Man Has Lived Off-the-Grid in the NorCal Redwoods for 50 Years. Now the Compound is Worth $6 Million.

In 1968, Charles Bello and his wife Vanna Rae bought 400 acres of redwood forested land in Mendocino County and have spent the last 50 years creating a self-sustaining utopia. Working diligently year-after-year, the couple created the infrastructure for a completely off-the-grid compound that is both comfortable and beautiful. They bought the land for $2,800. Now, the house and accompanying acreage is worth $6 million.

That being said, the Charles (a widower) isn’t looking to bank off his NorCal creation. Instead, he’s looking for people to keep the self-sustaining compound alive and working going into the future.

Watch the below video to see the full compound in the wilderness of Mendocino County:

Here is a full description of the above video and the story of Charles Bello:

In 1968, Charles Bello and his wife, Vanna Rae, moved onto 240 acres of redwood forest looking to live a simpler life off the land. They had spent their savings to purchase the land so they got to work building their home themselves. Their first structure was a panelized A-frame that they erected in 5 days (with help from a couple family members). Total cost was $2,800.

The property is a half-hour drive down a dirt road and it was bare land when they arrived so Charles and Vanna Rae built their own infrastructure: roads, bridges and went decades without refrigeration nor phone (they eventually installed PV panels and cabling for phone lines).

After 15 years in the A-frame, they built a cabin in the woods and there they lived for a decade until the trees began to block out their views. In 1991 Charles (who once apprenticed under famed architect Richard Neutra) designed the Parabolic Glass House. With a curvilinear wood roof and two curved walls of windows, the home feels enveloped in trees.

Charles and Vanna Rae built it for $8,500 with timber they milled themselves, using salvaged materials for everything from doorknobs to stoves. The couple relied on photovoltaics, solar thermal and gas for power and a dug-in greenhouse attached to the home provided much of their food. By canning and preserving, they could go for months without going to a grocery store. Their two boys were homeschooled. The couple supported themselves selling Christmas trees.

Nearly all the old growth trees on the property were logged in the early 20th century, but Charles has spent the past half century restoring the land. He and his wife set up the Redwood Forest Institute in 1997 to manage and preserve the forest. He has carefully selected 1,000 trees to be preserved for 2 millenia as the next generation of old growth.

Now, 87 years old and a widower, Charles is determined to find successors; he hopes to find three couples who want to settle on the property (currently worth about 4-6 million dollars) in exchange for continuing as stewards of the land. He is currently building glamping guest houses that he hopes will help fund the enterprise. His website now advertises “seeking caretaker ASAP”, someone “wanting to get away from it all and live a more simple down to earth lifestyle”.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

17 Comments

  1. My family would be ecstatic to have this opportunity. I was born in Eureka and grew up in the mountains of Santa Cruz and have been looking for this kind of upbringing for our two children. What a beautiful piece of land. Thank you for sharing and bless you for taking such good care of these trees.

  2. Would you like to have an engineer and mate from Boulder, Colorado on board? We grew up on a working farm and know how to build things with a touch of elegance!

  3. This is absolutely awesome! I have so much respect for this man and his wife. I am 71 years old and would LOVE to live on land like this, protecting it and seeing it prosper as it has for so many years!

  4. This would be a dream. What I wouldn’t give to be able to spend time with this man, pick his brain and learn from even just for a day. The amount of knowledge and passion he has is inspiring. My husband and children would cherish an opportunity like this. We are currently building a homestead that resonates strongly with the dawn till dusk work ethic – waking up in the morning to milk the goats, care for the animals and then beginning work on the land. My husband is a carpenter and builder and we can very much appreciate the work that goes in to building something this magnificent and full of love. God bless you and the goodness you have brought the world.

  5. Wow! What a life. What intention. In the ’70’s I toured the Farallons Institute Berkeley house, replete with passive solar and composting toilet. Later time, their Mendocino location. Love that technology and always wish it had proliferated more. In contrast, lived in San Jose and saw development knock down acres of orchards. Your creation is a breath of fresh air, thank you for your contribution.

  6. Hi Charles,
    Check out this network of tree stewards.
    https://treesvirginia.org/outreach/tree-stewards

    Does norcal have this type of organization ? Good idea to branch this organization and they maybe able to help you find the right match.

    You are a spirit on earth that shows all other spirits on earth, there is another way for people alike; to be in harmony with nature of earth and people.

    Your compassion for natural nature is clairvoyant. God bless and Thank you for your inspiration and motivation that will live on in me and your essence of life shows me to be courageous and follow what I love.

  7. This is my and my husband’s dream! We strive to live self sufficiently off grid. I would give anything for this opportunity. My husband is very handy and creative. We would treat the property with respect, love and care. We are looking to live a simpler life away from society, politics, and the daily grind. We would love to be picked for this once in a lifetime opportunity! Best of wishes!🙏

  8. I am a single 61 year old woman who would give anything to live the last healthy years of my life in such a situation. Protecting the land and the trees. I live in the Bay Area and have always dreamed of living like this-it would be a dream come true for me.

  9. Thank you! For the childhood memories of growing up in Camp Meeker. We had 4 redwood trees in our living room. Then I had to go away to college. Get educated. Become a doctor, and here we are 35 years later. Now, every chance my wife and I get we drive to the forest. The loop, we call it. With me at age 60, and my wife a retired nurse, we are ready to start a new chapter in our lives. Getting off the grid, and living in harmony with nature, away from people would indeed be an incredible dream come true! May you find the perfect match to continue your dream for generations to come.
    Dr. D.

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