By Jana Soeldner Danger
Camping just isn’t what it used to be. At least, it doesn’t have to be. Now there’s “glamping,” or glamorous camping, for those who want to experience the outdoors comfortably or even luxuriously, without the inconveniences of pitching a tent, unrolling a sleeping bag, suffering hot nights or freezing cold ones, cooking over a fire and slapping mosquitoes.
Glamping is, in fact, a global trend that has caught on over the past several years. Some glampers stay in cabins or travel in RVs, but one of the more unusual and creative accommodations is a ‘yurt.’
A Modern Take On An Ancient Structure
A modern yurt is an adaptation of an ancient shelter developed 3,000 years ago by Mongolian nomads. The round structure has a wood frame, radial rafters and a clear dome through which sun and stars are visible.
“A yurt is not a house, and it’s not a tent,” said Alan Bair, president of Cottage Grove, Oregon-based Pacific Yurts. “It’s something in between. And it’s something unique.”
Resorts, parks, ski areas and campgrounds worldwide offer yurt accommodations. But the circular shelters are not used just for comfortable camping. They also serve as studios for artists and writers, private retreats, guest houses, home offices, spas and second homes. And as evidence of the growing Tiny House movement, some people even use them as primary residences.
A Long Love for Yurts
Bair has had what he describes as a lifelong love affair with yurts. His father, an educator and ranger at Yellowstone National Park, raised him to enjoy spending time outdoors, and after graduating from the University of California in the 1970s, Bair moved to Oregon and took a job planting trees. He built his first yurt with simple poles and canvas to serve as a shelter that he could pack up and move from job site to job site.
Later, he and his wife bought a piece of property. They couldn’t afford to build a house, so he added a deck to the circular shelter. “My son was born in the yurt,” he said. “I saw how well it worked for a young family starting out.”
Bair finds the shape intriguing. “We live most of our lives in boxes and cubicles,” he said. “The round shape is relaxing. When you go into a yurt, the space seems to expand, and the architectural elements lead your eye to the clear dome at the top and the sky beyond.”
The concept turned into a business gradually after Bair received requests to replicate his circular shelter for others. “We started building yurts in an old dairy barn that was an incubator for several small businesses,” he said. “For me, it was a labor of love.”
Modern, Mobile Construction
Modern yurts, however, are constructed much differently than the ones in those early days. The lattice walls are made with high quality, kiln-dried lumber. Two layers of durable, low-maintenance acrylic coated polyester fabric with reflective insulation sandwiched between cover the frames. Fasteners are hardened steel, and seams are electronically welded.
Today, yurts can be well insulated, have heating, cooling and electrical systems, indoor plumbing, thermal pane windows and stylish French doors. “You can have one with all the modern conveniences, or you can have one that’s more Spartan,” Bair says. “They’re designed to be as strong as a house, but you can put them into a pickup and take them anywhere.”
Pacific Yurts are available in six sizes, ranging from 12 to 30 feet in diameter, with areas of 115 to 706 square feet. Prices for the basic kit range from $4,800 to more than $10,000. Construction is simple enough so a do-it-yourselfer should be able to put the pieces together.
The Tiny House Movement
With all their amenities, yurts provide an easy way to join the Tiny House Movement, a trend toward living in primary residences less than 1,000 square feet, and often as small as100 to 400 square feet. The movement is receiving growing media attention, and even has an HGTV program devoted to it.
Why a Trend in Tiny Houses?
People often choose to become small house owners because of environmental concerns or because they prefer not to spend a large portion of their incomes on a place to live. “It’s a way to live life in a less complicated, simpler way,” Bair says. “It’s about having more time and more freedom.”
One northern Minnesota couple, for example, has lived in a yurt in the frigid northland since the spring of 2013. Recently featured on Minnesota Public Radio, both have master’s degrees and jobs. What they don’t have: a large mortgage.
While living full time in a yurt isn’t for everyone, the structures also offer a myriad of options for vacation adventures. At one mountain resort, guests take a sleigh ride into the countryside, and after stopping at a yurt, they enjoy a gourmet dinner served by tuxedoed waiters. In a tropical destination, a suspension bridge leads to a tree house yurt 60 feet above the ground.
“I’ve been doing this for 38 years, and it’s the many different uses that people find for them that keeps it exciting and fresh for me,” Bair says. “I never thought I’d enjoy a business so much.”
Sleep in a Human Nest
Get in touch with your inner bird by falling asleep nestled in a human-sized nest. For $150 a night (and a two-night minimum), you can cradle yourself in an extreme ‘eco-sleep’ woven-wood nest, designed by Big Sur Artist Jayson Fann, at Treebones Resort. The nest has a wood ladder and full-size futon mattress. But, if you melt in rain, be sure to bring a tent. www.treebonesresort.com.