What is that Thing in the Desert?
“What in the world is an earthship?” I wondered aloud. I was looking at an Air bnb listing as I searched for unique accommodations for our upcoming trip out west. ‘An earthship is a self sustaining house built from recycled materials.‘ The ad said. I couldn’t book it fast enough…I had to see these strange looking structures with my own eyes.
My boyfriend Marc and I were taking a road trip from Denver to El Paso. We had stayed in Colorado Springs and were heading south to Taos where we would be staying over in one of the actual earthships.
Canyons, Cliff Dwellings and Waterfalls
It was the summer of 2018 and we had spent the day driving southbound and exploring the Manitou Cliff Dwellings and the 224 steps of the Broadmoor Seven Falls along the way. It was a longer drive than I expected due to a detour and we finally arrived in Taos by around 8 p.m. It was dusk and we had to make a choice…see the Taos items on our itinerary or eat food before all the places closed.
Taos Mesa Brewing Company or Bust
The Taos Mesa Brewing Co. was like a beacon in the night that drew us in by magical force. Or it could have been hunger, exhaustion and a hankering for a nice stout.
A band was playing and it felt really good to just relax. Their brick oven pizza hit the spot.
When we left the brewery, it was almost dark but the earthship was close so we figured we’d be fine.
When I mapped it in the car though, I found out it was further than I had realized, about 30 minutes away. Once we got out of the city area, it was like someone threw a blanket over the car. It got really dark, really fast. We felt lucky for our ol’ friend, GPS lady.
Road to the Earthship
From Taos, we followed 64 and saw the sign indicating we were on the bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge.
“It’s too bad I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face right now, I really wanted to see that gorge.” I strained to see past the weak headlights.
“Maybe tomorrow, it’s close right?” Marc looked back and forth from the GPS to the road.
“I think that’s it, there.” He pointed to a sign for ‘Earthship Way’ and I turned in, relieved to have found it.
“Now we just have to look for the visitors center. It said in the e mail the directions will be taped to the door after hours.” I squinted ahead. “Man o’ man alive is it dark.”
The asphalt of the main road gave way to a dirt and rocky road once we turned in. The headlights seemed like candles and we both strained forward in our seats looking for signs or addresses. We bumped along quietly into the darkness. I had the eerie feeling of getting sucked into a black hole.
“I can’t see anything…I hope this is right.” I stuck my head out the window, hoping to make out a building.
“I don’t know,” Marc studied the GPS. “It says we’re here.”
We looked at eachother in the lights of the dashboard and then out into the nothingness.
The Search Begins
“Well I guess let’s check it out.” I opened the door and stepped out into the cool still night. I was able to see about 10 feet ahead where the car lights were aimed, all the other directions did not seem to exist.
Marc extended his phone out in front of him and wandered ahead.
“Here’s something.” He called back to me as he crept ahead.
“What is it?” I scurried up behind him.
“I’m not sure…he aimed the phone light at arm’s length. “It looks like a number 4.”
There was a mosaic tile with a 4 attached to a short wall.
“Ok that’s good…we just need to figure what street we were on.” We stared at the 4 as if willing it to help us.
Suddenly there were headlights coming towards us in a plume of dust. The car pulled into a driveway up the road from where we were.
“Maybe they can help.” Marc suggested.
We hopped back in and drove the short way over. A woman who was carrying grocery bags directed us towards the location of the visitor center.
We inched forward, bouncing over ruts and rocks, creating puffs of dust as we went. I turned at the end of the street as instructed and nothing that looked visitor center-ish appeared. The main road was close so we knew this had to be the spot. I did a 46 point turn, aiming the dim headlights in all directions to try and locate a building.
The Earthship Quest Continues
There were vague shapes on both sides of the street. We squinted from our opened windows and then parked and got out. We both inched forward, our phone lights shining out in front of us creating a weak orb of light.
We approached a building. All the lights were off and there was a long glass area. We scanned the perimeter of the building for a ‘Welcome’ or ‘Visitor Center’ sign.
“I think this is someone’s house.” Marc whispered. “Let’s try the other side of the street.”
Our echoing footsteps crunched through the quiet night across the road, phone light orbs leading the way.
I could faintly make out writing on the glass door.
“This is it. Look for something taped to the glass,” I instructed, waving my phone light around.”
“I don’t see anything.” Marc whisper- called from around the corner.
“Me neither. Check the ground and the bushes.” We scoured the area for random papers or keys but came up empty. I was a little heart poundie and upset.
“I really wanted to stay here, let’s keep looking.” I did not want to give up and end up at Motel X.
Eventually we gave up the paper hunt at the visitor center and I consulted the e mail again. An address was given but the wi- fi and the gps were not working. We inched forward into the darkness over the rutted road, shining the light at every sign and number until we finally found the road that the house was supposed to be on.
Success!! – I Think…
Relief washed over me. “Watch for the numbers.” I saw a well lit house ahead of us. A big mosaic 2 appeared on the wall and I parked the car in front of it.
“It looks like someone is here.” Marc peered towards the glowing structure.
“I’m not sure. I think this is the address. Let’s go look.”
We got out quietly and tiptoed to the door. A key stuck out of the lock. We looked at each-other and shrugged. I turned the key and we pushed into a tropical looking entry way.
“I’m still not sure if we’re in someone’s house.” Marc whispered.
“Me neither,” I responded, peeking through the glass into a kitchen area.
Marc opened the inside door.
“Hellooooo.” He called.
I giggled from behind.
“Yes don’t mind us…We can’t find our Earthship, do you mind if we snuggle in with you?”
Exploring all the Nooks and Crannies
After locating a welcome folder on the table we began to relax and realize this was the place.
We looked over the large living room. There were heavy wooden beams running the length of the ceiling. The floor was a terra cotta colored tile. There were 2 square boxes on the wall with tiny opened doors.
“What is this?” I peered inside.
“There’s another one back here.” Marc called from the next room.
I raced around the kitchen area into a closet looking space with a similar square on the wall. Around the back was the bedroom.
Against one wall was the bed. On the other side of the room was glass doors leading back out to the greenhouse area.
The Mystery Tub
In the bathroom there were a couple of faucets to choose from. There was no rim on the edge of the shower…just flat tile and a step down to the toilet and sink.
“What happens to the water?” Marc looked for a way to rationalize the odd setup.
We turned on the water and watched it miraculously go down the drain.
We went out the glass doors into the greenhouse and past the raised bed area with tropical plants and a little fountain. Colored glass bottles were visible within the concrete walls and a few small lizards scattered across the floor as we approached.
We stepped outside to grab our things from the car and looked around. One whole side of the house was windows and the other half seemed to be buried in the side of the hill.
Surrounded By Stars
“Holy moly look up!” I craned my neck upward. “You can see every single star! Millions of them!”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Marc stopped walking and stared up at the shining display. “Let’s hurry up and put this away.”
A Lesson in Earthship Biotecture
We put our stuff in the house and took a peek at the welcome folder…in search of info about the house and a wifi password.
“It says this whole neighborhood is earthships.” I pointed at the map.
“This explains the faucets.” Marc held up a sheet. “The smallest one is for drinking, the bigger one is for handwashing. All of it comes from captured rain and snow and gets recycled into the garden after it goes through the sink. It looks like the shower water goes to the garden too.”
We nodded at eachother…happy to be in such a unique space.
“Check this out.” I held up the book. “Those boxes are the end of pipes that run underground to circulate cool air.
We learned that the earthships were passive solar shelters made from recycled materials such as earth packed tires and bottles. They are completely off the grid and provide their own solar energy for electricity. They capture and recycle water, and have greenhouses to grow organic produce. All of the houses face south-east to maximize the sun’s energy in the winter and provide sunlight to the greenhouse area.
“I totally want to live in an earthship now.” I closed the book and looked around.
“Me too. This is so cool.” Marc flipped through the pictures of the other unique structures in the area.
Little Shining Dots in the Universe
“Let’s go look at the stars some more.” I grabbed a stout we had brought from the brewery and headed back outside.
We stood in amazement gazing upward.
“It is like the stars are right on top of eachother there are so many.”
“It seems fake…like someone painted this and over exaggerated the star part.” I agreed.
All around were star clusters and constellations. We activated a mobile sky tracker and spent hours following the stars as they moved across the night sky. Identifying the constellations was becoming second nature. I felt small and motionless in time. There were pinpoints of glittering light all the way down to the horizon line in every direction. We were such a tiny part of the universe looking up into the vastness.
It was moving into the a.m. hours and we finally moved inside to rest.
Exploring the Neighborhood
In the morning we were able to get a better view of the house and surrounding neighborhood. Each house had it’s own personality.
Before heading out for the day and to double back to the gorge, we took a drive around to see the various earthship designs. It was exciting to experience off the grid living. I felt a strong pull to stay in the area for longer next time…and definitely in an earthship.
What is the most Unique Accommodations you have stayed in? Comment below…
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