Most of us couldn't imagine living in a town that has only a post office, town hall, general store and a bar -- a place where the nearest grocery store is 25 miles away and the population is ... four.
But 66-year-old Leda Price, who lives in the tiny town of Lost Springs, Wyo., wouldn't have it any other way.
"This town has everything I need," Price said. "I've lived here for 40 years, and I don't plan on moving at all."
Whether or not a town of four was what she had in mind, it had always been Price's dream to move West. She grew up in Madison, Wis., and one day found herself in Douglas, Wyo., about 30 miles from Lost Springs in the state's eastern plains. It was there that she met and married Vincent Price, a bookkeeper, and in 1972, the couple moved to the tiny town and resurrected its long-abandoned watering hole, the Lost Bar (below right).
Though her husband has since passed, Price continues to busy herself running the bar -- and being the mayor of Wyoming's smallest incorporated town, a post she took more than thirty years ago.
Aside from pouring drinks, shooting the occasional buffalo, organizing town events and fielding reporters' phone calls, Price also runs a catering business, a hunting camp and is a certified nursing assistant. It's a life, she insisted, that is far from lonely.
"We have a great sense of community here," Price said. "We're friends with the folks in [neighboring towns] Douglas and Lusk. It's a very tight-knit community, and everyone looks out for each other in a way that probably doesn't happen in big cities."
One thing's for certain: Lost Springs is just about the furthest thing you could get from a big city.
Once incorrectly classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as being home to just one inhabitant (a mistake that also plagued another Wyoming town, Buford), the city's signage was finally changed last year to reflect the city's actual four inhabitants: Leda, Lost Springs general store owner and sole councilman Art Stringham, his brother, Alfred Stringham, and Alfred's girlfriend, Paula Johnson -- all of whom couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Is Smaller Better?
Lost Springs residents' enthusiasm for small-town, rural living was echoed by Betsy Ross Andry, a resident of the six-person town of Tortilla Flat, Ariz., which is said to be Arizona's smallest incorporated town.
"It definitely has its benefits," said Andry, who lives with her husband. "You know everyone, everyone is family. And then there's the seclusion. We're located in the middle of Tonto National Forest, located between three lakes. We wake up to the mountains every morning. You won't find any traffic or smog here!"
Perhaps that's why Andry's father, Alvin Ross, and his wife, Pam, fell in love with the tiny Arizona town and bought it on a whim back in 1998. The town was abandoned then -- until they moved from Indiana and set up shop there.
Andry stayed behind in Indiana at the time but moved to Tortilla Flat two and a half years ago with her husband. She and her sister, Julie Zornes (pictured left), currently manage the town's eponymous (and only) restaurant and saloon, allowing their parents to retire.
Andry said that in their spare time, they ride ATVs and go hiking and swimming. She added that, due to the large volume of visitors passing through -- the tiny town is located off the Apache Trail -- living in Tortilla Flat never gets lonely.
The general sense of wellbeing and high quality of life in a dusty, small town isn't exclusive to the residents of Lost Springs and Tortilla Flat. In fact, studies have shown that there are lower chances of crime and povery and a higher sense of safety and wellbeing among residents in smaller towns. Research cited by the Atlantic Cities also concluded that happiness was lowest in the nation's largest cities, and that, from 1972-2008, it has consistently been at its highest levels in small towns and rural areas.
"People that live in small, rural towns enjoy the slower pace and the quiet serenity that gets lost when living in a busy urban area," said Realtor Jay Shaver of The Maricopa Real Estate Company in Arizona's Maricopa County, where Tortilla Flat is located. "It's really the best place to raise families. I've lived in both big cities and small towns, and I believe small towns offer the most for people raising children. There's a 'village' mindset among families in small towns, and they take care of each other and protect each other, as opposed to larger areas where people seldom know their neighbors."
But There are Drawbacks
Of course, it's not all roses: Small-town living in rural areas comes with its obvious set of challenges. Access to resources is the most common problem faced by residents of both Lost Springs and Tortilla Flat. To access the nearest grocery store, Price is forced to drive 25 miles in one direction or 30 miles in the opposite direction -- just to get a carton of milk. Similarly, Andry admits she is forced to drive 18 miles to Apache Junction to get her supplies for the week.
And what do you do on a Saturday night? There aren't movie theaters, shopping malls or nightlife in tiny rural towns. Instead, residents have to look to their natural surroundings for day-to-day amusement -- which seems to work out just fine.
In Lost Springs, the Wyoming Cattlewomen's Assn. -- the Cowbelles -- regularly organize cattle-roping and chicken-roping competitions, outdoor parties and chili cookoffs throughout the summer, which draw people to Lost Springs from all over. And when all the cattle have been roped and the chili's run out, the town's four residents learn to make the most of their unique rural location.
"Nearby, we have mountain granges, and we can go camping and hunting," Price said. "It just means we have to make our own fun."