Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Earthships Ahoy Matey!

In March 2015, we headed north for a trip to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and RV Park and to see the Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado in order to climb a sand dune.

On the way north, we stopped at the Earthship Visitors Center near Taos, New Mexico where you can learn about the construction of Earthship Biotecture.

We arrived at the visitors center just in time to join a tour of a new research Earthship that is under construction. We have always been curious about these odd buildings just outside of Taos. They are unique constructions that have always seemed very mysterious.  The visitors center provides a self-guided tour for $7, but we were lucky to be able to tag along with a class of students taking a guided tour.

Greg in an Earthship greenhouse. They were growing
bananas and pineapples. So cool!
An Earthship out-building under construction
Recycled tires, cans and bottles used as insulating wall material

Inside a research Earthship under construction

Rain and melted snow is funneled from the metal roof into
underground cisterns that store a years worth of water (or more).
Student experimental Earthship living quarters

More Earthships under construction

Earthship with wind generator that doubles as art

Using recycled material that is later covered
Karen below a colorful wall making use
of recycled bottles to create a stained glass feel

The idea behind these "radically sustainable" homes is to be as self-sufficient as possible, while using recycled materials in the construction.  They are typically very linear homes that maximize the southern sun exposure in order to trap heat for the home in a front glassed-off greenhouse that provides space to grow vegetables and fruits for consumption by the home residents. Gray water is circulated through this growing area in order to filter it for other uses, such as in toilets.

If your goal is to live an alternate, sustainable, yet comfortable lifestyle, these homes are made for you! They are also very popular with Hollywood celebrity types, who are trying to out "green" each other.

The homes are powered by solar panels and wind turbines.  The homes store power made during the day in large batteries for use at night.  Water is collected from roof runoff into large underground cisterns. The water goes through a series of filters that make it potable.

The objective of these homes is to provide everything a family needs to survived the harsh Northern New Mexico environment: Winter heating, summer cooling, year round food, clean water in a land with little rainfall, electrical power.  There are no utilities connected to these homes.  (Heck, they barely have what you would call "roads" out there!)

The homes are constructed using recycled glass bottles, old tires, cans and other materials along with cement, stucco and dirt.  The homes are able to retain heat in the winter and stay pretty cool in the summer because they are partially covered by a mound of dirt rising over them on the north side of the buildings.

There is an architect "guru" who leads this Earthship Biotecture community. His name is Mike Reynolds. Clearly, Reynolds is well respected by his students and "disciples." Mike has been at this project since the late 60's, refining his techniques, systems and material all along they way. Reynolds' organization will build you one of their patented Earthships, but it won't come cheap here! They can cost from $300,000 to $500,000. His team of students and assistants travel all around the globe building their uniquely sustainable homes especially in regions devastated by natural disasters.

(You can build them much cheaper if you are willing to forgo the idea that you can get a mortgage or sell it to someone else if you move.  What you are buying from Reynolds is his accumulated knowledge and legally accepted home designs that can pass many city planing and zoning inspections.)

One thing that surprised us is that they don't use composting toilets in Earthships.  We plan to put one in our future C Class RV. It seems only natural that you would want to make use of every resource that is "generated" by the residents of these homes!

It's well worth a stop to take the tour if you are in the Taos area just west of the Rio Grand Gorge Bridge. For a Google Map to the visitors center click HERE.  To learn more about Earthship Biotecture click HERE. A film was made about Reynolds' life's work, including the loss and then regaining of his architectural licence and his fight to get laws changed.  It's called Garbage Warrior and is available on YouTube at this time. Despite his difficult struggles he is now highly respected in Architectural and sustainable community circles.  HERE are some more videos about Reynolds and his Earthships.

Absolutely delicious Tex-Mex Chicken Salad
at the East West Grill in Alamosa, CO.

On our way up to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, we stopped in Alamosa, Colorado for lunch at the East West Grill.  The Grill has some exceptionally tasty dishes. It's a great dining stop.  We like to eat here when we can.  For more information on this gem of a restaurant, click HERE. They making something to please everyone with a surprisingly huge variety of menu options at reasonable prices.

If instead you're hankering for a big ol' steak, then mosey on over to the True Grits Steakhouse in Alamosa for complete satisfaction with a "John Wayne" theme. It's not super fancy, but provides a nice "rancher's night out" ambiance.

Coming Up: Sand Dunes Swimming Pool (and RV Park). It's a nice, family oriented hot spring pool place near the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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