One couple made their dream come true , building a retreat in the Oregon wilderness
Mariah Morrow and Ryan Lingard make the six-hour drive from Portland to their mountain cabin at least four times a year. By the time they’ve lit the woodstove and rolled open the 8-foot-high barn door to reveal a view of Wallowa Lake, it’s evident why. This cozy adventure outpost—just 130 square feet plus a deck—is the perfect jumping-off point into the wilderness near Joseph, Oregon.
“There’s no need to drive to a trailhead,” says Mariah, noting that informal paths connect the cabin to mountain bike trails and Forest Service hiking trails. “In winter, we ski and snowshoe,” Ryan says. “It’s peaceful here, and spending time off the grid resets your priorities. ”
HOW THEY DID IT
• THEY FOUND LAND CHEAP
A 2006 road trip for Mariah’s birthday led to a serendipitous discovery: a love for the wild of northeastern Oregon. Soon after, an ad in the local paper led to the purchase of a distressed, 100- by 150-foot parcel for $47,000. “Where most people would have seen a steep, partially burned, partially logged slope that didn’t have utilities, we just saw possibilities,” Mariah recalls.
• THEY BUILT THE CABIN
Much of the couple’s optimism for build came from Ryan’s experience as an architect and knowing that he could design to their specifications. The couple wanted something humble that blended into the environment. Plus the home needed to be easily secured for long absences.
The one-room cabin floats on piers to minimize its impact on the site. Cedar screens wrap the exterior and can be locked to protect the cabin when Ryan and Mariah are not in residence. A metal roof and underside shields against the elements and varmints.
The materials cost about $10,000 with windows from a center that recycles building parts. Other thrifty choices include Ikea cabinetry and laminate flooring. They found the barn door hardware and the woodstove— the cabin’s only source of heat—on Craigslist. After two years of planning, the couple, together with family and friends, completed construction in two weeks.
• THEY NOW ENJOY IT
Mariah, who grew up in an off-the-grid home in rural Oregon, is undaunted by the portable toilet, reading by candlelight, and heating bath water in a homemade solar contraption. “Living without electricity makes you slow down and really appreciate the effort it takes to generate light and warmth,” she says.
Photography is copyright SUNSET PUBLISHING CORP. Photo: Thomas J. Story