Yurts date back thousands of years but are now part of the glamping trend. Russell Prechtl and her husband, Craig Freeman, built Solar Solitude last year and began renting the property in West Virginia in March. (Christian Arriola / The Washington Post)
One spring afternoon in the heart of West Virginia, Frankie ran around and around the deck of Solar Solitude, a rental yurt. To the untrained observer, the Puerto Rican rescue dog, a guest of the property, was chasing an imaginary squirrel. But I knew better. Frankie embraced one of the distinguishing features of the yurt: its roundness.
The pandemic has pushed us outside, but when it’s time to get in, we don’t want the same old four walls. Unusual accommodation has become commonplace, and hardly more so than the yurt. The Airbnb Travel & Life report, which the company released in May, noted a 31% increase in the number of unique homes since 2019; the collection now exceeds 170,000 entries. Demand increased with supply: according to the study, searches for rentals in this category increased by 94% and interest in yurts increased by around 1,700%, more than mud houses, barns and small houses. Campspot noticed a similar recovery. The booking site for outdoor stays offers over 100 yurts in a variety of settings, such as a gnome-themed campground in Pennsylvania and the grounds of a breeding fort along the South Platte River in Colorado. Over the past year, the company noted a 13% higher occupancy rate for yurts than for other types of accommodation in vacation spots with mixed accommodation styles.
âYurts have their moment. They have that cool factor,â said Dana âthe yurt girl,â Hendel Morgan, a design and sales consultant with Seattle-based Rainier Outdoor, who builds the structures. “It’s just exploded, especially with glamping on the rise.”
Ah, yes, glamping, where “roughing it up” means having to remove the bug from your duvet cover or throw another Duraflame log on the fire. Muffin-shaped homes are part of this trend, which is still going strong more than a decade after arriving on our shores from Europe. Last year, 4.8 million households with first-time campers tried glamping, up from 1.3 million in 2019, according to the 2021 North American Camping Report from Kampgrounds of America. Travelers are clearly looking for nature-centric getaways that look more like a cozy cashmere throw than a itchy wool camping blanket.
âYurts remind me of being a kid again,â said Colin Sternagel, who lived in Mongolia for seven months before founding SunTime Yurts, which imports shelters from the Central Asian country. “They are like the ultimate fort made of blankets and have the comfort of a [Volkswagen] Westfalia, but are better isolated. ”
Colin Sternagel, the founder of SunTime Yurts in Washington State, spent seven months living in Mongolia and imports structures from the Central Asian country. (Suntime Yurts)
From the outside, Solar Solitude resembles the round houses of Mongolian nomads. Inside, it has all the amenities and conveniences of an urban home. (Emily Prechtl / ââThe Washington Post)
Like tents and cabins, yurts weren’t – and still aren’t – always cozy things. Felt and timber houses originated in Mongolia several thousand years ago as mobile housing for nomadic herders living and working in the steppes of the Gobi Desert. Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan used gers, the local word for structure, during his military campaigns. The main selling points of the yurt are its portability, durability and quick assembly. Paula Sabloff, a political anthropologist who organized the traveling exhibition “Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan”, said a Mongolian family can dismantle and erect a yurt in less than an hour. (By comparison, Solar Solitude took five months to build. Blame the contractor.)
âA friend once said that one is not a real Mongolian if he cannot assemble a yurt,â Sabloff said. âHe was, of course, Mongolian.
The simple structure of the yurt belies its sophisticated engineering. The lattice walls, door frame, rafters, and center ring all work together to create compression, tension, and balance. The canvas or vinyl cover keeps the yurt warm, cool or dry, depending on the weather. Of course, you would never know the genius at a glance. When I first took the long gravel driveway to Solar Solitude, I wondered if I had booked a circus tent or, depending on its color, Papa Smurf’s mushroom house.
âEveryone is really curious about it, even if they don’t know it’s called a yurt,â said Russell Prechtl, who with her husband built Solar Solitude last year and started renting the property in March. “They want to know why he is not blown away by strong winds.” (That’s why: The wooden frame is bolted, and the fabric is attached to the foundation via a large metal coil around the perimeter.)
A neighbor I met was puzzled over an interior design detail. “It must be hard to put pictures in there,” observed a guy in a van as I walked Frankie. It’s not: Pretchtl and her husband, Craig Freeman, attached to the wooden frame prints from the Lost River trading post, near Wardensville. And no, the work is not curved.
Certainly, one of the most defining – and charming – characteristics of the yurt is its roundness. The circular space is open and airy, with no hard corners or sharp divisions to disrupt the flow. At Solar Solitude, I felt like I was riding a self-propelled merry-go-round that frequently stopped in the kitchen, bathroom, office and den. I only had to leave the sphere to go up the stairs to the mezzanine. But the dome-shaped skylight restored harmony.
âEvery pre-modern culture celebrated the circle. It’s very powerful,â said Peter Forbes, who rents nearly 20 yurts on his Knoll farm in Vermont. “There are few right angles that exist in nature and tons in human culture. You are more connected to nature in a yurt.”
Forbes was a longtime friend of Bill Coperthwaite, who is to yurts what Henry David Thoreau is to one-room cabins on ponds. The Maine homesteader, who earned a doctorate in education from Harvard, introduced the country to yurts after reading about Mongolian buildings in a 1962 National Geographic article. He experimented with the traditional pattern, replacing felt with panels of wood, for example, and adding more floors to the structure usually at ground level. Coperthwaite, who died in a car crash in 2013, explained the purpose of his mission in the yurt in his 2002 book, “A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity”. “The main focus of my work is not a simple life – neither the design of yurts, nor the social change, although each of them is important and receives a large part of my time,” he said. written. “My central concern is encouragement – encouraging people to seek, experiment, plan, create and dream.”
The octogenarian left more than 300 yurts across the country, as well as a number of disciples – intentional and accidental – who continue his legacy. Prechtl is one of the latter group. âThe yurt is a great, inexpensive alternative to camping that brings you closer to nature,â he said. “It is absolutely necessary for your sanity.”
My number of yurts is far from that of Coperthwaite. My first experience was in the homeland itself, Mongolia. Our entourage of Americans and Mongols crammed into sleeping bags placed on animal skins. We lined up around a fire that neither of us lit during the night. I woke up with an icy nose, the only part of my body exposed to freezing air. My next trip was to a New Jersey state park that rented yurts with bunk beds – an improvement in comfort but still few amenities. I watched the stars through the skylight, inches from Orion than my friend who chose the bottom bunk.
The West Virginia property was a golden luxury compared to the other two. Everything we needed – sectional sofa, kitchen island, French press, rainfall showerhead, WiFi – was under one conical roof. When the temperature dropped, we turned on the wood stove and plugged in the radiators. When the sun came up, we rolled up the folding windows and pulled out the deckchairs. When it started to rain, we moved our activities indoors. I read under the dome as Frankie resumed his laps, running around and around and around the indoor track.