Chula Vista. No, we’re not talking about the seventh-largest metropolitan area in southern California. Although that would be nice, we’re talking about a little development project on the western side of Fredericksburg, Texas. This place has us thinking in a new way.
It’s important to know what we’re talking about, first. This is a very old heritage ranch on Tivydale Road (it’s fun how small town roads get such unique names) which lies due west from town. It’s a 2 lane, winding road that whips you past farms, horse ranches, stone homes and slowly elevating hills. It really starts to feel like Hill Country, and the further you go, the fewer the houses you’ll see. It’s that perfect blend of country living and convenience (it’s 12 minutes form the center of town). Ok, but what’s so inspiring about this? Well, it debunks a few of the absolutes that many people feel tempted to operate with.
“Away” isn’t really about distance.
There is this old myth that to be “away” you really need to be far out in the country. Sure, for some people, that thirty thousand acres in west Texas needs to be no closer than an hour from the nearest gas station. There’s an insulating layer of distance, but desolation isn’t the only way to create that quiet feeling of being outside town. We were driving around and this place really proves the point.
You need to orient to, or away from something else, something central. Now cities and towns don’t grow outward in all directions at the exact same pace, they are amoebas that follow their own random will. And towns aren’t the same in topography on all sides either, but when we picture a place, that’s often how we analyze. There are these little alcoves of space that are closer to the center, but not surrounded by everything else. It’s a phenomenon. And that’s what we have here. A place that is surrounded by open land, but remains close to the center. It’s in perfect balance.
It also feels away because on many of it’s borders, it is surrounded by large tracts of private property. These provide an open and enjoyable landscape that’s a major tenet of that feeling of being “away” from it all. Then there’s topography. This is a huge factor, even in more densly populated areas. Elevation change creates a dramatic sense of privacy, a few feet makes all the difference. Well imagine a few hundred. The fact that this place is a shelf-stack of hills means you can’t really look in anyone’s window, and they can’t look in yours. That privacy is a major factor in feeling like you’re in your own space.
Many people want a ranch. A big, private stretch of land that’s away from everything else. We just gave a good reason for it not having to be so far out, but then there’s this other concept of sharing. Many people, early in their retirement have spent their lives at work, so they have energy with which to work the land. They want to take care of roads, keep cattle troughs filled, check their fences, and clear the cedar. But if you’re tired of all this, and don’t want to move into a town for the convenience, then what is your option? Thoughtful development projects (not all rural developments are “thoughtful” by the way) can provide immense resources like roads, gated access, utilities and wells. You’re starting from way ahead and there are means, beyond just you, with which to keep up with the maintenance. When the road gets a pothole ( and they all do) there’s a chance to let someone else take care of it. This is nothing against the self-sufficient folks who ranch on their own, I don’t live in a development myself, I like taking care of everything. But some folks are just plain over it, and I’ve come to realize what a valuable option this is.
Unless you have lived on acreage, you have no perspective about the size. To many people, 20 acres sounds like a lot of land, and it is. But to those of us who have had the privilege of stepping onto pieces ranging from the hundreds, to the thousands and tens of thousands, you cannot imagine what a difference it is between them. Anything more than five acres is a lot to take care of. When you start thinking of hundreds and thousands of acres, you need to be ready to build out some serious infrastructure. You will need to hire some help, and may even need a full-time ranch hand. This is a lot of fun, but if that’s not what you want in life, then you can enjoy a lot less space with more ease. With ten to a hundred acres, you can run a few cows, have a skeet shooting range, manage a large patio and have space for the grandkids to explore on a four-wheeler or the like. It’s plenty of room to set up a deer stand and hunt, or make a stock pond (if the soil base is right). You would be amazed how few acres can provide a lot of fun. It’s just important to dial in the amount of space to the life you want to live and the hobbies you want to pursue!
Chula Vista isn’t my normal gig. I have cut my teeth on larger tracts, but I’m seeing the light, and after some discussions with some experienced land-owners, this is an attractive opportunity for people who are willing to approach something like this in order to simplify life a bit.