Firsthand Report: What We Learned Going Back to the Land

Going back to the land was a long held dream for these longtime readers. With planning, inspiration, and hard work, they created a retirement homestead in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado.

| August/September 2010

  • Back to the Land - A-frame house
    This cozy A-frame house enabled Bruce and Carol McElmurray's move back to the land in the mountains of Colorado.
  • Back to the Land - Carol and Bruce
    Carol and Bruce enjoy the peace and the beauty their home affords.
  • Outdoor Smoker
    An outdoor smoker is perfect for preparing dinners to eat at a table made of timber from their lot.
  • Back to the Land - house interior
    A carefully chosen woodstove keeps the McElmurray’s cozy A-frame warm during Colorado winters.
  • Back to the Land - garden boxes
    Rather than trap native wildlife, Bruce built wood and wire fortresses to protect the garden plants.
  • Back to the Land - snowbound house
    More than 200 inches of snow per year means hours of exercise scraping and shoveling!

  • Back to the Land - A-frame house
  • Back to the Land - Carol and Bruce
  • Outdoor Smoker
  • Back to the Land - house interior
  • Back to the Land - garden boxes
  • Back to the Land - snowbound house

For more than 30 years, my wife and I have read MOTHER EARTH NEWS for inspiration. When it became time for us to consider the back-to-the-land home we wanted to retire to, we used everything we had learned from the magazine. To start, we had a contractor build a house shell, 900 square feet within an A-frame model, on a lot we had purchased in the late ’70s. We’ve now lived here full time for more than 12 years, at 9,750 feet above sea level in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado.

Preparing for the Dream

When we purchased our land, it was 5 raw acres of heavily wooded mountainside. It was part of a covenant community where very few lived, and was still managed by the developer. We chose this land because it backed up to a large green belt and had dirt roads that the landowners’ association kept plowed in the wintertime. (When buying land, I’d suggest that you carefully investigate any covenants, as you may find out you’re not allowed to do what you had hoped you could do.) We were also excited to have a well and two springs with abundant water, though we probably conserve water more than most people. Our 6-gallon hot water tank is more than sufficient for the two of us. Utility aside, we have a view of three mountains from our deck, the air is fresh and pure, the land virtually unpolluted, and our well water is clear and refreshing. The quiet here is wonderful.

Financially, the planning to accomplish our dream home required much forethought. We kept track of our expenses for a month and then sat down and evaluated what we needed and what could be cut back or cut out completely. We severely limited most eating out and put that money aside. Some other cutbacks even made early retirement more of a possibility.

Planning for Everything

When we were ready, we had the builder construct the enclosed house shell, and over several years we spent our vacations doing the electrical run, plumbing, and finishing inside. At that time, there was no inspection required other than for the electric work. After doing the electrical and plumbing work ourselves, we had a professional electrician and a plumber check our work to make sure it met code and was safe. We were delighted to hear it was done well, as we had simply followed the instructions in a how-to book. There’s an abundance of how-to information available, and if you’re capable of doing it yourself, you can save a lot of money. I would strongly urge anyone to have the work checked by professionals before having inspectors approve the work.

We planned our home to include a small basement, one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen and eating area, plus a living room. We omitted a second bedroom, as we concluded it would be cheaper to put our occasional guests up in the nearest motel or bed-and-breakfast than to build a separate bedroom. At first we were tripping over each other in the smaller quarters, but over time we learned to work around each other quite comfortably — even with our three dogs.

We’ve found we can do very well by going smaller and more compact. Our kitchen is scaled to apartment size, with a Caloric propane stove and cabinets made from wood milled right off our lot, decorated with punched tin decoration. We built a walk-in pantry for non-perishable food storage, and a small freezer in the pantry is sufficient for two people.

Sandy Geneva
2/28/2013 12:39:49 AM

Where are the nearest medical facilities?

2/27/2013 1:22:52 PM

Enjoyed your article. On cleaning the woodstove you can get a brush on a reel. I have one called a Viper and I clean my stove bottom up. Works great!

Mary Anne
11/27/2010 4:26:22 PM

Your place is gorgeous! As Colonel Francisco of La Veta said, "paradise enough for me". And gotta love the low impact on the spectacular environment - great job!



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