South of Nowhere

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

One thing about living our life--see, I never did this in all my life, I was a homebody. But you're totally free. And until you live the way we do, you're never free.

Sharon & Donny Ramberg
1,500 tacos

Terry Gydesen

You take a piece of fry bread and you put seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, sour cream, black olives--and guacamaca, if you want. Its guacamole, but I'm from Minnesota, so when they started asking me for guacamole, I didn't know what they were talking about. So I went to the store and got some avocado dip in a jar. This was 13 years ago. Trust me, I do know what to do with an avocado now. But we still call it guacamaca, and people get a kick out of it.

We started the business in Minnesota--it came out of my kitchen. I saw the basic idea somewhere at a stand, they called it an Indian taco. It was made with fry bread, which we had for years--we called it elephant ears. So we went home and made it for ourselves, never intended to sell it. I was working as a hairdresser, my husband was a gunsmith, and in the winter we also drove school bus.

Then one year my husband and I were in charge of Mentor Days. You know where Mentor is? About 20 miles east of Crookston? My husband said: "I don't know how we're going to feed all those people--why don't we make our tacos?" I says, "You've got to be out of your mind." He says, "You used to run a restaurant, didn't you?" Which I did, a long time ago. He said, "I'll handle the bread dough." So we sold the tacos for three days and then we went to Colorado for our second honeymoon.

Come home and we had letters in our mailbox asking us to come to different places and make the tacos. And Donny says, "I'm building a stand." I said, "Now I know you're crazy." But he did, and it went well for three years, and then my husband turned 50 and he said, "I want to do something different before I'm too old and crippled up to do it." You know, men have menopause. He said, "We are going to take our stand to Arizona."

When we left Minnesota, we asked the Lord to put us where he wanted us. We saw Phoenix, with trees and grass and flowers. And then you come 130 miles across that desert, which I hated then, love now, and you overlook Quartzsite, and all it was was this little black-and-white hole in the desert. And I said, "Lord, if you expect us to stay here for more than five minutes, you're badly mistaken." That was 13 years ago, and now we wouldn't leave here screaming and kicking.

The first year we had two chairs, and it was a good thing, because the only way we could keep them full was if we put our own butts in there. Now we have seating for 48 people, and it's usually full. We can do up to 1,500 tacos in a day--that's with extra help. We try to open up the middle of December and work through the last day of February, and then we do our business in Minnesota from May to the middle of October. We have licensed three franchises in Minnesota.

We have our RV out in the desert--you bet. We lived in town the first year, but we realized that getting out there was a lot of fun. We're four miles away and there's 10,000 acres around us. You know, I love people, love talking to them all day, but at the end it's nice to get out there and not talk to anyone.

Doris & Edwin Lundberg
We're always doing something

It's not very professional--it's a nine-hole, par-3, and not a very long drive from one hole to the next. We use a 7-iron. Sometimes the ball hits a rock and it goes all over the place. It pretty much depends on luck as much as whatever skill you may have.

It was built years ago by a guy who had his daughter and son-in-law coming to visit, and he wanted to provide some entertainment for them. But we've kept it going, and every group of people has some idea for how we should improve it. The cups are made of plastic sewer pipe, 4 inches across, and when we leave we take the cups out of the ground and my husband puts nails in the holes and then covers it all up. And when we come back we take a metal detector and find where that hole was.

It's a nice activity--you're with other people and it seems like everybody is so congenial. You develop a community in your own little area of the desert. There are dozens of little neighborhoods, and you find the people you've known from other years, and it's just like you came home. And it's amazing how people look after each other. Someone isn't out and it's awful quiet around the place, and pretty soon people check to see if everything's alright. Healthwise, everyone's got their little problems, but everyone is doing their best to be mobile, even if they've got a cane or a walker or something.

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