Wooden beams stretch above my head, the wood stove crackles with life, a subtle veil of smoke settles over the valley in which we reside as the evening sets in, and frost gently rests upon each face and fold of the yurt while the day’s warmth dissipates.
Here, a short distance north of Escalante, Utah, and a world away from the lake I’m beginning to love so much, there is a silence in the stands of pine and spruce.
A dusty road winds its way through this valley. Hell’s Backbone, aptly named for the challenges and tribulations it presented to prospectors and surveyors alike, is less of an engineering challenge these days and more of an otherworldly visage of geologic beauty. Dixie National Forest and the lands of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument meet at a rugged and unforgettable tract of public land called Box-Death Hollow Wilderness.
The Wilderness Act was signed by President Johnson and has seeded preservation of many rustic, remote, and rugged expanses of American landscape.
This yurt, an invention of Mongolian origin, is far-removed from its rudimentary origins. Where once there was animal skin is now synthetic fiber. Likewise the light for our evenings has been updated from candle power to LEDs.
But some things have not changed: the yurt is a Mongolian structure, similar to the Navajo Hogan in its floor plan. Also, it is modular. The structure can be either assembled or dismantled by a team of workers in as little as a day. The yurt is most-often to be found in remote stretches and best qualified to be situated among the wilder stretches of human haunts; a site among stick-built homes and paved roads seems unjust to its wild, steppe character. The yurt, and the cabin it currently substitutes, stands in place because of former government service stations, where USFS Rangers would keep eye on livestock.
Countless stars dot the sky just above a plastic dome that summits the yurt’s structure, like an oculus from some Roman edifice. This dome sheds rain but permits light and the visibility it grants affords terrific views of the night sky. Our remote camp still finds jet trails dotting the sky, further precluding our efforts to shed all unwanted modern trappings.
This yurt is a temporary structure. It stands as a temporary substitute for the Civilian Conservation Corps’s original cabin. In 2011, careless and reckless occupants tried to light the woodstove with gasoline; destruction ensued. Their poor judgment destroyed a cabin, surrounding brush, and adjacent garage first built by civil servants in 1935. Fortunately, its replacement is nearly done as US Forest Service employees and contractors alike labor to make a facsimile. Until then, visitors to the area use the Cowpuncher Guard Station Yurt rather than the soon-to-be-completed cabin.
As we arrive to our yurt destination, suspicions arise that this simple, alien clothed fixture could possibly contain all utilities and complimentary accessories it so described in its profile. In my anticipated excitement, I run up to the front, quick code the combination to the lock where the key resides and crack open the sturdy door. Initially, my eyes are drawn to the vintage, boutique stove with wooded pile stacked adjacent. Naturally I continue to walk the perimeter to touch, study and familiarize with our weekend home away from home. Though, notably, the yurt is a circular studio facility, it lay categorized by its different sections offering a camper’s plentiful of any forgotten or lacking tool. I pull out my phone to snag a picture and I gleam at the two words in the screen’s top left hand corner reading “no service”. I swiftly realize and conclude this yurt is the simple life seeker’s dream.
The sun begins to crawl over the hills quickly after our arrival so we inventory all items conducive to evening activities. Whilst readying the preparations, we look up to see the oculus shaped window to view the stars awakening. Such a window offers starry night dreamers, summer day steamers and winter night freezers the exact environment they need. The window dome can be opened in the heat of the summer for a breeze and closed for the cooler nights of winter. We are pleased with its versatility.
I prepare a warm ramen noodle dinner easily with gently used pots and pans resting on a shelf; waiting patiently for their next visitor. The pine wood, chopped within the hour of our arrival, burns quickly so we keep watch on the stove so as to not let it rest. The middle of the yurt is characterized by its floor focused impromptu game night. The dog turns in, squirreled up next to the stove. Laughter, savory smells, and dimly lit tones given by the hanging lanterns fill the inside of the yurt. Outside, the howling wind and rushing, icy creek are but a sweet whisper to our ears. Like a new infant in the night, the stove calls to our sleeping bodies. We awaken every couple hours to transfer the wood to its ashy afterlife. These nightly calls are no cause for doubt but a return to humanity.
Saturday begins with the cool blue of the morning. We tend to dishes with wash bins, heat water to soak the coffee grounds, and jaunt to the nearby outhouse for nature’s calling. The day leads us into an outside extravaganza. We follow the creek upstream. Multi-colored pines say hello from above. Unexpected sun peaks through the overcast skies. We feel at peace.
We end the quick weekend with thorough tidying and intent plans for our next visit. One weekend is all that is needed to know the yurt capabilities. We will bring friends next time. The yurt is abundant for two people; but many people meet its acquaintance. We write a list for our return ranging from additional trash bags and towels to board games and candles. Everything the yurt described fulfills us on our visit. What we leave with is more than another experience; but also a rested spirit and refreshed mind.