I have seen this house before – the “Cave House” up in the cliff. I went to southern Utah this time to meet the man that lives there. I was sure I could take some great photos of the “cave” and entertain my readers with a great story. As I talked to Phil, I found there’s something far more interesting than the house itself.
Don’t get me wrong, the house is a marvel. And Phil’s life experience seems to have suited him perfectly to build and maintain it properly. From working in mines as a youth to a career in the construction trades… but I’m getting ahead of myself now.
First let me tell you a little about Phil. As I drove up his driveway, he was down in his orchard/garden area, down a steep little path from the driveway I stood on. He shouted his greeting, and by the way he climbed the path, I thought I would be talking to a thirty-something year old man. As you can see from the photo, thirty-something he is not. One of the first things he told me about himself is “I’m a little hyper, so having a place like this gives me a lot to do”. That is to say the least. He had just returned from a bow hunting expedition, where he walked over 10 miles to try to bring down a deer! This guy is in shape – wiry and strong.
As we talked he told me so many amazing things that he has designed into his house, how many things he had to overcome to build it, but the most amazing thing to me is how the house came to be.
This story starts shortly after “the war”. Phil came home and got a job working in an underground mine. Everyday he would work to shore up the tunnels so they could extract the coal. Then, in his off hours Phil would work for a guy he knew that owned some land in this canyon. He would pull sage brush, drive tractor, help him with the wheat he grew – overall Phil was a general worker helping this guy out. As he worked in those fields, he started to realize that the caves that had formed (lots of caves in this canyon) were all in the red rock – none of the caves were carved into the pale rock layer above. He began to see the pale layer as a roof of these caves – a stable roof.
It was then he started to develop his dream. As he looked at one cave in particular, he could see the windows, the structure of the house. He knew he could build a house in that cave.
Life moved on. Phil got married, and in order to support his family, moved to Salt Lake City where he was an electrician for thirty-two years. In 1973 he went back to that canyon and asked if he could buy that land, and the cliff, from his former employer. After a bit of wrangling and negotiation, he was the owner of that land.
First, he had to know there was water. After a successful well was drilled, he got under way with the construction. Remember, Phil had been thinking about this dream for over twenty years, and he had some pretty good ideas on how he was going to build it. He would work long hours four days a week in Salt Lake City, then drive down to Monticello on Thursday night (about a 4.5 hour drive one way), work long hours Friday and Saturday building his dream, then come back to Salt Lake to take care of his church responsibilities on Sunday.
For thirteen years.
It wasn’t easy. Not even close. But he stuck with that schedule, finding inventive ways to solve problems as they arose, and slowly shaping the dream he had formed as a young man working in the field below.
Phil told me with obvious pride that the day he drove the last nail into his house, the day his dream was finally completed, and he owned it outright. He not only built his dream, he did it all without going into debt once.
Once again I am amazed at the power of a dream held in the mind, developed to a point where a person can almost taste it, and the sheer determination that is born of that vision. The incredible sacrifice, the discipline, and the work ethic to create a dream retirement where he can continue to work the land that he owns, the land that he loves.
That’s a pattern for success if I’ve ever seen it. I’m glad I took the time to knock on his door.