This past winter I embarked on a dream of mine to live in the mountains in an off grid yurt. For 4 months I lived in the Coconino National Forest which is a 1.856-million acre United States National Forest located in northern Arizona in the vicinity of Flagstaff. Originally established in 1898 as the “San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve” I would defiantly rank this adventure experience right up there with my best adventures. It was not only life changing but it also found the answer to that simple question. “What would it be like” A question that I am often compelled to find the answer to when applied to certain dreams. This however was a much deferent type of journey than journeys past. In stead of passing by landscapes and constantly moving towards that elusive horizon like my run across America in 2010 or my bike around America in 2011. My 2012 mountain yurt experience was one that watched the mountains move instead of I. Experiencing the Neighboring Coyotes constant prowl for food or the winds kick up and clouds roll in before a big snow storm.
Yurt Construction… I built the Yurt myself from scratch for $700. I came up with the money by selling my Mac Book Air Laptop Computer. The Yurt took about 2 weeks to build during this time I lived out of the back up my 2000 Ford Ranger. Living out of the truck was an experience in and of its self. I quickly found my top priority was finding a way to stay warm at night. I spent $150 on a propane heater that I quickly fell in love with. The first week or so I was very skeptical of the Mr. Heater thinking that I may die of carbon monoxide poising in my sleep but slowing began to trust it and found the back of the truck a pretty cozy place to spend the night. The hardest part of building the yurt was building the insulated circle platform that would become the yurt floor. After I got the lattice all tied together the rest of it went up pretty fast. As winter quickly approached the construction of my yurt was coming to an end as well as my quest to summit all of the area’s major mountain peaks. I putting on a few finishing touches on the Yurt which included a custom log counter and end table both made from Aspen with hand tools.
Winter… I woke up and scraped some frost off the window in the door and peaked out. A blanket of white snow covered the tall ponderosa pine forest. It was so cold in the Yurt I slept with my snowsuit and winter coat on. My failed attempt at installing a home-made barrel stove forced me to resort to plan B. Since the vinyl of the yurt was literally only two separate peaces it majority of it was air tight, However the crack between wall and the roof let in way to much air. After stuffing the cracks with clothes, plastic bags and basically anything else that did not have a practical use I decided I just needed to spend some money on insolation and a bigger propane heater. I did and the results were amazing. My goal was to be able walk around my yurt in my normal clothes on a cold winter night and be worm. It work. Since heat rises I bought reflective bubble wrap insolation and covered the roof placing it in between the rafters and the roof vinyl. I also bought pink insolation to replace the clothes in the cracks. Along with my new Big Buddy Mr. Heater these upgrades made the 200 square foot yurt into a warm winter hut.
Work… Along with the snow came the opening of the Flagstaff Nordic Ski Center that I would be working at for the winter. The Nordic Center was located about 15 miles out of flagstaff in the national forest. The 40 miles of groomed ski trails through the national forest would soon feel like my personal winter playground. One of the groomed trails passed by my front door not more than 10 yards away. This Nordic Ski Center is unique in the fact that it provides skiers with an over night option. 5 yurts and 4 cabins scattered the mountain side giving guessed the option to pack up some gear and head out to one of the remote off grid geta ways. Although the pay was only $9 per hour I would consider this a dream job. Since no one lived out there it was part of the agreement that I keep and eye on things at night. On a typical day I would walk over to the lodge about an hour before anyone got there and start the fires. The whole lodge was off grid and used wood as its main source of heat. Next I would put all the ski boots away that were on the drying rack from the prevues day. Maybe shovel and restock the wood piles or cut kindling. Around 10am people who had spent the night out in the yurts or cabins would start skiing in. We offered a gear shuttle service which ment a co-worker or I riding out on the snowmobile to pick up their gear. Often times we would clean the yurts while we were out there to save trips. I really enjoyed these days as it basically ment driving a snowmobile around in the mountains all day. Most of the yurts has amazing views of the San Francisco Peaks. I would describe the position as a mountain man house keeper and I loved it. The other half of the job was renting out ski gear to people excited to try out the trails. Since most of the people who rented were first time skiers from Phoenix it was a joy to introduce them to the sport. One of my favorite perks of working at a place like this is the type of people who it attracts both as guest and as employes. Most of my co workers were guides in the Grand Canyon in the Summer ether by rafts or hiking. Two of them had were planning major hikes in the spring. One the continental divide trail and the other the pacific crest trail.
I really enjoyed being out there. Living in a yurt feels like you are living with nature like you are part of it. You can hear it and feel it. With out electricity you need to find new ways to do things. You need to plan ahead. It forces you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings. To go out skiing or snowshoeing on a daily basis instead of sitting inside all winter and watching TV or something. I have now moved back to Wisconsin to work my second season at the DC Adventure Center but have passed on the Yurt dream to my co-worker Dan who is currently living in the yurt down in the valley. Dan is a backpacking guide in the Grand Canyon and although he spends most of his days on the trail. When he does have off he calls the Yurt home. Thanks to those who helped make this dream a reality. It was an adventure.