Smith Island Featured on CNN
Now is your chance to flee society. Drop off the grid. Pull a Thoreau. Be you a survivalist, an environmentalist or a cheapskate-ist, you can join the growing movement of Americans embracing off-grid living.
"There's a desire to step out of the rat race, and in America, that goes very deep in the national psyche," says Nick Rosen, author of "Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America" and editor of www.off-grid.net. "You know, the pioneering spirit and sturdy self-reliance -- these things which define the American character."
For some off-griders, it's a matter of having little or no impact on the environment -- literally living off the power grid. This lifestyle has been championed by celebrities Daryl Hannah and Ed Begley Jr. Then there are those who no longer want to be a blip on the societal radar.
"Off-grid living is a spectrum that unites greens and survivalists," says Rosen, referring to those who choose to escape city life because they either don't trust the government or don't want it meddling in their affairs.
So if you've been considering going AWOL, let tax day be your inspiration. And if you've got what it takes to look after yourself, with a little help from some earthy friends, here are a few off-the-grid destinations that will take you in. Or perhaps you'd like to drop in for a visit ...
There's no shortage of songs about this fabled West Texas ghost town on the edge of Big Bend National Park, chock full of desert gypsies occupying the remaining mining ruins. But perhaps the most well known is Gary P. Nunn's "Terlingua Sky": Well, you know we're probably too old for this. / Maybe the rest of the world is too young. / We drive 500 miles to get loose and get wild / And stay up 'til the last song is done.
Of course it's hard to tell just how young or old anyone is in Terlingua. Desert living takes its toll on your skin while rejuvenating the soul.
Terlingua is surrounded by ruggedly beautiful terrain, sits at a high altitude and a distance from civilization that provides for some of the world's finest star-gazing and plays host to two of the most celebrated and highly attended chili cook-offs in the country. If you aren't ready to escape to the wilds of West Texas, at least plan a trip for the first Saturday of November, when both the Frank X. Tolbert - Wick Fowler Championship and the Chili Appreciation Society International cook-offs take place.
And make sure to spend a night at Upstairs at the Mansion -- a boutique hotel built in the ruins of the century-old mansion owned by the founder of the Chisos Mining Co.
Slab City, California
"The Last Free Place in America" is about 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles and an hour's drive north of the Mexican border. Here, in Slab City, you'll find hundreds of free spirits living in campers, RVs and school buses scattered amongst the giant concrete-slab ruins of a World War II-era military base.
When the base closed after the war, a group of servicemen stayed, and the community continued to grow -- mostly because it supports the wayward life, and neither the U.S. military nor the state of California have ever charged the squatters. Keep in mind there's no water, electricity or sewer service, so the lifestyle presents its own challenges.
You might recognize the village of mobile homes or the nearby "Salvation Mountain" from the 2007 film "Into the Wild" or the book of the same name that inspired it. Illuminated by a vision from God, Leonard Knight spent 26 years and thousands of gallons of paint crafting a hillside out of adobe and straw. The giant art installation is an explosion of colors and scriptures and such a spectacular vision that an unsuspecting traveler might think it a mirage.
It's worth the trip just to see the giant work of art or to take a life lesson from some of the locals making their own way in this concrete Eden.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Missouri
In the heart of the Midwest lies a commune dedicated to socially and environmentally sustainable living. Located on 280 acres in Rutledge, in northeastern Missouri, Dancing Rabbit inhabitants aim to prove that egalitarian communities can thrive in America. But the main focus is on the environment, as much of the property is reserved for wildlife habitat and villagers have reintroduced native plants to the area.
If you're just looking to stop in and check out the scene, stay at the Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn, a straw-bale-constructed bed and breakfast. Dancing Rabbit also offers one- to three-week visitor programs to more fully experience the ecovillage. Most of those program participants camp on the property.
Smith Island, Maryland
For more than 300 years, the residents of this Chesapeake Bay waterman community have managed to exist without local government, jails or police. The Methodist church and the blue crab business give the community its structure. Not only have islanders preserved a sense of order, but they've also upheld a unique way of life and dialect similar to that of the West Country of England.
The assortment of islands known as Smith Island can only be accessed by boat, and many are uninhabited. If you're not looking to take up island life permanently, you should at least visit for the outstanding seafood and their signature eight-to-15-layer Smith Island cake.
For more information, visit www.smithisland.org.
Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon
This holistic hot spring resort nestled in the Willamette National Forrest, 50 miles outside of Salem, Oregon, is one of the most relaxing spots to go off the grid. You can join the 50 to 70 members of this worker-owned cooperative who run Breitenbush by lending your skills for a year, at which point the community will vote on your membership.
The community's mission: "To provide a safe and potent environment where people can renew and evolve in ways they never imagined."
Of course, if you just want a short rejuvenation escape, you can make reservations for anywhere from $52 to $119 a night, depending on dates and accommodations. Visitors can enjoy massages, performances, yoga, more than 20 miles of hiking trails and the renowned natural geothermal springs that have been used by Native Americans for centuries.
For more information, visit www.breitenbush.com.