Posted by: highmountainmuse | February 4, 2009

Building the road


Life is so full of surprises.  Around every corner is a new challenge, a new opportunity to make the most of our lives, and of our beautiful world.


With the assortment of extended family issues touched on yesterday, we had decided it was time to move onward. As many of you understand, this is hard to do when you’ve created such an intimate relationship with the land. However due to finances (conflict resolution is not free – though surely it should be this expensive!), the need for physical and emotional distance, and even the desire to try something new in life, it is time. Remember, Bob has spent his entire adult life working on this land and for this land to keep the ranch alive.  A summer vacation would be an interesting concept…maybe.


We try to look at this as a blessing in disguise. Everything is what you make of it.  We plan on making it great. One of the hardest parts of the necessary change would be not operating the guest ranch, not being there for our true neighbors, our guests, and our friends.  But we are certain the best things will happen for us, and for our friends and guests. Some times you just have to believe.


So… keeping this all in mind, what would you do? Run away, far away? (Oh, it’s tempting…) Let them run us off? Nope, we couldn’t either. 


And thus, the Little Cabin by the Big River.


Our new home and our new existence, slowly coming to life.  We look forward to not only building our new family homestead, but sharing with you from the ground up how it can be done, on a budget, with a minimal footprint, and a maximum amount of enjoyment.


I’m going to start with the road.  It’s blatantly metaphorical, but it is also quite practical. 


The road to the little cabin, almost completed.

The road to the little cabin, almost completed.


I suppose you actually have to start with the land.  We decided to keep the lower section of our property alongside the river.  It may not be my picture perfect homestead location – no creek for easy access and gravity flow water; and no trees along the windward side… yet.  But there are always trade offs to every location, and the incredible beauty of this land outweighs the imperfections, and presents us with challenges to keep us forever thinking up clever ideas.


So, step number one in starting the homestead:  access.  You need a road.  Unless you’re really roughing it and riding back into the trees on horseback, and plan on dragging all your materials from the woods around you, most of us need a road.  Today I’m sharing with you how we put in our new road.

The road construction begins.

The road construction begins.


Let’s stary by turning the calendar back to last October.  And bring in the heavy equipment.  Not that heavy, though.  We had the option of hiring a crew with big machines to come in and set out a really hefty road, but we didn’t want a big scar for a road.  We wanted to go small and simple. And like with most everything else we do, we wanted to do as much of the work ourselves as we could.  That is how it truly becomes “ours.”  I think for the three of us, there is also no more rewarding work than building together as a team. Anything.  Even a road.


A simple two track was discussed, but we were crossing the bog – the kind of bog you can jump up on and make the ground ripple like jello underneath your feet when you land down.  Not an ideal location for a road, but as it is along side the pasture boundary, it is the most logical location.  So, how to you go about putting in a small road that a truck and trailer can safely drive on without drying up the bog and wet lands?


Commonly, roads are built by cutting into the bank or road surface and creating a bar ditch to the side.  This may have had a great impact on the wetlands on that hillside, and we did not want to disrupt the natural underground flow. A lucky break for us (thank you, Jim!) came as a friend who has a major contractor/road building company happened to be in the area hunting right before we got started on this project. We snagged him one morning to come look at our endeavor.  He enlightened us on how he would suggest we handle the kind of terrain we had to go over. His recommendation for a 12-foot wide road was to lay down 15-foot wide environmental liner right on top of the surface – not disturbing the grass or sod or bog.  Then, he suggested, piling up dirt on top of the liner, between 1- 2 feet deep.  This would allow us to go over the wet areas without disturbing the underground flow of water, as well as preventing water seepage onto our road base.


The environmental liner is layed over the boggy areas, and layered with dirt.

The environmental liner is layed over the boggy areas, and layered with dirt.


We were assured that just a couple of feet of dirt even over the wettest of bogs would hold up a good size truck.  It didn’t take long for us to see this, even during the road building process, with backhoes and full dump trucks driving back and forth throughout the construction process. That road was handing the weight of a dump truck with a full load, a weight of probably 45,000 – 50,000 pounds.


The next challenge would be finding the fill dirt to raise the road base that 1-2 feet on top of the environmental liner. We used the dozer to level out the site preparation for the barn/corral area and the cabin site.  The leveling out of this area, less than ½ acre in size, lowering the hillside up to 8 feet in areas, produced around 700 yards of material, which was spread along the enviro liner. This fascinated me – to see how this little dozer could cut into the hillside, change the landscape, and sculpt out a new hill.  We saved the top soil, and will spread that back out along the new surface of the hill, and reseed with our native grasses this spring.  I believe that by mid summer, you’d never be able to tell it’s a “new” hillside.


Bob on the dozer, sculpting the hillside.

Bob on the dozer, sculpting the hillside.


There were a couple places we altered the terrain where we crossed actual creek beds, by putting in culverts and bar ditches to divert water away from the road.


A culver is put in place at a small creek crossing the new road.

A culvert is put in place at a small creek crossing the new road.


The project was done with a dozer, a backhoe, and a dump truck, and took us, on and off, just over a week to complete.  It was late fall, so days were short, and morning were frozen, and as usual for our ranch, we make time to stop for good meals and good company. Bob and Forrest traded off operating the dozer we rented, and we hired friends/neighbors (thank you Ron & Randy!) for the backhoe and dump truck operation.  Me, once again, I got to cook for the work crew… I admit, operating heavy equipment is not my thing. 

Forrest on the dozer pusing dirt, the backhoe loading the dump truck to bring the fill dirt onto the road base.

Forrest on the dozer pushing dirt, the backhoe loading the dump truck to bring the fill dirt onto the road base.



The road seems to be real nice. It still needs some smoothing out and dressing up which will come in time.  The true test will be in the spring when our ground is at its wettest.  We are sure it will handle regular vehicle traffic, but also will see if it can handle cement trucks and a well drilling rig, which we will be needing as the season progresses.  It handled the snowcat and cabin which travelled down this new road just a couple weeks ago without problem (see Moving the Little Cabin), but of course, the ground is frozen down for several feet, and covered with several additional feet of snowpack.


The new road to the little cabin.

The new road to the little cabin.


There you have it – the road to the Little Cabin by the Big River!  Building our own road onward.


It looks pretty rough in these pictures, and now we can not see it all under all this snow, but we look forward to seeing and testing it out in the spring, and watching the land around it recover and forgive and flourish.





  1. Heres to your new beginnings. . . what a great attitude to have! – everything absolutely is what you make of it. It will be so exciting to see the construction of your new homestead, so glad to hear that you all are not succombing to the situation and leaving the area.

  2. Thank you, Russell. It is going to be fun. We’re glad to have neighbors like you to share it with. Really.

  3. I don’t know the details, but my heart goes out to you. This makes me sad.

  4. I have been reading your blog mostly because your writing is extaordinary! Your new and exciting life would be fascinating reading in book form. You have a sweet way of mixing the facts with the feelings that go along with them.
    Continued goodness,

  5. Thank you, Mary, thank you…

  6. And I need to “get over” being sad, I guess. So I share and reach out. Thank you, Brenda.

  7. […] get on the ATV with him, drive down that new road we put in to the  Little Cabin by the Big River, and see that there’s this river forming, just […]

  8. […] holes top and bottom center for hanging, and with big nails and hammer in my tool belt, headed down our new road to pu up the boxes on the cedar posts of the fence line. Boxes were hung facing away from the […]

  9. […] this past week, we moved two of these picnic tables down the new road to sit along the cliff above the Big River.  One table is now outside the Little Cabin. A […]

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