Of High Tech Cowboys and Sustainable Living

cowboyToday marks one month since Chris and I arrived in New Mexico. Anyone who thinks New Mexico is all desert and white sands and nerdy scientists and aliens should take a refresher in U.S. Geology… this truly is one of the last great frontiers, from high mountains and heavy forests to scrub deserts as far as the eye can see. Here in the southwestern portion of the state there are many “micro climates”, where the temps can vary over just a few short miles. For example the other morning when I left the CLR ranch at 6:00am it was 29 degrees. When I got to work 40 miles away it was 21, and up in the canyons the low teens, not fun on an ATV. By noon it was in the 70’s and sunny. People here wear layers of clothing that slowly get stripped away as the day goes on. As soon as the sun sets the cold moves in like a storm front and all the layers go back on, lol! We’re at almost 7,000 ft altitude and the air is thin here, so working any type of manual labor takes some getting used to. I’ve had more than a few dizzy spells while trying to work, grrr.

So, The Ranch. CLR stands for Cielito Lindo Ranch, I call it “Clean Living Ranch”. Chris and I quit smoking and have been eating healthy meals and drinking clean water, working hard with our hands and hearts so to speak… it makes for one heck of a lifestyle change, and of course it’s for the better.

There’s 140 acres of ancient scrub Cypress and Pinion Pines; there’s groves, prairies and fields, rocks and cactus, etc. A little bit of everything. The land is fertile with rich soil and clay, which is great for growing things as well as for building “Green”. There’s a well with 1,000 year old pure fresh water that is the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Chris and I have picked out a nice spot for our home, we plan to start building in the spring. We have all kinds of ideas and plans right now, I’m sure they will change a thousand times by the time we’re ready to build. At the moment we’re planning on building an Earthbag home with an outer cob finish along with some stonework and other green technologies. The home will be partially sunken, like a Hogan…round with a flowing floorplan, kinda like a Luke Skywalker house from the first Star Wars, the roundish desert type home. There will also be a loft, kitchen, bathroom and study/guest bedroom. The outside will feature a wrap around suspended deck from the loft as well as 3-4 gardens, greenhouses, patios and Zen Gardens. We do plan on starting a bee farm (Apiary) in the spring along with some greenhouse and herbal gardening, and eventually a small stable area for the horses we plan on getting next year!

Sam and Shannon, the two resident staff members of the ranch are amazing people who are generous, knowledgeable, friendly, passionate and extremely well versed in alternative building and alternative energy. The Ranch is basically a giant workshop where we do all kinds of experiments with different systems for home building and other applications. Things like wind and solar power, passive heating systems, solar cooking, rocket stoves, cob ovens, etc. The main Lodge building is a hybrid combination of various technologies both old and new. The framework is steel construction for the outer supports and the roof, while the walls and interior are a combination of Adobe, Cob, Straw Bales and Light Clay work. The floor is Adobe Bricks with earthen clay/cob sealed over the top. The north facing wall is straw bale for increased insulation against the cold. The south facing wall is adobe bricks and has passive solar windows, basically a big window frame with adobe bricks behind it instead of an open window into the house. This allows a large amount of sunshine to be collected behind the glass and distributed throughout the walls and floor inside. The building will stay at a constant temp inside, somewhere around 70 degrees or so… with no electricity, heating or cooling. So in the summer it will always be cool and comfortable and in the winter it will always be warm and inviting. Oh, the Rumford fireplace helps with that as well, it distributes heat throughout the walls and floors. There’s plenty of electrical outlets and lighting inside, all running off solar panels and eventually a small wind generator, with the energy stored in deep cell batteries. The barn/workshop already has a wind/solar combo in place and it works great. The ranch does not have a single power pole connected to “the grid”… in other words no electric bills, water bills, phone bills, gas bills or any other type of utility service bills. This is a true sustainable system here and so far it really works great.

It takes a bit of getting used to, that’s for sure. Most normal folks would never sacrifice their creature comforts for this lifestyle. They want their fast food, television and central heating & air conditioning. They want the creature comforts. One cold shower and they’ll be flying for the nearest Motel 6, lol. I used to be on the internet all day, now I’m lucky if I get on twice a month for a few minutes just to check my e-mail. And ya know what? I don’t really miss it. We’re too busy.

Chris and I have done so many things here that we’ve never done before and the time just slips away. We’ve worked with Light Clay, Cob, Straw Bales, Adobe and more. We’re helping Sam and Shannon finish The Lodge so we can have a comfortable place to hang out and work during the winter months. When we’re not working on the lodge there’s plenty of other things going on like working on our own home plans for the spring, doing basic chores around the ranch like feeding the horses and donkeys, getting water from the well (we go down with the truck and fill a bunch of 6 gallon bottles, plus theres a 550 gallon tank at The Lodge. No, we don’t have running water yet. Working on it, lol.

I’ve become somewhat of a handyman, doing everything from tile and grout to pouring home foundations and digging septic trenches. The most amazing job I’ve had so far out here has to be as a modern day Cowboy. Think “City Slickers” meets “X Games”… for a week 3 of us rode the back country, 40 square miles of hard terrain in the mountains just west of The Great Divide. On 4×4 ATV’s. Imagine if you can places high up in the Rocky Mountains with names like Slaughter Mesa, Pine Lake, Sheeps Camp, Sawmill Canyon, El Caso Springs… We drove these areas looking for over 350 head of cattle. They needed to be brought down off the mountains and trucked to Texas to be sold. We had the help of a few real old time cowboys on horses, it was amazing to watch them work those mountains and trails. The places we were in had no roads, just Elk trails that ran up and down mountains and canyons, creeks and gullies. Sometimes the forest was so thick you were always in the shadows, and on such a steep incline if you sneezed you’d fall 500-1000 feet to the valley below. One of the guys rolled his ATV the 3rd day out, right in front of me. Luckily he jumped off in the right direction and didn’t get crushed. The quad rolled 3 times and landed against a Ponderosa Pine Tree on a rocky slope about as steep as you can imagine. We kicked it upright and went on about our day. The next day one of the other guys, Jack, got a hole in his front tire the size of a quarter. Literally. He hit an embankment while running a herd and didn’t see the huge dip. It almost took his head off, he almost blacked out. Luckily no one got badly hurt on these rides, but I never would have thought an ATV could do some of the things we did, they got abused badly and so did we… grinning and laughing the whole time like a buncha kids. We didn’t get all the cattle down, not yet. It’s hunting season and the Elk hunters are out in swarms, it’s purdy dangerous up there right now. We came across tons of hunters and very few cattle… I think the gunshots scared most of em into the next county, lol! We also had to be on the lookout for bears and mountain lions and wolves, oh my! Aint no one gonna come to your rescue when you’re 40 miles from anything resembling a cabin…

So, after a month out here in New Mexico, I can safely say I think we like it and plan on staying a while… we’ve been extremely happy and we’re having the time of our lives doing things most people only dream of. Sam actually asked me the other day, “So, after a month, what do ya think”. I told him I’m doing stuff here that I used to daydream about doing when I was a kid. Everything from building my own home to being a cowboy running cattle. Absolutely amazing scenery out here and the people are warm, friendly and quirky, just the way we like ‘em, lol!

Anyways, this is the first update, sorry it took so long to get this up online, we’ve been very busy and the internet is kinda like a fading thing of the past, lol! I’ll update again soon, to all my facebook and online friends, sorry about not being online, but hey, there’s just too much cool stuff going on here to be stuck sitting on a computer, lol! Maybe when the weather gets real bad I’ll have some extra time, right now it’s been a blur of beautiful weather, interesting people and hard work, gotta love it!!

p.s. If you’re an Astronomer and I use the term “Black Sky” you’ll know what I’m talking about. For most other folks…. It means the deepest darkest skies possible anywhere on the planet. No light pollution, no atmospheric pollution… you can see every gas cloud and twinkle of the Milky Way, It’s really an amazing sight in the evenings here. Yee Haw! See ya next time!

– Paul Fix

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