The Pajarito Mesa

Just outside of Albuquerque – the largest city in the state of New Mexico – lies the Pajarito Mesa, where several hundred families live in trailers scattered across a dusty plain. While residents legally own their land, a bureaucratic oversight has prevented them from receiving paved roads, running water, and electricity. Over a decade ago, realtors claimed that these amenities were on their way, but failed to tell the landowners that the area has never been legally subdivided for residency or the building of permanent homes.

The lives of people on the Mesa reveal a glance into energy’s past and future: while some struggle for the fuel to run their generator for an hour or two each day, their neighbors have been able to afford solar panels, and live comfortably off the grid.

Carlos Proffit – a man best described as a retired jack-of-all-trades – has spent 25 years on the Mesa. He sees the area as a testing ground not only for household energy solutions, but all aspects of building a home. “If I can do all this by accident,” he says, “imagine what we could do on purpose.”

During my time with him, he began to construct his own wind turbine, welding it out of scrap metal using a machine powered from his household solar. He even taught me to weld, and as I worked I considered his lifestyle. A thought occurred to me, and I turned to him. “You know, if the apocalypse ever comes, and I survive it, I'm making my way out here," I joked. "It's a beautiful thing to be self-sufficient."

He frowned. "It was never my intention to be the last man standing."