Ron and Teresa Dakotah have been traveling the West with two horse-drawn wagons for about five years. In that time they have been in 13 states west of the Mississippi. This year their travels brought them to Arizona. They spent a little more than a month in the Wickenburg area and were in Payson this week, headed to Idaho, where they have family.
"We're just traveling and learning to love people the way Jesus loved people," explained Teresa.
She said once her two children were grown she realized she didn't need much and she just wanted to travel and see the country.
They decided to make the journey by wagon -- actually two wagons. The larger one is where they live; it has a bed and a wood-burning stove, plus their food. The second, quite a bit smaller, carries their gear. They bought the wagons
at a sheep camp, Teresa said. The floors were rotted away, but the structures were still sound, with parts coming from 125-year-old telegraph poles and wooden water tanks.
"The original wheels were so large the wagon beds had to be built with arches," she said. The Dakotahs remodeled the outside of the wagons some, including building storage chests on the outside where the bed arched. There is canvas covering each wagon, but the larger one also has a wood covering with insulation between it and the canvas. They have four horses on the big wagon and two on the smaller one. The two wagons are hitched together and on the backend of the little wagon, bikes are attached.
They travel with 40 gallons of water, a generator, plus feed and tack for the horses.
"We might not have jobs, but we work very hard every day," Teresa said.
And if the weather turns bad, they just stoke up the woodstove and stay inside.
"We were in the plains last winter when they had that big ice storm," Ron said. "We had a good campsite -- the grass was up to here," he said, indicating knee-high. "We knew it was coming, so we just set it out. We were the only place with power for about 50 miles in any direction."
Speed is not part of their travel plans, they make from five to 15 miles per day. They live on their Social Security. Sometimes things get tight with money. It is one of the reasons Teresa doesn't want to make a return trip to Arizona -- they were paying "steak prices" for the horses' hay and grain and the Dakotahs were eating Top Ramen.
Having seen so much of the West, Teresa said her favorite area is not far from where her parents live in St. Anthony, Idaho -- it's near Troy, Montana in the Yaak roadless area. A place she would like to see in the future is Canada.
"My grandmother always told me to take a look in my own back yard before you look in others' back yards. And that's what we're doing," Teresa said. "Getting a good look in our own back yard."
She people all along the way have made their travels successful. "There is always a time when you have to rely on others and we thank the people who have helped us along the way. We appreciate everybody."
One of those that helped them along the way in their visit to Payson was J.C. Bryan of Rye. He and Ron worked together more than 30 years ago in Oregon. He had wanted the Dakotahs to stay with him, but they all decided setting up camp at the Payson Event Center was better.