The high desert around Taos, New Mexico, is a vast and open expanse, intercut by the deep gash of the Rio Grande Gorge. It’s a desolate, volcanic landscape that hides ancient petroglyphs, hot springs and crumbling ruins.
In the last couple of decades, it’s also become the home to communities of off-the-grid-dwellers, sharing a new interpretation of the American Dream. Resembling fantastical sets from a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie, their abodes work in synergy with the land, harnessing the forces of passive solar heating with traditional adobe building techniques, using foraged-for recycled materials, like tyres, bottles and aluminium cans.
At times, these dwellings are barely discernable above the desert sagebrush. Mole-like, their inhabitants have burrowed into the ground; escaping the summer heat, yet coddled by the warmth of the earth in the cold winter months.
A low and squat earthship, characterised by its series of large windows for passive solar heating. Thick walls provide thermal mass to regulate temperature.
Handcrafted, Gaudi-like curves, embedded with recycled bottles.
In harmony with nature, both practically and aesthetically. There’s a sense of belonging to these homes.
Recycling techniques at the Earthship visitor centre; old tyres and aluminium cans are key materials in earthship construction.
Gateway to an alternative world.
This adobe dwelling on the outskirts of Arroyo Hondo looked like it might be home to a family of Jedi Knights.
Dotted amongst the desert around Tres Piedras were the shells of old school buses, their iconic yellow paintwork fading in the sun. This pickup seemed in good working order – most had their hoods ajar and engines surgically removed.
Desert junk to some. Earthship-building materials to others.
A wall built from wine bottles, of which there seemed to be plenty.
An earthship peeping out above the high desert sagebrush.
Dobson House earthship, built 17 years ago, also doubled up as a beautiful B&B.
We’d have splurged and stayed there if we could, but it wasn’t open to guests that night.
In the underground belly of Dobson House.
Here, scifi-style rooves provide insulation and help circulate air within.
Great setting too, in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
Dirt roads linked the various communities around Taos. These areas are popular with all kinds: eccentrics, counter-culturalists, artists, creative thinkers, seekers of a more sustainable way of living, or simply those in search of desert solitude.
Yep, no shortage of a little peace and quiet around here.
Hiking down into the bowels of the gorge to the Rio Grande…
… where pools of thermal water await.
Early morning on the Taos Plateau. We camped out amongst the sagebrush, watching hot air ballons float up towards the ether. Their slow, gentle form of movement seemed in keeping with the silence of the surroundings. Perhaps one day everyone will travel by bicycle and air balloon, and live in earthships…
Plan D has 2-4 week off-grid residencies this summer…
Treat yourself to a night in an earthship B&B, at Dobson House.