In early-2009, I began researching the possibility of moving my family from Upstate, South Carolina, where I have lived my entire life, to one of the western American Redoubt states. Knowing virtually nothing about the area, I solicited the help of Mr. Rawles and did as much online research as possible. Finally, in October of 2009, I made my first of seven trips to the Redoubt area and I will share some of what I learned with you now.
After flying to the region, landing in Salt Lake, Spokane, or Billings, I would rent an SUV and begin my journey based on a predetermined itinerary of areas that I had researched. I drove so much on the first trip that my eyes had trouble focusing which forced me to slow down my pace somewhat, but it was a good learning experience. For the most part, I would grab a hotel room in one of the more populated areas and use it as a hub of operations to do my traveling; however, I did spend a couple of nights in the vehicle just for the sake of convenience.
After acquiring transportation, shelter, and a plan of action, I would strike out on my journey. With roads being few and far between, proper planning was essential. I used a set of gazetteer map books from DeLorme for most of my navigation. I found that most of the land that I covered in that territory managed by the BLM, Park Service, or US Forest Service. This presented a unique circumstance because it meant that I had to cover great expanses of Federal land between the areas where property might be for sale; however, this logistics obstacle would pale in comparison to my single greatest challenge of these trips.
What I mean by my greatest challenge is that this particular problem followed me wherever I went. It was always there and was so simple that it had been overlooked from the start. It was my southern accent. No matter where I went or what I did, as soon as I opened my mouth, I was instantly identified as an outsider. I had thought nothing of my accent until a stop at a Montana convenience store revealed my weakness. I simply asked the attendant if they had any “Goody Powders” to combat the headache I had from driving, only to find out that she had no clue what I was talking about, nor could she understand what I was saying. From this instance forward, I was very observant each time I opened my mouth as to how people reacted to my accent. It didn’t matter if I was ordering a sandwich or talking about the weather, I could tell from people’s reaction that they knew I wasn’t from around there.
I chalked this language barrier up as the largest negative mark against the Redoubt. It was so simple and so obvious, yet I had taken for granted the fact that I blended in perfectly in the southeast. Once I was removed from the south, I no longer had that protection of sounding just like everyone else. You might not think this is a big deal, but if you are trying to be inconspicuous and a simple “howdy” identifies you as a foreigner, that is a major problem. This was just one of many negatives that I observed as an outsider looking in on the Redoubt, but it gave me an idea.
I decided to very unscientifically study which areas were more tolerable of someone such as myself. What I found was, in the areas such as Sandpoint, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming; which cater to tourists, I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. I blended in quite well as a tourist, actually. In more remote areas such as Orofino, Idaho and Libby, Montana; I was pegged as an outsider almost instantly. I came to the conclusion that, in order for an outsider to blend in, they would need to take up residence nearer to a more populated area or tourist spot. This somewhat defeats the purpose of moving to the Redoubt, but might work itself out in time.
Among some of the other negatives that the Redoubt has to offer, or not offer in this case, is the lack of churches. In the southeastern US, also known as the “Bible Belt”, there is a church on nearly every corner. It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, or some other denomination, you can easily find a place to worship on Sunday mornings. In the Redoubt states, this is totally opposite. I made it a point to look hard for churches, both while driving and in the phone book, and was very disappointed at the lack of worship opportunities. The places that I did find for the most part were Mormon in nature. I personally know an executive with the Southern Baptist Convention that I shared this with and was told that the SBC has at least one church in every county in the US. Unfortunately, I never found the one in some of the counties; however, this does create an excellent opportunity for church planters and missionaries from the “Bible Belt” to get busy.
One place that is totally awesome, but very dangerous, is the Hell’s Canyon area of the Snake River valley. I was under the impression that the Snake River got its name from its winding back and forth through the valley. I now know this to be totally false and I found out first-hand the hard way. The Snake River had to have gotten its name from the multitudes of rattlesnakes living in Hell’s Canyon. I also know why they call it Hell’s Canyon now also. I have never seen such a gathering of rattlesnakes in one place in all of my life. There were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of rattlers in that one area. If you ever visit Hell’s Canyon please use caution and wear the proper protective gear. If not, you might become a casualty.
I was also amazed at how fast the weather could change in some of the Redoubt areas. In one example, I was driving along a valley road at 60 mph. The sky was clear, and the thermostat in the SUV showed 70 degrees outside. As the flat road in the valley began its assent up the next mountain range, I encountered a flashing sign demanding that tractor-trailers use chains. I thought this was very odd and maybe the sign had been activated accidentally until I reached the first evidence of snowfall about halfway up the grade. By the time I had reached the top of the pass, the temperature had fallen 40 degrees, and there was approximately six inches of fresh snow on the ground. When I reached the other side of the hill and landed in the valley floor, it was again sunny and 70 degrees. That kind of weather just doesn’t happen here in the south and would take many Redoubt transplants by surprise, as it did me.
On another occasion, I went to bed in a hotel for some shut eye one evening and the parking lot outside was completely void of anything other than automobiles. When I awoke the next morning, over six inches of fresh snow had fallen and covered everything. No mention of this had been made on the evening news nor had any of the local stores been ravaged for their groceries. If this had happened in South Carolina, the governor would have declared a state of emergency, schools would have been shut down, and every store for miles around would have been totally void of milk and bread.
These are just a few very simple examples of how the Redoubt states of the northwest are different from, not only the southeast, but also the rest of the country. Don’t be naïve and think that you can just pack up your belongings and move a couple thousand miles and everything will work out. Make a few trips to the areas, do the necessary research, and come to your own conclusion. If I were to make a move to the Redoubt, the Clearwater River Valley would be my locale of choice. But after taking many, many variables into consideration, I have decided to stay put in Upstate, South Carolina. I have an awesome church family, our winters are mild in comparison, and everyone speaks my language, not to mention that we have far fewer rattlesnakes. I am not knocking the potential benefits of the Redoubt. I am just pointing out that just because something looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work out for you. In my opinion, the Redoubt has been a great place to visit, and I’m sure I will return there again someday, but I wouldn’t want to live there. The pasture is not always greener on the other side. Thank you and God Bless!
JWR Adds: I'm impressed that Mr. Falsch took so much time to explore the Redoubt region so thoroughly. I'd much rather read well-reasoned letters like his than those that I often receive from folks who reject the Redoubt concept without ever visiting there.
I formerly attended a Southern Baptist church, when I lived in Orofino, Idaho. Oddly, every Southern Baptist church that I've ever visited has had pastors that spoke with a southern accent. Do they teach the accent at their seminary schools?
If rattlesnakes are a concern, be advised that they are normally found at lower elevations in the Redoubt States. I'd much rather risk seeing "a few rattlesnakes" rather than "seeing a few rattlesnakes, and a few cottonmouths, and a few coral snakes, and a few gators, and miles of kudzu."