Exchanging Help in the Gila National Forest

We have had absolutely wonderful experiences using WWOOF and WorkAway, so when we heard about a similar organization called HelpX, we decided to give it a try – especially since the spot we were going to stay was in the middle of Gila National Forest, a place we’d fallen in love with on our first road trip.

Like WWOOF and WorkAway, Help Exchange (HelpX) is another website that connects hosts with travelers interested in exchanging work for room & board. HelpX describes itself as:

an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.

Thus, the work you may find yourself doing (and the places you end up staying!) can be quite varied.

Our Hosts

As we have done for our WWOOF and WorkAway hosts, we’ll respect the privacy of our HelpX hosts and not reveal their names, but we will tell you more about them.

To say our hosts were kindred spirits with us is an understatement. We spent our first night swapping travel stories and laughing continuously. It turns out that our hosts, both Arizona natives, had also taken a year and traveled the globe via WWOOF and HelpX! Not encumbered by a four-legged friend (sorry, Knox, but we still love you!), our hosts were able to go beyond US borders and explore Europe and Asia.

They met one another online (just like us!) and ended up traveling to Hawaii, France, Laos and many other places together before coming back to the states where they eventually settled in Gila and started their homestead. And now they’re giving back by hosting HelpXers like us!

She grew up in Tucson, had lived & worked in San Diego, and had lived in a tent while doing volunteer work in Madagascar. She was definitely a go-getter when it came to their little homestead in Gila – reading books and watching videos to learn how to raise chickens, milk goats, make her own soap, and mate rabbits (seriously, not as easy as you’d think!). For two city kids like us, she gave us hope that we could successfully manage our own homestead one day.

He grew up outside Sedona, AZ, but his parents and sister had relocated to Gila so when the year-long travels abroad ended, he came to the lush forest to make his homestead, too. He is now a part-time dispatcher and jailer for the county, when he wasn’t helping build goat barns and rabbit hutches for their little farm.

Have You Held A Baby Goat Today?

About two weeks before we arrived at our HelpX home, both the mama goats had babies. Europa had 3 little ones – two girls and a (really big!) boy. Io (Eye-O) had 2 – a boy and a girl. Since our hosts wanted the kids to be well acclimated with humans, part of what they asked us to do was to pick up and hold the babies. Seriously. In Edie’s opinion, that is the best work EVER.

But our chores weren’t all about cuddling baby animals. We fed & watered chickens and rabbits in addition to the goats. We built raised bed gardens and a compost bin (thanks to inspiration from Edie’s mom, we opted to build an elevated bin). We painted the exterior of our hosts’ rental property. We got up in the mornings to milk Europa and let the goats and chickens out into the yard. In the evenings, we put the goats back in their barn (separating Europa from her three kids so they didn’t drink all the milk!) and put the chickens inside their coop. And we helped out with cooking dinner and doing dishes (which gave Edie a chance to do a little baking and helped Scott finish out his first Amazon Kindle cookbook!).

And we were on a farm, so we also did our share of shoveling poop. Lots and lots of goat, chicken and rabbit poop. But hey it makes great fertilizer!

Experiencing Gila

During our two weeks in the Gila National Forest, we had some time to get out and experience the forest. We hiked the Catwalk, toured the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and drove through an old ghost town.

More importantly, we got to hang out with our hosts and learn more about the area. We learned about the polarizing battle between some New Mexico residents in regard to wolves – clearly evident from the billboards we saw driving through Gila National Forest. We saw off-grid living at the home of our male host’s parents. We learned about the good & the bad of having a little farm.

And we also got to share a common interest with out hosts – watching movies (both good and bad!). We watched Thankskilling, Dead Alive, Fido, and The Double (just a tip: Thankskilling is not a work of cinematic genius).

Baby Goat Shenanigans

It is hard to appreciate the adorableness of baby goats without seeing them in action. Since Edie was so fascinated (read: obsessed) with the little kids, she spent tons of time taking their picture and recording videos of them. Here is a short video that shows the cute goofiness of these little ones:

[flv:http://www.onesixtyk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Goats.flv http://www.onesixtyk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/goats.png]

And Of Course, More Pictures!

Here are some pictures of the work we did and all the animals we played with at our HelpX home.