About 30 miles out in the Mojave Desert east of Lancaster, a few hundred yards short of where the last paved road turns to dirt, there is a bleached wooden sign that reads "Miracle Farms, Pigs For Sale."
If you turn left there and follow the two-rut track north through the sand for a couple of miles, you come to Jesus and Juanita Romero's place, the last place in Los Angeles County.
Beyond them--except for some sparse brush, a few lean lizards and, about five miles farther out, a scrawny Joshua tree near the lonely spot where Kern and San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties all meet--there is nothing.
The barren hillside where the Romeros live is, by road, about 130 miles northeast of the Los Angeles City Hall. As far as anyone knows, nobody else in Los Angeles County lives farther away than that.
It's another side to the most populous county in America, a silent space beyond the mountains that serves as a counterpoint to the blaring bustle of the coastal megalopolis.
'I Live Happier Here'
"I live happier here," Juanita Romero said when asked why she and her husband, a 45-year-old native of the Mexican state of Michoacan, decided to trade urban life in Los Angeles for hog farming, and move with their two teen-age sons to a remote, 40-acre plot at the eastern end of the 60-mile-long Antelope Valley.
She doesn't deny the disadvantages.
It gets pretty hot (about 115 degrees) in the summer and pretty cold (about 15 degrees) in the winter. There is no phone. If you want electricity, you have to generate it yourself, and if you want water, you either haul it in by truck or pay for several miles of pipeline. The nearest neighbor can be a mile or more away, and it's about 20 miles to the nearest store.
"But all that's OK," the 40-year-old Los Angeles native said.
"I like it here because there's more security for the kids--no dope, no crime," she said. "My kids don't bother nobody and nobody don't bother them."
Similar sentiments were expressed by Pam Wilson, a 31-year-old divorcee who packed her two daughters, Michelle and Kelly, into a battered old van a few months ago and headed west from Toledo, Ohio, to join her parents in a tired roadside cottage that they were already sharing with a relaxed assortment of kittens and puppies.
You Can See Forever
"I love the peace and quiet, the way you can see forever," Wilson said from her new home, five miles southwest of the Romeros' farm. "But most of all, I like the fact that my teen-age girls have to go 28 miles to get into trouble."
Michelle, 13, said she is happy enough living out in the desert, amusing herself--far from the disapproving eye of the law--by driving the family car and riding the family dirt bike.
But Kelly, who is a year older, said that, frankly, she is bored.
"My mother told me she was going to stick me out someplace where there aren't any boys, and she's done a pretty good job of it," Kelly said. "Now I'm stuck in the boonies, and all there is out here is hermits. . . .
"I want to move to some town," she said, "someplace where there's shopping malls and people. What I'd like best is Toledo, but I'd settle for Lancaster."
Kelly said she passes the time by watching things--soap operas on television, the occasional car that passes by (there is one about every 15 minutes), her sister "torturing" ants.
Michelle denies the accusations of torture, but admits to "playing" with ants--a sport that seems to attract a lot of kids out here.
Tasakyna Pimofsky, 8, who lives with her family on a 60-acre plot about four miles to the southeast, poked ants around with a stick and talked to them while her mother, Melony, 32, chatted with visitors.
"I never get bored," Melony Pimofsky said. "What with starting the generator, hauling water, things like that, there's too much to do to get bored."
Ted Machado, 69, a retired Long Beach Navy Yard electrician whose place is about six miles east of the Pimofskys', prefers other options.
"There's a lot of hard work to be done, but I don't do it," Machado said as he lounged on his porch in his bathrobe, slippers and cowboy hat, watching his wife, Bobbie, chase a stray rooster about the hardpan yard. "Out here, you can do what you want, and not do what you don't want. . . .
"I used to drink whiskey to pass the time, but I don't do that anymore. Now, I just fight with Bobbie."
The Machados used to live in Arcadia, and Bobbie, 59, said the high desert took some getting used to.
"At first, I thought anyone living out here was crazy," she said. "But it kind of grew on us, and we bought this place back in '61. . . . Now I really like it."
"I love it here," Melony Pimofsky said. "The sky is so clear, you can see all the stars in the Milky Way at night. And the sunrises are beautiful. . . .
"This is the best place in the world."