On Labor Day weekend in 2002, my mother, Karen Snyder and her partner, Sheryl Records, began their four year long journey to build the Circle Stone Ranch. Of course anyone would know this was a monumental undertaking but they had no idea what the next four years of weekends, holidays and “vacation” time off work had in store for them.
They owned 60 acres of land with a beautiful spot for the house right near the top of Mount Ballard just fifteen minutes up the road from Bisbee, Arizona. Karen had just sold her house in nearby St. David which became the green light for starting on a new project. They wanted to build a ranch style home that would be completely off the grid and that would be virtually indestructible in case of any disasters. Karen came up with the layout and design of the house and drew it up herself on big sheets of drawing paper.
They knew they would primarily use rocks for the construction of the ranch since there were two different sites on their property that they called their “rock quarries.” In reality, they were large areas where thousands of rocks of all shapes and sizes had accumulated over hundreds of years. They really hit the jackpot with those quarries and didn’t have to spend a single penny on any of the rocks used for the construction of the house. Sheryl would drive a back hoe to the quarry while Karen followed with a flatbed pickup truck. At first, they were only interested in the smaller rocks to be used for the inside walls but any time they came across a massive stone they began to envision its placement along the outer walls of the house. So, day after day, they would load the rocks from the quarry onto the flatbed and then off the flatbed into the sorting area at the construction site. Once they had a good amount of rocks to start the project, they ordered their first few tons of sand and mortar and got to work.
They began by mixing the mortar in a small electric mixer, placing the rocks one at a time, and then using the mortar to hold them together. The larger rocks on the bottom of the walls were placed using the back hoe but the smaller rocks near the top could be placed by hand. Typically, a house is started by building the outside frame and then working your way in with inside wall framing, then drywall, floors, etc…But, since the back hoe was necessary to place the larger rocks, the house had to be built from the inside out. The first wall they completed is called the center circle because it is a circular wall at the center of the house where all of the roof supports come together like a wagon wheel. All of the inside walls in the house are about 8 feet tall but don’t extend to the ceiling to allow for proper ventilation. All of the electrical and plumbing lines had to be put in as they went and they would rock and mortar around the vertical conduit. They also did all of the door and window bucks as they went because these had to be mortared into the rock frame as well. It was day after day of mixing mortar, finding and placing the rocks like pieces of a giant puzzle and then mortaring them into place. They began to improve and streamline the process as they went and soon, Karen and Sheryl were rocking and rolling.
See more photos below and stay tuned for the next two installments.
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