Guided Pictorial Tour of House & Grounds
The quarter mile drive up to the house and property called GEMO for short (see title) on six hillside acres of quiet private country gravel road about a quarter mile from paved Love Creek Road, can seem a little challenging in wet winter weather or when the initial part that ramps up from Love Creek, needs grading after a summer of traffic, but there are lovely views out to the Stanislaus River Canyon and surrounding ridges all along the way. The property itself fronts the road (Harmony Lane) for several hundred feet with a branch road across the lower portion to the new solar-powered well, water storage tanks and RV parking flat. The driveway up to the house intersects the secondary road and is about a hundred feet long and a bit steep, but an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle with mud and snow tires is best suited to navigate the local environs in any event if one is going to seriously think of living out in the country here, particularly full time in winter, but it is a minor difficulty compared to many rustic locations—the graveled Harmony Lane has mostly been well maintained by the local residents here, and for a privately-maintained road, has been mostly trouble free (snow plowing is a complicated subject, and there is a $200 annual neighborhood association fee for road maintenance)
There is quite a lot of glass on the longest eastern elevation side of the house (about 64 feet) shown above to catch the morning sun on all three levels, which begins to warm the premises as soon as the sun clears the distant eastern ridges at the break of day (early morning is often sunny with an average of 300 sunny days per year). There are rooms located on that side of the house (upstairs kitchen and dining, downstairs master suite bedroom, office and large studio) with easy furniture placements that allow sitting in the warming sun to start the day with breakfast on either level with long views to distant ridges and the rising sun. The road is usually quiet, often with only a few cars to be seen or heard during a whole day. There is some dust from the gravel road about fifty feet below the house but sufficient vegetation in between to filter most of it; nonetheless the eastern windows usually stay closed, but that’s okay since prevailing breezes in warmer weather are usually from the north or south.
The top of the driveway reveals four parking places; it’s a little tight for larger vehicles, but there is a turnaround that suffices with practice, though the incline of the hill will test one’s driving skills a bit at first. There is a small rose and lilac garden that is drip irrigated like all the space near the house and up the hill along the old orchard trail to the upper thousand-gallon water storage tank that gravity feeds the domestic water system. There are also rock walls and small sculptures around the outside perimeter of the house highlighted by green serpentine and copper ore pieces piled up over a number of years (more always welcome!). The northern façade shown above from the driveway side of the house, faces out to a grove of a dozen or so valley oaks—rare at this 4,000 foot elevation—which is a very beautiful and magical place, particularly in the spring when it is dripping wet with it’s seasonal creek flowing down the middle. Beyond the oak grove on the adjoining property (now essentially abandoned for many years but rumored to be coming up for sale soon) is a lava dome with a field of large rocks and scrub brush that makes for a wonderful short hike.
On the western side of the house there is an older orchard (apples, pears, a cherry and a plum), then an uphill slope which continues for a couple hundred yards and about 200 feet in elevation where the property ends just before the summit of Dowd’s Hill, the highest point within about a five mile radius. The first shot above is from the old orchard looking down on the older south-facing painted redwood deck, showing various solar panels oriented to catch sun most efficiently at different times of the day and year. The main entry to the house for guests is up the stairs on the north end of the west side deck and around to the solarium and into the dining room on the upper floor. The air and weather-tight glass-roof solarium (called the “Firnace” because it is all fir beams, ply and trim), now in operation for more than five years, is the main daytime space-heating source in cold weather (with clear skies, of course) for both floors with a reversible fan and thermostat that can blow warm air to either the upstairs or downstairs, depending on where one is going to be spending time during the morning and afternoon (upstairs always a little warmer in winter). On a cold but sunny day, the upstairs where the kitchen and dining room are located, will reach about 70 degrees by 9 or 10 o’clock, and is a wonderful place to linger in the warm morning sun. In the coldest part of winter and hottest part of summer all the numerous windows have insulation panels of aluminized bubble wrap that can be put up or taken down depending upon weather conditions; it’s a bit of trouble but just a matter of pressing them into place (great upper body exercise). The combination of natural stone and ceramic designer floor tile in the solarium heats up and slowly releases the heat until about 7 o’clock when the fan shuts down, depending how the easily programmable thermostat is set; then, it is typically time in colder weather to light a fire in either the upstairs wood stove or one of the two downstairs stoves, depending on where one is going to spend the evening. The solarium is also a great place to sit and enjoy various views to the east and south, particularly the private sub-alpine meadow adjacent to the house on the south side where the local family of deer often meander up and down the hill while the local quail families prefer the driveway side, and both are always charming to see with the new babies or brood early in the year.
The solarium also houses the swamp cooler for holding the upstairs summer temperatures to a more comfortable level when the top cover and insulation panels for the Firnace are in place, and it functions as a summer living room. The solarium, needless to say, has been a great success (and only had one leak when first built … oops it developed another leak during the recent wet winter of ‘22-‘23 with record rain and snow loads). If there is drift smoke from fires, the house can be run in a closed loop mode, driven by the swamp cooler—a very valuable feature.
The view out the solarium windows to the south and east shows the solar panels on the rooftop of the large (20’ x 20’) downstairs (dance/ video/ media/ meeting) studio room with closer-in views of the eastern oak grove adjacent to the house and with long views of the Dodge Ridge ski area, about fifteen miles away, to the east. The solar panels are set to efficiently face the sun at various angles from morning to late-afternoon when the sun sets behind the western ridge of Dowd’s Hill. These are mostly new solar panel upgrades with power outputs in the range of 250 to 300 watts each. The roof on the new downstairs south addition (great room and kitchenette) is made of long structural polyurethane insulation panels that have a sheet metal face both inside and out (both factory-painted white enamel) and 5 inches of foam in between. These same kind of somewhat unusual or perhaps exotic commercial refrigeration insulation panels have also been used to good effect for the outside cool-soaking or hot-tub deck and adjoining walkways.
Entering the house from the redwood deck and into the solarium, as house guests would do (on the upper floor), one comes into the dining room with its 9 foot coffered ceiling, continuing to the adjacent open access kitchen with a custom maple peninsula or bar (with room for three stools) in between. The dining room has redwood wainscoting while the maple floor (recycled from a bowling alley) extends into the kitchen and its attached walk-in pantry (“Panoramic Pantry”) with more great views to the north and east.
The dining room table sits behind two large windows facing east towards the impressive Stanislaus River Canyon, which to the northern end has views of the Big Trees State Park, opening out to middle distance wilderness areas with long views of the Yosemite highlands and high ridges beyond. The north view from the kitchen at the other end of the long room is of the driveway and small gardens with the large oak grove behind. There are probably too many windows on the upstairs north walls for efficient winter heating, but the views in summer do almost make up for it. One is outside quite a lot here—there’s much to see and do on a spread of six heavily-forested hillside acres and level flats, especially including orchard or tree farming on the uphill side of the house and gardening on the east side—it’s what I call a “solar farmette”.
For anyone who might wish to know, there’s probably not enough level land or pumpable underground water for a production cannabis farm here at GEMO (there are a couple of amateur growers in the area, but they haven’t been able to hide from the sheriff’s helicopter and have gotten busted several years running). The cannabis conversation in the county is still murky at best, with the majority of urban/ Bay Area expats in the local area in favor of more relaxed enforcement and the native rural county locals often opposed (I’ve also heard, the whole market is so saturated, “You can’t give it away.”). Some of the wildcat growers are probably waiting for future developments at the level of the Calaveras County supervisors ongoing debate to decide whether or not to try to become licensed growers. The legit grower initiative in CA is in doubt …
The main upstairs kitchen is easily large enough for four people to work together on holiday dinners or the like with its older Wedgewood Stove (an antique from the forties but still works quite well on propane—especially the oven), new 20 cu. ft. Maytag electric refrigerator (a much less efficient older propane refrigerator is still in place but not used—could be used as a backup for short term, farm produce, etc.). There is plenty of electric power early in the morning, so food prep with electric utensils like toaster overs, microwaves or espresso machines (!) can be used freely. The Panoramic Pantry turns out to give the best cell phone signal (2 bars), so the little breakfast nook at the ‘arrow point’ of the northeast corner is the best place for making and receiving cell calls (text messaging works well enough anywhere in the house), and the nook is a great place for reading, too with its four windows. The upstairs at GEMO has some wonderful views in an nearly 270 degree sweep. In addition to Verizon cell service at the house there is a functional land-line phone and Hughes wifi satellite link to complete the communications setup.
The house has two baths, one for the ‘upstairs one bedroom apartment’ with tub and shower, makeup mirror, drawer stack and tile floor, and one for the downstairs ‘master suite’ with a double-headed shower and wide tub stall with redwood-themed cabinet and trim and a lovely pinkish Italian tile floor that extends into the downstairs service entry mud room/ laundry room.
The living room wood stove isn’t exactly beautiful but heats the upstairs rather well in an old fashioned way, being adjacent to a sizable closed-in firewood storage shed for fueling the large old side-loading stove to easily keep it burning with bigger chunks of wood overnight. This is naturally the place to huddle on a cold night (unless you are downstairs huddling by the other downstairs stove in the room I call the “office” with a smaller wood storage bin (next door to the large studio room, with french doors in between that can be opened to heat up the premises). The third stove is at the foot of the stairs and is a Vermont Castings Vigilant model (without glass doors) that is used very little but works well enough to heat up the downstairs bathroom for a spa session, possibly for the lady of the house. The living room itself is divided into a couple of interest areas, mostly for audiophiles at one end and people sitting around the stove at the other: there is older analogue entertainment (TV and tape/ or video game player), digital entertainment (disc players, laptop computers on tables with monitor/ servers for Internet TV and music, etc.) audiophile stereo music control setup is in the bay window facing north with couch at other side of room for best audio imaging, and with hidden wiring from the stereo equipment out to the dining room for a second set of speakers for the second couch next to the stairs.
The downstairs has a larger central room adjacent to the single set of inside stairs, which could easily be divided in two spaces, but which I currently use as a back office on one side and a dressing room/ travel prep room on the other, with three closets (his, hers plus under-the-stairs), the downstairs bath, an adjoining mud/ laundry room on the other side of the stairs for hats, shoes and boots, with tiled entry floors coming in from a large service or storage room/ barn) with parking lot entry. There is a separate walk-in storage unit of ~100 s.f. with outside access at both sides of the house in the far back for rough storage having independent outdoor access without needing to get into the house—good dry temporary or long-term storage/ staging.
At the foot of the stairs there is a door that can be closed for privacy between the two floors to allow relative independence between the floors (but no fully separating door). The downstairs master suite consists of a large bedroom, comfortable office, and dance/ video/ party, etc. studio with private outside entries in three places, a new kitchenette (now getting finished, spring ‘23). The floor in the large dance studio is especially built as a diaphragm dance floor with a little more flex than solid hard wood strip floors, which the upstairs has in the main kitchen-dining area (a maple “dancing kitchen” if you want it). There are three small covered decks, one outside the large 8” ft. sliding glass doors in the south wall of the big downstairs studio room, also opening into the kitchenette, one outside the 2nd downstairs bedroom (three bedrooms altogether with the single upstairs bedroom) and one for the private outside entry to the master suite. There’s also a large (4’ x 7’) picture window with side and top lights in the large studio facing east, which is a very nice place with a great short view of an old valley oak that is nice for sitting in the sun at mid-morning on a chilly day. In summer the downstairs ‘great room’ has a window refrigeration-type air conditioner, which makes the space much more pleasant, even though the downstairs stays cooler than the upstairs on its own in summer.
The large downstairs studio has two setups for audio-visual equipment, an audiophile stereo arrangement with big-bass “wall of sound” for dance studio use, and a surround sound placement using 6 acoustic suspension speakers set high for an impressive video/ movie experience with the big flat screen on the south wall (all channels with built-in hidden wiring). This large studio room with its double vaulted 12 foot ceiling would also work well for music practice, video production (using abundant natural light), or just parties (esp. dance parties). Abundant wood trim is used throughout the new south addition on the two upper levels (wood shop below the big room on the lower garden level) with fir, maple, oak, cedar and cherry the favorites. There is a ceiling fan and several lighting systems, with a featured stained glass dim-able decorative overhead light, allowing various activity levels. The master suite would naturally lend itself as a short-term rental for use by winter skiers, a small Internet production crew or small offsite group, anyone on a retreat or “working vacation,” etc. (commercial insurance and septic system upgrade would need to be considered—getting insurance of any kind is a complex discussion in any event in the Sierra these days—so far the state is more or less forcing coverage for brokers).
The power center for ‘GEMO Light and Power’ is behind the wall at the foot of the stairs using the entry door of the ‘his’ closet, with an internal glass door which closes on all the solar power devices, meters and switches allowing easy monitoring of power status and usage. It is divided into AC and DC sides, the nerve center for the whole house, where the power inverter (just below the floor in the lower storage area) can easily be turned off and on (it is normally left on 24-7). There is another short written photo essay by myself that is available for the house, which outlines all the mechanical and electrical equipment noted, how to use it, with hints for maintenance (and with a wiring schematic). The ‘hers closet’ next door (with full length mirror behind the door) is a slightly more spacious walk-in closet, trimmed in cedar with shelves and a pocket door.
Additional features include a solar-heated hot tub or spa (without the jets—220 VAC currently not available, but could be upgraded with a future 220 VAC power inverter for charging e-vehicles), the ‘cantilevered kitchenette” in the downstairs master suite, cherry tree in blossom, lilacs in bloom, new solar well (2022), plenty of firewood and plenty of solar electric power, and always plenty of amazing views: long, short, medium and not to be forgotten, the amazing Sierra skyscapes, both day and night (especially if you’re into astronomy—with a completely dark sky).
The local premises around the outside of the house are largely finished now, too, with all the solar panels on the building rooftops, decks, and the five power towers and the small but high- flying wind-genny on its pipe mast for emergency 12 VDC back-up house lights in case of equipment failure or very stormy weather (never really needed, but can add additional charging at night in winter). There is a newly-installed retro-fitted solar hot tub with adjoining deck, various rock walls and stepping stones, and the stone circle in the meadow is impressive to see from may places in the house. The new solar well flat with adjacent RV parking has been an impressive upgrade to the lower property near the driveway entry road—which could also have an electric vehicle charger, using the solar panels that power the well, with mostly unused down-time surplus power.
The cherry, lilac, plum and rhododendron blossoms have been the highlights of spring for several years, even though the drought stressed them excessively when the old reliable water spring of more the 30 years duration, failed in 2019. Even a few of the older oaks up the hill with roots in shallow soil, did not survive the long drought. But the property, nonetheless, is still a really special and beautiful place to live or just be, part time or full time … and which will someday belong to a new owner who would choose to live in one of the most beautiful areas of Calaveras County in the Central Sierra’s historic Mother-lode, along scenic Love Creek Road with its famous Dog Woods, only a short jaunt from Highway 4 between historic Murphys and newer-town Arnold, which together provide most of the essential services that would be expected for year around living if desired. In summer there are quite a few more people in the area, making music concerts and Murphys street fairs (post-Covid) a greatly renewed feature of the area.
Here at the GEMO house one is in a near-wilderness area with abundant wildlife but still only 15 minutes from the nearer uphill town (Arnold) and another 10 or so minutes from Murphys (everyone’s favorite town in the county just downhill). I’ve almost never felt lovely here in over 30 years of residence—which is something urban people often fear when moving away from the intense mix of urban events and services, but the Mother-lode has various smaller towns that are known for various niche offerings. The larger town spread of Columbia/ Sonora/ Jamestown is only a half hour away. Indeed, the highway 4 corridor is arguably the best place in the Mother-lode or Central Sierra, not the least of which is for the moderate climate at this 4,000 foot elevation: not too hot in summer (like Murphys) and not too much snow in winter (like Arnold). People in the small Dowd’s Landing Subdivision here (about a half dozen or so) call it the “Stan Canyon Banana Belt.” There aren’t any bananas (it’s even a little too cold to grow Brown Turkey Figs, but the wild turkeys still parade around from time to time), and the 300 days of sunshine per year make for a nearly perfect lifestyle in this … let’s say it—Million Dollar Solar Mansion on a Hill—a spacious and flexible custom home that is not only a sound real-estate investment, but an innovative look at the future of residential energy production and management that will eventually replace conventional gas and grid electric power. The future of housing is here and it certainly works well enough with even a few extra amenities: finding your place in the early morning sun and/or with a laid-back lifestyle in front of the wood-stove on cold winter evenings (after skiing or other winter sports up the hill at Bear Valley); turning on the cool (refrigeration AC in the big party room) in summer … and one never tires of looking out the nearly 100 windows anytime. It will be hard enough to leave and pass along, but the time has finally come. It will be a bargain at somewhat less than the full one million dollar value in greenbacks … and will probably be bid up or down by the always unpredictable California housing market in its search for the next big thing … but this could be it. Build a nice spacious garage for yourself (it’s needed) and you’d be well on your way to a satisfied seven-figure status.
* * * *
Ted Denmark, POB 122,
4398 Harmony Ln.,
Avery, CA, 95224
Land line ph: 209-795-2160