How to: Set up a retreat in the desert

Setting up a retreat in northern Nevada


Over the last several years I’ve been thinking more and more about building a retreat in several different areas around the west. Northern Nevada just keeps coming up as one of the best places due to the low cost of real estate, low crime rate, low taxes and long growing season for gardens. After a bit of time I decided to head out to the desert and take a look for myself. After a long weekend of checking out the area and deep thought, here’s what I came up with. I decided to draw up a picture of what I would do if I were going to set up property for myself. Maybe someday I would be able to do this, but in the meantime, I hope that it will motivate you to look at your own retreat or house a little differently.

1. Hunting look outs.

One of the best qualities of living in this area is all of the game that roams freely. Antelope and White tail deer populations are high in the state, so setting up a place to watch the wild life for the hunt is a good path to filling the freezer. Since tree stands aren’t going to happen in the desert the best way to stay out of sight is going down. Using old Army strategy, one can make a listening and observation post that should give a the retreater a leg up on local game.

2. Barriers.

Concrete barriers covered with dirt and transplanted local vegetation. Optimum 4 feet height provides the retreater the ability to keep traffic on the road, instead of allowing people to randomly drive across the property. This also provides some privacy from people that may be driving by on the main roads or living in the area.

3. Wind mill powered well pump.

Supplemented by solar pump, and hand pump. Feeds to both house and garden. Having the ability to pump water no mater what the weather is an invaluable investment. It may be possible to hook the pump to an electric motor that is fed by a battery that uses electricity made by the solar panel, this way when the sun is out and the wind is blowing there is not a waste of this double resource. Wind mill will also double as a Ham Radio antenna tower, adding to the comms capabilities of the retreat.

4 Earth sheltered green house area.

Using an entrenched greenhouse in the desert would allow the retreater to not only use what ever soil they wanted, but would allow for an extended growing season. With a good composting routine and manure a retreater would have a pretty good chance of being able to grow plenty of food to sustain a family. Another benefit of this set up would be rain water catchment, which would add to the retreater success rates. All rain water would be caught in either a cistern or 55 gallon food grade plastic drum then to be used for gardening at a later time.

5. Earth sheltered home design.

Cinder-block house designed with 4 seperate “rooms” and a courtyard in the center. The idea would be to dig a hole in the ground approximately 15 feet deep, then use cinderblocks as retaining walls after pourind a concrete foundation. Off of the retaining walls each of four rooms would be built; One great room with a bathroom and kitchen, two master style bedrooms with bathrooms and the last building would be a garage/shop area. The driveway would decend into the garage. A basic septic system would be built, and the house would be fed water from the well. Power would be a complete off grid system, run by solar panel, wind generator and/or diesel generator. Each roof top would contain both solar electricity panels and solar water heaters. Light tube skylights will let light in to make up for exterior windows.

Since the building are earth sheltered heating and cooling needs shouldn’t be nearly as difficult. There’s not exactly a forest nearby to gather fire wood from, but it is attainable. On the other hand, coal is mined in the area, and therefore may be a good source of heat for winters. With summer temperatures in averaging 90 degrees and peaking out over 100, it will be vital to not only make shade where there is none, but stay as low as possible. One solution would be to build a trellis in the courtyard between the buildings, and grow deciduous vine plants as cover. This way the leaves would provide shade in the summer, but then the leaves would fall off and allow light in during the winter.

6. Shooting Range

Living the life of a retreater means knowing how to use firearms properly. The shooting range is set up to give retreaters the opportunity to keep up the skills that will put food on the table.

7. Solar Panels

Another benefit of desert living is the ability to create power from the sun. Unobstructed light means there will be plenty of power made by solar panels, only limited by budget.

8. Garage/shop

No self respecting retreat can survive with out a shop to fix all the things that may break with time. Plus this is where the vehicles will live out of sight and will also house the diesel generator. Diesel generator exhaust would exit out side of building into a gravel “muffler”. A heat exchanger would be fitted to the cooling system of the generator then plumbed to the hot water system. Basic and intermediate level wood working and metal working tools would add to sustainability.

9 Underground fuel storage tanks

Both diesel and unleaded fuel storage, for the generator and vehicles. 1,000 gallons each or more is preferable, since arranging for delivery may be difficult.


Living in the high desert is no easy life. It’s not the cornucopia that living in the moutains or forest may be, but the more you look, the more you see that it is possible with some effort. What it really amounts to is that making a retreat on flat land means that the retreat needs to be below ground seeking shelter in the only place that there is to gain it from.

Atlastrekker Download Section

Over the years I’ve collected and downloaded quite a bit of information pertinant to travel and the outdoors, so now I want to share with you. It takes some time to upload each volumn, so I’ll be adding as I go. If you would like me to add something please e-mail me at and I will add it ASAP!

Electronics Downloads:

Antenna Theory

2007General Class Ham Radio Study Guide

Where There Is No Telephone

Survival Manuals:

fm3-0570 Survival Manual

Ranger Handbook



Food and Water:

Edible Wild Plants

How To Make Fish Jerky

Edible Plants

Solar Cooking FAQ

Cooking On An Open Fire





Arctic Expedition Manual

Vehicle Dependant Expeditions