On the Mesa, Off the Grid

A mesa in New Mexico is home to nearly 400 people, which makes up one of the largest communities of people in the U.S. living almost completely off the grid.
April 20, 2010, 5am PDT | Nate Berg
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Wood-burning stoves and solar panels provide the heat and power to these meager houses, and water tank systems allow residents to shower and flush toilets.

"The Pajarito Mesa community, scattered over 28 square miles, is 90 percent Hispanic and mostly poor, and includes an uncounted but large number of illegal immigrants. But they are not squatters: residents buy or rent their plots, and the owners pay property taxes, one of the many oddities of a community that is isolated in plain sight.

Access to water and electricity has been stymied by a legal mess and a lack of political power in the largely nonvoting community. The mesa was never legally subdivided, no streets or rights of way for power lines were set aside, and the area was never licensed for housing.

In a small step forward, this month the mesa will finally get its first water supply - a metered spigot at a single site where people can fill their barrels, instead of having to drive anywhere from 10 to 18 miles. Getting even this much took 10 years of organizing residents and pestering state and county officials, a campaign led by Sandra Montes, a former housewife who moved to the mesa in 1997 'without realizing how hard it was going to be,' she said."

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, April 18, 2010 in The New York Times
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