8965 N Scenic Dr., Tucson AZ


Permaculture "rainwater harvesting" "Sonoran Desert" "Sonoran Desert Agriculture"

Date:  8/6/2008
Site Name: Dancing Rocks
Site Address:  8965 N Scenic Dr.
Inspector:  Matthew Bertrand
Site Representative(s):  Barbara Rose

Type of Space
Community of Residences - four single family homes, one hostel and b&b, one studio, one guest house, and a shared barn.  

Tours/visits ok? 
Yes.  By appointment, by calling 520-572-7221 or emailing brosearth@aol.com.  Or visit www.sonoranpermaculture.org, where you'll find a homeowners manual with more about the community on Barbara Rose's page.

Dancing Rocks Permaculture Community
By Maya Rose

Just Northwest of downtown Tucson at the base of the Tucson Mountains, on 20 acres of lush Saguaro and Ironwood forest, lies Dancing Rocks Permaculture community. My parents, Barbara Rose and Keith Kleber, fell in love with the Sonoran desert in 1982 and moved here to start a family. They rented a home in downtown Tucson where my older brother, Emmet, was born in 1983. Though the vibrancy and community were enjoyable, they yearned for a quiet, more secluded place to live amongst nature. The opportunity arose in 1985, when they were hired to live on and protect the 20 acres of land from pot-hunting, vandalism, and plant theft.  They eventually purchased the land and have called it home for 23 years. I have lived on this land since I was born at my parent's home in 1987. I now rent my own cottage.

A strong connection with nature was also the catalyst for my parent's discovery of Permaculture. While attending a solar energy course at Pima Community College, Barbara discovered the Permaculture Designers Manual while researching solar energy at the public library. "It was everything I had been wanting! I stayed up for the next two weeks reading that manual and became a raving permaculture novice!" she exclaims .

The dream of Dancing Rocks Community began in 1993, while Barbara was attending an onsite Permaculture Basic Design Course with Tim Murphy; one of the homework assignments was to plan an integrated design for your own property. "That was when I realized the potential of a permaculture community on our land. Rather than lots with single family homes, I wanted to build for a diverse network of residents who care for and respect nature, who want to live in harmony with the Sonoran Desert," she explains.     

Close to Saguaro National Park and numerous hiking trails, with community facilities including a developing bed and breakfast, a community barn for shared or individual projects, classes, and celebrations, opportunity for cottage industries and home businesses, Dancing Rocks has become a desert oasis for many people who appreciate and practice the fundamentals of Permaculture. Currently there are five homes and two small guest cottages: one of the homes is available. "We're looking for residents who are ‘walking the walk' and longing for a community like ours," says Barbara. 

Dancing Rocks Community integrates comfortable, simple living in small rammed earth and straw bale homes. All of the homes use solar energy, often producing more solar energy than they use. Rainwater harvesting systems collect runoff from the corrugated metal roofs and supply substantial irrigation of gardens and orchards. In turn, gardens supply important food sources for the community. Water harvesting earthworks are strategically placed to catch rainwater, allowing it to slowly percolate into the ground and supply much needed life to large native vegetation, providing shade, oxygen, wildlife habitat, and nutrient rich soil. 

Dancing Rocks residents share a bond and sense of community that is becoming all too rare in modern society. Most have steady off-property businesses and jobs: Keith and Barbara have owned Silverbell Trading, a gallery and bookstore for local and native arts and crafts since 1985, other residents have careers in nursing, labor and delivery, beekeeping, fashion design, and metalwork.  All extra financing has come from the Permaculture Credit Union. "It's wonderful that the credit union exists to help people develop and sustain projects like ours!"  Barbara explains. "I look forward to Permaculture Credit Union's continued success in the years to come!"  Residents still take the time to assist one another with projects, and meet together to discuss ideas, inspirations, and plans for the future of the community. In this way, everyone benefits from positive action, and goals are achieved through teamwork and collaborative effort.
Explanation of "Drops" Ratings
5 Drops:
(o) All or 95% of site's water needs met by rainwater
(o) Integrative sustainable features from all categories present
(o) A 5 bucket site should be a fully developed, fully integrated site living almost entirely within its yearly water budget, demonstrating passive heating/cooling, active on-site renewable energy production, food production, wildlife habitat/ecosystem enhancement, community building, erosion and flood control, and an ethos of salvaging waste resources.  A wide diversity of rainwater harvesting features should be present, including greywater- and stormwater-harvesting (low-energy, passive, gravity-fed greywater- and stormwater-harvesting systems are rated higher than higher-energy, active, pumped/tanked systems).   The site will must be sized appropriately to its number of users.  To achieve this rating, a site will likely have matured for at least 5-10 years, and will emanate a feeling of being far more than the sum of its components.

4 Drops:
(o) 75% of site's water needs met by rainwater
(o) Integrative features from most categories present
(o) A 4 bucket site will demonstrate well-developed rainwater harvesting features that fulfill the majority of the site's water needs.  There will be evidence of many sustainable integrative features present.  Multiple rainwater harvesting features should be present.  The site will be sized appropriately to its number of users.

3 Drops:
(o) 50% of site's water needs met by rainwater
(o) Integrative features from many categories present
(o) A 3 bucket site will show good efforts towards meeting site's water needs with rainwater.  This site will also be on a path towards integration of sustainable features, with multiple features present.  The site should showcase a variety of rainwater harvesting features, though perhaps they are not fully developed.  Alternatively, perhaps this site rates much higher in all categories, except that the site has a proportionally small number of users for its size.  

2 Drops:
(o) 35% of site's water needs met by rainwater
(o) Integrative features from some categories present
(o) A 2 bucket site demonstrates a decent start at rainwater harvesting.  Perhaps this site was recently constructed, with an excellent beginning of basin work but has not been well planted to take advantage of those water resources.  Perhaps only one type of feature present (rainwater/greywater/stormwater).  Signs of a few integrative features beyond rainwater harvesting.  Site not getting much bang for its rainwater budget buck.   

1 Drops:
(o) 20% of site's water needs met by rainwater
(o) Few signs of integrative features present.
(o) Rainwater harvesting features present, but much more work needed to realize site potential.  Still, the rainwater management on this site far surpasses that which is in practiced at the majority of buildings in the Tucson area.  This is a foundation from which to build towards greater things.

0 Drops:
99% of the sites in Tucson fall into this category, which include residences, businesses, right of ways, public parks, governmental buildings, etc.  These sites treat rainwater as a stormwater management problem instead of the precious resource it is here in the Sonoran Desert.   Expect to see drainage pathways shunting water away from existing plants into the streets as quickly as possible, and those same rainwater-starved plants appeased instead with spaghetti irrigation lines that waste our dwindling salty CAP-infused groundwater.  Potable water should never go directly to plants in this manner without having been put through at least one other use first, such as wash water.


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