Talk yurty to me

So here’s another thing I love about California: in almost any area with perhaps the exception of Orange County, you can still find small hippie enclaves just outside the borders of “regular” society. Ever been to a yurt? (Know what one is?) A yurt is an East Asian round latticed tent with a skyhole in the middle, most commonly favored by either nomadic yak herders on the Outer Mongolian steppes, or Burning Man-bound stoner pilgrims. In the mountains of Santa Barbara just 15 minutes from the beach, our Bay Area pals MS + JJ found a working 10-acre ranch whose owners had built two yurts on their property, first as their home and later, when they moved to a normal bourgeois frame house a few hundred yards away, they began renting them out as vacation property. We couldn’t help ourselves: we bit.

When I told people we were going to a yurt (and then, usually, defined it), their reactions were generally negative—as in, why would we want to camp when we could just rent a nice beach house in Santa Barbara? Fear not, ye naturephobes, because this yurt is not exactly rustic. It sports a full kitchen and two beds, a DVD player and a woodburning stove, a hardwood floor made of reclaimed bowling alley. The skylight in the middle is covered by a ‘70s-style bubble dome.
Like a big round room, really, except its walls are wood lattice covered by, yep, a giant tent. Outdoors enthusiasts and REI types may find this “furnishedness” disappointing; I didn’t. Apparently I’m pro-fake-camping.

Most importantly, the yurt boasts a huge deck around most of its circumference, overlooking the vast canyon of the ranch and, in the distance, that blue ocean we’ve come to fetishize. That deck might have soaked up every (good) Rolling Stones song in a row one evening as the sun set and the cheese plate dwindled and the next bottle of wine was uncorked. Be sure to bring your iPod and its boombox to the yurt for maximum yurtitude.

What else does one do in a yurt? One drinks wine and enjoys that view.
One sings songs of love like the yurty gurdy man. yurty-gurdy-man.jpg
One cooks big dinners; one has dance parties on the deck deck-dance.jpg
and continues them yurtside in the wee hours. jamiescottnight.jpg
One plays guitar; one snacks; one limbos.
One plays charades. While playing said charades, one may be forced to prove to one’s fellow yurtsters that “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” really was a legitimate TV show, though even someone who has never heard of it may still manage to convey the title to his partner via a stellarly mimed impression of Eddie Van Halen. After describing the show, one cringes at the colonialist memories of widower papa Bill Bixby hearing his geishaed-out housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston, bow and address him as “Mistah Eddie’s Fathah.” Then one shrugs it off and begins to sing the theme song, “People, let me tell you ‘bout my best friend; he’s a warm-hearted person who’ll love you till the end.” Luckily, there are just enough faint bars of Internet access in the yurt for the important on-deck laptop research necessary to learn that Harry Nilsson sang that song, and that Eddie grew up to replace Jello Biafra in the Dead Kennedys! Who knew? Ruben? Anyone?

But let’s go back to the yurt. You might be wondering one very important question: how does one poo in a yurt? Yes, you shrink from the very mention, but you know it crossed your mind and your forehead may have even creased with a little anxiety. Well, you need not fear; there are two ways. The yurt’s deck has a log staircase down to what’s advertised as the “bamboo toilet house,” with the railing lit up by white lights at night down to this joyous little pagoda with a porthole overlooking that glorious canyon. This is the recommended and most tested method. When another friend viewed the photo below, her response was to ask whether “soft panda paws” awaited one in the bamboo toilet house. I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one.
However, there is another way. While exploring in the overgrowth behind the second yurt, we discovered—Yurtreka!—a painted sign proclaiming “POO HOLE” with an arrow into the thicket. Did we dare? We did. Perched on the edge of the highest bluff is a wooden bench with a hole in it, and in the ground under that hole is a board that slides away to reveal, presumably, a deeper hole. I must confess none of us was yurtly enough to try this out, but when we mentioned it later to the owner, he swore that no greater inspiration could be had than sitting on that bench and surveying the green earth spread out before him in a fashion no New York Times Sunday Styles section could ever rival.

The yurt has other delights. The instructions on how to turn on the lights and seal the windows and stuff like that are not provided live by the owners; instead they made a charming DVD of themselves giving a tour of the yurt for guests to watch when they first arrive. The owner did show up later to drive the boys to the hidden hot tub so we’d be able to find it come blackest nightfall, and when offered a tequila shot, then two, then three, he didn’t say no . . . now that’s hippie hospitality at its finest.

Are there any bonuses to the yurt that their website doesn’t even hint enough to prepare you for? There are! As if the yurt does not resemble a big top tent enough already, dangling seductively from the skylight dome is a real-life circus trapeze!!! Although you may have had too many glasses of pinot for this to be fully advisable, there is still no way you will be able to resist moving the beds to either side of that trapeze and going for broke.
Really, it’s way too enticing for good judgement to interfere.
If one of the yurtsters seems about to crack his fool head open while hanging upside down from said trapeze in his little stripy vintage swim trunks,
just grab that bearskin rug from the back of the couch and throw it underneath him. There is no possible chance it can cushion his fall, but it could soak up the blood if anything untoward occurs. But don’t worry—you are in the yurt, so nothing will!

The yurt’s other pleasures include a long, hot hike through the canyon, past a half-finished geodesic dome and plenty of trailers and broken-down Bagos where various relatives live out on various corners of the ranch. We knew we were really in nature when Ruby the part-rat-terrier fully realized her destiny and killed a huge rat in a hole on the way down! And bingo, with one look at that I was an instant vegetarian once again. The trail winds all the way down to the creek bed, where if you are not a city slicker wearing clogs, you could fjord that creek all the way up to the bottom of a 30-foot waterfall and swimming hole that looks absolutely delicious in the photo on their website. However, if you are a city slicker wearing clogs and it feels a little bit too hot and your dog has cut her paw, you may opt to walk back up to the yurt instead, get in your car, and drive to the beach. So sue you.

But it’s worth it just to see how the dogs on the beach look like a couple of old ladies in Boca Raton.

Much later that night, after a ridiculously delicious meal crafted by JJ the grubrustler extraordinaire and a visit from the yurt owners–who came bearing chocolate ice cream and bananas and a bearded old wilderness hermit who lived in a yurtside trailer, and left full of tequila punch we made from the oranges and Meyer lemons growing down their path–we stumbled blindly in the pitch black down “the Braille trail” in search of that elusive Jacuzzi. While it’s true that eventually, you could find us in the tub with a bottle full of bub, unfortunately we were doing more babbling than bubbling by this point. And MUCH later, while lying in bed as behemoth winds whipped that yurt into stiff peaks, we heard the frenzied, ritualistic song of a coyotes’ black mass in the distance. Truly yurttastic.

In my extensive experience, yurt vacations traditionally end with a big breakfast and a lot of mournful comments about not wanting to leave the yurt, followed by a flurry of emails after you get home with subject lines like “Yurt sweet yurt” and “Yurty dancin’” and signatures like “Yurt friend” and “Yurts truly.” I think you can expect the same when your day comes to ride the wild yurt. I highly recommend it.

Yurt turn!

15 responses to “Talk yurty to me”

  1. bryan says:

    fun post — terrific photos (esp the first one!). i’m jealous, but looking fwd to a couple upcoming chances to relax. no yurts in tahoe, though, unfortunately.

    and i really, really want those stripy vintage swim trunks. will that dude sell?

  2. Mark says:

    Yurt post is really awesome!

  3. Rachel says:

    It’s 3,105 miles from my NH hometown to Santa Barbara–I just checked. Your post, especially photo #3, reminded me of why I used to dream of CA across the vast distance. It’s paradise!

    Great stuff, Swells.

    P.S. “poo hole”? ’tis poetry.

  4. Tim Wager says:

    To yurt is to live is to fly.

    Thanks for all the pics and descriptions of the dodecahedence.

  5. PB says:

    “That deck might have soaked up every (good) Rolling Stones song in a row one evening as the sun set and the cheese plate dwindled and the next bottle of wine was uncorked.”

    you had me at “hippe enclave” and I started packin’ at this line.
    what a great post!

  6. cynthia says:

    great post . sounds like a blast.

  7. lisa t. says:

    yurt beautiful.

  8. Jeremy says:

    i know where we’re having our next out-of-town record club/camp!

    a delightful post, steph. (sorry to have “rejected” your other one…)

  9. Scotty says:

    Steph, thanks for bringing me back to the yurt, if only in my mind. You’re the best yurt-partner a chump like me could have, and so darn beautiful too!

  10. LP says:

    re: 1. Bryan, I thought of you as soon as I saw those swim trunks! V. nice post, Steph, feels like we all were there…

  11. Ruben Mancillas says:


    The post, the pictures, for as good as they are, can’t top the name itself.


    As in, “Dude, you totally stayed in a yurt.”

    No, I didn’t know the background of the singer who replaced Jello…but then I also don’t know the name of the guy who pretends to be Steve Perry either.

    Great Mrs. Livingston shout out. Her voice/accent is truly part of my childhood but if she’s your idea of “geishaed out” well, we just have to talk.


    Thanks again for the cool post, am trying not to feel left out or less than yurt worthy.


  12. Marley says:

    “grab that bearskin rug from the back of the couch and throw it underneath him. There is no possible chance it can cushion his fall, but it could soak up the blood if anything untoward occurs.” A great read, sounds like it was a load of fun!

  13. Shtuph,

    I was curious about the reference to Fiddy and his bottle full of “bub” because admittedly, I always thought it was a bottle fulla Veuve. Alas, online searches only deepen the mystery, suggesting that the bottle in question may even be fulla The King of Beers, bud. However will we know what liquid lingers in that crunk cup?

  14. i hope you always comment under the name “aforementioned grubrustler,” mysterious friend of my friends. i really like its flow.

  15. Jen says:

    Stephanie, you’re such a seductress.