My wife and I’ve certainly discussed the pros and cons. Montana? Arizona? We currently own properties in both places, both rural acreages with livable homes…but it’s not our intra-family discussion that prompted this post. It’s the other folks out there, the friends and family and acquaintances who ask, “Which is the best place? Given your druthers, where would you prefer to live…and most importantly, why?”
Most of these inquiries amount to idle curiosity and nothing more. Lifelong residents “belonging” to either state are seldom truly interested in uprooting themselves and heading any great distance, either north or south. Yet a few do want to know, and it finally occurred to me that there are probably others out there, perhaps people living in other states, who’d like to see how the two states measure up.
First, let me make my personal bias clear: Both of our properties are situated in rural areas with no neighbors closer than 1/4 mile from the residence(s). The Border Fort in Cochise County, Arizona, sits on 20 acres one mile from the Mexican border, surrounded by mesquite trees and other vegetation that effectively isolate us, which is just the way we like it–or almost the way we like it. What city dwellers consider “extremely remote”, we consider a bit too close to civilization for comfort…but it’ll do for now. The 29 acre property in Granite County, Montana, while technically on grid and in fact sporting an all electric home a few hundred yards from a paved highway, is effectively far more private than the Arizona place.
In other words, if you’re looking for a house in Phoenix or Billings, much of this page is worthless to you. However, some information may be helpful. You be the judge.
Let’s get to it.
WILDLIFE IN GENERAL
Both states are “rife with wildlife”. I grew up in Montana and was used to that, but southern Arizona surprised me. In this supposed desert, there are more kinds of critters than you can shake a thorny mesquite branch at. Mearns coyotes, javelinas, whitetail and blacktail deer, birds galore, rodents ranging from huge black tailed jack rabbits to tiny striped ground squirrels, and oh my, the variety of reptiles, insects, and arachnids will boggle the mind of anyone except the true desert rat. (Rat? Did I say rat? We’ve got rats! Pack rats (pesty things) and of course our beloved little long-tailed kangaroo rats, burrowing by day and zipping back and forth across the desert floor by night.)
We have special relationships with our local coyote pack, a kind of cautious détente with the javelinas, close bonds with oodles of desert cottontail rabbits, and Pammie even communes with a the ravens, sometimes as many as eight of them.
Montana? Hm. Okay, no kangaroo rats, but Granite County has bears and badgers to make up for that, with lots of fat-cheeked, striped, flickertail chipmunks as a welcome bonus.
In Arizona, we keep a wary eye out for skunk pigs. In Montana, the same is true for black bears. So, overall? For general wildlife, let’s call it a draw.
Which is not at all the case for certain other wildlife.
When it comes to irritation and/or truly dangerous wildlife…Arizona wins that doubtful championship hands down. In Montana, even the bears are only occasional problems, leaving the less desirable designations to beasties like the Rocky Mountain Spotted Wood Tick (rhymes with ick) and–depending on the area–the prairie rattlesnake (and or other rattlesnakes, not all of which are “officially” known to be in Montana). But the ticks, despite online sources stating they hang around knee-high in vegetation looking for a host, have only gotten onto me when I got way too up close and personal with a pine or juniper tree…and they’re big enough to see and easy enough to remove. No big deal.
The rattlers scared me badly as a kid, yet despite living at the foot of Rattler Hill, I personally encountered fewer than two dozen of the diamond backed pit vipers during all of my growing-up years.
Contrast that with (shudder) the Arizona desert. Snakes first: We’ve got rattlers, all right, but not just any rattlers. Our acreage is home to an overly viable population of the most dangerous rattlesnakes in the world, the Mojave (green) rattlesnakes, which have (a) shut-your-breathing-down venom like cobras or (b) sometimes a combination of cobra style and ordinary rattlesnake style venom. Additionally, with the rodent population thriving in this warm-to-hot environment, the rattlers also thrive…and to make things even worse, the “inactive” cooler season is much shorter than in Montana or, sometimes, lacking altogether.
Strike one against Arizona. (In my book, obviously. If you’re into herpetology, this is the place to be.)
Then there are the *%&I^!! chiggers. In the deep south, these little arachnids are known as redbugs, which tells me true southern chiggers must grow big enough to be seen with the naked eye. Our Arizona mini-monsters don’t do that. They simply wait until the humidity rises with the monsoon rains, reaching 45% or beyond, and then…they invisibly attack. Brush through any grass in this area and you’re encountering chiggers.
Except (here’s the scratch-your-head part) they don’t bite everybody. In fact, judging by the people we know here in Cochise County, most people aren’t bothered by them at all. But for those of us who are (and I’m one of them, in spades)…look out.
They’re not blood suckers. They’re skin dissolvers. They bite a wee bit of skin, make a mini-pit into which they spit…and the spit (a) dissolves more skin and (b) encourages the victim’s own immune system to harden the “tube” around the pit so they can slurp up the skin slurry, spit some more, dissolve some more, slurp some more, rinse and repeat. The results for me are horrendous. During each of the last five years, the inflammation from these bites has spread enough to necessitate the use of antibiotics at some point during the humid summer…and the itch is indescribable, lasting for a couple of weeks for each itty bitty bite.
There is no question in this category: Arizona wins the Pain-In-The-Butt wildlife designation, but as a place to live, Montana wins, hands down.
Arizona sunshine clearly outranks Montana snow, you say?
Well…that’s mostly a matter of either personal preference or, in the case of Pam’s arthritis, health considerations. Her arthritic bones can no longer handle Montana winters at all; anything below fifty degrees above zero Fahrenheit is enough to increase her already considerable pain.
But that sun isn’t all peaches and cream, either. It’s cancer on the loose. We’ve met a number of locals who’ve had to deal with skin cancer caused by the fierce Arizona sun, and Pam’s son (who’s lived here all his life) tells us he’s seen so many of his friends come up with skin cancer that it started to scare him. He went out and bought a cowboy hat, the first hat he’s ever owned in thirty years of Cochise County living.
On a personal note, this southern sun scares the crap out of me. I was pretty lackadaisical about it when we first moved here in early 2009, but I’m not now. A couple of years into residency, I noticed three separate dark brown marks on the side of my face that had never been there before. Since I was 67 at the time, that got my attention. The most noticeable of the three marks is roughly diamond shaped, high over the point of the cheekbone, and about 3/8″ across. Not cancerous, as it hasn’t changed size or color in the 4 1/2 years since then, but I immediately set a rule for myself: If I’m going to be working outside for any length of time, longer than it takes to walk from the truck to a store in town, I wear a bandana under my hat, shading the back and sides of my face.
If I could cover my entire face without having to explain myself a lot, I would. This sun is no joke. I’ll swing a pick and shovel in 109 degree weather if need be (did that last summer for a while), but go outside without a hat? Work without a bandanna in addition to that? Never!
In this category, the winner depends on who you are. If you’re Pam with arthritis, Arizona wins the weather contest. If you’re Fred with brown spots on his face, Montana wins. Take your pick, freeze or fry.
They didn’t name Arizona the “Arid Zone” for nothing. Especially down here at the southern end, water is a huge issue. Much of the state’s water is supplied by the Colorado River, but that flow is not exactly guaranteed forever. California wants it, for example.
We do have our own private wells on both properties, in both Granite County (MT) and Cochise County (AZ), but the differences are starkly defined. The Arizona well taps a huge aquifer at 325 feet below the surface, an aquifer that is a political bone of contention among political power types in the state–types who would love to see governmental control of even our private wells, no matter how much they deny that each time another water grab “survey” or piece of legislation is proposed. In Montana, the well is just 70 feet deep, with 20 gallons per minute available for pumping and plenty of reserves flowing down out of the higher mountain snowmelt each year.
On the water issue, Montana doesn’t simply win; Arizona loses.
Whoa. This is one huge category. Let’s break it up into four subheadings as follows:
Both states have fairly stiff income tax and property tax rates, at least as far as we’ve seen…but Montana has no sales tax. That’s a biggie, both for consumers and for small business owners who don’t have to collect the tax and then forward the money to the state in the Big Sky Country. For most Americans, that’s shocking. Look at a price tag, and what you see is what you get? Impossible! That’s the way of it in Montana, though, so Montana definitely wins this one.
2. GUN LAWS
Big win for Arizona on this one. Both states have open carry laws that legalize packing a six shooter on your hip except in “gun free” zones (such as schools, where mass murderers love to open fire on victims unable to defend themselves). However, while a rifle in a pickup’s gun rack won’t worry anybody in Montana, belting on a revolver to go to a meeting of ranchers in the state capitol definitely will flare a bunch of eyes in alarm. Down here in Arizona, you don’t see a lot of open carry in the major cities, but in our smaller city of Sierra Vista, it’s not uncommon to note a few Glocks and Sig Sauers and Colts being worn by Walmart shoppers.
I’m willing to bet the Sierra Vista Walmart is the store least likely to be attacked in the entire fifty states.
Beyond that, our currently conservative state legislature did a great thing in 2011: They passed the right, statewide, to carry concealed without a permit. You go, Arizona! That reason alone is enough to make me consider staying mostly in Arizona for the next century or so. Montana is not the worst state in the nation when it comes to gun laws–not by a long shot–but Arizona wins this one going away.
3. LAW ENFORCEMENT
Frankly, I prefer Montana when it comes to law enforcement, simply because Granite County’s population–which is miniscule in comparison to Cochise County–supports far fewer people with badges. I’m no anarchist; we definitely need officers of the law on the job…but down here on the Mexican border, with a sizeable Sierra Vista population and illegal immigrants crossing the border every night, the police presence is pretty much everywhere, all of the time. (Except when you need one, of course, but that’s a rule, right?) We have Highway Patrol units out there, Sheriff’s deputies roaming the highways and streets, local city police from both Sierra Vista and Bisbee meandering well outside of their own city limits to write tickets on slow days, Border Patrol agents everywhere (and welcome, too), and I even saw a Federal Protection Service convoy motoring up Highway 92 the other day. Ghost cars, too, “plain wrappers” with the cop lights hidden inside until it’s time to let the errant motorist know he’s been had. This area is, to coin a term, massively copified.
So I give Montana the nod here, both for lacking the law enforcement numbers and for lacking the need to have such a pervasive police presence.
4. MISCELLANEOUS Arizona makes it tougher than necessary (in my opinion) in a number of ways.
Example: When I retired from my truck driving job, I had every intention of maintaining my Class A CDL (commercial driver’s license) indefinitely. When I discovered that this state requires a CDL holder to update his medical certificate every two years whether he’s working actively as a truck driver or not, however, I was steamed. Montana does not require that, leaving it to the carrier (trucking company) to require the updated medical report whenever a new driver is hired. At the time of discovery, I was broke and not about to go pay good money (which I did not have) to a doctor to scribble out a few words to keep the state of Arizona happy. Reluctantly, I gave up my CDL in the name of bureaucracy.
Example: When I decided it was time to get back into publishing some of my books, I had to decide between doing so as a Sub S corporation or as a Sole Proprietorship. Sub S status would mean a bit of annual paperwork, but I’ve done business that way before, founding (over the years) three Sub S corporations in South Dakota and one in Colorado. All of those were pretty straightforward…but Arizona threw in a stinker of a question on its application for incorporation, wanting to know if I’d ever filed bankruptcy before. My immediate reaction was, “None of your business!” I was pretty sure they weren’t going to refuse the application because of my bankruptcies (I’ve had two, one in 1981 and one in 2001, both personal bankruptcies only, never affecting any of my corporations), but the whole idea triggered my immediate rejection of the corporation concept.
All in all, the Legal Environment category is a toss-up, depending on your views of gun laws and appreciation (or lack thereof) for State interference in your lives in general.
Note of appreciation: My 911 call last May, routed through the Cochise County Sheriff’s office, resulted in swift dispatch of EMT’s and an ambulance to help my wife when she was in trouble.
Montana restaurants won’t let you starve by a long shot, but Arizona gets the nod in the chow category. Ubiquitous fast food chains aside, there are no fewer than five restaurants within twenty miles of our supposedly “remote” Border Fort domicile that serve meals I consider to be superb. iHop staff members do everything in their power to create super-fine dishes to combat my wife’s anorexia. Country House Restaurant knows me as a regular and often gets water, coffee, and cream to the table before I’ve even made my way back to my favorite booth. The newly renovated Denny’s is none too shabby, Golden Corral buffet puts on a spread that gets Pam to eat well every time, and the Golden Dragon serves up a superior dish of chicken fried rice.
Okay, Cochise County (AZ) supported a population of 131, 346 as of the 2010 census while Granite County (MT) weighed in at just 3,079, so we’re not exactly talking apples to apples here. And even so, Philipsburg, MT, currently has a specialty barbecue joint as well as the Sunshine Station when you’re hungry. Beyond that, Drummond (pop. 309) has the Wagon Wheel Café (where I used to grab Cokes and chili burgers as a teenager more than a half century ago) as well as Fickler’s Family Restaurant (sporting, get this, 200 different specialty burgers). Like I said, Montana restaurants won’t let you starve.
Still, for the moment at least, Arizona meals are the real deals.
These days, there is one other crucial consideration when it comes to choosing a state in which to purchase private property. That, of course, is the (Gasp!) inevitable…
Judging by every related science fiction tale or horror story ever penned, not to mention the plethora of TV shows and such, the Zombie Apocalypse would appear to be inevitable. We’d be remiss if we didn’t take a look at that eventuality, right?
First, though, we have to set the scene just a wee bit. It’s some undetermined date in the future. Disaster has befallen planet Earth. Technology has crashed in upon itself like an entire galaxy getting sucked into a black hole. It’s dog eat dog (literally), man eat dog, dog eat man if it gets the chance, and man finally coming to the realization that many of his fellow humans–those who are not yet zombies but who are starving, desperate, and savage–are his deadliest enemies.
That said, which place, Cochise County or Granite County, provides the best chance of survival?
The answer to that question is not as simple as it sounds. By the numbers:
1. Cochise County hosts a sizeable U.S. Army base at Fort Huachuca. This could be good in that military organization in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse might save the day, quell some rioting, keep a bit of order here and there. But it’s also possible the military units, if not already turned into zombies, might become draconian in the extreme, forcibly rationing food or even the water from your own private well. Good or bad to have the Army on your doorstep? You be the judge.
2. With electricity and petroleum based fuels in short supply at best, people are less likely to freeze to death in the relatively toasty climate of southern Arizona…or are they? Granite County, Montana, has plenty of mountains in which to retreat, mountains covered with timber with plenty of available firewood. If you have some basic shelter building skills and know how to build a fire, then, Montana might be the better bet. Again, it depends on you.
3. Population. Color me paranoid, but it seems to me that when the manure truly hits the rotating blades, the availability of lots of desperate people (and/or lots of hungry zombies) is not a good thing. Zombies apparently aren’t fans of super cold weather, either. 131,346 competitors for the meat provided by that last herd of deer, or 3,079 competitors? I’m going with the smaller number.
4. Again, water. This is, to me at least, the killer issue. In southern Arizona, water is no sure thing. In western Montana, it is very much a sure thing.
To me, it’s clear as can be: For now, I’m delighted to hie myself to a Cochise County restaurant for lunch, but at the first sign of a serious Zombie Outbreak, I’m heading back to Montana on a high lope.