Maria’s Note: Maria Bonaventura here, Tom’s longtime managing editor. Our offices are closed for Memorial Day. So instead of Tom’s usual commentary, today we share a favorite from last summer, when the Dyson family spent the night in an off-the-grid, underground home in the Colorado desert…

DOLORES COUNTY, COLORADO – The car bounced along…

“Where are you taking us?” asked Kate.

We were in one of the emptiest and most desolate parts of America yet.

Giant fields extended to the horizon, where they met mountains – the Abajo Mountains to the west in Utah… and the San Miguel range to the east in Colorado.


Utah’s Abajo Mountains in the distance

We passed a small town – population 700 – a few miles back, but now there was nothing. Just high desert for miles in every direction… and the dirt road we were driving down.

Another track approached off to the right. The instructions said to take it. We turned. A few minutes later, we turned down another.

The GPS hadn’t been able to find this address. We were following special instructions we’d received by email.

We made another turn onto yet another dirt road.

“I’m not sure,” I said to Kate. “This email is the only information I have. Maybe we’re in the wrong place?”

We were now miles off-the-grid. We came over a hill, and that’s when we saw it… the “cave” house…

Off-the-Grid in a Colorado Earthship

Greetings from 10 feet below the Earth’s surface…

I’m writing to you from Dolores County, Colorado, where we’ll be spending the night.

Our hosts are a software millionaire, his wife, and their three children. They live off-the-grid in a sparsely populated part of the country.

They chose it specially for its distance from urban centers. The nearest big city is Albuquerque, a six-hour drive away.

(I can’t reveal their names or the exact place where they live. They asked me not to… They want to stay private.)

And the house we’re staying in is called an “Earthship.”

An Earthship is a special type of house designed to be off-the-grid and radically sustainable.

For example, our hosts’ Earthship is partially buried. This keeps it cool in the summer and warm in the winter without using electricity or gas, no matter the weather outside.

It also has giant south-facing windows to capture the sun’s energy. It has an indoor garden to purify the air. And it has giant cisterns in the wall to store water.

An architect called Michael Reynolds invented the concept in the 1970s and gave it its name.

There’s a fantastic documentary about his fight with the local government in New Mexico for the right to build these cave houses.

It’s called Garbage Warrior, and you can watch it online. (Reynolds makes the walls of his houses out of used car tires and beer bottles.)

A Look Around This Architectural Marvel

Kate and I have been interested in the idea for years. But we had no idea we’d be getting to spend the night in one…

Here are some pictures of our hosts’ architectural marvel…


Penny (8) in the indoor garden


Our “cave” house for the night


Bill Bonner’s wine

– Tom Dyson

P.S. Michael Reynolds teaches a course on Earthship construction in Taos, New Mexico. Kate and I had the idea to take his course and start building Earthships with the kids.

Our idea was we’d a) generate income by listing our Earthships on Airbnb, b) build permanent economic assets, and c) teach our children about thermodynamics, botany, engineering, architecture, and how to build a self-sustaining house. We’ll see…

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