This place makes me a little sad.

On my morning walkie I came to the hill overlooking what some people used to call the Claire Cabins…


…not because Claire had anything to do with them. Actually I’m not sure why they called them that. Maybe Claire just liked them.


I’ve written about these buildings before. And it occurred to me this morning that I haven’t visited them since then, going on six years ago. So even though I’m reluctant to go near other peoples’ stuff, it’s pretty clear by now nobody’s coming back here.

So after a bite of lunch, I did.

There are a lot of stories in the naked desert. Here’s one of them.

The structures themselves are actually holding up fairly well, all things considered. Not perfect. There’s a utility door on the other side that fell right off.


I never met the guy who built these, he left shortly before I moved in. But I heard the story. The fellow seems to have had the same idea I did, but with more resources and construction ability. He made some choices I wouldn’t have made, but I see where he was going.

The very tiny cabin is mostly porch, oriented so the building blocks the worst of the prevailing wind. This guy didn’t plan to spend a lot of time indoors. The cabin has a sleeping loft, a bunch of shelves and room for a chair and a kitchen, and that’s about it. Indoors, I believe it’s less than 100 square feet. I suspect he put a composting toilet in the greenhouse; there’s no running water in the cabin and no outhouse. No obvious source of electricity, either, though it’s somewhat wired. Also it’s plumbed for propane and the property does have a well.


The cabin roof has held up pretty well, but one of his plexiglass skylights has fallen right out in a shower of supporting lumber. Gives me the impression he wasn’t quite as godlike a carpenter as I might have originally assumed…


The other building is a greenhouse, very stoutly built, with a basement dug under the thick concrete porch. I don’t know what that was ever about. Though there has been some settling the glass is still soundly in place, so he could have done worse.

Of course the sun and the weather are having their way with the whole thing. He worked hard on all this but with nobody to maintain it, it’s slowly falling down.

It all came to nothing in a day. For reasons I don’t know, he didn’t pull any permits for the construction. That hardly makes him unique around here, but he didn’t get away with it.

I never met him. But I have no trouble identifying the biggest mistake he made, one he really should have seen coming immediately…


He built it all right next to one of the busiest roads in this little corner of the desert. Right on the way, in fact, to a bunch of more-conventional houses under construction, which meant the county inspectors used to pass by here all the frickin’ time. Couldn’t possibly have missed it. Before they started to fade in the sun, those neat little cabins kinda caught the eye. One day, so the story goes, an inspector came by and red-tagged the buildings and that was that. He just sold out and moved away.

Fortunately for him, he actually did manage to sell the property. So at least he recouped some of his money if none of his labor. But as for the guy who bought it … I only met him once. And he did not look like a happy man.

He wasn’t able to legally occupy or use either of the buildings, and that one time I met him he had moved an RV trailer right next to them. And on that particular day…


…it was raining, and the trailer was slowly sinking into the deep, noisome, sticky mud. Because the other big mistake they both made was that this is a terrible piece of property in the first place. That second guy managed to jerk his trailer free, drove away, and I never saw him again. That was over ten years ago and the place has sat right there ever since. Somebody came and took the wood stove out of the little cabin, that might have been the owner, but other than that I’m unaware of any activity in all that time.

Moral of the story? Do as you will and I wish you success – but you’re more likely to find success if you temper your enthusiasm with some smarts. This was an awful place to buy in the first place, but even if he was stuck with the parcel, a little to the east was a big grove of junipers and cottonwoods near the wash where he’d at least have had the privacy that would have allowed him to build his cabins in peace. Breaking the law right next to the road was just dumb – and the thought of all the work he threw away being dumb makes me a little sad every time I pass it.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to This place makes me a little sad.

  1. terrapod says:

    Joel, that seems to be a scavengers dream. Any chance you can locate the owner and ask if they would allow you to mine it for materials? Maybe taking a few bits of wood, beams and other useful material over time will allow the place to erode and disappear to everyone’s benefit.

  2. Joel says:

    Thought has occasionally crossed my mind. But I have no idea how to contact the current owner.

  3. DaveS says:

    Property tax rolls are often public… Might be a fun bit of detective work for a dreary winter day when you don’t feel like being outside. It’s kind of scary what a fella can dig up on the internet these days. I’d even hazard a guess that one of the GPS- based hunting apps like OnX would show the name of the landowner.

  4. Winston Smith says:

    2nd on the property owner being found at the county assessor’s office. Most states have them online now. Search on tax assessor. I bet you find it in no time.

  5. Winston Smith says:

    Ahhh, search on ::tax assessor, your county, and your state::.
    Blog software deleted that in my previous post.

  6. Joel says:

    I’m unlikely to use such methods for the same reason I’d object to finding that they’d been used on me. Yeah, I’m neurotic.

  7. Ben says:

    Honestly I don’t see much there in the way of building materials that would be worth the effort to salvage. Am I missing something?

  8. It’s sad to see someone’s dream just die that way. I’m so grateful that when we felt the need to leave our off-road off-grid home in the forest, we found the perfect buyer to keep the dream alive. Of course we did the subservient compliant thing and did get permits and inspections when we built and sold. And coming here and sharing your adventures also helps keep the dream alive. So, thankyou.

To the stake with the heretic!