Off Grid

As I was driving across the San Luis Valley the other day on my way to Colorado Springs, looking around me at the emptiness and the beauty and the farms I thought, “Every other place is bullshit.” Of course, that isn’t really true and if it were, I wouldn’t have been leaving. 🙂 I just love where I live. I love the mountains, the rabbit brush flats, all of it.

I looked around at some of the “off grid” homes that dot the valley floor in Costilla County (east of here), and I thought of my February visit to the doctor in Salida and how his nurse had asked me if, at home, I had indoor plumbing and so on. That’s not because we’re primitive down here, but there are a lot of people who’ve chosen the “off grid” life”style” and their sanitation is, well, “retro.”


“I have to ask,” the nurse said. “We’ve had so many patients living off grid and that’s how infections happen. They have no sanitation.”

Some of the off grid people live in motorhomes. Some live in cabins they’ve built or sheds. One family lives in two boxcars out there with no windows. I don’t see outhouses which worries me a little bit. I don’t have a lot of faith in the long term potential of a porta-potty. Some of them have erected solar panels. Others are using car batteries or generators. I don’t see crops or stock or anything, so maybe they go to jobs, but the jobs would be miles and miles away. It’s something that the counties around me have had to figure out.

There are all kinds of philosophies represented. Some have been labeled “domestic terrorists.


Others are what I guess we might have called “hippy communes” back in the day or a “back to nature” movement.

To combat this, some counties have changed their laws. There are signs on the highways that inform people that the county (Alamosa County, Rio Grande County) are zoned, meaning people can’t just buy some land and plop a tiny home, shack, cabin, shed or RV on it without permits and having minimum utilities.

I thought about it. My mom lived in a cabin — sod and logs — in the early years of her life. They had no electricity. They used kerosene lamps. They cooked on a wood stove that also served as heat. They had an outhouse. Sometimes the water in the well was depleted (it was the dust bowl), but there was water some miles away and my grandma had to hitch the Percheron to a sledge with a huge cistern on it, fill the cistern with a bucket, and haul the whole thing home again. This was not an unusual life for people living in rural areas of America in the early 20th century. They knew how to do it. They weren’t “going back in time” to a “simpler” (which wasn’t all that simple) age. She talked a lot about how hard it was, about pasting newspapers on the walls of the cabin to keep the wind out. She didn’t find it idyllic in the least and her stories did not sound at all like Little House on the Prairie.

I would like to be a fly on the wall when the children of “off gridders” grow up and tell stories of their childhoods to their kids.

38 thoughts on “Off Grid

  1. Food for thought, My mum remembers her mother signing to have electricity added to the street in the slums of East London at the beginning of the 20th centuary. It was to have enough signatures to make it possible. I remember the old gas holders in my bedroom where I grew up. We never got hot water, we never got a bathroom, but we did have a toilet, outside in the garden. It was not choice, there was nothing else.
    Today we have a shower room, a bathroom, two toilets and of course a boiler for the hot water, it goes without saying, but there are still places without. Even in Switzerland, the country of gnomes in the banks and numbered bank accounts for the wealthy, there are still older places without modern plumbing: of course few and far between and in the isolated places where modern sanitation never arrived, or electricity.
    Your articles was interesting,

    • Thank you — I totally get it where it’s a remote location and people don’t have a choice, but to choose this and be so bad at it, that just confuses me.

    • We have so much sun here, that we have an enormous “solar farm” that provides electricity to a good portion of this valley. I hope to get out there and take pictures of it sometime.

  2. That is so true, Marilyn. My grandfather was a homesteader, living on a farm, they worked long hours, they built their own cabin and it had kerosene lamps.

  3. It wasn’t even unusual for people living in the more poverty-stricken areas in major cities — like London. As Mrs. Angloswiss about it. In Israel, we had an outhouse — but it was a regular bathroom (more or less), but you had to go outside to get to it … and the water heater was solar. The worries about lack of sanitation are concerning, though. WHERE you put the outhouse is important because you don’t want it leaching into your well, after all. There are a lot of places that don’t have “minimum” grid connections.

    A lot of Native reservations are pretty damned minimal and I’m also pretty sure they wouldn’t mind some better plumbing and electricity … and a cable tower, too. But they don’t have them and they live without them. It isn’t always a choice. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.

    I was just reading a sci fi book where there were two worlds that had at one point been just one, but there had been a war and they had headed off in two directions. One of them had magic, though not everyone had magic and they didn’t have technology of any kind. The other was an advanced version of “us” and they had everything, including corruption and technology … but mostly, they had PLUMBING.

    He said ‘I have to talk to my world about this. Indoor plumbing! and PAPER to clean with!”

    She said “But you have magic.”

    He said “I’m pretty sure we’d happily trade all of our magic for toilets and toilet paper.”

      • I think that was what he had in mind, actually. But there’s another book coming and I’m pretty sure it’ll have more details. What he said was interesting, though. SOME people had magic and a few, like his family were quire potent. But many people had no magic or if they did, so minimal as to make no difference. So for most people, plumbing meant a LOT more than magic.

        You could make things with magic, but it wasn’t a salve to fix all problems. No one had the power to make everyone have a toilet — and in their world, paper was scarce and expensive, so he was working on the paper angle, too. It was an interesting book in the way it looked at magic. It worked, but it was much better at some stuff than at others.

  4. Interesting post. It is hard to imagine living that way. I lived without a kitchen for 4 weeks and thought I was going to die! At least I had running water in the bathrooms and toilets! My parents “lived of the grid in Australia” way out in the Outback – no running water, no electricity. We had a creek, where they bathed and did the washing up. I was just an infant – so I don’t remember any of it. But I think secretly they enjoyed living that way.

  5. I don’t think I’d last a week in those conditions — I never even enjoyed camping, and I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it as a perpetual life. I’ve often thought about how difficult life must have been in the early 1900’s, before the boom times of the postwar late ’40’s and ’50’s (and I actually remember some of the extra work we had to do, like wringing the washing, making butter by hand, etc)!

    • That’s roughing it for me at this point 🙂 I have no problem with the “off-gridders” but it seems — for some of them — to come with some philosophical ick that I do have problems with such as not paying property tax, not sending kids to school, not following simple basic hygiene, and a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later…

  6. Garry was the only friend who NEVER went camping with us. Mind you, it was a very nice camp with a gas stove and lamps. A very easy to use wood stove too, tough we didn’t go there in really cold weather anyway.

    But … there was an outhouse. There were spiders. And bathing in a cold Maine lake was not my idea of getting clean. They make some very advanced outhouses now because if you live far enough from a city, there isn’t enough water for flush toilets. You’re lucky to have a well with enough water for basic cooking and washing. Living with a well is enlightening.

    • We have solar and composting outhouses all over the public lands here in Colorado. It just depends what a person is willing to do and knowledgeable enough to do. I never minded outhouses at all (I still don’t). Like everything else it depends on the owners. 🙂

  7. I, too, have driven by the homes of off-the-gridders and spent the net 25 miles pondering their decisions, their lives, their difficulties, and their pleasures. I think the life is not for me, but I don’t condemn those who choose to live it. And I worry about those who don’t choose it but are forced into it.

  8. Interesting questions. Good composting toilets make a difference. I do like spending time in the wilderness and away from the usual stuff. And I really love a hot shower when I come back on grid. And electricity and refrigeration and and and.

    For some of the “unhealthy” approach–there’s a recent book out, Educated, by Tara Westover. She grew up in rural Idaho with a survivalist (and probably bipolar) father and family. Some really difficult stuff. Got into BYU with zero formal educated and ended up with a doctorate from Oxford. Fascinating. I listened to the audiobook, and now wish for a hardcopy as theres some good rereads in there.

  9. I used to have a love of Regency and Frontier romances. Someone once asked me if I had wished I’d been born in an earlier time. My reply? “Good heavens, no! With my poor eyesight I would have fallen into a well or walked right in front of a horse a carriage and bit the dust that way! I much prefer a life with near 20-20 vision and antibiotics! Living off grid has no real appeal except to avoid the constant demands of modern life for a while. That’s what camping is for!

    • I think the off-gridders have a far more demanding life. And I agree; if you want to get away for a while, go camping! In a cabin, with a water heater and a stove 😉

      I know that back in those old times I’d have been dead before I was 2. That would have been the case for me in 1954 if they hadn’t found penicillen! 🙂

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