Monthly Archives: May 2014

Natural Building in the Four Corners by Jacob Anderson

After driving through the night we came to daddy’s friend Andrew’s house. It was really late and we drove for a long time down a driveway. We went inside and went to sleep. We stayed at his house for three days but he was not there. When he came in on the third night he told daddy “you have a plethora of Piñatas” in referring to us kids. He was really funny and entertaining.

Andrew lives in Dolores, CO in the middle of nowhere on 6 acres of ponderosa forest in a 2 story straw bale house. The outside walls of the house are plastered to look like waves and you could see the grains of straw in the coating. We got to stay with Andrew for about 2 weeks in early spring. In between great waffles and super fun stories, I asked him why he started working with natural building materials; he told me that when he used to work with conventional materials he would come home sick. He said this happens to other builders as well and is called “sick building syndrome.” When he started working with natural materials instead he felt great. Therefore he learned the art of straw bale building and started “Natural Dwelling” his building company. Andrew invited us to visit a house that he was building on the border of Utah and Colorado, this time in the ABSOLUTE middle of nowhere. The funny thing was the homeowners just moved from Bellingham.

It was neat to see the stages of building a straw bale house. The exterior walls were unfinished when we pulled up to the house and you could see the straw bales under the 1st layer of earth plaster that is referred to as “mud”. Andrew was waiting for warmer weather to finish these walls. The inside on the other hand was just about finished being mudded and although it was freezing outside the inside was toasty warm. I learned a bunch about earth building during our time we stayed with Andrew. Here is an overview.

Foundation:

Many straw bale homes have a concrete foundation with radiant heat inside the cement. To build the radiant heat system you lay down a metal grid and on top of that lay the pipes that will hold the water. Attach the pipes with plastic ties and then pour the concrete. When the concrete dries the pipes are set and the hot water flows through the pipes. This heats the floor and the heat rises to heat the house.

Straw bale design and Insulation:

Straw bales are used to form the walls. First you make a frame out of wood and then place straw bales within the frame creating thick insulating walls. It is the combination of this insulation, a south facing house design and the radiant heat that keeps the house at a pretty consistent temperature, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I noticed that in both Andrew’s house and in the house that he was building all of the wall edges, doors and window frames where curved and quite thick. It is important to note that they use straw bales not hay bales because hay has seeds which (1) can germinate and (2) attract rodents. In Andrew’s case he is able to speak to the farmer before he buys the straw bales to make sure that the straw isn’t moldy, didn’t have seeds and that the bales were a consistent predetermined size. When designing the straw bale home it is helpful to build the roofs overhanging with the ability for water catchment. You would want to build the roof with metal materials so the water is safe to use.

Earth Plaster:

Earth Plaster is made from a mix of sand, straw pigment and water. Together it makes a great plaster for drier climates although it withstands the snow. The pigments that I saw were made from crushed minerals and different types and colors of clay. There are also synthetic pigments used for less natural colors. The plaster is then “coated” onto the interior and exterior walls at a consistent thickness and left to dry. When I attempted to coat a wall at a consistent thickness, I failed in utter misery. One needs to eat much spinach and have years of experience to master the art. It’s all in the Popeye arm strength!

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Although these were modern homes, Andrew was not the first person to build with straw in the four corners region. It turns out that the Ancient Ancestral Peubloans built their homes called Pueblos out of straw, mud and stones in the same region as Andrew’s houses starting as early as 1,200 BC. When we went to visit Crow Canyon Archeological Center and were given a tour by the awesome Shawn Collins we visited th Center’s replica Pueblo and learned about the Ancient Peoples culture and lives. She explained that before this completed Ancient Publoan replica visitors would ask, “Why did they live in these ruins instead of a finished structure.” Although this may seem obvious to many of us, the special thing about the replica is that nobody ever gets the opportunity to see what an actual completed ancient Puebloan structure looks like, or make the mistake that they lived in it looking like it does today…in a state of ruin. All of the thousands of structures that remain in the four corners region are only preserved ruins of the past. I noticed that the windows of the short thick walled Pueblo structure were facing south and the doors were roughly 4 ½ feet tall. The attached rooms that were used for living, weaving, sleeping and grinding corn were cool inside even on a mild day. I imagine on a hot day the Puebloans would feel comfortable.

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A few days later mom and dad took us to a National Park called Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is the most intact and largest ancient Puebloan group of villages and they put their villages in cliffs. We walked down a paved trail to the bottom of a canyon to where the most intact cliff dwellings were located. You could walk right up to the walls, you could see the living areas. You could go into this hole in the ground called a Kiva by a wooden ladder into a round room with log ceilings. On the way out we saw this maze that was not a cliff dwelling. It turned out it was another shrine to some god but people lived in it. From a distance we could see many more cliff dwellings. The biggest one could fit 150 people. Another interesting thing is that back when the Ancient Peubloans lived here over 30,000 people lived in the 4 corners regions where nowadays only 25,000 people live in this region.

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It is a good thing to note that even though we have all of these modern building more and more people are using older and more traditional ways of building that have obviously worked well for thousands of years, like straw bale because the materials are healthier and better for the environment.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this unabridged version of Natural Building by Jacob S. Anderson narrated by you, the reader, and brought to you by 5andaRoofRack.com Thank you.

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Ancient Pueblos, Camping, Crow Canyon Archealogical Center, Durango, family, Family camping, Homeschooling, Mesa Verde, Natural Building, Strawbale construction | 6 Comments

EE’s Canyoneering Adventure

Driving from Sedona to Flagstaff is a treat. The road that leads directly up the mountain is one of the classics of the Arizona Highways. The climb takes you up, up, up for three thousand feet until finally it stops winding and you’re driving amidst Ponderosa Pine forests to Flagstaff. Through the trees you see the views – The San Francisco Peaks, the highest point in Arizona stand 12,600 feet tall just above and to the north of town making a pretty backdrop to the area.

We arrived at the home of my old Prescott College roommate, Scott and his wife Lindsay in Flagstaff and the mood was festive. When I saw Lindsay I knew she was pregnant but I didn’t want to say anything. They shared the news and the time to celebrate was on – they were going to have a baby! We soaked up our friends for a bit but things were different. In the past Scott would have played hooky from work to go climbing or exploring but not this time. Nesting was their game so we enjoyed small adventures to some of the fun rock climbing venues, shared some great meals and moved on to the north – Grand Canyon bound. Both Michelle and I have been to the canyon before so it was with excitement that we showed it to the kids. Through their eyes the canyon was new and full of wonder.

Elias tells us about his experience in the Grand Canyon below…

Dad, Jacob and I started our adventure hiking down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at Indian Gardens, refilled our water and cut off the trail to another trail that went around the hill. We traveled down a wash and had lunch and put on our harnesses. We then started down a canyon mouth that was shaped like the pouring part of a water pitcher. Daddy set up an anchor (which we had to leave with 2 carabineers) and we began our first big rappel. I went first and then Jacob went. We descended down in front of this huge cave and so we weren’t touching anything just lowering into open space for almost 200 feet. Finally we got to the lip of the rock and pushed off and swung way out and rappelled some more to get to the bottom. I jumped so I didn’t land in a bush. It felt really awesome to go down into the canyon. It felt like I was flying! Everything was before me like I was in the middle of a 3D movie.

Daddy came down and while he was packing up the ropes Jacob and I went down canyon. Suddenly there was a big drop. I stayed near the stream while Jacob checked it out and then we followed a small route that went to the bottom of the drop where there was a small pool of water with tiny tadpoles and water bugs. We kept going down canyon and there was another drop with a little waterfall. I tried to un-dam part of the stream and when I picked up a rock it jumped out of my hand! I shouted in surprise and Jacob came over to see what the ruckus was about. We checked out the critter and it was a toad the color of dark pine needles. It had pimply things all over its body. Initially it was squished between two rocks and I thought it was a slim rock but really it was about the size of my fist.

Daddy got back so we went up and over the water fall. Then there was a beach on the right side and a bit later a slot canyon that seemed to go all the way down. The right side of the canyon was kind of rocky lifting up on a slant so we walked until there were little sand and rock islands in the shallow water. Then we jumped onto land and walked for about ½ mile until there was a sheer drop with a waterfall going down it. I heard Jacob say, “come here come here” and daddy and I ran over and there were five Big Horn Sheep climbing up the cliff. They were tan with two babies, one with little stub horns and the other without any horns. It looked like the mama didn’t have horns but her ears looked like small horns. The other adults had curly horns. We kept going talking about the sheep when we saw rocks falling and five more sheep climbing up another cliff wall with no problem. Once in a while we heard “braaaaa” or “crash” or rock falls, but I felt safe because they were way up there.

We kept walking down the canyon for another while when we stopped and daddy said “here it is”. The canyon all the sudden became like stairs going down towards the canyon floor. I started to unblock the little dam of rocks that slowed down the water heading down the falls while daddy set up the anchor of rope and locker carabineers. Then Jacob started to go down and he said ”Elias, your making the water flow faster”! (It flowed right next to you as you descended the canyon.) Then he called up to tell us that there was another big anchor down there. Then he said “ok, off rappel” as he was at the bottom. I started next and I got down past the first stair and there was a big pond of water because I made it flow so fast. I started going down the second stair and there was a waterfall going right in front of me below my shoes. I asked Jacob how to continue so I didn’t get wet and he told me that I was going to get wet anyway so just do it. I started going and he said “you’re going to swing to the right“ so I flicked the rope under an overhang and swung perfectly to the water beside me without getting wet. Then I jumped over the waterfall and into the pool on the bottom and dipped the front of my sneakers in but the water didn’t harm them. Daddy rappelled down, changed into shorts and we walked further down canyon. In about 20 steps there were big rocks as big as a couch. When I got to the bottom I saw the falling water that turned into a stream and disappeared under a rock. I tried to dam up the stream with dirt and rocks so it would go the other way but the water was really strong and it just busted through the dirt and went around the rocks. We went on a little bit and the stream was back. Here we discovered this seaweed stuff that looked like a splattered out brain but when you picked it up it felt like a carpet and it came up in big sheets. We couldn’t rip it and it seemed water resistant totally dry on the inside.

We made our all the way down and hiked for a ways and finally got to the trail on the bottom o f the canyon. After two exhausting hours hiking back up the canyon, daddy and I looked and there was a purple throated, green faced, blue/grey hummingbird chasing a bee around a blooming yucca stalk. They both wanted the nectar. The hummingbird knew that the bee could sting it and the bee knew that the bird could eat it so they chased each other at a fair distance. Finally both of them settled down on flowers equally distant from each other to drink.

Up the trail, I spotted a tree that I remembered at Indian Gardens right where we filled up water on the way down and rested. We continued up, up, up the trail and finally got to the first tunnel which made its way a short distance through the Grand Canyon rock and spotted a lizard about as long as my forearm with a purple head, white belly and legs and blue, green, red and orange back. I knew we were very close. We got to the second tunnel and a guy asked daddy how far the canyon floor was. Daddy said it would probably take him about 10 hours to hike there and back. We then finished the hike and met Mommy and Ila on the Canyon Rim.

What a trip, we went down the Bright Angel trail, down through Indian Gardens to Pipe Canyon, up the Grand Canyon trail again to Indian Gardens and back up the Bright Angel trail. Our 15 mile adventure was over!

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Bright Angel Trail, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Grand Canyon, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rappelling | 3 Comments

Sedona

Over 250 million years ago the world experienced it’s largest mass extinction. Over 70% of all land species on earth, became extinct. The reason for this event has become clear and concise. Our world’s land masses slammed together into what is known as our ancestral supercontinent named Pangea. The air was rendered poisonous and the land became so vast and arid lacking water and food to sustain life. At this point in time the Appalachians were higher than the present day Himalayas and the winds were much stronger and more sustained than they are anywhere today. Actually the land was so dry and winds so fierce that sediment blew from the Appalachians all the way to an area that occupies to this day Southern Utah, Southwest Colorado, Northern Arizona and North West New Mexico. This sandy sediment mounted up into sky scraper high sand dunes that looked much like today’s Sahara. But this is not where the story starts. The a fore mentioned Dunes lay on top of a series of sediments that occurred before the land became this extreme. To the East of this four state region there was a series of mountains that are now referred to as the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. During times of wetter climate conditions, large deluges of precipitation plundered the ancestral Rockies spilling from it blood red sediment that fanned out into the landscape west of the mountains. Also sewn into this story are a series of low lying seas which ebbed and flowed  into the historical land layer cake.  This epic tale happened not once but multiple times stacking layer upon layer of variations in rock: sand stone, shale, limestone, more stand stone, lime stone, sand stone, more shale, leaving visible to the naked eye different versions of the landscape.  The story of history of this region disappeared deeper and deeper underground giving the impression it would be gone forever.

After almost 200 million years of this North America was now separated from the rest of the super continent and something completely different started to happen.  As North America drifted westward the ocean floor of the ancient Pacific became over run and pushed under North America.  The Ocean floor, or plate, was pushed under North American at an unusually low angle.  This caused mountains to rise as much as 1,000 miles to the east.  The huge swath of land from our story that occupies significant parts of present day Utah Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico received an enormous amount of pressure from below ground to rise like the Rocky mountains to the east.  Some areas did succumb to this tension and a high mountain was pushed up here or there, land cracked, land folded but the majority of this land did not fold, for the most part it stayed together and was uplifted to one cohesive high country which is now called the Colorado Plateau.  Now that this land was elevated with the high Rocky Mountains to the east and the North it was ready to be carved by one last awesome force of Nature:  H2O

Today, if you stand at the southern edge of this geologic province you would be looking down a fortress of several thousand foot sandstone and limestone walls that stretch across the entire state of Arizona. These walls reach their climax smack in the middle of the state. Standing here looking down you feel that you are at the edge of the world peering into an alternate reality or dimension, down into the land that has given birth to the New Age, the age of AQUARIUS.

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with the Mars
The peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
The age of Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystals revelations
And the minds true liberation

Aquarius
Aquarius

Sedona has become and still is our worldwide capital for communing with the Metaphysical universe. Bits and pieces of spiritual disciplines and religious practices such as Hinduism, Suffism, Yoga and Native American ceremony since as early as the 1950s have slowly been stirred into this small community, allowing it to become a harbor for what is most commonly known as this New Age Spirituality. Along with it came the psychics, the fortune tellers, crystals and the pictures of Auras and a general obsession with the color purple…… By 1980 a self proclaimed psychic with a following named Page Bryant announced that there were sources of positive, negative or neutrally charged energy conveniently spread throughout the Red Rock country of Sedona within close proximity to the road. These were the vortexes or vortices. Belief as well as inspiration from these Vortexes has spread since Page made the designation and today Sedona, a town of just over 10,000 year round residents receives towards 4 million tourists a year. A study conducted by NAU (Northern Arizona University) found that close to 70% of these visitors are here for the vortexes, or “healing properties” of Sedona.

I have no idea how our family would fit into this statistic. Not a believer in Page’s vortexes there is no doubt some incredible energy found in Sedona…or rather in the Red Rock Country that surrounds Sedona. In my personal experience I have found large amounts of positively charged energy on some of the spectacularly exposed climbs and summits of the dozens of steep spires that make up the Red Rock country. Most of the climbs on rock so red you sometimes feel you are climbing the flesh of the earth. To think about climbing up rocks laid down during events that occurred 300 million years ago is certainly sublime. Also need mentioning almost all of Sedona classics have the 15-25 foot high limestone “band” or layer creating an important defining feature of every climb. Deposited by a shallow sea during these ancient times, this band of very different rock always gives a climb a vortex of one sort or another. Dr. Rubo’s Wild ride is still my favorite with multiple pitches of aesthetic hand cracks, interrupted only by a very strenuous and steep lime stone section, followed by exposed pitches of face climbing on more red wine colored stone. All climbs seem to end at a classic Sedona spire summit. I want to carry a level with me at some point to the top of all the Sedona towers. I bet every one has square, level rock summits. During our stay we also had the great opportunity to climb Queen Victoria Spire right above Sedona. The Lime stone band gave us an undercut off-width crack that was a real bear. And then there was Goliath…with more great cracks, wild exposure, positive vortexes.

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Walking around downtown Sedona I can’t help to feel that with the overwhelming number of tourists, candy shops, pink jeep tours, fudge shops,  souvineer traps etc. it is surely one big negatively charged vortex. It was however easy to ignore while we were there, we remained surrounded by friends and family.  Roni and Michael came to be with us while we all stayed at a beautiful hotel removed from down town. Tim joined us with a last hike before he left to Durango and Scott came down from Flagstaff to hike and show us around. Most trails take you to wild, sky high locations with views that give insight to timelessness and vastness. Surrounded by all of this natural, family and friendly goodness the thought of staying here and spending several decades past through our minds more than once. But the thought never stayed for long enough and eventually the time came to move on. From there we moved up onto the top of the Mogollon Rim to our friends Scott and Lindsay Flagstaff, Arizona.

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Colorado Plateau, Pangea, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Sedona, Vortex, Vortices | Leave a comment

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