If you have big dreams about building a home or getaway – whether big in size, big in sustainability, big in personality, or big in ambition – the first question is, where you will build it?
For many people with big dreams for their next place to live, reclaimed ranchland in the western states offers the perfect canvas for their work. In addition to amazing views of mountains and distant horizons, abundant wildlife and flowering plants, and stars that look close enough to touch, these homes on the range offer much more.
From artists who want a private retreat, to self-sufficient outdoorspeople who want to build everything themselves; from top executives who want a sumptuous lodge to working professionals who want a modest home; you can find examples of all kinds of personalized homes in the New West.
When you like to build airplanes, where do you keep them? For this couple, a parcel of land in a low, sloping valley set partway up a range of hills was the perfect setting. Built first was a hanger to keep the plane protected with an apartment in the back and solar panels for electricity, and the owners are building a traditional wood-frame house.
Perhaps most surprising is the lush garden, where fruit trees are growing among asparagus, grapes, lettuce and chard. Chickens live in a large hutch to protect them from the local wildlife and provide eggs for the couple, who one day hope to raise goats as well.
This exotic-looking home is the result of seven years of work by the owner, who wanted to build a home that was affordable, self-sufficient and remote. Technically called “flexible-form rammed earth” construction, it involves filling sandbags with the local soil, laying them out in the form of walls in layers and tamping them down, letting them cure in the sun and covering them with a layer of stucco. “Everything costs time or money, and I have more time than money,” he joked. “The building material [soil] is free, the sandbags cost $300 for a thousand.”
The result is a cool, efficient dwelling that stands up well to the wind and temperature extremes. Powered by solar panels, the owner carefully positioned the house to face southeast, getting more of the sun through windows to warm the space after cool nights, while shading the interior from the intense afternoon rays. Windows set in the roof bring light inside, reducing the need for electric lighting.
Phil and Cheryl are loving every minute in their retirement home. From the outside it looks like many modern homes – a nice porch, cozy interior, three-car garage, metal roof, full kitchen and bath, and a study where the computer and wi-fi router reside.
Read Phil and Cheryl’s story
Their front yard stretches down a steep valley, giving them a breathtaking view of distant rangeland. Their backyard stretches for hundreds of acres, beyond the rugged hilltops that stand over their property. A large solar array connected to a battery backup powers their house day and night. A repeater station on one of their hills carries cellular and internet service to them.
Gary had always dreamed on living in the West, and after 55 years his dream finally came true. He and his wife Diana – who says she is “not a country girl” – built this modern and airy home on 40 acres of ranchland. They chose to find the most distant parcel they could that was still on the electric grid to make it easier to enjoy all the comforts of home.
Read Gary and Diana’s story.
Even better, the couple uses their Western home as a jumping off point for RV trips across the Western states. With national parks, state parks, national monuments and historical sites within a few days easy drive, they have enjoyed weekend excursions and weeks-long adventures. “We’ll never see it all, but we’ve seen so much,” Diana says.
Dotted among the permanent residents are a wide range of cabins, houses, lodges and other dwellings. These belong to the part-time residents: people from nearby towns, distant cities and even overseas who want that perfect place to get away.
No two look alike, but all are designed to work with the land and allow their owners to catch a little of that New West magic. Some are hunters, some are bankers, some are land investors – but all of them are discovering the new opportunities this historic land offers.