A Floor and More at Dos Arbolitos

Progress continues at Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch. Because we only make it out to our place a few times a year, we have to make every trip count. I am happy that on our latest visit we were able to complete several projects.

Our primary goal was to install the flooring in the cabin. We opted for vinyl plank flooring because it is durable, flexible, waterproof, and easy to install. I watched a couple of YouTube videos to learn the basics. Unlike laminate flooring, I was able to cut the vinyl planks using a utility knife. This made for a really easy installation.

After laying the floor, I used decorative trim rather than quarter-round to finish the baseboard. I then filled in the nail holes in the trim with wood-filler, ran a bead of caulk around the perimeter, and finished with semi-gloss touch-up paint. Amazing how little details make such a big difference.

Our second project was to add a second 300 gallon IBC tote for additional water storage. Our main 1,125 gallon rain catchment tank was almost full when we arrived. Cheryl and I built a base for the new tote and transferred 300 gallons from the main tank to the tote. Later on I will add overflow pipes running from the main tank to the totes. With our tank, totes, and barrels we now have the capacity to store 1,800 gallons of rain water.

Our next project was to build our composting toilet. We’ve been using a 5-gallon bucket with a camp toilet seat in our outdoor bathroom but wanted something more durable. I took an old ottoman and salvaged the frame and then converted it into a composting toilet complete with a regular toilet seat. Much more comfortable, indeed!

I also built a composting / humanure bin where we dump our composting toilet bucket and any kitchen scraps. For the time being we are adding a layer of peat moss on top of the waste but later will use straw. It will take some time for the waste and scraps to break down but we hope to get some good soil out of this to use around the property.

As we continue to improve our outdoor toilet and shower area, I added a mirror, a toilet paper holder, and a solar powered light. The light is a welcome addition for our evening showers. Later on I hope to add a water storage tank to directly service our outdoor shower.

Finally, we completed the wainscoting in our indoor bathroom area and added a mirror that we picked up on a day trip to Boquillas, Mexico. We also hung the lyrics to the song Dos Arbolitos. Our daughter Gina printed and framed the lyrics for us. We put these frames next to the front door to remind us of how blessed we are to enjoy a great marriage and to have a relaxing place to get away from it all.

Cheryl and I are enjoying the journey as we work on the cabin and the property a little at a time. One thing is certain, no matter how much work there is to do we are loving it. We love the sunrises, the sunsets, and the night skies. And, for whatever reason, meals at the cabin just seems to taste better!

Progress at the Cabin

Working on our off-grid cabin in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch has kept me on my toes. Because I decided to do the work myself, I have had to call into play every DIY skill I have developed over the years — and then some. And I have had to make every trip to the cabin count.

Fortunately for me, I have lots of really kind friends who have helped along the way. Without their help I would be woefully behind on the work. There are just too many things that require more than one set of hands. YouTube DIY videos have also been helpful in guiding me through various phases of the work.

We have made lots of progress over the past month. A few weeks ago several of the guys in my Band of Fathers core group set aside a day from our adventuring agenda to help me insulate the ceiling, install the ceiling tin, and finish the trim work on all of the interior windows. Insulating the ceiling has made a huge difference in keeping the cabin cozy, especially on those occasions when the north wind blows all night long.

Adding the baseboard and window trim immediately made the interior look more finished. I especially like the Texas star medallions that we chose for the doors and windows. They add a cool look and made it much easier to install the trim — eliminating the need for 45-degree miter cuts.

Installing the beadboard also changed the look of the interior. We decided to do a beadboard wainscoting measuring three-feet up from the floor — up to the height of the doorknobs. Once we installed the baseboards and beadboard we caulked all of the seams in preparation for paint.

This past week Cheryl and I returned to the cabin to paint all of the trim and the wainscoting. We chose a flat paint for the walls, a semi-gloss for the trim, and a satin finish for the wainscoting. We also added trim where the walls meet the ceiling tin. We painted the trim before installing it and then filled in the nail holes with wood filler before finishing this phase of the work with touch-up paint.

We had just enough time to complete the ceiling in the bathroom. We opted for a shiplap look with long 1 x 4 x 8 lumber. This was very easy to install and to tack in place with my finish nailer. We ripped some lumber on the table saw to add trim to the perimeter of the ceiling. We completed this step with wood filler, caulk, and touch-up paint.

Next steps include painting the doors and adding new LED light fixtures. We have also decided on vinyl laminate flooring for easy maintenance. Hopefully we can finish these steps sometime after the first of the year.

One of the things I noticed was how this interior work has enhanced our view of Nine Point Mesa and Black Hill to the east. Our east-facing windows have become an even more beautiful frame for the magnificent view of these iconic Big Bend landmarks.

We remain excited about every small step that gets us closer to moving furniture to the cabin. We know the day is coming when all of the interior work will be completed and we can turn our attention to some of the outside projects we want to do — including working to restore some native grasses.

This Thanksgiving Cheryl and I are thankful for all of the friends who have helped get us to where we are — from fencing the property to working on the interior of the cabin. We can see the signature of their kindness every time we visit Dos Arbolitos, our little slice of heaven in the Big Bend of Texas.

Making Slow Progress at Dos Arbolitos

Someone wisely observed that slow progress is definitely better than no progress. I couldn’t agree more. If there is one lesson that is deeply ingrained in my mind about developing Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in Big Bend, it is that we make progress one small step at a time. And because we live so far from our little place, we have to make every step count and not get discouraged when we have to take a step back.

Since spending the last two weeks in August at Dos Arbolitos I have traveled to Uganda, Brazil, and El Salvador. I now carry a small journal with me where I sketch out current and upcoming projects, make supply lists, and jot down all kinds of off-grid stuff I need to research. So, wherever I happen to be, I like to spend a little time at the end of each day writing and reviewing notes in my journal.

This past week I returned to Dos Arbolitos loaded down with supplies. My friend James Meredith has been very kind to let me borrow one of his trailers to haul supplies. With an opening in my schedule, I took advantage of the opportunity to transport bundles of R-19 insulation, ceiling tin, trim for doors and windows, baseboards, cement, gravel, another water tank, and a burn barrel for our super kind and always helpful neighbors Joe and Lisa.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that since having our 1125-gallon catchment tank installed in August, we have captured 800-gallons of water from recent rains. I added the smaller water tank next to our larger container and transferred about 300-gallons from our larger tank. This will ensure that if there are more rains we will be able to capture more water in our main tank until I can plumb in our overflow to the smaller tank.

I also built a raised platform for our 55-gallon rain barrels. These barrels are situated next to our storage container and outdoor toilet and shower area. I had previously added spigots to these barrels to make it easy to fill containers or just have a hand-washing station. I added gravel to help keep the area from getting muddy in case of any spillage. Later I may add a water line and pump from one of the barrels to our shower area.

After completing my water-related projects, I started the process of trimming the interior doors. Using 1 x 4 x 8 primed lumber and Texas star medallions, this process was pretty easy. I like the look of the medallions much better than 45-degree miter cuts. I will trim the windows in the same way for a uniform look. Once this work is complete I will add beadboard wainscoting around the room and do final painting on all the trim, doors, and wainscoting.

The next big thing I need to do is insulate the ceiling and add the ceiling tin. All of the interior walls are insulated and finished. The temperature plunged into the 30’s on two nights making our little cabin an ice box. My little propane heater did little to help because the heat escaped through our un-insulated ceiling. The heater should work fine once the ceiling work is complete.

I also added some temporary steps into our cabin. I will improve these later. Cheryl was very happy about this. As much as we go in and out of the cabin when we visit, having these steps makes it so much easier, especially when moving supplies in and out of the cabin.

And, a final note of good news, Big Bend Telephone was able to squeeze me in to their schedule late Friday and get me hooked up with dish-powered internet and phone service. This means I won’t have to drive to Little Burro Country Store to use their WiFi to check in with home and will have service in case of any emergency.

So, a few more steps in the direction of completing our cabin. Maybe completing is not the right word to use. I have a feeling that we will always have something we will want to add or change or whatever as we use the cabin more and more. And, that’s ok. Dos Arbolitos has turned out to be a blessing in more ways than one. It has become a little haven of rest and refreshment, even in spite of the long days of work. I am happy with the slow progress we are making because it is indeed better than no progress.