Jill Hemingway had seen the domes going up off Baldy Lane for years before she finally made her way over to Cal-Earth.


The real estate appraiser finally had all of her children out of the house and was ready for something new.


"Doing appraisal was a way to make a living," she said Thursday. "Now, I'm looking for something that has meaning."


Hemingway found that meaning at the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture. Founded by the late architect Nader Khalili, Cal-Earth promotes the use of sustainable housing and construction using materials available almost everywhere: earth, sandbags and barbed wire.


"Using the materials of war for a peaceful purpose," Hemingway said. "He's building houses with that. And to me, that's beautiful."


In May, Lucerne Valley resident Hemingway and Apple Valley resident Dave Walker became two of the institute's newest apprentices, learning how to create the "super-adobe" dome-shaped buildings. Emergency shelters can be built within a matter of hours and Khalili hoped they would be used to provide shelter for victims of tsunamis and other disasters.


"There's a handful of local people who've done this," Hemingway said. "It's been so exciting meeting people from Saudi Arabia, Iran and South America."


For Walker, the emergency housing aspect of Cal-Earth's domed buildings was what attracted him: His son and daughter-in-law were losing their house to foreclosure at the same time that Walker, a general contractor, was working on the home of Cal-Earth site director Ian Lodge.


"I found on a job that Ian had built a countertop built of earth," Walker said.


When he took a tour of Cal-Earth, Walker said he was blown away.


"I walked in and fell in love with the place," he said. "I saw this earth construction and poured my heart and soul into it."


He's already laid down a mile of sandbag foundations on property outside the town limits of Apple Valley and is planning on becoming an evangelist for Cal-Earth's domed buildings.


"I'm going to show people how to put a square bed in a round room," he joked.


That sort of enthusiasm among those who take the classes at the institute is common, Hemingway said.


"People that come here are do-it-yourselfers," she said. "You can build a house for less than (the price of) a car."


"Anybody can do it," Walker said. "The American Dream is in reach."


Cal-Earth holds open houses the first Saturday of every month except August. For more information, visit CalEarth.org or call (760) 956-7533.


Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.