Hitch a Ride on an Earthship

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”  ~  Native American Proverb

Landfills overflowing, waterways choked with trash and plastic drinking bottles, 728,000 tons of trash tossed out in America daily, and, according to EPA estimates, roughly 290 million tires discarded in the United States each year. The numbers are staggering.

One American architect, Michael Reynolds, has taken this troubling dilemma of what to do with our trash one giant step further by introducing a unique concept, an “Earthship” passive solar home. His idea of  incorporating trash that typically goes into landfills (think discarded tires, aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles) into the designs of his homes, homes that are independent of the “grid”, has turned the homebuilding industry on its head. He is a staunch proponent of “radically sustainable living” and what he has created is quite fascinating and oft-times futuristic-looking. His vision came to fruition on a beautiful, barren mesa outside of Taos, New Mexico, back in the 1970’s, and it is at this main campus location that he has built a visitor center, Earthship Academy, and intern program.

Earthship Interns ~ photo credit earthship global.com.

Michael wanted to create housing that would do three things:

  1. Utilize local materials and/or recycled materials wherever possible.
  2. Rely on natural energy sources and be sustainable (“off the grid”).
  3. Allow for someone with limited construction skills to build these homes themselves.

His vision can be seen in the home designs dotting the mesa here today.

The foundation of the earthship is where the used tires come into play, known as “rammed earth tires”. Like-sized tires are placed on the ground, creating the diameter of the house. Dirt is shoveled into the tires and a sledgehammer is used to pack the dirt in tightly. These tires can weigh up to 300 pounds so they are typically placed before filling, and because the tire is filled with dirt, it will not burn if subjected to fire, an issue today, particularly in many western states.

Raising an earthship in Taos, NM
Earthship in the making. Note the rammed earth tire foundation.
All the modern conveniences of a “normal” home.

The walls, referred to as “tin can walls”, are often made of a network of recycled cans, plastic bottles, and concrete, and plastered with an adobe finish.

Earthships are designed to collect all the water they need from that which Mother Nature provides. Water collects on the metal roof, is channeled into a device that removes the silt, then flows into a cistern. From here it moves into a module that filters out bacteria and other contaminants, making it potable. The water collected in this manner is used for everything but flushing toilets. The toilets are flushed with filtered wastewater from sinks and showers (grey water). This is an oversimplified explanation for a much more sophisticated system. 🙂

Another unique earthship design

These unique homes are also designed to collect and store their own energy, the majority of this energy harvested from the sun and wind by way of wind turbines and solar panels.

Current models have an outside wall of glass that runs the length of the house, angled towards the equator, enhancing thermal performance. An inside greenhouse runs the length of this hallway of glass, where the owner can grow a supply of their own food.

Earthship Biotecture Visitor Center, Taos, NM

The earthship has a natural ventilation system. A 30-foot pipe extends under the berm outside the house into the inside, cooling the air by the time it reaches the interior of the house. As hot air rises, the system creates a steady airflow, cooler air coming in through tubes near ground level and warmer air blowing out through smaller upper windows in the greenhouse.

Most all homes have esthetically pleasing stained-glass windows as part of their design and a woman who works at the main campus is the creative artist behind the beautiful patterns built into many of the home’s walls, using the bottoms of various colored glass bottles.

Many doorways adorned with attractive glass bottle designs

We were so intrigued after touring the visitor center that we decided to take a short tour of the grounds with Justin, whose diverse background seems perfect for such a forward-thinking venture. His knowledge of permaculture has led him to study how much food can be raised for personal consumption in the smallest of spaces. We decided on a whim to delay our travels by a day and spent the night in one of the Global Earthship models – Picuris.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since Michael has seen his uncommon housing concept come to fruition, he has taken his Earthship Academy on a ride around the globe to teach other cultures to build autonomous homes. He is organizing sustainable development and poverty relief projects around the world. A list of those international projects can be seen on his website, earthshipglobal.com.

If you have a passion for sustainability, as we do, and find yourself near Taos, New Mexico, I highly recommend taking a tour of the visitor center at Earthship Biotecture, or perhaps rent an earthship for the night. You just might enjoy the ride. 🙂

Next Up: Heading to the Mile-High City

Advertisements

A Few New Mexico Gems

Continuing on our road trip, we pointed our vehicle towards Taos, a long-time artist community in northern New Mexico, bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This city of roughly 6,000 is home to a world-class ski resort, the Rio Grande Gorge, and one of the most photographed and iconic churches, San Francisco de Asis.

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, built between 1772 and 1816
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Although we would have enjoyed exploring the area in more detail, we had a time crunch to get to Denver to visit family, so spent only a night in this lovely city, wanting to visit Taos Pueblo on our way out of town. We had visited individually in the past and were interested in exploring it again.

We arrived at Taos Pueblo, just north of the city of Taos, at the opening hour, opting to take a short tour by a local member of the Taos tribe, Juan.

Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited pueblos in the U.S., for over 1,000 years. And although the pueblo is much quieter than in years past, 15 hearty souls still reside here, not allowed running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, by rule of the Taos Tribal Council. Juan is not one of the 15, opting instead to raise his family outside of these walls, but still strives to keep many of the old customs alive, including teaching the language to his children. He shared that roughly 85% of the Taos Puebloans still speak in their native tongue. They have been said to be one of the most private of the Northern Pueblo tribes, not speaking of their religious customs outside the membership. Their language has never been written, so much of their culture remains a mystery to the rest of the world.

The most prominent architectural feature within the pueblo. Built between 1000 – 1450 AD, it is said to be the most photographed and painted building in all of North America.

Many archeologists believe the migration of the Taos Indians to the Rio Grande River originated from the Four Corner area (Utah, Arizona, California, and New Mexico).

This particular pueblo was a major trading hub at one time, but although many of the tribes were friendly, there were those who attempted to raid them. A lookout was stationed up on the mountain behind the pueblo, and when a dust cloud was seen on the horizon, a smoke signal was sent up, the sign that someone was approaching. The fort would be secured, making it almost impenetrable.

The pueblo buildings had very few doors or windows. Access to the rooms was by square holes built into the roof, reached by climbing down long ladders. These wooden ladders were quickly pulled up when the pueblo felt at risk of attack.

Taos Pueblo is the only North American community designated as both a UNESCO and National Historic Landmark, still used today for sacred ceremonies.

Arroyo Seco was our lunch stop before continuing our journey to Denver. This village of less than 2,000, founded in 1806, includes historians, politicians, hippies, artists, and several interesting shops.

It proudly boasts of one of the top 25 best ice cream parlors in the world, the Taos Cow. All natural and rGBH free, it was some of the best ice cream we’ve had. Two big ‘thumbs up’ for the Cafe Olé, coffee ice cream with cinnamon and chocolate chunks…yum!

Next Up: Hitch a ride on my Earthship

Road Trip!

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, we did not have the means to take exotic vacations, but even still I have fond memories of taking road trips. In our early years of marriage we carried on that trend, but as time marched on careers got in the way and the idea of road trips fell by the wayside.

Our need to get away this year grew exponentially as the “dog days of summer” wore on us, and as the end of August approached, space opened for us to take to the road. Since we both have family living in the Heartland, we decided a road trip might be in order, so we threw our bikes on the back of our vehicle, packed our camping gear (just in case), and headed out.

Our first stop was Boulder City, NV, where two of our buddies who we met on the road as RVers have thrown down a few more roots, buying a lovely home in this delightful town outside Las Vegas.

One of many beautiful lakes in the west – Lake Mohave

It’s a perfect location for these hard-core hikers and Jeepers, and although it was still quite warm outside to do much sightseeing, we had ample time to play catch-up, enjoying time in their lovely home and pool, thanks to their generosity.

The impressive Hoover Dam
Of course we had a bighorn sighting, thanks to our ‘bighorn whisperer’ friend Pam.
Bowl of Fire
Our gracious hosts and friends – Pam and John

Their’s is a relationship that can comfortably be “picked up just where we left off” last visit, the very best kind of friendship. We were thankful for some quality time together and left already looking forward to another winter visit.

Next stop was Corrales, NM, where another couple of RVing friends have settled. Located just outside Albuquerque, it has the perfect blending of Native American and Spanish traditions, stubbornly trying to hold onto its rural personality amid the expanding city of Albuquerque.

Their home was so cozy and charming.

Welcoming blue door
Labyrinth and relaxed seating area to enjoy bird life and the setting sun.
Wonderful mountain views from a side yard.
Our wonderful host and hostess – Hector & Brenda. I was having too much fun to take a photo while in Corrales.

And a river runs through it, the Rio Grande.

Two days flowed into four as we chatted away the days laughing, biking, sightseeing, and sitting out in their lovely gardens listening to the birds and catching the alpenglow on the mountains. We cannot thank Hector and Brenda enough for their generosity and look forward to seeing them again later this year.

Although not the travel year we had anticipated, having the time to reconnect with friendships developed across this country and beyond during our travels has been as rich an experience as the sights that have taken our breath away.

Join us as we visit the Heartland of this country, a region I am embarrassed to admit I wanted to escape as quickly as I could once I graduated high school. Hopefully time, and a bit more wisdom, have allowed my eyes to see beyond what I did as a teenager.

Hot Summer Daze

The long summer is drawing to a close and for me, hot summer daze seems to best describe this season spent in Southern California. I realize that as I grow older I tolerate hot weather less and less and find myself dreaming of crisp fall days, days when I step outside and become intoxicated on autumn air. Knowing I was grounded for the summer due to a minor medical issue, I vowed to explore the beauty right outside my door, but as temps creeped into the triple digits I fell short of that goal many days as spending time outdoors could result in an irascible, sweaty meltdown. So when this outdoor kinda gal found herself trapped inside, gym fitness and reading became my go-to activities. Nothing wrong with that, I might add, especially when I have a wise, beautiful friend who recommended a special book to me, knowing I might find myself in an introspective mood from time to time. She couldn’t have suggested a book more conducive to the kind of year it has been and is one we would all do well to read, “The Five Invitations”. I can’t thank you enough Erin.

This year has created an interesting array of emotions for me, bringing to life a trip I have longed to take for decades, that being our Patagonian adventure. Coming home with what I thought was a minor finger dislocation became that plus a ruptured volar plate, detached collateral ligament and fractured knuckle. This week I graduated from hand therapy with parting gifts of various torture devices…yay!

Even with 12 weeks of therapy my injury does not even make the list of the tragic turn of events so many of my friends and acquaintances have experienced this year. The list of those we know who have passed this year has now grown to double-digits, not to mention all the public figures whose journey in this life has ended – Aretha Franklin, John McCain, Barbara Bush, Winnie Mandela, Stephen Hawking, just to name a few. Beyond this, we have friends who have had significant medical events and are still struggling with major illnesses, some where hospice has stepped in to provide comforting care. My thoughts are with all of them as they traverse the next phase of their life journey.

The author of “The Five Invitations”, Frank Ostaseski, a contemporary scholar of ancient Buddhist teachings, had me reflecting upon what death can teach us about living, how embracing our impending death, whenever that may be, can allow us to be more fully present, more alive, living each day to its fullest.

“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.”  ~  Frank Ostaseski

Although my thirst for wandering wasn’t quenched this summer, I am grateful for the insights gained as I practiced being more present each day. We head out for some autumn adventures soon and I hope to carry my lessons learned with me. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the blogosphere once again.

Rediscovering the Virtue of Patience

We have settled back into our part-time home at Jojoba Hills, where memories of our Patagonia trip may have faded a bit but revisiting photos can put that smile right back on my face. One of my more vivid memories of Patagonia was our hike to the Three Towers in Torres del Paine National Park, as this is where I experienced firsthand the “knock-you-down” winds for which Patagonia is noted. This is where I learned to fly during a rainstorm, albeit it briefly, as I made the steep ascent to the towers. This is where a rogue gust threw me off a boulder and, although I didn’t get the iconic shot of the towers that day, I remain grateful that I didn’t suffer a serious injury.

The iconic shot I was hoping for, courtesy of cascada.travel.

An x-ray, a consult with an Argentine doctor, and a splint in place and the next day I was on my way to our next adventure. Although I was told to keep the splint on for three weeks and I should be good as new, I suspected, once ‘sans splint’, that something was amiss. My knuckle looked weird and the more I exercised my finger, the stiffer and more painful it became.

By the time we arrived in the Atacama, weeks later, my finger was red, warm, and not at all happy with me. I worried about an infection, but there was no one to consult in the small village of San Pedro, so I buddy-taped it again and tried not to think about it the last few days of our trip. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We couldn’t return home anyway as our airline went on strike; our flight was canceled; and we couldn’t get out any earlier. The best I could do was schedule an appointment with my doctor back home, so I tried not to let it interfere with the last few days of our trip.

Navigating the healthcare system back home was frustrating as I waited several weeks to see a hand surgeon and get an MRI after my initial x-ray, which revealed a fractured knuckle. The first hand surgeon I visited confirmed the avulsion fracture and a ruptured volar plate (the thick ligament that secures the knuckle and holds the two bones in place in the finger)and when asked what treatment he would recommend, he replied that it was bad and he couldn’t help me. No physical therapy, no surgery…what the heck? Needless to say, he is not my current hand surgeon.

Should you ever have the joy of dislocating a finger, here is some of what I have learned:

  • Splinting should be done for no more than one week and gentle manipulation should begin immediately after the splint is removed, even with an avulsion fracture. This probably won’t be much fun as the finger will still be swollen and painful to the touch. My accident was three months old when I saw my current hand surgeon and was splinted far too long so my situation was a bit more challenging.
  • Aggressive range-of-motion therapy can be an option, and was for me. I see my therapist twice weekly for 12 weeks. She is an angel, even though she often hurts me. 😢
  • If hand therapy doesn’t work, surgery would be a next option. I have found a great hand therapy specialist and she doesn’t see surgery in my future. Yay!! Finding a good therapist who will customize a program for you is a must.
  • Be prepared for slow progress. I wake each morning feeling like I am starting all over again, which I am told will probably be the case for the next six months. Patience definitely is a virtue at times like this.
  • Finger dislocations take a minimum of 8 months to heal. It is no wonder my finger is still swollen and stiff, along with other fingers as well.

I’m sad to say that our summer plans for Yellowstone National Park have been disrupted as I focus on getting my hand back in shape. I will be living vicariously through all of you and spending more time discovering the beauty right outside my door. Sometimes we just need to slow down a bit to find that beauty.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave