Good places to live in the US southwest
September 23, 2007 2:26 PM   Subscribe

What would be a good place to live, work, and start a family in the US Southwest? Smaller towns are particularly welcome.

I've always wanted to live in the US southwest and am looking ahead to potentially moving there in a few years. I'd be moving there to settle down and start the next phase of life, which will hopefully include starting a family at some point in the future.

I'd consider everything east of the Sierras (Lone Pine, Big Pine, Joshua Tree), west of Amarillo, TX (couldn't do Austin), or from Denver heading south. I'm not that into mountains and snow, but I'm not ruling anything out (especially because I'm assuming everywhere will get a little warmer and dryer than it is now).

My favorite places are small towns where you can bike from one end to the other and potentially live without a car. I would consider larger places like Albuquerque and Tucson if I lived downtown.

I'm hoping for a diverse place. I'm fairly political and would like to be part of a progressive community, but I'd rather not live in a complete bubble of white, rich, well-educated liberals. I also have this pet peeve: rock climbing, yoga, mountain biking, snowboarding, detoxifying my body via lemon juice fasts -- I like these things and all, but conversations about gear and the backcountry put me to sleep in short order. It's also important that the town's economy extends at least slightly beyond just tourism. Even art sold to tourists would be a welcome relief from restaurants and souvenir shops. I'd consider it a bonus if there are environmental nonprofits where I could potentially work, but that's not my only option. To sum up, by looking for a place with a diverse socioeconomy and some civic engagement, I'm hoping I'll find a good place to work and some friends I relate to.

Then there is that wild card of "starting a family." I'm not on the verge of this by any means, but I am looking ahead at things like being able to afford a house and having it be a decent place for a kid to grow up. In my earlier freewheeling travels, I didn't think at all about things like schools or what it'd be like to be a kid in a place like that. Since I'm not prepared to examine those factors, I'd at least like it to be a place with a fair number of families (not just ski bums and retirees), and a fair number of people my age (almost 30) kinda headed in the same direction.

I'm most eying Paonia, Flagstaff, Tucson (I hear such good things but have been unimpressed in my visits... I must be missing the good side), Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Moab (any economy beyond the mountain bike scene yet?), Manitou Springs (? never been there, just saw the Colorado Springs thread), Bishop, and Joshua Tree. I suspect there are a bunch of possibilities in Colorado I don't know yet, but for some reason I have not been that excited by most places I've been in the state (including Denver, Boulder, Durango, Crested Butte, and Telluride). Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by salvia to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: About work, I should add: I'm also looking into jobs / careers that could be done from anywhere (eg, web design, though that's not one I'm considering), or improving my skills to the point that I could start my own organization. So, I may end up with some flexibility on that issue.
posted by salvia at 2:41 PM on September 23, 2007

St. George Utah very fine little city.
posted by hortense at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2007

You say small towns are attractive, yet you mention Tucson, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other not-small towns. What do you consider small? Population 10,000 or less? 5,000 or less?

There are places in the southwest U.S. that have fewer than 5,000 people and offer amenities you mentioned -- for example, Marfa and Alpine in the Big Bend region of Texas. Marfa's turned into somewhat of an artists' colony, while Alpine has a university, Sul Ross State, and a wide variety of activities. Both towns offer diverse populations and a range of incomes: You'll find really rich folks like Clayton Williams (oilman/rancher who might still be on the Forbes 500 list) and people whose income is less than $20,000. Both towns have entrepreneurs ranging from those who raise goats, to website developers, to a bike shop guy, to bookstore owners, to artists (and that includes those who paint animal skulls to those whose photos can cost thousands).

Then there are many small towns in Arizona and New Mexico not on your list. For example, in New Mexico: Clayton, population 2,500; Lordsburg, 3,370; Tucumcari, 6,000; Ruidoso, 1,900. In Arizona, there's Benson, pop. 4,700; Clifton, pop. 2,600; Gila Bend, pop. 1,980; etc.

Lots of these towns are remote; would you give up malls, airports, local TV stations, Target and Wal-Mart? Some of these places don't offer those "amenities." Would you be willing to drive 60- to 100-plus miles to the nearest major medical facility? Although some of the towns have doctors and clinics, their specialties are limited. It would help if you narrow your parameters population-wise. (PS -- I know some people who don't like St. George, Utah, but they're not Mormon and found it very hard to "fit in.")
posted by Smalltown Girl at 5:23 PM on September 23, 2007

Silver City, New Mexico. I was there a few weeks ago, and it is right up your alley. Search up on it. Interesting little community, and I said to myself "I could live here".
posted by Meatbomb at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

i would say anything on us 14- the 'turquoise trail' between santa fe and albuquerque. these places aren't as yuppiefied as santa fe but still have a lot of cool stuff going on. plus their pretty close to the big city if you need to get your strip mall fix. i turned down a job offer in lordsburg, however, because i was worried that there would be no young educated people there for me to hang out with.
posted by genmonster at 6:48 PM on September 23, 2007

Las Crucen here. A lot of transplants from colder places seem to love it here, but personally, having been born and raised here, I utterly detest the place. Thankfully, when I finish my degree in a few months, I'm leaving for good.

I can't really put my finger on why I hated growing up here so much, but maybe just boredom at the small size of the city, lack of things to do, and feeling that the region was less developed compared to other parts of the US - I mean, for a state with such a small population, we have pretty high rates of poverty, crime, teenage pregnancy, and drunken driving (actually I think we rank near the top of the nation for those last two). In general, I always wished I lived in a bigger, more interesting city. The city is big enough that you don't have that small-town charm, yet small enough that you still feel like you live in the middle of nowhere. It's sprawled out so you need a car to go anywhere, but lacks any decent public transportation. I wouldn't call it "diverse" either; the city is maybe 50% WASP and 50% people of Hispanic background, with tiny numbers of people of any other ethnic background (although I'm part of the ~1% Asian population, if it matters).

I wouldn't necessarily call it a good place to raise kids - although I turned out OK, I think the schools are crap, and as I mentioned before, the city is mindnumbingly boring, though that doesn't mean kids will stay out of trouble - drugs and gangs are a problem, and plenty of high school kids drive over to Mexico to drink.

But all the recently-arrived senior citizens who write for the "Culture" pages in the local paper seem to love it here, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm thankful I didn't have to grow up in any place even smaller than my city, though - it must really suck to grow up in, say, Lordsburg. *shudders*

I never understood why people like Silver City so much. It's a smallish town with a bunch of (usually senior) artist-types from other parts of the country who dabble in pottery, weaving, and that sort of thing. The local young people seem to have fled for a place that could give them a future beyond selling turquoise trinkets and Cocopeli dolls to tourists.
posted by pravit at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2007

Denton Texas. At the top of the "Golden Triangle" (Ft Worth to the south and west and Dallas to the south and east). A university town, two in fact, makes for some good cultural stuff in town, and a thriving music scene. A quick drive south in either direction for some real big city stuff. I haven't lived there in twelve years and I think it's grown quite a bit since then, but hopefully still retains a somewhat small town vibe.
Decent weather, although it does get hot in the summer, but if you're looking at Joshua Tree, this is not as hot but more humid. We'd have the once a year ice storm which would shut the town down for a day or so, which I always enjoyed as a sort of surprise holiday.
posted by jvilter at 7:55 PM on September 23, 2007

Before I'd consider moving to somewhere in the southwest, I'd take a good look at the projected water supply over the next 50 years, given population trends, who's sharing the water table, and so forth.
posted by amtho at 8:02 PM on September 23, 2007

I mean the projected water supply for any particular town I was considering. There are probably places in the southwest with plentiful water that should be in good supply for the next two centuries. I just don't know enough about the region to know what those places would be.
posted by amtho at 8:04 PM on September 23, 2007

I love living in Albuquerque - but I have a few groups of friends that have tried living downtown here, and it never seems to work out. They never found a neighborhood with a good mix of schools, grocery stores, and culture.

You may want to look at Ranchos de la Albuquerque or Corralles - two smaller villages just to the north of the city proper. Would give you a small town atmosphere, but close enough to the fun parts of a somewhat larger city.
posted by korej at 8:11 PM on September 23, 2007

If you live in a small town you are going to lose diversity--and there really isn't much diversity in the cities of the southwest to begin with. When I lived in Albuquerque I worked at a company where there were a few folks of Asian descent, a hispanic woman and the rest were us white folks. And, that was rather crazy diverse for what I've seen. If you live near a reservation you will have native americans and white folks or you can live in communities where there are hispanic/latinos and white folks. But, that is about it. I've struggled with this connundrum myself.
All of the towns that you mention (and others have) are good.
But, I'm afraid that what young folks (white) do in small towns is hike, climb and yoga-especially the progressive folks. The other end of the spectrum (white) is fish, hunt, and drive big trucks. I'm not sure why the Colorado hate but I would suggest checking out in CO Salida (touristy though but artsy). I especially like Flagstaff, AZ as a good compromise for all of these things.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:57 PM on September 23, 2007

Oh, and best of luck in your search. I've been looking for the ideal place to live in these Western United States for years. I hope that you find what you are looking for.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:10 PM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: You say small towns are attractive, yet you mention Tucson, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other not-small towns. What do you consider small? Population 10,000 or less? 5,000 or less?

Good point, but I'm afraid I can't totally pin it down. I'd say less than 10,000 feels small to me. My most favorite places to visit are around 5000-8000. I'd love it if I could get something that small to work out. Though of those three, the most socially viable was the largest (8000 person) one, and in fact, so many people lived in the backwoods nearby that the social scene centered there was more like 15,000 people.

But I am considering places like Tucson, etc. Since the longest I lived in these small places was only three months, I'm thinking I should keep an open mind, at least for starters.

Lots of these towns are remote; would you give up malls, airports, local TV stations, Target and Wal-Mart?

Yes. Moab is, what, 4 hours, from SLC? That works for me. My only request is one liberal/NPR local public radio station.

Would you be willing to drive 60- to 100-plus miles to the nearest major medical facility?

I'm a bit more concerned about that (only because I hear that once you have kids that becomes a lot more important). But I could probably live with it.

strip mall fix

Thanks. The funny part is that I avoid strip malls and real malls like the plague, even when I should go because I need stuff. :) I stock up on "real clothes" literally about once or twice a year. I do need a decent bookstore or two, and a good cafe, and a couple restaurants, and some crunchy granola grocery store, but all those seem pretty easy to come by.

Colorado hate

Aw, I don't hate everywhere in Colorado. Paonia made the short list! (I think maybe too much exposed granite scares me.)

Thanks for all your answers and ideas -- keep 'em coming!
posted by salvia at 11:22 PM on September 23, 2007

St. George Utah very fine little city.

St. George has often seemed a tad short on soul to me.. especially as the developers have really gone to town on the place over the last decade or two (though some of that growth has given a lot to a formerly pretty sleepy place). Kanab may be an interesting smaller alternative in roughly the same locale/geography.

Moab ... tourism obviously dominates a lot of the most visible aspects of the community, but it's long had an economy beyond mountain biking -- in particular mining and ranching are pretty big. A number of artsy types are drawn there, too, like Terry Tempest Williams. The local paper used to have a cartoon which had humor mostly driven by the contrast between the different types of people in the community, though, and it's not always a peaceful coexistence. Very interesting small town. It does have public radio. :) I think you'd find most of what you've mentioned here there.

While we're on the subject of Utah... for most of my life I've panned Salt Lake City, thinking it couldn't possibly be as cool as most other places, since I grew up not far from it, but I've begun to realize that if I hadn't already spent so much of my life in the area (and some crazifying personal factors were missing) I might well choose to live there. It's not as cool in my mind as real cities like New York or Boston, or even some of the more famous southwest rec towns like Moab. But it's actually becoming an interesting middle-mix between the two that has more diversity than one might think. Maybe the area between downtown / capitol hill and Sugarhouse up to the U of U might have what you're looking for.

There are also some other smallish places in Utah I could recommend depending on your tolerance for the local religious culture... Logan (larger, state university town) and Spring City (genuine small town) in particular come to mind.

Colorado: you might want to check out Salida or a number of places in the Arkansas River Gorge... might fail the "outdoor rec people bore me" test, but I found it had a charm that went beyond the visible river-rec culture. Cortez also might be interesting if you thought Durango would be, but somehow walked away disappointed or hoping for something smaller.

Some of my acquaintances have been quite charmed by Prescott AZ, but I've never been there.
posted by weston at 12:57 AM on September 24, 2007

I'd recommend Grand Junction, Colorado. It's near Moab and the great hiking/biking trails there, is desert rather than mountains, and has a great family atmosphere. I was really surprised at the great shops and restaurants in Grand Junction. There is a small college there, some vineyards nearby, and real estate is affordable.
posted by mattbucher at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2007

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