Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | March 7, 2011

Off-The-Grid ~ Part Four

About ten years ago, while on vacation in New Mexico, I stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge just outside of Taos, New Mexico.

Now, this gorge doesn’t even come close to rivaling other, more famous gorges, but the amazing thing about it is that you would just never know it was there, unless you were right on top of it.

You simply are driving along a road and begin to cross this bridge in the middle of the desert, and all of a sudden the land just drops off, and the Rio Grande River is WAY down below. It’s pretty impressive.

Rio Grande Gorge

After spending some time at the Gorge, I followed the road west through the desert and happened upon a most unusual housing development…the Greater World Earthship Community.

There, scattered around on the desert terrain, were houses constructed from aluminum cans, recycled glass bottles, and stacks of used tires filled with dirt. The exteriors were coated with stucco made from local materials. and the nature of the construction technique allowed for the creation of free-form, curved walls, rather than the traditional square corners.

I had to stop and take a look around at the Visitor’s Center, and there began my fascination with Earthships, which – I learned that day – are built to be totally off-the-grid, and are equipped with ingenious systems to provide water, power and waste removal.

In the fall of 2009, Keith and I found ourselves on a two week New Mexico vacation, and I just had to go back to the Earthships. So, we made reservations to stay overnight in a Studio Earthship, to experience the “real deal”.

We arrived in the afternoon, and after checking in, made our way to our home for the night. We unlocked the door and stepped into the entryway, which appeared to be a jungle, with a wild variety of plants growing every which-way, along a row of tall windows facing the south.

Earthship Entryway

The plants were growing in a built-in planter that is part of the waste-water handling system in the home. Fresh water is collected in a roof-top collection system, and stored in a cistern. I am told that even in this desert, there is sufficient rainfall to provide water for a home that uses it carefully.

The water is first used for drinking and washing. It then moves into the planter, to water houseplants or vegetables that grow there. After moving through the planter, the water is used to flush the toilet. It then moves out into a septic tank and leach field. Homeowners can also opt for an additional system that takes the safely treated waste-water and routes it to outdoor planters.

Gray water planter inside "our" Earthship

The south-facing windows built into an Earthship provide the heat needed to warm the building to a comfortable temperature. The incredibly thick walls filled with rammed earth are wonderful insulators, and will work in reverse if you want to keep the home cool…you simply pull shades over the windows to block the sun.

South-facing windows in "our" Earthship

Earthships are designed to provide all of their own electricity, via a combination of solar and wind power that is stored in battery banks, so the electricity is there when you need it. The system in the Earthship we stayed in was sufficient to power appliances, lights, and all of the conveniences we needed during our stay.

Here are some other photos of the interior of “our Earthship”…

Entry on the right, kitchen in the middle, bathroom on the left



Bedroom and living room

Spending the night in an Earthship was a dream-come-true for me, but as with any dream, there is the reality side to face when you wake up.

Although the actual home was everything I had hoped it would be, the community was not. In the time between my first visit and 2009, the community had gone downhill. There was a general appearance of neglect, and bits and pieces of discarded projects littered some of the homesites.

Next door to the home we stayed in was a haphazard biodiesel fuel experiment, consisting of some equipment and several open containers of used cooking oil sitting around, creating an unpleasant odor when the wind was in our direction.

We took a tour of the community with a real estate agent who was handling land and home sales. She was honest, friendly and helpful, while explaining that the property boundary lines were approximate, as there had been no survey of the land; you were responsible for any road to your property; and these totally unimproved pieces of the desert were selling for around $80,000. These issues were problematic for us, as was the cost of actually constructing one of these homes.

The Greater World Community and the Earthships are the brain-child of Michael Reynolds, a University of Cincinnati graduate who built his first house from recycled materials in 1972.

Michael is a very controversial figure, known for broad-thinking and a difficult personality. His architect license has been revoked and reinstated, and he’s been sued by unhappy clients over issues with his designs.

And yet, the Earthships prevail.

I believe this is because, in essence, they are the perfect, self-sustaining home. Yes, they were designed by a man who is not perfect, but if I could afford to, I would build one in a heartbeat…it would not, however, be located in the Greater World Community!

For more information on Earthships, visit Earthship Biotecture



  1. I look forward to your “Drinks and Tips” and reaqd it every day. Just forwarded your latest one to Betsy and David in New Zealand. Although they do not live in an earthship, they incorporate all kinds of water and energy saving devices in their home. Love, Pat

  2. […] travels brought lots of fun experiences like the Earthships in New Mexico and the Burning Man festival in Nevada, but it wasn’t just the thrill of the […]

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