Setting out on this grand adventure we wanted to model how not to mess-up more of our natural world than was necessary. In sustainable development thinking, this is called leaving a minimal Ecological Footprint (EF). This is a measurement of how many acres of productive land it takes to produce the natural resources needed to support our current way of life? In our classes we have students visit to calculate their EF and they are always amazed and a little disgusted to find out how wasteful their lifestyle is- the average American uses 6 acres, as compared to an Indian at 0.25 acres.  

A small footprint

I had long since fallen in love with our Mojave and knew that we would find the site to build our home and our new improved green lifestyle, somewhere in the West Mojave region and close enough to my work at the college. The surprise was to find our bit of paradise, only 10 miles from Apple Valley, nestled in a little valley and incredibly secluded from the hustle and bustle of the our Victor Valley’s 300,000 people.

The Mojave has so much biodiversity (the birds and the bees and plants and all that good stuff!) to offer because of our very varied climate and rugged topography. Our signature plant is the Joshua Tree, not actually a true tree but a Yucca, Yucca brevifolia and it comes with a cast of interesting plants and animals that live in what is referred to a Joshua Woodland Community.

The Mojave Green Rattlesnake is perhaps the most “exiting”  and after the first six years of not having these visitors on our property we have received four “friendly” visits in the past two years. We actually find these guys to quite passive and fairly easy to negotiate with a garden rake into a plastic 55 gallon drum for relocation. Probably should note that the relocation spot is many miles from our community and that some kind of snake capture stick would be a good idea for the faint of heart!

3rd Mojave Green of the season at out property

Moving a Mojave Green Rattler to a safer place

We have also had “heart stopping” encounters  with a wonderful array of biodiversity along the way: a Mountain Lion moseying across an access road; Bobcats munching on a Jack Rabbit on the concrete slab; the “cocky” and inquisitive Roadrunner; my personal favorite the Mojave Quail trailing a long line of chicks and the increasingly rare Horned Lizard.

A six inch "awfully cute" visitor, Horned Lizard/Horny Toad

A tiny Horned Lizard hiding in the sand

We of course wanted that community as part of our backyard, and our land is at the transition of the Joshua Tree Wood Land and the Creosote Scrub Communities. Creosote’s grow as a series of clones and the “King Clone” in nearby Lucerne Valley has been measured to be over 10,000 years old, making them some of them some of the oldest living plants on earth. Our little valley is dominated by extremely tall (up to12 feet) Creosote’s and we feel extremely blessed to live among this natural heritage.

Learning from the spectacular Mojave

So with the land bought and mortgaged, we started by venturing out at different times of the day and seasons and just letting it soak in and soak out our busy lives. Pretty soon you start noticing the cackling of the Cactus Wren, the strutting Road Runners and jumping back from the rattle of a Mojave Green and wondering if and how you can live with them, learn from them and the land. Simple stuff like observing the path of the sun over our property in different seasons, taught us how to orientate the house to reduce too much exposure and the spectacular sunsets pointed to how to set up our solar electricity system.

Learning from the Sun

One evening sitting on our hill, I discovered that looking down on the city lights and “all those” people disturbed me, even although they are 10 miles away! Also noticed how much windier it was on the hill and so we positioned the home site below the hill, looking up at the spectacular Ord Mountains and out of the wind.

Learning from the land to site the house

This location also gave us the advantage of placing our water tanks on the 60’ hill and letting gravity provide enough water pressure-pretty cool when you are starting the project and do not have electricity to run pumps and all that good stuff!

The next thing was to reduce the amount of physical disturbance our building made. The Mojave Green rattler was a good teacher on this. One of my students once defined our environmental issues and the need for sustainability in terms of a mother, as:  “It is not a good idea to mess with mother nature- making her mad always has bad consequences” Well it goes without saying that if you disturb one of these rattlers, bad things happen.

A small Footprint

We already had a old track cut up to the home site and all in all, we got away with only having to remove smaller shrubs and few Creosotes in very dense areas, mostly to install a septic tank that the County insisted on. We even were able to re-vegetate/restore, to off-set this damage by salvaging some Yucca’s from a local mine site. We are fortunate to have a county ordinance that requires that all three of yucca species be salvaged and replanted, and its just takes a bit of hard “prickly” work after that.

Our quest to  Mimic Nature and minimize our Ecological Footprint

Another key way to minimize your footprint is to consider the embodied environmental cost of the materials you use to build with. These are costs that we in the developed countries do not notice and/or pay for when we buy the product, for example, we do not pay the direct cost of clear-cutting a tropical old growth forest for that special hardwood beam, but the locals do suffer the destruction to habitats, water quality and jobs. We choose materials like straw bale walls that actually recycle a waste product that can even become a pollution source, if burnt. The cheap side of me also loved the idea of collecting free clay and decomposed granite sand to use in our natural plaster walls from a local dry lake bed and from our own site.

We sincerely hope you enjoy  reliving “our walk” with us over this Blog series and meeting some of the wonderful locals, the “desert rats” that have almost miraculously come into our and become co-conspirators in building a sustainable community here in the Mojave.