I'd always wanted to own some property up in the desert mountains. When the government decided to sell off some parklands to make up for their profligate spending (All governments are profligate, aren't they? i.e. are total believers in deficit spending) some property less than twenty miles south of Tucson came up for auction.
Mt. Wrightson is a volcanic mountain with a sedimentary overlay which is contiguous with the western edge of the Coronado National Forest. Using aerial photography I located a small parcel a bit up the mountain that had a nice view over part of the national forest, which by the way was not being sold. Buying the mineral rights allowed me to do some rock work, namely road building to get to my 'homestead'. The bidding was fierce and the outcome was expensive. Luckily I had planned for this sort of expenditure long before.
The area which I wanted to build was on an inaccessible lookout with a million dollar view of the national forest. A lot of hard-rock road construction would be necessary to provide access to the site, and the site itself required reshaping of the native rock to make a small plateau.
I had a leg up on the whole make-a-road-out-of-a-mountainside thing though. I was twenty-eight and owned my own rock cutting business. I had a portable ultrasonic rock cutting rig in the back of my truck and had quite a bit of experience using it, commercially. That's how I made the nest egg I used to buy the property. The cutter wasn't hard to use. The difficulty lay in protecting the environment from the noise and high-pressure over spray as well as precisely controlling the cuts. I have to wear a helmet and a thick, stiff kevlar suit to use it. Once I survey the area to be cleared the blasting blankets go down and I assemble the frame that holds the other hanging insulation pads as well as the jig that controls the direction of the nozzle. Then I fire up the diesel, engage the pump and carefully sweep the nozzle across the rock face. If it's not hit at ninety degrees then a large percentage of the power is reflected in a nearly coherent stream to trash whatever it strikes.
It's a delicate, nerve-wracking process that, if you're good, will make you fabulous gobs of money. Of course, most of that is eaten up by the insurance. Hell, I had to show my notarized insurance bond documents just to buy the equipment and spares. It was more trouble getting the ultrasonic mining license than it did to get the explosives blasting license.
I use little gel charges to break free blind blocks then haul them out of the holes with fast flowing water acting as a near-frictionless bed. I used the truck to pull the blocks away, then break them up and toss them over the side or into the slash pile. On this job, I lined the steep side of my access road with stone blocks. Even though it's pretty far south, at that altitude (six thousand feet and more) I figured that I could get some slick spots where dew on the road could freeze into a skin of black ice. I didn't want to try paragliding without a parachute, eh?
The road cutting process was computer intensive. First I mapped the area with an ultrasonic scanner, transcribed the plots into a CAD program to create a 3D image, did a geological survey to see what sort of fooling around the rock would put up with, mapped out my grades and curves, figured out where the refuse would be placed and only then started cutting. Sometimes I had to get the government involved in the form of an environmental impact statement. Digging out tunnels, not so much but in those cases the geological survey had to be much more detailed. Opening up the bottom of an underground river would mess up your whole day, if you know what I mean. It was a good thing that I'd stayed in school to get my Master's in geology or I'd have had to hire a partner to do that part of the job for me.
The process uses a lot of water. Hauling around a 500-gallon water buffalo behind a two-and-a-half ton truck takes a lot of fuel. If there wasn't a local water supply my employers usually got quite a shock at the prices I asked for. The light went on when I showed them an itemized bill, though.
I took my time, joining highway 62 to 229, about three miles of road. I didn't do all this at once of course. I worked under a lowest-price federal bid that had a three year completion built into the contract. It was done over several summers when I could afford the time and money to get out there and work. I dug out my driveway up into the side of a dome from the service road off of 229, about three hundred feet. It gradually climbed and turned until I finished it by planing off part of the dome peak into a little plateau on the east side of the mountain, with a marvellous view of the forest below. I trenched out a thirty-inch-deep channel for electrical and data lines at the side of my road, planning to backfill and seal it once the services were installed. Once I had the flat area finished I asked myself, "Should I build a home here or jut continue digging one out of the mountain?" The refrain from an old orchestral work came to mind--The Hall of the Mountain King. This was good, solid stone. I could do some really cool work here. I began to design a majestic home carved from the mountain itself. I planned on an eighteen foot tall ceiling to the entrance hall and first chamber, then hallways and rooms leading off of that with eight foot ceilings. I had to find a place to drop all that rock, though. That was a lot of cubic!
One of the first things I did was to hire a guy to drill a water well for me. It would have to be a respectably deep well to bring up sweet water in that area. I'd have to work a couple years to put away the cash.
I was thirty-three and at the top of my field. I'd cut flues for hydroelectric turbines out of live rock and digging subway tunnels through mixed media was one of my specialties. I'd participated in a few mine rescues where I'd cut water diversion channels to empty flooded mines. Once rising water was out of the picture many mine rescues had vastly greater chances of recovering the miners alive.
My well was dug and capped off, ready for me. The job was paid for and my gear had been refurbished. I had my plans in hand and the results of a geological survey. The survey had one feature that disturbed me. There lay an acoustically reflective plane straight in some forty feet, buried deep within the stone. I would have to be exceptionally careful approaching that area, probably using a remote-controlled drilling head.
My attention was so taken by this job that I scarcely paused for sleep and refreshment. Once I passed the outer two feet I found the sedimentary rock making up the mountain top had shifted from a mottled brown to a pure white limestone. I was fascinated. At the back of the main hall I finally came upon what showed up so oddly on the geosondes--it was a block of crystalline quartz embedded vertically within the limestone, its widest plane perpendicular to the doorway I'd cut. It formed a heavy wall. The top reached the ceiling of the room--eighteen feet--and kept on going, both up and down. According to the sonogram it cleanly ended just a few feet past the wall of the room. I placed a quartz work-light at the bottom rear of the exposed structure and covered it with one of my blasting mats, then retreated towards the door to turn off the other lights. Magnificent. It glowed like a cut gem. I'd never seen anything like it before.
I slowed down after that, digging a cylindrical septic tank, running the hallway and digging out the four bed rooms and one larger gallery one by one. Each room was positioned in such a manner as to give it a gorgeous window view of the forest, except for one. I excavated an un-obvious room behind the quartz wall. The entrance wasn't so much hidden as obscured by a recessed stone wall panel in the hallway leading off to the bedrooms which served as a sliding door. I had plans to make that room into a library. The gallery had four large windows. I didn't know quite what I'd do with it yet, but it would have its purpose. There was plenty of stone still behind the end of the hallway for further excavation. Perhaps a studio with a high ceiling that would get north light, and its own little patio. Maybe a hot tub room where I could lay back enjoying a drink while looking at the lights of Tucson at night. It had possibilities that I hadn't even thought of yet.
The passageway, windows and doorways all had arched ceilings or lintels. I fashioned a hand-held water jet that allowed me to go where the big cutter couldn't and to delicately surface carve the limestone. I used a rule or compass to draw the lines and arches, then etched the surfaces to look as if they were blocks set in place. This allowed me to hide the electrical and water runs among the other obscuring surface details. The interior and exterior walls were left quite thick in order to support all that stone as well as to provide a massive thermal reservoir for the place--on the order of three feet thick. The generous window ledges gave plenty of space for window planters. I considered planting dwarf fruit trees in the two huge windows on either side of the main entrance.
.... There is more of this story ...