A life experience

An earthship on the Hondo Mesa is more than just a residence – it's a gathering experience of family, guests, and the surrounding environment

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An earthship is a passive solar house made of natural and recycled materials. Many of these sustainable homes dot the Taos area.

But the earthship at 475 Tune Drive in Arroyo Hondo is a gathering place that makes it more than just a home. 

This 4 bedroom / 3.5 baths is listed for $650,000 (MLS 101026). Mary Emery, associate broker at Century 21 Success, has the listing.

The 7,500 square-foot home sits on 25 acres –– sitting high up on a hill, overlooking the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, and is just steps away from the Manby Hot Springs trail. The endless sky and openness of the surrounding land is breathtaking.

The earthship was built in 1993 by John and Joan Dobson. For 20 years, they ran a successful bed-and-breakfast known as ‘The Dobson House,’ which was featured in numerous ski and travel magazines and then eventually on travel websites with the advent of the Internet Age.

Whether for income use, entertaining guests, and/or housing a large family, this earthship is a marvelous residence to bring people together. The great room of the house is a circular living room called the ‘round room.’ From here, one has sweeping panoramic views from Ute Mountain to the north, the dormant volcanoes in the west, and the southern Picuris mountain range.

While the home itself sits up on a hill, at the lower end of the driveway there is a 1,000 square foot studio/workspace. There is also additional parking.

Enchanted Homes sat down with John Dobson to learn more about the history of the construction. Sitting among his original, hand-drawn building plans, he explained: “We wanted to have a bed and breakfast. We started with Mike Reynolds’ design, but it was much too elaborate. So we ended up building what I wanted.”

Dobson, now 78, was 61 at the time of construction. He and Joan hired on help crews from time to time, but for the most part, it was just the two of them largely responsible for the design and build.

“This was my first big build; the first complete house that I’ve built. This was the first one we built from scratch. It was an organic process. We had original plans, but then adjusted as we needed to,” said Dobson.

The house has an array of solar panels on the southside but the earthship is not totally off the grid.

“We can’t really catch rainwater here so we have a well. The groundwater here is down at the river level, about 600 feet. So we have a deep well pump and for that you need 220 volts. The solar array only puts out 110 volts which runs house okay, but not big loads. So we have a Kit Carson Electric Cooperative wire that ends down the hill,” said Dobson.

With an income-producing bed and breakfast, the idea was to pay off the mortgage note. It was estimated that six guest bedrooms could accomplish that, but the Dobsons agreed that two was all they could handle. That conservative estimate probably spared them their sanity. That’s because for 20 years, they had continuous occupancy in those guest rooms.

“Joan, my wife, did all the work. She cooked breakfast for six people in the morning, then supper, and then cleaned up, I didn’t do any of that,” said Dobson.

The earthship sits on a hill with a berm (for thermal mass) built against its east end. The home has two driveways that lead up to it. One driveway takes the home residents to the main quarters. The other driveway leads bed-and-breakfast guests to their own private entrance.

Guests are often delighted to see the exposed walls of recycled tires, cans, and glass bottles used for construction. More than 2,000 tires were used and the structure of the place is sound.

The two guest bedrooms are fully en suite with sitting areas and pullout sofas for additional beds. The tile work is unique throughout the house and no two areas of the house are the same.

The guest bedrooms are located on the lower part of the hill. Guests access the main part of the house through a sweeping staircase hall that serves as an art gallery.

The main part of the house has a very large cook’s kitchen with a commercial stove and stainless sinks. Flagstone floors are found throughout, leading one to the master bedroom (en suite) and a second bedroom which is presently used as an office. The utility room has the solar battery packs, hot water heaters, and a washer/dryer Originally from the East Coast, Dobson graduated from Columbia University as a mechanical engineer. When asked if his family thought he was crazy because he was moving out to the desert to build a house out of mud and recycled materials, Dobson enjoyed a good laugh at the question. “Yes,” he replied wholeheartedly.

It wasn’t a statement about things,” he explained. “We liked the idea of an earthship and the freedom to do whatever we wanted.”

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