As we prepared to head south for the winter, I took stock of some materials I’ve been storing outside in the desert near Boise, ID for too long and decided it would be fun to do something with them — to actually use them to build a building somewhere especially now that we’re retired and have the time to play around with something like this. There aren’t many rules at The Slabs so I decided to pull the trigger and see how much I could get done in a short time on a minimal budget. Mostly I couldn’t bear the thought of these materials spending another winter — unprotected and outdoors — so it was one of those “now or never” moments. We loaded the materials up into our kitchen (and our bedroom!) and headed south. It was pretty entertaining because the boards in the kitchen kept tipping over and I’d have to restack them again and again.Β In my desperation, I finally screwed together a temporary ‘rack’ of sorts to hold the boards together and that worked well enough to get them from Idaho to extreme southern California (45 miles north of the Mexican border).

Once we were back here and settled in at The Slabs, my labor of love began in earnest. First I took four sheets of OSB and fastened them together on the ground to make my jig — to assemble ‘ribs’ which would become ‘arches’ to construct what I call a Pallet Gothic Arch building. On the sheets of OSB, I used a 12′ radius to draw out a curve based on what is to become an 18′ wide building. Then I laid out the points of intersection for the 3′ chunks of 2×4 — originally designed to be salvaged from used shipping pallets. This building method also borrows from a method called “rigid arch construction” where plywood plates and construction adhesive are used to join the various components — permitting wide open structures with no interior support. The arches form what becomes the long walls *and* the roof — leaving the vertical end walls for doors and/or windows. All the glue plates are secured with construction adhesive and twenty 2″ galvanized box nails on each side.

It’s a very low cost way to enclose space — also very strong when done properly — but it’s well outside the norms of engineering approvals and building code compliance — especially when using used lumber. Based on pics of a scale model I made, Pete built one of these (32′ long) in northern Idaho in heavy snow country. Having never met, we communicated the details back and forth with Emails and pictures while also sharing them with my online building group. Based on his real-world experience over several winters, I’ve determined the basic structure is plenty strong enough . . . even overkill for areas which don’t get significant snow loads. To use up all my ‘old’ 3′ components, I determined our “barn” should be 18′ wide and 16′ front to back. That was big enough to use up all the ‘old’ lumber *and* six 12′ chunks of new 2×4 so we painted all of them with some mis-matched blue paint (cheap at $9 a gallon at Home Depot) for a more uniform appearance.

If you’re inclined to build anything significant here at The Slabs, the usual MO is to keep your investment small as you likely won’t be here 24/7 to protect it. Most of us mortals head north during the extremely HOT summer months here in the Mojave desert and come back during the winter months when prevailing temps are more inclined to support human life. We like to believe that our hard work and investment will still be here when we come back next time but there are no guarantees. In our case, we have our good friend George nearby and he can kinda’ keep an eye on the barn for us but all arrangements are very loose and in a constant state of flux — what military types would call “a highly fluid situation.” Worst-case scenario? We’re out $500 and our time — most of which was spent doing fairly pleasurable activity — not to be confused with WORK. Better-case scenario? We come back in the fall and continue building — having fun with our daily progress and visiting with those who take an interest in what we’re doing.

In keeping with the low budget and temporary approach, I came up with 2×6 sill plates which ‘float’ on concrete pavers as needed to hold them more or less level and the width of the building is secured by three 18′ 2×4 ‘spreaders’ which are bolted at each end to the sill plates. These spreaders also have blocks under them to hold them more or less level and not bowed down in the middle (which would shorten their overall length). This particular building shape wants to flatten out so the ‘spreaders’ keep that from happening. Eventually their function can be concealed within a wood floor frame or perhaps provided by steel cables buried under the sand floor or the sill plates themselves can be anchored to the ground in other ways.

Once the sills are in place, it’s a matter of joining two ribs together to form each arch using glue plates on both sides at the tallest part of the arch. With a plate on only one side, it’s a little flimsy so we have to carefully stand each arch up vertical and lay it back down to secure the top plate on the 2nd side. Once plates are secured on both sides, it’s less risky moving the large arches around. (I also used OSB scraps to cut my glue plates but 1/2″ plywood is a LOT stronger and more suitable for this application.) I used 2×4 joist hangers to secure the arches to the sill plates. Again, the shape of the joist hanger retains the legs of the arches in place and won’t let them spread and work their way off of the sill plate over time. I also built a ‘marriage wall’ using two arches at the midpoint which are held together with 20 5/16″ bolts and Tee nuts. If we ever want to move the building, we can remove those bolts, cut down through the sill plate (and up through the shingles), and move it as two smaller 8’x18′ sections. At this point it’s quite easy (using a 12′ 2×4 as a lever) to use blocks as a fulcrum and lift any portion of the sill plate a few inches. Once the weight of 16 more sheets of OSB and shingles are added, the leverage option likely won’t work as well.

Once the marriage wall was up, I used four 8′ 2x3s to hold it vertical by bracing down at an angle to the sill plate. Then I added four more 8′ 2x3s horizontally to hold the additional arches on 24″ centers. As I install sheathing on any one facet, I remove one brace at a time to move the arches as needed to line up with the new sheathing, and then reinstall the horizontal brace if needed.

This first summer, only the lowest facet down both sides will have sheathing and the rest will be covered with two 12′ x 16′ heavy duty tarps. The joist hangers stick out a bit and I wanted the lowest sheathing to extend 2″ down to cover the outer edge of the sill plate *and* provide a drip edge below the sill plate (to keep it dry) so I cut 2″ x 4″ notches for the OSB to clear the joist hangers — a 2″ x 2″ square cut-out might have worked just as well and would have left the bottom edge more intact.

I installed the four sheets of OSB after pre-drilling where the screws and bottom row of nails would go (just to permit easier nailing along the bottom edge — at an angle into the outside edge of the sill plate). For each section, I pulled the horizontal brace off so I could align the arches properly on the sheathing and then reinstalled the brace so no more than one of the four braces was off at any point in time. The braces are installed on the inside so I can leave them in place under the tarps this first season. It will take another 16 sheets of OSB and five square (500 square feet) of shingles to finish the shell but it just wasn’t in the budget to take the building that far yet. We want to do some more hiking, mountain biking, and sightseeing this spring before we head ‘home’ to the great northwest for the summer months. To protect the exposed OSB until we get back, we used a 2nd gallon of mis-matched exterior paint we got for $8. It’s more about protecting the wood and our time investment at this point so we don’t care so much about the color. The painted sheathing will eventually be covered up with roofing anyway.

Now that we’re near a stopping point on this project, I find myself suddenly concerned about unauthorized use or damage to our carefully constructed shelter. I want to build a temporary fence across both open ends — using materials we can re-purpose to some more profitable application in the future.

So this is how we’re leaving it this spring of 2017. Hopefully it won’t blow over or catch fire between now and our return in November πŸ™‚ What do you think about building something like this in the middle of a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) where there are no rulers, no landlords — no property ‘owners’ to care? And where the usual rules of property ‘ownership’ don’t apply?


13 thoughts on “Mesa Verde National Park”

  1. Love it! Love it! Love it! Annie, your photos are killing me!!! Amazing what those guys went through way back when just to survive. I was amazed too at the work and time and labor involved to do something like that. Friggin mind boggling!!! I would hate to have been the guard on duty the next morning with missing crops and nothing to show for it. I wonder how many guards were “relieved of duty” the hard way over that. I can’t even imagine what it took to survive winter there. Who were their enemies? Other local pueblo tribes or migrating tribes of a different nation? I wonder how many tribe members lived in that place.

    You da man for getting the rig in that spot. says it’s 25 foot or less. Suppose you can take some reviews with a grain of salt if you are good at the wheel.

    Have you ever had any trouble/problems in the last 19 months leaving your rig all by itself while you two are out doing things together? For some reason I’d always kinda be worrying about someone coming by and helping himself. Most folks out there are probably there to enjoy themselves but I was hearing yesterday there was a massive influx of thievery going on at Quartzsite this year.

    Have you ever thought of doing the million dollar highway in your rig? I did it last September by motorcycle and I’ll tell you looking over the sides with no guardrails will keep you on your toes. In a 33 foot rig going down a steep, curvy grade with no guardrails that would be the ultimate test of skill.

    You two and the kitties need to make your own youtube channel!

    1. Thanks, Laurie! Happy to hear you enjoy the pictures.

      Jim has been under the weather the past few days. He may have more to add when he feels better.

      He is good at getting our casa into position. But I guess we should admit this was not really a campsite. It was actually a branch of the road that was so rutted and gnarly it was all but totally impassable just a little further on so we took advantage of it. πŸ™‚ He did a great job getting us all leveled off between the deep ruts.

      We haven’t had anything stolen while we’re away so far. In fact, we almost always leave our ladder, outdoor rug, broom and spare propane tanks outside. The only time anything seemed amiss was when we were parked on open range land and the cattle decided they liked our shade. We came home almost every day to tipped over propane tanks and hanging trim pieces.

      I’m sure the million dollar highway would be a blast on a motorcycle but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy it too much in our rig. πŸ™‚

      Thanks again for your interest!

  2. Forgot this. If you love Pueblo ruins and are in the Sante Fe area checkout the Bandelier National Monument. It’s near Los Alamos so you could kill a few birds with one stone.

  3. Dogs are your first line of defense, your early warning system. They we used to pull a travois too.

    I have wondered about the ‘why’ did they move into the canyon after those 100’s of years on top of the mesa. To me it looked clearly for defense.

    I’m here at The Navajo National Monument and this cliff dwelling was only occupied for like 35 years & they too walked away (about the same time the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings were abandoned).
    FWIW the Little Ice Age started around 1250 too….

    Anne, thank you for the directions to the blm land, it is a great place to stay!
    With your access to the park (buy a weeks pass or have the old farts card) you have access to the dump stations, the drinking water at the dump stations & the free showers next to the store/laundromat. Cortez being 8 miles down the road gives you access to all the stuff a town can provide
    All that can make Mesa Verde NP a great place to spend some time.

    1. Thanks Rob for your comment. It all happened so long ago that all any of us can do is speculate . . . still fun though. I guess there just isn’t much evidence of wars or deaths which resulted in anyone dying any sooner than their already premature average of 35-36 years. But, clearly, they were completely dependent on their stores to get them through the long, cold winters of those high elevations and so securing those rations and firewood, etc. in a safe place must’ve been a *very* high priority. There is speculation that the soil was surprisingly fertile but even it may have gotten tapped with such prolonged and continual planting. No doubt, wild game numbers nearby diminished over the years as well. It also seems clear that natural temp cooling of even a few degrees may have made the already marginal growing season too short. If you’re not in a position to put away your usual winter stores, everyone knows how that story ends πŸ™‚ I suspect they headed south to lower/warmer elevations and never had any reason to go back — much as we snow birds do to this day πŸ™‚ 21 contemporary tribes in the Four Corners area trace their ancestral lineage to the Ancestral Puebloans.

      1. The whole thing was interesting.
        I have to wonder about the 34-36 age span you’ve got, is that just a quoted number? It’s so easy to mess with average ages.

        About their leaving around the same time, the Little Ice Age is generally credited with starting around 1250.

        I’m at the grand canyon now, can’t get enough of the canyon & really enjoy talking with people from different countries.

        1. That’s the number I got from our Ranger — apparently based on physical remains found in the area — all highly speculative of course πŸ™‚ I guess (like anything else) we run with a narrative which seems to make sense . . . until a more provable one comes along.

          1. I see people all the time talk about really low ages people lived to, in the old days. if you made to to 60 or 70 and your 9 siblings didn’t make it to 5, well you have a low average life span.

            Maybe that substance farming was hard on the body?

            Neat to look at the ruins no matter how the occupants were!

  4. What a trip, How very awesome. It’s always nice to read your posts. What a different area. Yes?
    Mesa Verde will always be at the top of my list of interesting places I’ve visited. That drive back into the park though, slow going as you know. I spent over a month driving around Colorado and south into New Mexico. The Earth ships going into Taos NM are something to see.

    I suggest taking the time to get up to the Great Sand Dune National Park in CO. March/April is when I stopped by. There was snow on the mountains and the creek is beginning to flow, a very nice contrast in the diversity of the landscape and great photo opportunities as well. Later in the spring the creek is running full and has some interesting water features to investigate. The diversity in landscape is amazing in this area.

    Kevin – It’s not the Destination, but the Journey
    Colorado, New mexico Photos

    1. Yes, Kevin, it really is an interesting area to explore. I’m pretty sure we’ll return, especially since we didn’t even get to see everything in Mesa Verde. I love the diverse landscape of NM and hope to spend more time exploring there as well as CO. Thanks for the suggestions for must-see destinations.

      Hope to see you again in our journeys.

      Jim & Annie

  5. Loved Mesa Verde. Climbed those ladders (did NOT look down), crawled thru that tunnel, walked the sites. The smell of sage everywhere. It was great. The views are amazing. Did you see Sleeping Ute Mountain and hear that story? I have to get back that way again someday.

    1. Agreed — we could spend a LOT more time there. We didn’t see Sleeping Ute Mountain (or were unaware if we *did* see it — learned more about it here:

      During the spring months, all those mountain valleys you drive through are gorgeous . . . we hope to explore New Mexico and Colorado more in the years to come. Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

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