In a remote Western land, far, far away and a very long time ago, I was once a Piñon Land Baron, but not even for a couple of weeks. However, the income generated from this brief escapade did pay for two dirt bikes, as well as finance a trip to Tucson.
Once on a sort of whim, Rob & I bought 5 acres of property in West Bumfuck, New Mexico. It was one of those kinds of land contract deals where you walk into a realtor’s office, hand over $500 cash as a down payment and walk out with a cute little payment book where you promise to pay about a hundred bucks a month for the next 50 or 60 months. Premium, and I do mean premium, ranch land had been busted up into 5 acre parcels so that land could be sold to people who where lunatic enough to buy it, people like us. Some makeshift roads had been cut through with a bulldozer, or rather a truck with a blade, and wah-la! a gated community was born.
It seemed like our kind of place, with Bureau of Land Management acreage to one side, and covered in piñon pine trees and a splattering of junipers, it was literally out in the middle of nowhere. The 100 or so other five acre parcels in our little community were apparently owned by ghost neighbors who never went or lived there nor bothered to build a home or structure of any kind. Hell, we didn’t buy it to live on! At the time, we were leasing a 60 acre ranch, about 100 miles away and at a higher elevation, but closer to work and such. No, we bought this little piece just so we had something to call our own, and maybe too as a sort of investment (huh?).
Only about a handful of other property owners were permanent residents. One was collecting a permanent disability check, one was a retired NY cop with his teenage son, another couple had a little ranchette with goats ‘n chickens, there was a disabled Vietnam Vet and his wife, and also a family of 6 who lived off of Welfare. In other words, it was difficult to live out there without some kind of “fixed” income. For those who worked, well, it was a long ass drive to anywhere from there. First, there was sixteen miles of dirt roads that required a four wheel drive six months out of the year. The skillfully bladed roads were like pig slime, except for the very dry season, and in winter, unless you had an awesome 4x4 like us J, you could only drive in and out on “the freeze.” Second, if you did happen to get that far and reach the paved road, there were many more miles to go before reaching a “town” where not many employment opportunities were anyway.
That’s right, the perfect spot for us!
We thought so much of it at the time, we encouraged a friend to buy a piece too, right across from ours. Mike was Rob’s log cabin kit building partner, single, and also wanting a place to call his own. He jumped on the opportunity immediately.
And it was the perfect party place where all of our rowdy friends could come and raise hell and not bother anyone.
So we set up a hot tub. Our hot tub was fueled by a wood fire from underneath. It was actually a round 300 gallon galvanized live stock tank with a chimney. Aren’t we just so ingenious? We invited friends up for weekends of partying. BYOB and towel!
Now it was during one of these eventful weekends that the vision came to us. Why, we were sitting right smack dab on a piñon gold mine! Seriously, the year before we had seen raw bagged piñon pine nuts for sale in the local stores. We had even purchased a few bags and they were pretty pricey too at $9 per pound. How hard would it be, we thought, to collect some of our own, bag them, and wholesale them to some of the local stores up in the high country. Hmm, if we would have had electricity on our property, light bulbs would have popped on over our heads. Although hindsight reminds me that they would have been very dull bulbs.
Well, that weekend came to an end and all the friends went home, but Rob and Mike, being as they were self employed log cabin building guys, decided to stay on a bit and collect piñon nuts! All we would need was a few supplies from town. Yeah. And we would use a big tarp and collect the nuts in large quantities. Yes, so clever.
The process went like this – The three of us would spread the tarp under the piñon tree. Either Rob or Mike would climb up into the tree and shake it. The pine cones and nuts would fall down out of the tree and onto the tarp. Then the three of us would pull the sides up on the tarp and empty it into 5 gallon buckets. We did this for four or five days straight.
The evenings we would spend sorting the nuts from the cones, twigs, pine needles, bugs or whatnot and collecting the cleaned nuts into burlap bags. We used big cookie sheets to sort the nuts, and did it kind of like the same method people might use to separate seeds from marijuana. (What?)
It was a very sticky job. Piñon trees have pine sap and pine sap is very sticky. It is not fun to have long hair and have pine sap stuck in it, just ask Mike. By the end of each day we would be covered from head to toe with sticky pine sap and let me tell you it does not wash off with soap. Lucky for us, we had diesel fuel which helped us rub off most of the sticky and, of course, a hot tub so we could soak off the rest!
At the week’s end, it was time for the nuts to go to market and sell their piñon nuts. We had five huge burlap bags filled with cleaned and sorted raw nuts. That’s a lot of nuts if you include the three of us! Here’s the funny part. It just so happened that that particular year had been a very good year for piñon nut harvesting. Soon it became disappointingly clear that our nuts wouldn’t be selling for no $9 a pound!
So we did what any other piñon land baron in our situation would have done who had time on their hands in between log cabin kit orders. We set off for Tucson. Arizona, that is. Six hours south and into the desert.
There was this big swap meet place down there that we knew of. We rented a merchant space for $15 bucks a day and set up a little table displaying our nuts. Sales were slow. We sold only a few that first day sitting out in the hot desert sun. We even put samples out for people to taste.
For two mountain boys who were used to running chain saws all day, being merchants at a swap meet was not for them. They soon became very bored and fidgety and left me to “mind the store” while they went off to check out the goods of the other merchants. They must have been gone for, like, hours. I began to wonder if those two ornery ones hadn’t gone off to a downtown topless dancer bar somewhere leaving me sitting there to stare at our bags of unsold piñon nuts. After all, we had been in the woods for quite some time.
Apparently the hot desert sun can cause one to think like that. For soon they came back, all smiles. I could tell by the look on Rob’s face that it was his “I’ve just made the deal of the century” smile, which was a big relief because I hate competing with tits. Anyway as luck would have it, they’d run into some guy, who knew a guy, who actually wanted all of those nuts. So they sold all of them in one sweet deal. Every last burlap bag and we made a few hundred dollars.
Alas! We returned home to the ranch, to the cool breezes of the tall Ponderosas. The money we’d made from our piñon adventure covered our expenses during the trip, plus bought us a couple of sporty new (used) (way used) dirt bikes. And that’s when I learned how to ride, but that’s a different story.
Now here’s where my bubble has to burst. This story happened a long time ago and though it is a very true story, there seems to be a few little details I don’t remember completely. For example I couldn’t exactly recall the time of year this took place. So I googled “piñon nut harvesting” and found out that the nuts are harvested in the fall. However, while I was on the blm.org site, I found a .pdf file that gives instructions on harvesting piñons. Don’t you know, they tell you to put a tarp under the tree, climb a ladder, and shake the nuts down.
Here, I thought we were unique with this idea all these years. They also say to use cooking oil to remove the sticky pine sap. Humph. Go figure.