Sunday, October 13, 2013

Building Season 2013 Recap - Video included!

Well, Mother Nature decided that building season was over this year by making it too windy and cold to work.  Boo to the Mother!  We were hoping to get at least one, if not two, build days in October.  We didn't.  In fact, we only got two build days in September this year, so our grand plans for the year are going partially unfulfilled.

We had hoped to:
  • Lengthen the wife's wall to the SouthEast,
  • Finish the bathroom walls and roof and get the door and toilet installed,
  • Reroute the driveway,
  • Rebuild the dome,
  • Close off the driveway with a new front wall,
  • Shore up the culvert,
  • Do something with the hex-ibo.

What we actually got done:
  • Got the bathroom wall built up to about 4 feet high, 
  • Built a new front wall across the old driveway,
  • Moved and reconstructed the old dome in a new spot and starting shoring it up with a cement and bottle outer "skin",
  • Dug a newly re-routed driveway around the new front wall and chill-dome.  
  • Cleared a good bit of the sagebrush and cactus out from the inside of the Domestead.  
  • Dismantled the two penta-storage corrals and built a HUGE hexa-storage.  
  • Survived having the whole southern side of the Domestead flood.  
  • Cleaned up from said flood.
Some of the work was visually impactful, some, not so much.  All of it was forward progress, just not as much or as fast as we had hoped/planned.

Take a look at the change from October 2012 to October 2013:




Next year's plan so far:
  • Finish putting the skin on the outside of the dome.
  • Get the bethroom wall up to height, put a roof and door on it and get the toilet in and working!
  • Replace the Qbert wall (Something has made a den behind it and removed most of the supporting dirt - if we don't do something, the critter might get squished and our wall will be ruined!)
  • Continue to build the SouthEast wall.  The bricks are already piled near where wall will be.
  • Maybe start a stem wall coming off the North side of the bathroom - to connect with the wife's SouthEast wall eventually. 
Of course, knowing us, we may get a whole bunch done on other projects that come up or we may get a bunch of partial stuff done or we may not be able to get up north as much as we have due to our current plans for travel coming up.  You never know in life what's gonna happen, you just gotta keep moving!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

So much pain. So little progress. Sort of.

Building season is winding down (already?!) and we've gotten a lot done and still have a lot still to do.  Probably only another two to three visits for actual work to get done so we're trying to focus on getting the dome covered.  Next year we're probably going to do a bit less since we're both feeling the need to get back to our international travel adventures (possibly Israel this time) and that will limit how much time and $ we can devote to the Domestead.

Pretty sunrise just outside of Laramie, WY:

Bunneh camped out in the tires on the wall:

Covering up the dome:

One row of bottles at a time:

This is about 18 inches (4 bottles laid horizontally) high.

All ready  for break time in the shade!

By the end of the second day, we'd added another 2 feet to the shell, 
bringing the height up to the first row of struts (just under waist  high.)

Someone rode a motorcycle up the driveway while we were away and had a look around.
Guess reading isn't a high priority out in the desert:

This time we also had some neighbors stop in while we were hard at work mixing a batch of crete.  It was pretty tense as we watched them pull off the road in a ATV, drive AROUND the gate at the botton of the driveway and come up toolin' right up to the wall.  Husband had the rifle ready, but out of sight right behind the wall.  Not paranoid, just ready for whatever considering they had to drive around our (locked) gate to get to the domestead.  To their credit, they stopped at the sign and turned off the engine and said a friendly hello.  

Two older guys wondering what we were up to and decided to stop in and see sinec they could see that we were "home".  They asked politely if they could check out all of our projects so we had 'em come in and have a gander.  They seemed impressed with all the work we've done and our creative approach to experimental architecture.  They had even heard of geodesic domes and were again impressed at our little shelter.  They even told us there was a house up the road a ways that had a similar (larger) dome out in our AO (Military speak for Area of Operations).  We'll have to see if we can find it on our next trip up.

 Ever cautious, husband stayed between them and the rifle and had it within arms length while chatting and speaking redneck with them.  In the end, they headed on their way and we got back to work. (The Wife is still boggling at the fact that the Husband slipped seamlessly into "good ol' boy" mode without even trying.)

Gettin' it done:

We should be able to get the dome completely covered with bottles and crete by the end of season.  It's a lot of work and by the end of the day our hands, arms and lower backs are sore and we can barely move.  When we're finally done, it will all be worth it.

We've also been doing a lot of clean up along the way as we go.  We're hoping to have all of the ceiling tiles used up by the end of the building season.  (Grounds up, soaked and used as aggregate for the crete on the dome.)

Compare this to pics from earlier this year when the courtyard looked like a disaster area:

View of Elk Mountain on the way home

Next trip = using up the rest of the loose little bottles, probably the rest of the water we stashed over last winter and getting the dome covered by at least another 2 feet!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A little less Sandford and Son.....

Slowly but surely we're cleaning up the Domestead.  Over the winter we dropped off bottles of water, boxes and assorted other junk for building and as it accumulated it started to look like a junkyard.  It was even worse after the heavy rain flooded the courtyard and scattered everything all over the place.

In the course of using up all the bottles, we've been cleaning up and trying to make it look nicer while adding to the overall infrastructure.  Here's what we got done in about 9 hours:

Starting to crete the dome:

We used up all the beer bottles we had on-site; the bathroom is now 3/4 of the way up.  
Friends, it's time to drink more beer!

We also started the back stem wall and put the base in for the cistern to go on top of:

Between critters digging out homes and erosion, there's also a bit of work that needs to be done to repair and re-do the Qbert wall:

After a bit too much wine for dinner, Husband decided to take a hike up to the promontory to get a look at the Domestead:

On Sunday morning we woke up to these Critter friends paying us a visit:

In the mean time, we also got a solar system to run our small stuff so we can have lights (purple LED Chistmas lights!) and music.  Hopefully, that will make it seem a little bit more like home.  Slowly but surely we're making it comfortable and... a little less Sanford and Son.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


After the rain...

We're getting more efficient with our water.  We still have a bunch of small bottles that have water in them for future crete projects, but we also have quite a few empties left, so we bring up gallon jugs of water to get those into the walls.  We'll continue to bring up the gallons to fill the cistern as well as carting up a bunch more full water bottles to augment what we've already got.  In short, we have water on-site, and every trip we bring much more than we'll need for drinking and cementing / building.  Eventually, we'll have a large reservoir and we'll be doing water catchment.  If we manage it well, we may never have to dig a well.  We hope.  We shall see...

We're getting better at desert "hacks" as well.  To keep our potable water and other drinkables (wine, juice, Gatorade etc.) cold, we've been freezing our beverages in their containers (make sure you pour off about 1/8 to 1/4 of the liquid and leave the lid off) and packing them in our cooler.  No loose ice to melt and turn the cooler into an icebath and it takes a long time to thaw, extending the cold for refreshment and also providing refrigeration for perishables.  Win!

We also came up with a nifty way to handle our garbage.  Instead of burning or burying it, we're going to put it into hollow cardboard tubes that are used to make piers and pilings from concrete.  When the tube is full, we'll cover it, and turn it into an above-ground pseudo cairn / fake rock formation.  You'll never know it wasn't a natural land feature.  If we make enough we'll have plenty of "rocks" for landscaping and even incorporation into our walls and other structures.

Anyway... on to the week's work:
Front wall is fully up to height, connecting the dome to the courtyard wall

The van is almost completely hidden from view


Fun anecdote for this trip (although not so fun at the time):

We were in the dome working in the shade mixing a batch of crete to get another layer on the wall when the wife suddenly says "I think I just saw a dog."
No sooner said than I look out the door of the dome and see a dog and said "You did!"
Before the words were out of my mouth and as I was quickly moving to put the worktable between me and the dog while reaching for the closest weapon -a stainless steel colander for draining the crete aggregate- I heard a sound I've never heard before...
The wife is rather fast when motivated and she went tearing out of the dome running straight at our canine interloper screaming like a proverbial banshee!
My reaction was to follow (I was a bit slow as I was on the other side of the dome from the entrance and I had taken and extra second to find the aforementioned weapon) and I promptly fell getting out of the dome in a small patch of mud left over from an earlier spill.
I sprang up and the wife was still screaming and chasing the dog, and another dog we hadn't seen yet, out of the domestead.
In the distance we could see a couple of people on horseback over on neighbor Montana's property.  The dogs made a hasty retreat off in that direction, so we assume that they were theirs.
Several notes:
  • I don't like being snuck up on by ANYTHING.
  • It's probably good that the AR-15 was in the van outside the dome, or I would have shot the dog on sight.  Nothing against the dog personally, but out there wild dogs can be dangerous for a host of reasons.
  • This is more incentive to get the domestead totally enclosed.
  • The extra adrenaline this encounter provided gave us a boost for more work once we calmed down.
  • The wife is SCARY!

Sunday, July 7, 2013


What's the most destructive thing in the desert (beside people)?


The ground is so dry and hard packed that any excess water isn't absorbed as quickly as in a more damp environment.  That said, the domestead was a sea of mud when we got there on Friday afternoon.  

We'd been planning on a leisurely evening, unpacking, staging and eating a quiet dinner under the stars. Instead, we went mudbogging in the mommy van:

and then got out crocs and flip flops sucked off our feet by the 3-6 inches of mud that covered about half of the domestead - the half that we were planning on working on.  We ended up spending the evening laying ceiling tile and cement bricks down as walkways so that we could even get to the work area by the new front wall.

The flooding was so severe that it moved and crates full of stuff that had been weighted down with cement bricks across the entire courtyard.  As you can see, it was TRASHED.  Very disheartening, especially since we had finally(!) been able to start getting the Domestead into some sort of presentable order.  (Making both of our OCD/organizational brains happy.)  The mess made us both VERY unhappy.

So, we cleaned up, moved the van to higher ground, ate something and went to bed just as it was beginning to rain.  The thunder and lightening was AWESOME.  Jeff's cat would have been terrified.  The wife's cat wouldn't have given a damn.  The rain wasn't as bad as we'd feared and when we woke up the next morning, the ground wasn't appreciably wetter.  That's not saying much tho.  Our work boots were coated in 2 inches of mud within a few minutes of getting to work. (Now we know why Jax and Murdoch's sell muck boots!)

By 7:30am, we'd set up the concrete mixing table in the firedome, unloaded all 25 gallons of water from the van and gotten to work. By 3pm, we were out of loose bottles, water, portland cement and preground ceiling tile aggregate. And we were bonking. Hard. The wife was crabby and the husband was flaking.  We stopped for some cold soup right out of the cans while we decided what to do next.

This is what we'd gotten done: 

The wall is roughly 4 feet high in most places, connecting the courtyard wall to the firedome.

That's when the OCD/organizational brain problem kicked in again and we started cleaning and organizing in the dome and in front of the new wall.  And digging.  Jeff got to organizing the firedome, but kept hitting his head on the roof in a couple places, which led him to grab a shovel and start digging down to stop the head-pain.  (The digging out was part of the long term plan, but not for this trip.)  Beth was out in the driveway getting frustrated and really muddy trying to pry up the bricks and ceiling tiles from the mud to get them put away.  Both of us were exhausted and the mess was still overwhelming (see courtyard picture above!)

We said screw it and went home.

We stopped on the way out long enough to take these two pictures.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Digging up the desert

We hurt.  A lot.  All over, but especially our legs, arms, backs, shoulders, feet, hands.... you get the picture.  Well, maybe not.  Here's the source of our pain: 

We changed this:

Into this:

Just Husband, Wife, 2 shovels, a rake and a pickaxe. 

It took about 3.5 hours to clear 75 feet of length to about 10 feet wide.  Unlike the original driveway that started out as an overgrown dirt track, we had to create this one from scratch through sagebrush, cacti, and these weird, green, pokey bushes.  Backbreaking work in the hot sun.  We're impressed and very proud of ourselves, if we may say so.

The reason for all this work was to provide a visual break between the us and the road.  In a word: Privacy.  Diverting the road was necessary for us to build a wall that will attract less attention to what's going on inside of the domestead.  There isn't much traffic on our road, but there's not much to see as you're driving on it and any activity out in the desert gets immediate and intense interest.  It's like the nosy neighbors and HOA people only with cowboy hats and rifles.  Everyone out there values privacy, but putting yourself out on display will get you attention nevertheless.

After a brief rest to eat some lunch, re-hydrate and put on some more sunscreen we started this:

Using tires to block the old driveway by connecting the courtyard to the dome.

We filled in the spaces between the tires with bottles, and then put a row of bottles across the top to lock it all in.  Next time we won't have to dig and get all tired out right off the bat, so we can spend the entire time getting this new wall up to about 5' tall. 

From the outside:

 And from the inside:



With any remaining time, energy, and / or materials, we'll finish putting the outer skin on the dome before moving on to other infrastructure projects like starting the wall that will encircle the entire domestead, digging the fire dome down about 4', finishing the bathroom, and building the shower!

Stay Tuned!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Close your mouth...

... when applying papercrete overhead. It doesn't taste good and you don't know what's in the water
: P 

Our main focus for this trip was to get all the panels of the dome covered.  It took some creative application of lath and phone wire, but we got that accomplished and all the gaps are now filled.  We still had a bit of papercrete so we started putting the outer skin layer on.  We got quite a bit covered before running out of time, but progress was made! 


The outer wall will eventually connect the courtyard to the dome across the driveway.  This means we'll have to divert the driveway around the west side of the dome.  Lots of digging next time...

During our breaks, we decided to put the plywood that we got for free from work to good use.  The old hexayurt and pentagcorral we were using for storage were starting to fall apart from the harsh conditions, so we built a new, giant hexacorral to store EVERYTHING!:

Empty bottles, building materials, tools, etc all fit nicely with a bunch of room left over for more stuff:
8' (2.4m) sheets of plywood make one big-ass hexagon!
Much more organized

We also took up a bunch more papercrete bricks for future projects:
Even though the domestead is increasing in size and we are adding more structures, we are trying to keep it as low profile as possible.  The point is to blend in with the natural surroundings from the outside, but to have an oasis on the inside.  It may stand out a bit now, but eventually, it will be barely visible to passersby.

View from the road:

Next trip: 
  1. Diverting the driveway
  2. Starting the connecting wall between the dome and the courtyard,
  3. Digging the dome interior down,
  4. Skinning the rest of the dome exterior
  5. ...