A COUPLE have decided to ditch city life to live off the grid in a tent in the middle of the desert – and are now recycling their poo and using the gas to cook.
Whitney Newkirk, 33, and her husband, Trent, 26, lifted the sticks and moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, more than 2,000 miles away, to Joshua Tree National Park, California, in August 2020.
The couple had been traveling through US national parks in a caravan for a year, but decided to move permanently because they wanted to start a new life remotely – after Trent lost his job as a mechanical design engineer during the pandemic .
They “fell in love” with Joshua Tree National Park – made up of two deserts, the Sonoran and Mojave – and bought 2.3 acres of land for $8,000 in March 2021 to make it their new home.
The couple purchased a custom-designed yurt and invested in a 2,500 gallon water tank.
They get their electricity from solar panels and have a home biogas system – using food and even human waste to create gas – which they use to cook using their fryer and stove.
They explained, “We save about $3,000 on bills. In our urban lifestyle, for example, we would spend $400 a month just to run the air.
“Now we run 2 AC units completely free of charge. We no longer pay mortgages or any type of electric utilities.
“So I’m saving about $3,000 a month compared to our city life.”
Trent works from home as a mechanical design engineer for a new company, while Whitney runs the Social account where they document their off-grid lifestyle.
Whitney said: “I never miss civilization, I like people, but I don’t like big crowds.
“Now we feel so much more financially free and closer to nature.
“Our journey so far has helped us gain so much knowledge and is incredibly fulfilling.
“There are still trials and tribulations as we continue to build and bring a desert ecosystem back out.
“But I’ve never been happier doing it. Our happy times outweigh the bad ones by a million.”
The couple live in a yurt that cost them $20,000 and took three months to design and plan.
Whitney and Trent drove more than 14 hours to collect the parts from a company in Cottage Grove, Oregon, before spending an additional three weeks assembling the structure on their newly acquired land.
They then spent another year renovating and converting the yurt into a living space with a bathroom and kitchen.
Now virtually done with their project, Whitney said she feels on top of the world.
“The best way to describe the feeling we got when we finished was that I literally felt like I was on top of Mount Everest,” she said.
“It was like the tallest mountain in the world to climb, but reaching the top wasn’t a greater feeling.”
The desert-dwelling duo are off-grid and draw electricity from solar panels they installed themselves, with the entire system costing $12,000.
Whitney said: “All solar gear comes with guides instead of hiring professionals.
“We started buying solar panels and ordinary batteries, before switching to lithium batteries.
“He can make everything work normally. It doesn’t affect anything at all.
“Even at night, when the sun isn’t shining, he uses the battery bank.
“It’s life changing.”
Water isn’t an issue either, as their 2,500 gallon water tank and water line keeps them going for four months before needing a refill from a water company.
“We had to adjust to living with less water, but we’re still able to shower and wash every day,” she said.
“We can do our dishes inside and have enough for our animals to drink too.
“We plan to dig a well, but it’s expensive and quite dangerous to do on your own.”
They plan to install hot water in the coming months, as the desert lifestyle means they haven’t needed it during the summer.
The couple can also use gas, having invested $1,600 in a home biogas system, which allows them to generate their own gas from food and human waste.
“Basically, a giant bag sits on the outside, and the pipes run from the bag inside,” Whitney said.
“The sun breaks down waste and creates natural gas which then gives you two hours of cooking gas and smells less than regular gas.”
Thanks to a weekly farmer’s market in nearby Joshua Tree, Whitney and Trent can stock up on fresh, “high quality” produce.
Whitney said there was also a Walmart further up the road for any other supplies they might need.
However, their hard work has not been without setbacks, with Whitney saying there was a time when she thought it would never happen.
“There was a moment when I thought we were crazy,” she said.
“Mainly because a heat wave happened when we started our construction and affected the desert temperature to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s very dry, and you get dehydrated very quickly.
“Our caravan couldn’t cope with the heat. This happened for two months, and we thought we weren’t going to make it.
“So we sat in Trent’s truck during the day and built at night.
“Finally we rode it, winter started to hit, and out in the desert it gets very cold at night in winter.
“We didn’t want to be hot next summer, so we saved in the winter so we could have air conditioning and two solar panel systems.”
Whitney said they are now focusing on the outdoors with plans to build their own greenhouse to start farming and growing as the national park areas are “green and full of life”.
Whitney says they can sustain themselves for a year with rainwater and a good rainwater catchment system.
They think their move was a good investment, as neighboring land now costs $65,000.