A Greater World

In 1971, a visionary environmental architect named Michael Reynolds built a home out of used aluminum cans, bottles and tires.  He called it an “Earthship”. Like a spaceship, an Earthship was self-sustainable and able to take care of all basic human needs.  It has solar and/or wind energy, thermal/solar heating and cooling, water harvesting capabilities, and contained sewage treatment, and is built from all natural and recycled materials.

Mike Reynolds poses with Earthship for the film Garbage Warriors

Some called Reynolds crazy – but many others were inspired and jumped in to learn and help. By the mid-90s he had enough followers to start a community, which he called the Greater World Earthship Community. Located near Taos, NM, the goal was to provide a safe haven for those who, like him, wanted to practice sustainable living ideals.

Sustainable housing testing site

My parents fell in love. With earthships, that is. For years they dreamed of building one, envisioning creative designs and researching how to make it happen. I remember our kitchen table covered with sketches of floor plans. Around 2010, both kids having grown and moved, they sold our family home and broke ground outside Colorado Springs. A lifelong fantasy come to fruition.

The front of my parents’ bermed home in Colorado Springs

I’ve detailed their building process in other posts, and they have a YouTube channel where you can learn more.

Fast forward to 2022 and my parents’ house & homestead has been featured in multiple magazines and a documentary. They host frequent visitors, giving tours to interested parties, from builders to permaculture clubs.

Front hallway

Now that I’m on a quest for permanent housing, my dad is on a mission to help me to build my own Earthship. I’ve started paying a little more attention to what all is involved. I decided it was time to make a visit to the Greater World community: the grande dame of the movement. So I set aside an extra couple of days on the road trip to stop in New Mexico.

The community has an educational visitor center which you can tour for $8 per person. However, because people live here, the homes themselves are not typically open to the public. Many of the finer models have video tours available on Mike Reynolds’ YouTube channel. There are also Airbnb Earthships in the community, but they were out of our budget. Interestingly, I found a greenhouse Hipcamp in northwest New Mexico for only $40/night. It was not advertised as an Earthship, but it looked promising. I’ll get to that in the next post.

The Greater World community, photo by Kent Weakley, loveproperty.com

I was surprised and excited by how large and populated the community was: currently more than 75 homes spread across 633 acres.  As I drove down the highway, the homes stretched out across the horizon, one after another for miles and miles. It’s amazing to see the idea gaining so much traction. There are now earthships all over the world and in just about every US state.

Experimentation site meant to determine how thick or thin the walls should ideally be

I was also surprised to read that in a place as dry as Taos, these homes could utilize rainwater catchment. The roof of a 1,500 SQ ft home can collect almost 990 gallons of water from just one inch of rain! The community uses grey water and black water to stretch their H2O even further. 

In Colorado Springs, my parents have had some struggles with the county and their neighbors, especially recently. So while I can build an Earthship just about anywhere, the idea of being part of this like-minded community is very appealing. Plus, Taos is affordable, amazingly beautiful and full of artsy and outdoorsy folk.  A definite possibility for a future home.

Earthship beneath the stars

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