “settle down” in quiet country towns and/or have a lot in common with the “locals”. I don’t think you are intimidating, probably just “different” and that is somehow suspect. I moved to a small town recently and while I mostly enjoy a more simple life, it was quite an adjustment for me. I was used to driving on busy city streets and taking 20-30 minutes to get somewhere whereas now I am only one mile from pretty much everything. I don’t leave home until it’s time to be somewhere. It takes a lot of adjusting. So don’t be so hard on yourself, just give yourself some time.


  14. In my 30’s, I lived (for about four years) near a small town in Northwest Arkansas. I found I made acquaintances, but no friends. My neighbors had my back, and mine theirs, if something went bad, but it was not what I, as a Northerner, would have considered friendship. My next door neighbors were from Connecticut and told me they did all they could, including joining the local church (the wife was Jewish) but it only seemed to go so far. They had the same problems we did. I never figured it out, either. After four years I moved back to my native New York State.


  15. LOVE this conversation! I find it fascinating and plan to research this whole topic further for my upcoming book about moving to a small Hispanic town after living in the big cities most of my life. The more I think about it, besides the whole Catholic thing here, I think I may be dealing with a bit of cowboy rugged individualism, and some of the wives seem pretty mousy to me. They seem almost fearful of new people, I swear…
    Suze, I was also born in the Midwest and see myself as a typical, plain spoken Midwesterner. I do have strong personality, but I am definitely laid back…


    • I think that being white is part of the problem. I grew up in Walsenburg and left over 30 years ago. There was a lot of racism among the kids in school. Being a white boy I was called names like honky, gringo, etc. Where do you think these kids got their racist ideas? There is a lot of subtle racism there.


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  17. I’ve always been the girl who loved and lived for the country, but last week, I moved to an apartment in the city. Love my apartment itself, but my neighbors? Ugh! Not what I thought it would be. Actually that’s my blog post this week. The good news is it’s temporary, until I can find another place in the country.


  18. In a small town your best chance to meet people might be volunteering at the local food bank or elementary school. You have got to put yourself out there so people get used to seeing you. That will lead them to start talking to you and hopefully some friendships will develop. I also think that as we get older some of us just don’t feel the need for as much face-to-face time. Sites like Facebook may also be to blame since we can keep up with our old friends without actually talking to them but it still feels like we still have plenty of friends.


  19. I’m 58 and I moved to a small Kansas town of about 1,500 people two years ago from a city of 500,000 and it has definitely been hard for me to make friends in my new home. Most of these people have not only known each other for their whole lives but many of them have inter-generational roots going back for a hundred years or more. The one saving grace for me has been the book club at the local library where I seem to sssssllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyy be making a friend. Perhaps you could think of starting a book club at your home or at your local library if you have one of those. It doesn’t have to be fancy…..


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