Building Earthships in Taos

Dates: 2016-02-08 to 2016-02-26

(written Feb 7:)
This is the short story of the astronomer who bought herself a toolbelt and joined a crew making Earthships in Taos, New Mexico.

(And if you don’t know what Earthships are, here’s a great documentary)

On Saturday morning (Feb 6) at around 7am, I set my GPS to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and left the house in Tempe. Soon I was driving through the gorgeous mountains of Tonto National Forest as they slowly woke up to the morning sun.

Coco (my round and loving Prius) did a great job on the rough highways:

In Holbrook I stopped to see the Court Museum. I read a story about a blood-thirsty sheriff and learned that the Eucyclotosaurus (a semi-aquatic carnivor) used to live in the Holbrook area.

Tempted by a flyer, I drove an extra 1.5 hours out to a Hopi village, having always admired the Hopi art in ceramics and Katchina doll carving. The tourist center was closed, but a family was selling their artwork in the street and the dad offered to accompany to one of the old pueblos, that are closed for outsiders otherwise. The pueblo is situated on the very edge of a long high cliff, so we had to drive up in Coco. The view was amazing, and you almost felt in the air that magic from centuries of
dance ceremonies held there. Couldn’t take any photos though, sorry!

And once again, I found myself sleeping with the cats and the strip pole in the living room of Keith, my royal couchsurf host in Albuquerque. Anna was also there and we hung out talking about green chile, the moon, underwear and much more.

After a good nights sleep, I picked up two German women (Dany and Kate) who also came for the Earhship internship. We just arrived at the Snow Mansion in Arroyo Seco and now I need to sleep some more!

(written Feb 9:)
The next day, Monday, we had to present ourselves at the Earthship Academy at 10am. Getting there means crossing an enormous gorge created by Rio Grande that completely took our breath away:

On this first day, Earthship crew Parker took us on a quick tour to see our living quarters for the next 3 weeks. We also met our fellow interns, 7 in total and mainly from Europe with only 2 Americans. The architect himself, Michael Reynolds, is in uruguay with most of the crew, but we will be helping the crew members who stayed on various projects. The rest of the day, we spent in Taos, shopping and having Thai for lunch.

I have now spent my first night at an Earthship Simple Survival building (see also a video here), and it was not a pleasure. Mostly due to a mouse that my mouse trap did not catch. But waking up to this, put me in a better mood:

I think I have now covered up the hole used by the mouse and set up the trap correctly, so that only the coyotes will disturb my sleep. But unlike the mice, I don’t mind in the least to listen to the herd of coyotes as they gather and howl at night, while I lie, warm in my bed.

(written Feb 10:)
This night I slept better! Had to throw out two dead mice that triggered my traps, but then all was quiet. And today we started working on the grey water system, which is part of the design that leads the rain water collected from the roof through the building to be used 4 times. It’s one of the things I’m most interested in learning, so I was very eager to get started! The grey water comes from the sink+bath/shower and is what can no longer be used as drinking water but can be passed by the plants before ending in the toilet as flushing-water. Our work is to implement this system in an older Earhship that does not have water at the moment. This is what the building looks like on the outside:

Step 1: Dig out the ‘planters’ and save as many plants as possible: Here is Dany and Parker (our ‘master’, Señor Parkito), inspecting a plant with a wary look on their faces:

Step 2: Carve holes for a tupe (that will bring water to the soil) and cover the inside of the planters with rubber sheets:

We didn’t quiet finish the last bit, but will continue tomorrow! We learned a lot and made yummi chile con carne (vegana). Here is my part of the house, right now under the Big Dipper (Karlsvognen):

(written Feb 11:)
Guess what I eat the most out here (and everybody else, it seems):

Today Parker, Josh and I continued on the planters and managed to finish up two of them!
Step 3: Push tubes for water through the rubber sheets (actual name: EPDM) and place heavy rocks at the bottom:

Step 4: Fill more than half with gravel, and the last 40 cm or so with dirt. Finally, add the plants:

We had a really nice day today working hard, making mistakes, redoing the work, quoting Monty Python, talking about strange relationships and listening to jazz. It amazes me to think that staying here in our tiny earthships, we are living from and with the sun. Solar panels collect power to keep the lights on at night and rays from the sun heat the water for the showers during the day. Due to the altitude, the sun here is actually very strong and I need to be very careful with my skin I. We also try to get out the door before the rays of the sun make the frozen ground all muddy again! Signing off from Tres Piedras.

(written Feb 13:)
On Friday, perhaps out of tradition, we all had lunch at Taos Mesa Brewery which was a good chance for me to ask a lot of those questions that have been building up in my mind.

But let’s talk about work! We started the day by cleaning the mess from yesterday, which meant a lot of shoveling and showing off by me and Josh:

In the afternoon Parker had to take off, so we went to help the beautiful Rosemary finish some tile-work in the kitchen of the latest Earthship building:

The Friday ended without too much drama - I went to bed with a headache probably self-inflicted from going running in the morning.

Today, Saturday, was a chance for Dany, Kathy and I to see some civilization again. We drove into Taos to do some shopping and strolling in the sun. In the evening, I managed to drive out to the Stage Coach hot spring at the bottom of that giant gorge shown above. It was 4 miles on a dirt road and 0.5 mile of muddy hike into the gorge and the water wasn’t that hot. Still, I’m proud of myself (and Coco) for making it.

(written Feb 13:)

A relaxed Sunday has just begun and I’m having breakfast in my greenhouse. Maybe it’s time to explain what kind of a building I live in? It’s a 2-bedroom Simple Survival Building (SSB), which means that I share a greenhouse with my roommate Josh. This is house as seen from the outside and the greenhouse as seen from his side of the house:

It’s always kind of tropical in here, so that’s why banana palm trees look so happy. My cilantro is also enjoying the heat:

All water comes from a big container that has been collecting rain water from the roof:

Kathy and Dany have their stove in the greenhouse (this is Kathy cooking):

But my entire kitchen is in my room

The water from the roof is either used in the shower or filtered in the kitchen for drinking water:

Finally, after having past through the plants, the water is used as flushing water in our fancy bucket-flush toilet:

So to make this ship sail, you basically only need to turn on some pumps once in a while to keep water flowing everywhere:

(written Feb 17:)

I bring you a few glimpses of the morning on the experimental ground:

And the morning sun hitting the mountains to the East:

In other news: We finished the planters!! Here is our plant-guy David from Canada explaining to Kathryn why this is the right place for a fig tree:

For the rest of the day we worked on the new office building, filling red grout in between tiles and smoothing out walls with adobe.

A beautiful sunset was the reward after a long day in the dust, and now we are heading for a Bluegrass Jam in Taos.

(written Feb 19:)
Today I mixed my first batch of cement! Sweet memories from the smell of my parents old house in Denmark when we first moved into it some 24 years ago and had to work on the old house. Kat and I helped out Ines with the walls of what will become the office of Michael Reynolds! We plastered the bottom with cement adding a tint of rusty color with parasulphate:

Ines staining the wall:

Kat lives with her boyfriend Adrian in the ‘Towers’ - an amazing building that I will try to portray in photos. From the outside, it looks like an odd version of R2-D2 with a very organic tower that serves as staircase:

Inside is a beautiful pond full of life:

And upstairs, a small porch allows you to hang out with a view down to the pond:

The interior is full of small details, like the Mexican tiles in the kitchen:

The rest of the day, we helped Parker build a can-wall in the old office-building. It will hold the water from the shower in a resevoir, only feeding the plants when necessary.

(written Feb 20:)
Thrilling Friday night with laundry and grocery shopping. Today we went to visit a seed exchange happening down the road, and I found some catnip and yellow cosmos flower seeds to bring with me back to AZ.

After that we stumbled upon a ceremonial dance on Taos Plaza!

It was raaad-ish!! Tribes from all over the states come together every year around this day to celebrate Cuauhtémoc - the last Aztec emperor of Tenochtitlan (a city which can now be found as ruins within Mexico City) in 1520-21 before Tenochtitlan was captured by the Spanish:

His name means ‘the one who has descended like an eagle’ and I think I spotted a few eagles among the dancers.

Tough work, that Aztec dancing…

Later, we found the cutest vegan place for lunch:

Of course the owner, Taamer, is going to build his own Earthship. Maybe I should come back and help him?

(written Feb 22:)
Yesterday was a beautiful day in the company of Kat, Adrian and Josh as we visited an Ashram in Taos for lunch and checked out short documentaries (nominated for the Oscars this year) at the Harwood Museum of Art. As sometimes happens on truly enjoyable days, I completely forgot to take photos, but we might go back to the Ashram later in the week.

Today it got COLD on Earthship Way!

Taos in particular really got it:

We spent most of the day cleaning cleaning cleaning, preparing Picuris for ‘sealing’ of the floor and wall-work after that.

To heat up, we are now on our way to Ojo Caliente Spa. I probably will not take pictures, but this is what we hope to find:

And maybe:

(written Feb 24:)
At the spa we bathed in hot mineral pools that were themselves bathing in the light of the full moon. It was a precious time of relaxing for all of us and a much needed change from our hot showers maximum 2 minutes at the Earthships. Yesterday we again went to the Ashram in Taos, this time for free dinner. I managed to help cleaning the dishes this time, still a very small price for such a delicious vegetarian meal. This time, we were a larger bunch of Earthship builders invading the space and after eating, we were hanging around in the cozy atmosphere of the Ashram.

Some of the extraodinary men setting an example for the architecture of the future:

Kat, writing down book recommendations for me:

And David the plant guy, looking almost romantic:

Today was our last full work day, as tomorrow will be class and tour and Friday is… Friday. It was a tough day for me, all day outside in the blazing sun, though with warmer weather than the past days. The morning was spent mixing cement at the new office building with Steve and Dany so that Damien could ‘pour a slap’, which basically means to make the floor:

In the afternoon, Steve and I climbed the roof and with the help of Sara fixed the ventilation hatches that are supposed to open effortlessly using weights and close by pulling a rope from within the building:

Though I am starting to miss certain things - like boyfriend and friends in Tempe, the garden, wi-fi (in my room), a proper kitchen with more than one pot, drinkable water that I don’t have to go get and filter - I know that I will also miss the simple living and all the new knowledge shining on me here everyday.

(written Feb 26:)

THE TOUR!! Yesterday we finally had class and tour, which meant 1.5h lecture on the principles behind Earthships followed by a safari into Earthship Community land.

The first building we saw is up for sale at around $500.000 and currently used for nightly rentals, complete with banana tree and fully equipped kitchen:

The next house was a similar ‘global model house’, but further inside the Community land and with a bit more finish to it, though built in only about 4-6 months with the help of academy students:

Finally, our tour guide took us to the Phoenix - Mike Reynolds ‘baby’, also known as the experiment under construction as it is continously modified and made more exotic. The area of this house much exceeds that of the global model houses and a larger fraction is used for greenhouse space, making room for parrots and turtles and tilapia fish!

Everywhere I looked were tiny details to loose myself in.

Hell, he even put a waterfall in front of the fireplace…

And the chickens also get to live in an Earthship of sorts:

After the tour, we were hanging out in front of the Phoenix for a while before getting lunch and spending the rest of the day in Taos.

(written Mar 1:)

That was it! I’m back in the office in Tempe, missing my accordeon-playing, dancing, meditating, laughing new friends. Here is a photo from our last day of the internship, making ‘souvenirs’ while having drinks and snacks outside.

Some of my new friends continued on their journeys (like me), others stayed behind in Taos to build their dreams. These three weeks have been a huge challenge for me, and one that I probably will not want to repeat, but I DO want to return to learn more from the architects of the future.

Dialogue & Discussion