KAIBETO, Ariz. -- Miranda Haskie sits amid the glow of candles at her kitchen table as the sun sinks into a deep blue horizon silhouetting juniper trees and a nearby mesa.
Her husband, Jimmie Long Jr., fishes for the wick to light a kerosene lamp as the couple and their 13-year-old son prepare to spend a final night without electricity.
They're waiting for morning, when utility workers who recently installed four electric poles outside their double-wide house trailer will connect it to the power grid, meaning they will no longer be among the tens of thousands of people without power on the Navajo Nation, the country's largest American Indian reservation.
Haskie and Long are getting their electricity this month thanks to a project to connect 300 homes with the help of volunteer utility crews from across the U.S.
The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority typically connects from 400 to 450 homes a year, chipping away at the 15,000 scattered, rural homes without power on the 27,000-square-mile reservation that lies in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
At that rate, it will take the tribal utility about 35 more years to get electricity to the 60,000 of the reservation's 180,000 residents who don't have it.
The couple's home at the end of rutted dirt roads outside the small town of Kaibeto was about a quarter-mile from the closest power line. Life disconnected from the grid in the high desert town dotted with canyons and mesas was simple and joyful but also inconvenient, they said.
"It's not that bad. Growing up, you get used to it, being raised like that," Long said.
The family's weekday routine included showering, cooking and charging cellphones, battery packs and flashlights at Haskie's mother's house 2 miles away, down dirt roads that turn treacherous in stormy weather.
Navajos without electricity also pack food or medication in coolers with ice or leave it outside in the wintertime. Children use dome lights in cars or kerosene lamps to do their homework at night. Some tribal members have small solar systems that deliver intermittent power.
No electricity typically means no running water and a lack of overall economic development. Creating the infrastructure to reach the far-flung homes on the reservation is extremely costly.
Hooking up a single home can cost up to $40,000 on the reservation where the annual, per-capita income is around $10,700 and half the workforce is unemployed, said Walter Haase, general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
For the recent power hookup project called LightUpNavajo, the utility raised funds from an online campaign, collected donations from employees, businesses and communities, and used revenue from solar farms on the reservation to cover the utility's $3 million cost.