It’s about 7 miles from Josh Winkler’s front doorstep to where the snowplows turn around on the Sublet-Pomeroy Basin Road in Lincoln County.
That means the Winkler family heads out through the wilds of Wyoming on most winter mornings for what many would consider a daunting journey.
At the very least it’s a 4:30 a.m. trek with an uncertain outcome that requires snowshoes and a 72-hour survival kit for backup.
The Winklers have to get to town — Kemmerer — for work and school. The first leg of the journey starts in a Jeep with triangle-shaped tracks instead of tires. They buck through snowdrifts in the Jeep to a plowed parking lot where they keep a second four-wheel-drive vehicle that carries them the remaining 13 miles to town.
Normally, the commute takes about an hour. Other neighbors use snowmobiles.
Winkler, his family of four and about six other small families live year-round in the Commissary Ranch Subdivision about 20 miles north of Kemmerer. It’s a remote, off-grid subdivision established in the early 1970s with 320 lots and dozens of summer residents.
But only a hearty few spend their winters there.
An Everyday Adventure
Normally in late November, these families park vehicles where the snowplows stop and adapt to traveling over the snow between their homes and the parking lot. For some that might only be a once per week trip for groceries and other supplies.
The Winklers make the trip every weekday. It takes about an hour under normal conditions to cover the 20 miles between home and town. Their two kids are in sports programs and both parents work in Kemmerer. On some days they don’t get home until 8 p.m.
This is the seventh winter since Winkler moved his family to this remote location. Winkler told Cowboy State Daily the challenges of living this off-grid lifestyle are forgotten when he straps on his snowshoes and heads out on a full moon night in January.
“One of my favorite things to do is to go out and snowshoe or cross-country ski on a full moon night,” he said. “It’s white, bright and silent.”
Family members who sometimes visit tell him they can’t sleep because it’s too quiet.
Winkler wasn’t looking for an off-grid home when he moved to Lincoln County and accepted a job as a U.S. Forest Service recreation and program manager. But he didn’t like the other available properties in the area. He said the prices were too high and the value too low.
Redundancy Is Crucial
The property he bought was all set up for off-grid living. It came with a hybrid solar and wind power system, a septic system and three water wells. Having redundant systems in place is a key to off-grid living, he said.
“If you’re going to live off-grid you, have more than one way to accomplish what you need to do,” he said.
His solar system is the main source of power. He has eight solar panels and 14 6-volt deep-cycle batteries that power the water well and most of the household appliances. But when the skies are overcast for more than two or three days, he will use his wind turbine to recharge his battery bank.
When the wind is not reliable, he can also use his gas-powered generator to charge the battery bank.
All Wood Heat
His cabin is made of logs and his only heat source is firewood burned in a wood stove. He uses about seven cords of firewood each winter. A cord is equal to a fully loaded 8-foot-long pickup bed.
His water heater and refrigerator are propane-powered.
Asked whether it’s more economical to live off-grid, Winkler said it would cost significantly less over time than paying city utilities. However, his current transportation costs are offsetting any savings from not paying utility bills.
“I would say it’s about a wash financially right now, but intrinsically, I don’t have any neighbors, so that makes it great,” he said.
Like A Boy Scout, Be Prepred
His advice for would-be homesteaders is to keep a 72-hour survival kit in every vehicle, have a backup plan for everything and don’t even attempt it in Wyoming if you don’t like winter.
Debbie Hennessy is a seasonal resident of Commissary Ranches and secretary of the subdivisions homeowner’s association. She and her husband have lived there since 1997 when they bought a piece of bare land. They built an off-grid cabin in 2009.
She said adjusting to a solar-powered home has some challenges related to the number of appliances that can be used at the same time and the amperage draw of those appliances.
“When I use my InstaPot we have to turn on the generator,” she said.
Winkler said they fire up the generator when they do laundry on Saturdays, and they have to pay attention to how many appliances are turned on at the same time. If too many are running it will draw the battery bank down too fast.
Hennessy lives in Utah during the winter. She said it’s always hard to leave Wyoming’s peace and quiet to head back to the city. Several of her neighbors and other residents of the subdivision are second homeowners from Rock Springs and Green River. She said there also are home and property owners from Utah, California and several other states.
Not every lot is developed. Some are just private camping spots and many are rarely if ever visited or used by their owners, she said.
“What attracted us is we are mountain people and we like to go fishing at Viva Naughton and Fontenelle,” Hennessy said. “We fell in love with this area instantly after a friend bought property here and asked us to stop by and look at it.”