At the end of a day of work performing IT repair for the Natrona County School District in Casper, Wyoming, Jake packs his bag, walks to his car and drives out of this charming Western city of 55,000 heading north.
Twenty-five minutes later, he pulls up to his home on 40 acres of wide-open ranchland, with a sweeping view over wildlife-rich prairie towards Casper Mountain in the distance – and he knows he’s home.
“Our lives today are so crazy, but out here you can go for a walk sometimes and there’s no birds, no wind, and you hear nothing,” he says. “Calmness. Silence. It just adds to the atmosphere.”
For Jake and his wife Jennifer, finding the right piece of ranchland has allowed them to live a life that they consider the best of both worlds – the freedom of a completely private, self-powered, off-the-grid home where they experience a connection with nature, while still remaining engaged with their community, working full-time jobs and enjoying local culture and activities.
The word Jake uses to describe the feeling of living on ranchland is “connectedness:” feeling close to the environment around them. They see wildlife from their windows all the time – the deer and antelope made famous in song, plus golden eagles, large rabbits, fox, horned toads and even the occasional elk.
The couple also has the opportunity to raise some of their own food: vegetables in a tended garden and chickens who live in a large coop. “Raising our own food, we know where it’s from,” he said. “We get enjoyment out of raising our own stuff. We have grandkids who come out, and the chase the chickens and help us harvest the food. It’s fun for them and a learning experience.”
Their home and property was also designed to work with the land. The house has earth bermed up on either side, offering insulation and protection from the wind and elements and also letting the building nestle into the landscape. Large windows facing Casper Mountain let outside views into their living room and overlook a small rock patio.
The edge of that patio area, where the two sit and take in the views is framed by a low stone retaining wall Jake built by hand with stones he found nearby. Outside that small area, there is no artificial landscaping or lawn. “It was major thing to have no yard or maintenance,” Jake says.
“We like to walk,” says Jake. “The main thing we enjoy is quiet scenery, the changing seasons, when the grasses start to grow and the wildflowers come out. And the nights are tremendous out here, the sky is so clear, the Milky Way will reach out and grab you.” When meteor showers are predicted, the couple will get up in the middle of the night to enjoy the show.
Jake and Jennifer, had lived in a town in Kansas for 30 years before making the move to Wyoming, but family is always on their mind – a signpost in the patio area points the direction and distance to family members around the world.
Initially thought of as a retirement property, the two decided to look for jobs and move out sooner so they could enjoy the land. “We like the privacy, but we’re not anti-social people,” he says. “We’re around people all week long, but then Friday comes and we’re like ‘Gotta get back to the ranch’.”
Nearby Casper, with an economy fueled by both oil and ranching and steeped in cowboy culture, offered job opportunities and access to all the amenities they could want – arts, shopping, restaurants and civic activities. Just 18 miles away (mostly on a freeway), the commute is much shorter than many people experience traveling from home to work in a big city.
“There’s a lot of things going on in Casper,” Jake notes. “It’s a friendly, accepting town.”
Once relocated, their home became a destination for others in the family – their daughters and grandchildren, and sisters in Colorado will visit the ranch to relax and unwind.
One unique aspect of living off the grid in Wyoming is the multiple power sources available. Jake and Jennifer, built their home to be powered by both solar and wind power, with a large battery system to power the house at night and a generator as a final (and little used) backup.
“It’s windy in the winter and sunny in the summer,” Jake said. With both a small wind generator and a south-facing solar panel complex, the property is able to harness all the energy it needs.
Since the house was built from the ground up to be off the power grid, the couple made choices that balance modern convenience with energy accessibility. The refrigerator is propane-powered, and heat comes mostly from wood pellets.
Those choices have allowed Jake and Jennifer, to create a lifestyle that suits them perfectly. “We’re here because of the freedom and atmosphere,” he said. “We’re proud of what we built together. We like feeling connected to nature.”