River Guide Tiny Houses

This last summer, my husband and I took a three day whitewater rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River in central California. This area of the state has a culture of its own. While the mountains and the coast have the ski and surf bum, the American River is home to the seasonal river guide. Many of these river guides come from all over the country to raft and kayak one of the most popular rivers in the West and they live from May to October in a hodgepodge of dwellings.

The river guides we rafted, ate and played in the water with lived in tents at nearby campgrounds, in temporary buildings on land leased by various rafting companies or in VW buses in the parking lot. One of the guides even lived the entire summer in a hammock strung up between two live oak trees. The guides used the campground bathrooms and showers and cooked in outdoor kitchens. Around the river, and in the massive, thorny blackberry bushes these free spirits squat in what might seem like terrible living conditions, but what they see as the best way to experience the river. Continue reading

The Tiny Houses of Black Rock City: Rites of Passage

This year’s Burning Man was a rite of passage for two of our good friends who decided to come along with my husband and me to this popular event. It was their first time attending, and many of our discussions revolved around how impressed they were with the organization and creativity of the event…especially the building of Black Rock City. I agreed that the ingenuity of the camps and shelters that make up the city grows each year.

The art, the shows, the dancing, the fires and fireworks are all wonderful, but personally, my favorite part of Burning Man is visiting the camps and admiring the multitude of styles and designs of shelters. These shelters (most of them specific to Burning Man) are built to create shade from the blistering sun, as blocks against the wind that sweeps across the desert, and to protect Burners from the ubiquitous dust that gets over everything. Each year I’m in awe with how the artists transport these structures across the country and erect them in this stark desert, only to take them down again a week later.

This year the weather couldn’t have been better. The dust was minimal, the winds were mellow and the temperatures were fairly low. In fact, you needed a shelter warm enough for the very cold nights that affected most Burners this year. Here are a few of my favorite tiny houses of Black Rock City 2011. Continue reading


What might look like a small toy village is actually a set of tiny houses used for camping and protection during music festivals in the United Kingdom. Podpads are designed to be a fun, comfortable and secure solution to the less attractive aspects of camping. They are rented out at various festivals for around 350 GBP or $550 a week and can be purchased as a guest house or child’s playhouse.

Designed and developed for Glastonbury Festival 2005, the podpad will stand up to the most severe of weather conditions. They are comfortable, weatherproof, cool, soundproof, secure, and safe with optional extras available to increase comfort. They are also a possible solution to a group base camp, on-site storage, as well as live-in accommodation.

The podpad is designed to accommodate two adults comfortably on either a double or twin beds. In exceptional circumstances, they can accommodate a family of three. The podpad is 8 feet by 6 feet with a wooden floor and a fitted carpet. They have raised beds with mattresses, shelving, windows with curtains, a mirror, light and a 12V socket. Podpads are also solar powered by a panel outfitted as a sunflower on the roof. This can be used for low usage items such as charging cell phones, laptops and iPods. Continue reading

The Tiny Houses of Black Rock City: Metropolis

The theme of this year’s Burning Man was Metropolis, and the event’s temporary home of Black Rock City was buzzing with urban energy, wonderful, creative neighbors, and interesting camps.

Many of these camps had their own versions of tiny houses, and like last year’s post, I thought I would feature a few of my favorites.

This year, our neighborhood of 3:30 and Istanbul (see the Black Rock City map) was lucky to have the Neverwas Haul as a corner beacon. This “mutant vehicle” is styled as a steampunk Victorian house that you could actually live in. In Black Rock City, it’s helpful to camp near a larger structure so you can find your way back to your little home in the dark. Continue reading

The Tipi

My neighbor, Dale, lived in a tipi for five years while he saved up to build his own house. He set it up on the land of an acquaintance who owned a ranch in exchange for working on the ranch, and was able to use the bathroom and water supply of the ranch worker’s apartment. He ran an electrical cord under the ground from the apartment to run an electric blanket. “You can be comfortable anywhere if you have an electric blanket.” he said.

Courtesy of Dale and Denise Barcomb

His tipi from Sacramento tent manufacturer, Goodwin Cole, housed a bed covered with sheepskins, a small dresser for clothes and a Franklin stove which kept the tipi warm in winter. For cooking, Dale used a Coleman stove outside on a picnic table.

Courtesy of Dale and Denise Barcomb

Courtesy of Dale and Denise Barcomb

Dale said he chose the tipi, rather than a tent or trailer, for the romantic aspect of it. His background was in Anthropology and his study of the American Plains Indians gave him the knowledge he needed to live their way of life. He said the best part of living in a tipi was being woken up by the daylight coming through the canvas in the morning,  and because of the conical pyramid power of the structure, he slept very well. The worst part was the lack of a noise barrier and being open to the elements. “But living that way forces you to be a part of the outdoors,” he said. Dale and his wife, Denise, still use the tipi in their backyard for a summer getaway.

Nomadic people have used portable tipis for thousands of years. The word tipi (also teepee or tepee) comes from the Lakota word meaning to dwell or live. These simple, circular structures provide snug, low-cost shelter. Even though they look very basic, a well built tipi is precisely designed. Tipis consist of four elements: a set of ten to twenty sapling poles (depending on the size of the tipi), a canvas or hide cover, an optional inner canvas or skin lining, and a canvas or skin door.

Prior to the introduction of horses to North America, tipis were only about 8 to 14 feet in diameter, since the poles and buffalo skin coverings were pulled on travois from one encampment to another by dogs or women. Once the American Indian plains people acquired horses, tipi designs expanded into the shape and style we’re familiar with today. By the late 1800s, after the near extermination of the buffalo herds, tipi covers made from bolts of canvas provided by the U.S. government replaced the 10 to 14 buffalo skins needed for the earlier style.

Courtesy of Reese Tipis

Courtesy of Reese Tipis

Courtesy of Reese Tipis

Courtesy of Reese Tipis

Most tipis now are made of canvas and are about 16 to 20 feet across with ceilings 12 feet high. Many modern tipis include raised wooden floors for the sleeping area to keep bedding and clothes free from bugs, dirt and dampness. A fire pit or carefully vented small woodstove in the tipi center provides heat during winter months. In about an hour, two people can easily erect a 16 foot-diameter tipi with 22 foot-long poles. The conical shape of the structure makes it stable in the high winds that often blow briskly across the Great Plains, and closable smoke flaps keep driving rains outside. Tipis are routinely transported to powwows, barter fairs and rendezvous on a truck’s carrying rack. At Burning Man this year, I saw whole villages made out of tipis. They seemed to be very wind resistant and cool inside.

Courtesy of Earthworks Tipis

Courtesy of Earthworks Tipis

One aspect of tipis that lend to the romantic vision is the artistic details of the canvas or animal hide. In American Indian culture most tipis in a village would not be painted, but those that were often featured geometric portrayals of celestial bodies and animal designs. Sometimes tipis were painted to depict personal experiences, such as war, hunting or a vision quest. Many are also decorated with pendants or medallions. Traditionally these were embroidered with dyed porcupine quills; more modern versions are often beaded. Buffalo horns and tails, tufts of buffalo and horse hair, bear claws and buckskin fringe were also used to decorate tipi covers. These attachments are often referred to as “tipi ornaments”.

Reese Tipis

White Buffalo Lodges

Earthworks Tipis
Earthworks is having a sale of 20% off their tipis until December 1, 2008.

Tipi Living

Mother Earth News: That Good Ol’ Tipi Living

By Christina Nellemann

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