>The Retreat Site (continued)
friendly, can often tell you more than you want to know about
the area, but
they will at least know basic things which will help you make a
decision to buy or not. Weather patterns, which they know quite
well, are useful, as is knowledge of the local critters. Bears
and mountain lions, if present, may affect your plans,
especially if you have small children.
If neighbors are non-existent or you just want to
confirm yourself about wildlife, get a trail cam
(sportsman's guide, Wal-Mart, etc.) for $50-$120, mount it on a
tree where it will face a path you think is used by animals.
The motion sensor will pick up an animal's presence and trigger
either a photo, a series of photos or a video of it. Leave it
for a week or a month and then check the SD memory card for
evidence of your wild 'neighbors'. The cameras IR flash LED's
will light the scene invisibly at night.
If you can't afford the trail cam, spread some soft soil in
a place where you expect animal traffic, smooth it well with a
board then check in later for tracks and footprints.
You bought the land, now what? My
suggestion: first step is to know your boundaries - what do you
actually own? If it's already marked by a surveyor, great. If
not, do it. You must know all of the boundaries of your
Next explore it - walk over the entire
piece of land with a notebook and pen. What do you have? What
can you do with what you have? Surely you did this before you
bought it, but this time take notes. Look for places to put key
elements - house, water source, shed, workshop, vegetable
garden, orchard, cornfield, pond, gates, defenses, driveway,
Act out several scenarios. Stand where
your house might be and look around in all directions - that's
what you'll see from your windows. Do you have a commanding
view of your land, at least the 'downtown' area of it? Try
another spot. Look uphill from your house. Is there a spot for
a water tank? Above that, is there a place to collect
Obtaining water (as up from a well)
and moving it to your fawcett, shower or sink, can be a huge
drain on your power system, especially if your system is solar
and or wind powered and your well is deep. Consider installing
a passive water system as your primary one and possibly a well
as a backup. So, while imagining various scenarios on your
as-yet vacant (no buildings) land, try to keep water and its
movement at the top of your list.
Good exposure - south, southwest or
west - will guarantee you passive heating and hot water, and
will require no power. However, if your climate is hot and your
soil is deep enough, consider putting most of your house
underground, where your temperature control is the surrounding
cool earth. Malcolm Wells has a good book on that.
Every situation is unique, so take your time to decide where
you will put what. Create several workable layouts, if
possible, then look at each one, compare them and finally
decide on what looks the best.
My next step, after marking boundaries and selecting a
building site, was to install a temporary rain harvesting
system, so I could then make a permanent one using concrete. If
you have an access road, just bring in some barrels of water
and make a permanent water system. My DVD on rainwater systems
covers this in great detail in a step-by-step narrated
If you have no access road, a temporary rain system will
provide you with water to build with concrete and for all other
uses, until your permanent water system is online. My DVD also
covers temporary rain systems.
My next step was to carry out a gasoline 3500 W
generator and a concrete mixer which came in
pieces, and then 94 pound bags of Portland cement. Using sand
and gravel from my wash, I could make concrete for the first
500 square-foot rain catchment. Then I rolled, lifted, and
heaved and sweated an 1100 -gallon water tank the 1 1/2 miles
up my wash and placed it on a level spot I had made for it.
With 2 inch diameter PVC pipe from the catchment to the tank I
was ready for rain.
Once you have a dependable water supply,
you can proceed with any project in your plan. With the 200
plus gallons from my temporary rain system, I made the 500
square-foot catchment and the underground air cooling chambers
for the house. When I got more water, I poured the footings for
the hexagon house and the floor slab, plus I stuccoed a new
tool shed. Then I made a second rain catchment, 1260 ft.², and
brought out two more water tanks 1100 and 1500 gallons. My
total storage at present is 4000 gallons.
Is that enough storage? Well, if I
only have 4000 gallons for a year, that equals about 11 gallons
per day. I don't use even half that much per day, but my
vegetable garden needs more than I do, so 11 gallons is nice.
However, as it rains twice a year, winter and summer monsoon, I
can actually collect and use about twice as much water as my
tanks can store at any moment, so I have closer to 20 gallons
per day available. I don't take 20 gallon showers, as some city
people do. I can manage well with a gallon, a quart if water is
scarce and a pint in emergencies, even a glass of water and a
washcloth if necessary. The point is, when water is limited, we
use it more wisely.
After water is used, where does it
go? It is recycled or put to another use as
greywater. Sink and shower water go to my vegetable garden (a
raised bed) to grow food. If any water leaves the raised bed,
it is caught and put back in when needed. As my house has no
black water (toilet flush), all wastewater is greywater and
goes to the garden. Not a drop of water is wasted.
Build your survival retreat
house. Well beyond the scope of this website,
house building is the topic of one of my DVDs, where I guide
you through the entire process of creating a design (in my case
a hexagon), laying it out on the site, digging and pouring
concrete footings, the concrete floor slab, walls, electrical,
windows - step by step up to the roof.
Once you have a functioning house, not
just a shell, and running water, you can focus on things that
will support your life and work there: a vegetable garden or
major crops (if you have the land and water), sheds, workshop,
landscaping, picnic tables, fruit orchard, pond - whatever you
However, consider a project before the House -- a
tool shed. If I could do it all over, I would
have built a shelter for tools and supplies as soon as I had
water. Well, I did, but I did the shed after the floor slab and
underground air cooling chambers. Many of my tools got rusty,
things got blown around, full of sand, sun scorched, plastic
buckets fell apart... As soon as I had my shed, I realized it
should have been done much earlier. If you have the money and
an access road, a steel shipping container is a secure storage,
and they are huge.
My toolshed is simple. I cut two by
fours into two by twos, made a simple 2 x 4 frame structure
with two by twos as vertical studs, covered it with Tyvek house
wrap (stapled on the outside), stapled chickenwire on over
that, then simple sand-mix concrete as stucco over that. The
roof is a few sheets of corrugated aluminum siding from a
neighbor's old shed. What a relief to finally have a place for
my tools and materials. To build a house you will need many
tools and other things, so the toolshed should be done before
the house. One of my DVDs covers the construction of my
toolshed, as well as other projects.
The cost of overbuilding and security may increase your
investment considerably. However, the cost of not doing so
could be incalculable.
My survival retreat is probably unique, because it
cannot be reached by vehicle (okay, helicopter),
so travel can only arrive on foot. This gives me a huge
advantage, because nobody can even see my land or house, unless
someone is wandering around in the desert and stumbles into my
On the theme of security, I'll
share another step I've taken which might help
you. I park my pickup about 3 miles from my land, then switch
to my ATV to get to the mouth of my wash, then drive up the
wash to within 1 mile of my retreat. I park the ATV there and
I recently installed a bollard in
concrete in a narrow part of the wash near the mouth, about 2
miles from my land, so when it's in place and locked, nobody
can take their ATV up my trail. They have to park and walk 2
Here's an idea. If your situation
allows, consider having a bollard or gate as far from your
retreat as possible, forcing visitors to park and approach on
foot. If they can drive right up to your door, you have no
security. Mr. Rawles suggests parking an obstacle, like a
bulldozer, in your drive or access road to stop or slow an
approach, one you could move when needed.