Pulling into downtown Jarbidge, Nev., on Labour Day weekend, I knew (just KNEW) deep down in my corpuscles that this would be IT, the last undiscovered cool Western hamlet. This was a place so far removed from the cultural and economic mainstream that there would undoubtedly be dozens of nice and funky fixer-uppers. I would soon be trying to decide whether the historic log cabin back in the aspens or the quaint false-fronted general store — both surely available for under $20,000 — would be more to my liking.
Jarbidge boasts that it is the most remote town in the Lower 48. It’s 105 miles from Twin Falls, Idaho, where people go to shop. It’s 102 miles from Elko, the county seat; you can’t even get there in the winter because of a snowed-in dirt-road pass. It boasts one little general store that looks like something straight out of The Outlaw Josey Wales . Jarbidge has a population of 40 or 50 in the summer and eight to 12 in the winter. Crossing Jarbidge Creek and turning onto the main drag, I had visions of Bisbee, Ariz., circa 1975, a place that, with the proper progressive planning and the right population mix, could become an artsy haven for folks like me who are weary of the New West’s increasingly obtrusive rat race.
But the first thing that caught my eye as I slowly drove from one end of Main Street to the other — a distance of a mile or so — was the preponderance of FOR SALE signs. A total of six or eight in a town that boasts maybe two dozen houses. And, with the exception of one cabin best described as "cozy; needs bulldozing" (which, come to find out, was listed for $52,000), all the available properties were closer to $200,000 than to $20,000.
I headed to Jarbidge’s one bar, the Outdoor Inn, for a cold one. It being midday and all, I was the only customer, and I started hobnobbing with the bartender, who had lived in Jarbidge for three years. She had just learned that she was likely going to have to move, because the owners of the place were going to mothball the bar — and her employee apartment out back — for the winter.
"The few houses here for rent run $800 a month, and there’s no way on earth I will ever be able to buy a house in Jarbidge; they’re just too expensive," she lamented. "The prices keep going up and up every year, and people, mostly from California, keep buying ’em as fast as they are listed. They’ve got the money."