South of Nowhere

Howling coyotes, lows in the 60s, and neighbors from Hibbing: Minnesota snowbirds roost in the desert

The first year, we stayed in an RV park in town. Then they told us you can stay out in the desert as long as you want. I looked at Shirley and she looked at me--we thought, "We aren't going out there, alone, with the spiders and all that." Now we've been out there for five years.

You can be anywhere you want to in the desert. You make your yard with rocks, you set out your space, put out your lawn chairs. It's different, I tell you, than Minnesota. It's fun just to sit and watch how different it is. I know one thing for sure: You go from our world into another one, and then you go back into our world again.

We run into all kinds of people from Minnesota. Bud and Marge from Hibbing--we're from Hibbing, but Bud was just young when I knew him, he was 20, and then I got married and moved and I haven't seen him since. And here they are out in the desert.

Terry Gydesen

I've been in my camper for a long time. My husband and I used to farm in the Cambridge area. We got divorced in 1980, he remarried. Then I sold my mobile home--camped through the summer and lived with my kids in the winter. So I was ready to go anytime. When you get older, the winter is hard on you up there, especially if you haven't got a man to do the work. I come back in the summer because my children are all there, up on the Range and around Braham and in St. Cloud. I park the camper in my kids' yard, and Shirley and I go all around Minnesota and camp.

It's a different life--a let-down life. All these people come in these big, beautiful campers. At home they wouldn't even say hi to us on the street because we're so far below them. And here they're just happy to see anyone from Minnesota--money doesn't mean anything. They can't be happy if they don't have any friends. That's no fun. At home it is, but not here.

I'll probably have to go back some day, when I can't do this anymore. I'll live in St. Cloud. That's where I'll end up, with my furnace on 90, trying to keep warm.

SHIRLEY

We see every sunrise and sunset. Back home, on account of trees, you don't see that much. And in the RV parks, all you see is more RVs. But where we are, we see for miles. When the full moon comes up, it's so beautiful. When you've never been to the desert--people that drive through, it's "we're going to get out of here as quick as we can." They never know what it is, really. And another reason is, if you're low-income, which we are, it's only $100 for the whole six months. In six months in Minnesota, you'd pay a lot for heat.

My sister got a pickup camper and I have a Transvan. When it comes out of the factory, it's got everything in it--a stove and refrigerator and a potty room and the bed and the booth. They're comfortable. Small, but we're outside all the time. We go downtown every morning. We meet--there's a bunch of us from Minnesota--and have breakfast. By 12 or 1 we're back out in the desert. We sit outside and then we have bonfires at night, everybody does. In the evening there's fires all around us.

Home is Keewaytin. I got married in '50 and lived there until '66 and then I moved to Bemidji. I don't have any children, but we go to my sister's and visit those kids when we're back home. And our brother is in Keewaytin. Mostly it's just Bunny and me--we do real well. I think if we lived together it probably wouldn't last. But she has her house and I have mine.

I have a little long-haired dachshund, 11 years old. Sweetie. She's spoiled. She's been traveling ever since she was a pup. She takes the passenger seat. I build it up and she sits on top and looks out the window.

It's 2,200 miles to get down here, but to us it's getting to be like going from Hibbing to Duluth. We take two or three weeks to get down and two or three weeks to get back. We break down a lot and we always get that taken care of, too. We both have CBs and we talk back and forth the whole 2,000 miles. Truck drivers talk to us too--I had one truck driver singing like crazy all morning. That was kind of fun. We stay at the truck stops--they have security, so you never have to worry. We don't pay a penny other than our gas to get here. And we love to drive--love it.

I sold my first camper after a couple of years. I wasn't going to come any more. Sold it and bought a car and got an apartment in Keewaytin. And after a little while, I said: I'm getting out of here. I was so used to so many people down here, Keewaytin seemed like death. So I traded my little car in on this Transvan and took off. There was no action back home, see. Here we're in contact with many people every day, all the time. When they have their campfires, they invite the whole neighborhood to come out, there might be 15, 20 people and everybody's talking--it's a whole city on wheels. I imagine I'll be coming here until I'm 85 or so. Until I can't anymore.

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