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`Lone Eagle' Commuters Flee Cities For Calm of Southwestern Suburbs

WHY is the United States' Southwest region growing so rapidly?

"One of the biggest reasons for the growth of the Southwest is the surge of the `lone-eagle phenomenon,' " says Dr. Timothy Hogan, director of the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University in Tempe.

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"These are groups of professionals - airline pilots, consultants, writers, designers - who have left the hassles of urban life for the amenity-rich country, without leaving their jobs."

Bastions of "computer commuters" are now springing up in Sedona and Prescott, Ariz., in Santa Fe and Taos, N.M., in Park City, Utah, and elsewhere across the Southwest.

Ron and Buff Burns, who work as graphic designers, are typical of many of these "lone eagles."

When a 1987 earthquake brought down the walls of their downtown Los Angeles warehouse studio, they decided that was the last straw.

"I'd had it with smog, traffic, congestion, gangs," Ms. Burns recalls. "I wanted out."

The couple searched dozens of seaside communities within California before relatives invited them to vacation in the Sedona area of Arizona, a remote desert locale between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

"After we drove through Oak Creek Canyon and saw these deep red rocks jutting up like cliffs, we went straight to the realtors," Buff says.

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The money from selling their California condominium became the down payment for a bigger house and about 10 acres of land here.

For the first year after moving, Mr. Burns commuted to Los Angeles about three days a week.

The once-a-week commute time of about 10 hours equaled the total amount of time he had spent commuting five-days-a-week on Los Angeles freeways the year before.

In the last two years, Ron has reduced the number of trips he makes to Los Angeles; he now travels there only one or two times a month. The rest of his job is performed through a computer, fax machine, and modem linked directly to design clients.

Ron still works eight- and 10-hour days, he says. But his office - which consists of three telephones lines for the fax, modem, and phone - is just a few feet from his bedroom.

His client base is slightly smaller, but his cost of living is far less. And his quality of life has soared.

"We hike, bike, ski," Buff says. Such urban obsessions as flashy cars, clothes, even makeup have fallen away, she says. "All the other priorities of life have become secondary to emotional and mental health."

In two years, the price of their land has doubled due to the demand for land in Sedona. Now the couple is looking to build their dream house with a view of mountains and a creek.

"I feel the benefits are twofold," Ron says.

"One, you don't have the hassle of worrying about crime, smog, and earthquakes. Two, stress is practically eliminated - and your backyard is a national forest."

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