Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Colorado Yurt Company at NRPA 2009 in Salt Lake City

as blogged by Heather Martin, Colorado Yurt Sustainability Director

The meandering highways from the Colorado Yurt Company in Montrose, Colorado through the roadside rock cliffs was a perfect introductory backdrop for the week ahead at the National Recreation and Parks Association Congress and Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah. NRPA met and exceeded our expectations with an exceptional exhibit hall for our booth showcasing Colorado Yurts, Earthworks Tipis and Cimarron Canvas Platform Tents. It also included enlightening education sessions, fantastic new friendships, and really amazing reconnections at the many socials held all over beautiful downtown Salt Lake!

Cliff Connaughton, my tradeshow sidekick and our Colorado Yurt fearless leader, managed to finagle our truck 20 feet from the convention hall loading ramp. With minimal technical difficulties we got the new flat screen television and laptop to coincide so we could roll our yurt slideshow. Our beautiful booth was up and ready for the next day’s Exhibit Hall kick off, with plenty of time left over to head to a local pub to meet up with old friends and colleagues to boot!

Our first evening out wasn’t without highlights, as we were introduced to rock climbing star-turned photographer, Boone Speed. His nonchalant, humble disposition didn’t go unnoticed, nor did the local brews on tap. We had a fun-filled evening, and called it a night early in preparation for what we knew would be a day full of yurt discussions!

After our individual hotel gym cardio sessions, and grabbing a delectable to go breakfast of egg sandwich and fresh-brewed coffee the next morning, it was off to the NRPA Expo…

The full day flew by while Cliff and I got to chat-it-up with passerby-ers perusing the Expo aisles. Our yurt booth guest list spanned the globe, chronicling visits from national and state park directors, rangers and staff, municipal park department heads, private campground managers, adventure guides, Air Force base representatives, and bright-eyed college students to name a few.

The exhibit hall wasn’t just filled with folks interested in yurts, tipis and canvas wall tents, but also an array of thousands of vendors presenting products that ran the gamut, including (but not limited to): not-so-run-of-the-mill-restrooms, cutting edge climbing walls, miniature motor vehicles, pioneering playground equipment, outdoor exercise apparatuses, professional management magazines, and last, but not least, our neighbor to the left: fully lit, operable scoreboards.

AND sitting in this booth was none other than THE Tommy John! For those from a younger generation, Tommy John was once starting pitcher for both the Yankees and the Dodgers. The famous Tommy John elbow surgery is named after this very legend, seen casually shooting the breeze with his co-worker and star struck signature and photo requesters. It would be remiss not to point out that I, too, had a picture taken with the man we formally dubbed “sugar daddy” for his bite-size candy bar drop-offs on our table in route to the men’s room.

The fun extended into the subsequent evenings, mornings and afternoons, as yurts, tepees and canvas wall tents were discussed for camps, retreats, parks and individual living spaces.

On our final day, Cliff magically managed to maneuver our oversized truck, yet again, at the head of the line so that we were breaking the yurt booth down, loading the truck back up and on the road heading eastward home to the Colorado Yurt Company…all in less than one hour after the Expo closed!

To celebrate our speedy departure and NRPA Expo and Congress success, we grubbed on gyros and greasy fries at Cliff’s favorite family-owned Greek dive in Price, UT...all the while reminiscing about our exciting week of discussions about yurts, teepees and canvas wall tents.

Next road trip: American Camp Association in Denver February 16-19. See you there in 2010! Hope to see you at NRPA next year in Minneapolis, MN.

p.s. The Red Iguana is a must for amazingly authentic mole’ in Salt Lake City! It was featured on the Food Network's Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives show.

Play Red Iguana video from the Food Network WARNING! Don't watch this if you're hungry!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

YMCA of the Rockies - Snow Mountain Ranch

YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch is an incredible 5,000 acre conference and family center just outside of Winter Park, Colorado. It’s also the home of a new 20’ Colorado Yurt. We set the yurt up a few weeks ago just as the aspen were making their final statement of the fall with a fiery, orange blast of color amid billowing, low clouds that threatened to throw down the first big snow of the winter.

We stayed in Indian Peaks Lodge, one of the four lodges, numerous cabins and many campsites on the property. The rooms were very inviting and impeccably clean with a couple of beds, a mini-fridge, a sitting area and a back patio with a gorgeous mountain view. What’s that you say? No TV? Yes, no TV. Who needs television when you have 5,000 acres to explore? There is a WiFi connection, so don’t panic. An afternoon walk in the cool autumn air revealed an abundance of outdoor activities. Hiking, biking and horse riding trails meander all over the property. One of the trails I walked skirted along the edge of Sombrero Stables where the horses munched happily on their dinner. Another trail revealed a soaring zip line. Not into those things? How about miniature golf, disc golf, fishing, canoeing, archery, ice skating, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing or sledding? Don’t have the proper equipment? No excuse. Snow Mountain Ranch provides inexpensive rental options for just about anything you’ll require. Need something to do indoors on a rainy day? Try the rock climbing wall, swimming, basketball, volleyball, skating, ping pong, foosball or a variety of crafts.

photo courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch

Unfortunately we didn’t have much spare time to play and explore. We had a yurt to set up before the snow flew. The talented ranch crew finished a handsome yurt platform the afternoon we arrived so we got an early start the next morning. The stairs leading up to the platform were finished off on either side with a rustic, hand-made banister. The tongue and groove wood floor inside added a rich and finished, yet rugged and outdoorsy touch.

The yurt went up pretty smoothly. Our shop manager, Clint Huddleston, came up with a great idea to combat a mild wind as we were getting the roof insulation and roof in place. We tied thin, slick ropes to the eyebolts in the circular compression ring at the peak of the yurt frame and then ran the ropes across the roof insulation tying the opposite end of the rope to the crisscrossing wooden slats of the lattice wall. This enabled us to have all hands free for unrolling the yurt roof and shifting it into place. Once the roof itself was settled, we simply untied the ropes and slipped them out from underneath the yurt roof. If you saw any clips of the balloon boy saga recently, that is pretty much what the roof insulation on a yurt will do if the wind catches it. So the ropes saved us a bit of chasing and avoided closure of nearby Denver International Airport.

This yurt included three of our new operable wooden windows. There are two big benefits to the new windows. They are set in a sturdy wooden frame so it is possible to cut out the section of the lattice wall that typically covers the window in a yurt. The ends of the cut lattice get screwed into the window frame so the frame integrates into the lattice wall without affecting the functionality and strength of the yurt. The view is unobstructed by the crossing lattice wall pieces. The second benefit is that the window can be cranked open from inside the yurt. A standard yurt window has a zippered flap in the wall fabric of the yurt which must be opened by going outside the yurt. Many yurts, including the Snow Mountain Ranch yurt, are built on a simple platform that is only a footprint for the yurt without additional outside deck space. If the yurt is elevated, unzipping and rolling up the window flap must be done on a ladder. In this case, the ability to open the window from the inside is an obvious advantage.

We had a great time at Snow Mountain Ranch and hope to make many trips back to play and to work. With adequate funding, the ranch has a master plan to incorporate tipis, canvas platform tents and several more yurts over the next couple of decades. I’ll leave you with a quote from their website.

"The glorious Colorado sunshine and breath-taking views set the pace to rejuvenate your spirit. Whether you are in need of relaxation or adventure, we have the inviting atmosphere that will stay with you long after you leave."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

World Yurt Maker's Conference - 2009

By Melissa Fletcher, owner of Yurts of Hawaii
and distributor for the Colorado Yurt Company

Ah, France in the springtime... The wildflowers, the vineyards, the old stone buildings, the YURTS!

I recently had the great pleasure of representing my business, Yurts of Hawaii, and our top notch manufacturers, The Colorado Yurt Company, at the first World Yurt Maker's Conference, held near Pont d'Arc and Gorges de l'Ardeche, France. The event was held at Canvas Chic's beautiful campground that is filled with rustic style yurts and canvas tents. The orchestrator's, Lucy and Nitsan of Spirit's Intent, helped build a beautiful, two-story yurt palace to be the central gathering place for the event. Several attendees brought their own, hand crafted yurts, that they set up and stayed in, the rest of us rented accommodations in the yurts and tents present.

A portion of the invitation explains a bit of the inspiration behind the gathering:

As yurt makers, we have all been captivated by something, an essence of the
structure itself, and beyond it to a living craft and a way of life. It has become an increasingly competitive market, especially in the UK and the USA, and in guarding one's part of that, one can separate oneself from a collective possibility (that) we can all share... we are calling everyone to discover what there is in the collective and to tell their story. (We will begin with) nomadic tents... introduce the origins and traditions of the structure. We will follow (with) the story of the yurt from its nomadic origins and how it came to the West, to developments of the structure, possibilities, uses, innovations and where it is going. There is a magical possibility of the yurt being the structure in the next stage of eco-evolution".

It was a small, yet rich gathering of yurt people from all over the world, each of us bringing our different experiences to share and learn from. We discussed different aspects of the trade and shared challenges, wisdom, various philosophies and our common stories of working with yurts. It was an affirmation and pleasure to meet so many others who are using yurts to bring about positive changes in our world. The event was held during the full moon weekend of May 8 - 10th, 2009 and attendees are hoping to make this an annual or biennial event.

Lucy and Nitsan and Lodewijk van den Belt, owner of the Canvas Chic campground, were responsible for making this vision a reality. They provided a wonderful menu for the duration of the event; think hand made breads, fresh fruit over porridge, roasted wild pig with potatoes, delicious salads... They gathered scholars, pioneers and craftspeople, several of whom were invited to speak and share their knowledge, ideas, and love for these structures. Among the speakers were (Alphabetically):

Bill Coperthwaite Founder of 'The Yurt Foundation', author of "A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity"Bill's reputation has preceded him with many in the yurt world. Credited with making the first yurt in the USA in 1962, he has incorporated this passion in his life along with other inspiring philosophies regarding community, education and encouragement for our fellow human beings. His joyful passion to create sensibly as well as artistically is downright contagious. Bill shared a bit of his personal journey, highlighting important lessons he's learned along the way, as well as design changes that he has made to the original yurt structure throughout the years. It was readily apparent that, much as his yurts are designed, he considers his life a constant and joyful work in progress.

"The main thrust of my work is not simple living - not yurt design, not social change, although each of these is important and receives large blocks of my time. But they are not central. My central concern is encouragement - encouraging people to seek, to experiment, to plan, to create, and to dream. If enough people do this we will find a better way".

Froit Bolara, a traditional Mongolian yurt builder, a person learns quickly that you can trust Froit to be straightforward in saying what he thinks. He is what I would consider to be a purist, holding fast to the opinion that anything other than a traditional Mongolian yurt that uses felt and traditional materials, is not a yurt. Many yurt lovers disagree with that statement, but I do believe that this attitude has its benefits; by keeping as close as possible to traditional yurt construction techniques, designs and materials, the original structure is kept pure and rooted in its native environment. I believe his is a critical role, as many others work to modify the yurt for different environments and standards. Rene Mueller reflected these thoughts quite articulately, "I think it requires someone like him to stick with the classics and he might even serve a greater purpose than he realizes, to maintain part of the Mongolian yurt culture, which is about to decline and vanish. As absurd as it often is, outsiders recognize the value of a culture whereas the natives already lost some of the trust in their values. At the same time, the value system of the entire world is in motion, and very few things seem to remain untouched from the changes".

Dr. Peter Andrews and Mugul Andrews, Anthropologists, Author/Illustrator of "Nomad Tent Types in the Middle East". Peter and Mugul were a delight to meet. They shared many tales of their travels and discoveries all over the Middle East. They discussed the social relevance intertwined in the many traditions of the region and showed us countless examples of how these traditions were interwoven in the culture's nomadic homes. Peter and Mugul started in their 20's to search for and preserve information regarding the cultural significance, actual technique and materials used in various tent-like shelters used throughout the region. Dr. Andrews states on his very informative site, http://www.andrewspeter.info/ .

"I started, as an architect, with the simple but ambitions aim of making a survey of nomad tents throughout the Muslim world. It rapidly became obvious that if I were to understand the ethnological context, tribal history, technology and terminology in comparison, an architect's training was insufficient. I had to set about acquiring an orientalist's training, and an ethnographer's, if not an ethnologist's, skills".

The subject has been a shared, lifelong passion between them and the depth of their findings is staggering. Peter and Mugul have given a priceless gift to the world through their tireless preservation of this quickly disappearing knowledge.

Day 1 Events: Presentations by Peter and MugulGetting to know each other. Showing of the Mongolian movie, "Tegris".

Day 2 Events: Spirit's Intent gathering in second story of the central yurt. Slide show and discussions with Bill Coperthwaite. Circle meeting, dancing, dining and music.

Day 3 Events: Presentation and discussion with Froit BolaraPresentation and slide show with Peter and Mugul. Construction of 'Playhouse Yurt' with Bill Coperthwaite and all attendees.

Throughout the gathering, Gabrielle Willand, a film director and her film crew were present, documenting our discussions, thoughts and perspectives. This was an added windfall that Lucy and Nitsan were presented with at the last minute. Perhaps the film crew's presence caused some people to be a bit reserved at first, but soon it became second nature and I believe we all look forward to seeing what was captured by the willing documentation.

  • A wide variety of topics were discussed throughout the conference, including:
  • The search for durable, affordable and eco-friendly materials
  • Meeting various building codes
  • Keeping to the nature of yurts/keeping things simple-Incorporating sustainable/Local materials
  • The benefits of predictability and permit-ability associated with the more 'engineered' yurts found in the States.-Defining the term 'Yurt'-Keeping yurts accessible to everyone
  • Redefining mounting misconceptions surrounding the idea of "home", "shelter", "castle"

In conclusion, I left this conference with shifted paradigms, all kinds of them, all over the place. I came away with an understanding that all of us working with yurts are working on various aspects of the same puzzle. I left secure in the knowledge that we are a community, within this world community, that is waiting to be developed. Many times in this community there is competition, it is inherent in any common industry, but the underlying beauty in this particular industry, is that we are all using yurts to help facilitate positive changes in this world, a world that is primed and ready for some serious, positive change. If we can agree that this is a common goal, then there are countless ways to collaborate and work together for the benefit of all.

I invite further discussion and also want to invite all yurt makers to check out Becky Kemery's website, http://www.yurtinfo.org/. She has shared news of a 'Yurt Guild' for all North American yurt companies and has included a private, 'Companies Forum' on the site as well, an ideal place for yurt companies to begin dialog and discuss industry issues. To join the forum you can register by sending your info to: webmaster@yurtinfo.org .

There were many people that I met that deserve special mention, but really, everyone present deserves a bit more than I'm equipped to provide here. I look forward to learning more about what each person brings to the field in the coming years.

And some surprising news! We are looking forward to hosting a future World Yurt Maker's Conference here in Hawaii. So far we are preparing for speakers, lodging and a yurt building workshop with Bill Coperthwaite. We are hopefully aiming for this time next year, but, having never pulled one of these together before, it might take an extra year to pull it together. Anyone who is interested, please get on the mailing list by emailing me at http://www.yurtsofhawaii.com/contact.html .

Aloha Nui Loa to you all

~Melissa Fletcher

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tom and Lisa's Yurt of Their Own

by yurt owner Tom Betras
Photos courtesy of Jamey Hill, Rick Wolf and Lisa Burroughs-Betras

This little story began in the Spring of 2008 when we purchased our land in South Western New Mexico and it ended, at least for now, June 6th 2009 with the completion of our Colorado Yurt and deck installation.

The specific construction site was decided upon in October 2008. It was over the hill from the top of the plateau and above the little canyon but not close enough to disturb wildlife. The site has a fairly gentle grade with very little habitat affected and 360 degrees of great views. (Hindsight for night time noise/wind relief - look for less windy locale, thought it may not exist at 6,700 feet.)

Many options presented themselves as building opportunities but the yurt design ended up being the most appealing to us for the current project. Through some extensive research on yurts and yurt packages we liked Colorado Yurt the most for many reasons and settled on the 30' Yurt with the Wind Package. We decided to construct our own PLATFORM and CIRCLE for this location. We enlarged the basic 36' x 36' platform drawings available on the Colorado Yurt website and created our 50' x 36' deck.

Over the winter months, those would be November through March in North East Ohio, the plans were solidified for our project. Contractors are hard to come by in this area and we realized we wanted to do this ourselves. Talented, skilled manpower was what we needed for the plan. Having REALLY GREAT FRIENDS came in handy. Good friends from North East Ohio, Florida and Arizona, (you all know who you are Jim, Tom C., Rick, Jeremy, Jamey, Joe, Tom L., Jason and Chris) all agreed to assist in this 'Fun Little Project'. Not everyone was able to make the trip to the site but all contributed in significant ways and you will never know how grateful we are to you! THANK YOU!

Ok, now with the work scope laid out, a construction plan developed (over more than a few long afternoons), and a construction crew assembled, all that was left was to insure the materials arrived on time, gather all of the tools needed from the group, and hope that the weather cooperated. Late May, early June in South West New Mexico is quite beautiful, 85 degrees and dry, exceptionally. There had been no rain for six months and they need it badly. There were other problems to be solved as well, like how do we get all of the 'stuff' out there for the project so we needed a truck and a trailer to haul all of the tools, not to mention the furniture for the finished Yurt, to the site. Please Note: WE ARE OPTIMISTS.

Week One: Tom B. (Yurt Owner) and the Jeremy drove to New Mexico to get the site prepared, haul out all of the tools for the construction and haul out all of the furniture for the finished Yurt. Week one had a few little glitches like a flat tire on the truck and having to change lumber suppliers mid week for the entire lumber package. But other than that, it went well. Renting the bobcat with the 12" auger was the way to go to drill the 24 holes needed for the 6x6s deck posts. After drilling the 40" deep holes and pouring 6" concrete footers in each hole, the 6x6 posts went in perfectly. Of course you really need to measure twice, or even three to four times, to make sure you drill the holes in the correct spot and set the posts precisely where they need to be. You know, Pythagoras did invent a very useful theorem that we used for measuring and setting all of the posts. It became especially important for the four corner posts as the deck dimension was based on these posts being correctly installed. That college education really does come in handy every now and then. In the end: the holes got drilled, the water well pump was installed, concrete footers poured, 6x6 posts set and lumber delivered for the week two construction crew's arrival.

Week Two: The crew arrived Saturday and a good dinner was had by all. Questions were being asked about working on Sunday. Of course there wasn't any question about whether or not we would be working on Sunday, that was the official Day One for the entire crew. After a hearty breakfast at the Magdalena Cafe, we embarked on the first of many trips to the work site. The road was a bit, . . . how can I describe it . . . rough in spots and the local fauna was out and about, including antelope, jack rabbits and the ever present herd of cows. Once at the site, the work began. By late morning, the 6x6 posts were marked and cut to height (hindsight: very glad we had the laser transit for this, it worked GREAT).

The 50' x 36' deck main beams were built (out of three 2x10s each clamped and nailed together) and installed on the 6x6 posts.

And by the end of the day, one third of the 2x8 joists were installed. Great start for day one. Over the next couple of days the project continued to make leaps and bounds toward being ready for the Yurt installation on day 6. Day two saw the deck frame completed and the Yurt circle framed in. Insulation was partially completed for the circle frame by the end of the day.

Day three saw the completion of the circle framing as well as installation of the insulation and vapor barrier. The 3/4" treated plywood subfloor installation was the first completed task on day 4.

Followed by some of the decking and a start on the hardwood flooring.

Day five, the day before the Yurt gets assembled. The entire crew knew the goal for the day. We all agree no time for breakfast and are out at the sight very early. We eat almost nothing that day and work very hard. We had forgotten what hard work was until that day! The goal was to have 706 sq. ft. of 2 1/2" hardwood flooring installed, the bender board installed and as much decking installed as possible to facilitate the raising of the Yurt. So at the end of a very long day using up most of the reserve energy of the crew, we did just that. Finally at the end of day five, the bender board is installed and the Yurt circle is ready for the raising of the Yurt.

Day Six: The Yurt Goes Up. First of all, if you are thinking about constructing a Colorado Yurt (especially one of their big ones 27' or 30'), you NEED to budget for the technical expert to assist the installation. That was the BEST MONEY SPENT for the entire project.The door and lattice wall goes up first

Followed by the scaffolding, compression ring, steel cable and ceiling rafters.
Then the roof fabric and insulation. This was one of the most interesting tasks of the day as the south western breeze kept picking up in magnitude throughout the day with a couple of gusts that felt like it would surely lift the roof fabric and insulation and carry it to Arizona.

If it is windy AT ALL, you need many strong hands holding the fabric and insulation in place while the final roof gets rolled out and installed.

Once the roof is installed, the wall goes on fairly easy, comparatively speaking, then the wall insulation, the ceiling dome, the High Wind Package wall studs (if you have ordered them and there are a lot of screws for each of these 48 studs 480 screws to be exact) and some tying together of everything. Then voila, as the sun starts to set, you have your Yurt.

The final day at the job site for the entire crew finds us loading furniture into the Yurt and completing the deck. This finishes up by lunch time so the work crew heads down off of the property for a little rest, relaxation and sight seeing.

WHAT WE LEARNED (and are willing to share):

  • You can not rent a truck through normal channels to haul a trailer with tons of stuff to New Mexico.
  • Get all your bad luck out of the way three weeks before you go. (We had a car accident, no one was hurt.)
  • Consider wind and noise factors in Yurt location choice.
  • Make sure all your tools are in good working order.
  • Get all your arguments out of the way before you go.
  • Set aside more time for project construction. We were extremely LUCKY but we exhausted our friends, so there was no visit to the hot springs to soak sore bodies and no sight-seeing which was very unfair but necessary.
  • Our budget contingency was about right at 10%, but reasonable and needed, though we tried very hard to keep under control once we were out there we just had to go with the flow.
  • We are very grateful because we had a lot of goodwill from the town of Magdalena, Lori Scholes for putting us in touch and making the arrangements with the High Country Lodge, The High Country Lodge was the best, Bonnie, Mike and Darryl, we highly recommend them, Kelly Collins (Real Estate Agent). Everyone out there was very helpful in every way. Keith at Raks lumber yard and hardware supplies in Socorro should also be mentioned for going out of their way to make this all happen for us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Making Magic in Magdalena - Yurt Raising in the Desert

By Jennie Redwine

Colorado Yurt Company

Photos courtesy of Jamey Hill

We did a yurt pitch a couple of weeks ago in Magdalena, NM. What a beautiful, untamed land it is! See forever landscape punctuated with small shrubs and sages, attention-grabbing rock formations and blooming cactus. It’s about an hour and a half southwest of Albuquerque. Their claim to fame in Magdalena is the VLA (very large array) one of the world’s premier radio astronomy observatories which is about 20 miles away. It played a prominent roll in Contact the 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster.

Tom and Lisa, the couple who owns the yurt live in Ohio. They purchased this pristine piece of land in New Mexico for vacationing, with the dream of someday making it a full-time home while building a straw bale house. They assembled a diverse crew of friends and co-workers to build a massive deck and set up the yurt. The group worked incredibly hard and sometimes daylight to dark all week to get the platform built so we could pitch the yurt on their next to last day there. It was a great team! Focused and fun. We also had help from a couple who intend to develop and RV park in New Mexico. They came over and pitched in on yurt day so they could get an idea of how one is set up.

The 30 foot yurt went up smoothly except for a ferociously annoying wind that just didn’t want to give up. We mastered it well until it came time to install the roof insulation and fabric. We couldn’t have done it without our large, strong willed crew of 10 holding the would-be parachute in place. Once that was secured, we were home free and finished just before dark as the full moon began to show its face and cast mystical shadows on the silent desert backdrop. It was a satisfying feeling to head back to town with a house well built. We pulled up to the land with a truck and trailer full of parts in the morning and pulled away leaving a shelter that Tom, Lisa and their friends will make memories in for many years to come.

Back at the High Country Lodge that night (highly recommended lodging by the way – inexpensive and old fashioned friendly) Tom grilled up some scrumptious steaks to perfection and we downed a few beers before moseying over to the Golden Spur Saloon to shoot pool and listen to old seventies rock and roll. One of the guys had a nasty confrontation with a roadside cactus, but other than that it was a highly enjoyable evening filled with the camaraderie that team triumph brings. They all knew they had come together for friends and as friends to accomplish something that was special. And indeed it was!

View a yurt setup slideshow.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Critical Mass of Creative Energy

Emma and I first met in Colorado in 1973. I had just graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and she was taking a break from the University of Michigan where she would graduate a few years later with a degree in environmental advocacy. She was standing on top of Far-out Bob’s Econoline van passing a hundred pound bag of pinto beans down to a bearded fellow in a pair of unlaced hiking boots deep in the Breckenridge mud. There were a bunch of other long-hairs standing around unloading the van; jugs of honey, bags of wheat berries, tubs of tofu, and other fundamental commodities had arrived from the food co-op in Denver. I noticed the pretty chick slinging the bag of beans off the van but I don’t think she noticed me—at least not yet.

We would all become fast friends that summer; about a dozen of us including Far-out Bob himself, Bobo, now a world class solo sailor, Walterski, the mad musician and steel sculptor, Donegan the crafty zen carpenter—all of us energetically running around Mt Baldy, getting seriously sunburned in the high elevations. We were a critical mass of creativity looking for the intrinsic value of a simpler life style.

With the permission of a benevolent mining claim owner we fixed up some old mining cabins, scrounging scrap lumber and other construction wherewithal from the condo projects just beginning to plague the pine forests on the edges of Breckenridge. A little chinking, a little tar paper and maybe a little orange shag carpet from a dumpster in town and we were all settling in to our little abodes, Emma in hers and me in mine, ready for a winter of skiing powder as fresh as it gets, right outside our doors.

Emma’s little hovel (she remembers it as a palace) was called Gold Bell. It was a ways up the trail from the Mountain Pride encampment where I lived. After a few of those long winter nights reading the Four Quartets and the Fantastic Four, I naturally determined to ski up the mountainside and court the lady with the pretty smile and the big bag of pinto beans. When she realized that I make a mean whole wheat tortilla to go with her frijoles, it was love. That’s when we decided we needed a place to set up house together and that would be our first tipi.

Summer came and we cut a set of tipi poles from the abundant lodge pole pine stands in the Blue River Valley and loaded them on my ’59 Ford. Emma was determined to finish her environmental studies in Ann Arbor so we headed east, knowing we’d be back in the mountains as soon as we finished our business. We secured a hefty bolt of canvas from an awning maker in the Midwest and commenced to blow out a few home sewing machines fabricating that first tipi in a barn outside Ann Arbor. We pitched the tipi between two immense, hardwood bogs on the back acreage of that farm. We both endured that academic winter in Ann Arbor between the tipi, where we sat by the fire on backrests and listened to the deep silence of the frozen bogs, and a buzzing little apartment in town where there was “music in the cafes at night”.

In early spring Em was teaching science to a rowdy bunch of high school kids at an alternative school called Earthworks. The high school needed a little more classroom space and we were ready for a bigger tipi so we donated our first lodge to the school. (A few months later we adopted the name and started Earthworks Tipi Makers. This is why to this very day if you want to buy the best tipi made anywhere you buy an Earthworks Tipi.)

Emma got her degree and we were ready to head back to our life on the mountainside, but first we needed to build another tipi—this time a 22’er. We sewed it up in the halls of the Natural Resources building at the University, heaved it into the back of the ’59, and headed back to Colorado with more bags of beans and wheat berries.

We pitched the tipi in a meadow of blue bells right next to an artesian spring. We were at 11,500’, a short hike through a stand of spruce to tree line and a view of the Ten Mile Range so clean and clear and close it vibrated with geologic majesty. That summer we made an art form out of hanging out. We hiked the peaks: over Baldy and down into the wild valley below Guyot; down into Bakers Bowl and the old water tower by the rail bed; down into town, stopping in French Gulch where Leroy and Mary lived. Life in the tipi on the mountainside was healthy and happy and brilliant and vibrant as life can be. We set the lodge up with our willow lazy-backs and a little raised area at the back for a bed. We made a low kitchen area with a lodge pole rack for our pots and pans and a chopping block just the right height to kneel at. There are untold benefits of living a simple life in a tipi. No one who’s ever done it would debate the sacred nature of the architecture. We were living at ground level but there was plenty of room for our spirits to soar.

A bunch of our friends and neighbors were interested in having us build tipis for them. Emma and I have always been good at hanging out but we do believe in moderation so we knew it was time to get to work. We rented an old barn alongside the Blue River where in empties out of the Goose Pasture Tarn and starts rushing toward Breckenridge and the placer tailings. We emptied the savings account, bought a couple industrial sewing machines and set up shop. In 1976 Earthworks was an old-fashioned mail order business. We advertised in the Mother Earth News and East West Journal. Orders came in the mail with a personal check and a handwritten order form, usually with a friendly note enclosed. That was the beginning of what’s now been 32 years in business but that’s a story for another time.

We continued to live in the tipi and go to work every day. When winter came the water in the spring would go underground and flow out of the mountain down below, so we’d move the tipi about 500 yards down the gulch, then back to the blue bells in the spring. As a matter of practicality, we got a 2-burner box stove from Montgomery Wards for $50 and set it in the tipi alongside the open fire. On chilly mountain mornings I could light the fire without getting out of bed. That’s easy living.

One morning a few years later as the morning sun began to peek over Baldy and illuminate the tipi with soft morning light, I was at the stove flipping griddle cakes and sipping coffee. Since I was already on one knee I figured it would be a good time to ask Emma to marry me—that’s what this story has been leading up to all along (though I have to say that Emma doesn’t quite remember it that way—that’s another story.) Anyway, she said yes and it’s been almost 30 years. What’s amazing is that we’ve been working literally side by side for all that time. It’s made for a very creative, challenging life and, maybe because of the challenges and the creativity they demand, it’s been a very happy and fulfilling one— and it all started in a tipi on the side of Mt Baldy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Music, Mountains, Yurt

We recently installed a 27 foot yurt for musician and designer of Freenotes Musical Instruments, Richard Cooke. The yurt will be used as a music studio. The instruments and the yurt come together to create a magical and zen atmosphere in the beautiful mountains of Durango, Colorado. Take a look and a listen.

Freenotes provides a system enabling non-musicians to step into the satisfying experience of playing music solo or in a group. The collection of instruments is designed to be played together easily because there are no wrong notes. Knowledge of music, keys or scales is not necessary. Freenotes provides a unique way of interacting through spontaneous creative expression. The sounds created are always pleasing. Freenotes Instruments can be found in school playgrounds, municipal parks or community projects all over the world.

Turns out Richard is friends with Bill Coperthwaite, often referred to as the founder of modern yurts in the western world. We, of course, thought that was pretty cool.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backyard Bungalow - Cimarron Platform Tents

When I first began working at The Colorado Yurt Company I was eager to learn about the yurts, tipis and canvas tents we manufacture and sell and how people were using them. I was fascinated that these structures offered individuals who had little to no construction experience a way to build extra space into their traditional living arrangements or even a way to build a whole new primary living space. They could assemble the structures with their own two hands and they could do it in a way that was more affordable and sustainable than traditional building methods. As I was looking at websites of organizations who were using our structures, I ran across Mary Jane’s Farm and fell in love with our Cimarron Canvas Tents and the way in which she was using them to share organic farming and simple farm life with folks.

I was hooked. It didn’t take long until I got a Cimarron Tent of my own. My building experience was fairly limited, but with our platform plans in hand and a trip to the lumber yard I jumped in enthusiastically. I wanted a comfortable, shabby-chic, rustic feel so I used rough cut lumber for the platform flooring. However, I’m not too fond of critters with more than four legs so I placed 4’x8’ sheets of thin plywood on the floor joists before placing the rough cut planks on top. This prevented the previously mentioned critters from crawling up through the cracks.

Finally, I was ready for the tent. I went with a 12’x14’, mosquito netting on all sides, a fly, and a stove pipe outlet for the tent and the fly. I chose our best fabric, TuffStar, because it comes with a 5 year warranty and stands up best to UV rays. My location takes the baking Colorado sun all day long so that was important. It went up easily with three other friends, although it was a little heavier than I expected. We laid the tent on its side on top of the platform and slid in the center ridge pole and uprights that I had preassembled. We stationed one person at each upright pole and they placed their foot at the base of the pole so it wouldn’t slide while the other two people raised the whole assembly. Once it was upright, we centered it on the platform and tied out the sides of the tent to the side rails of the platform. The fly went on next, secured to the center ridgepole at the top and tied out to the side rails. The last step was to screw the bottom of the tent walls to the platform. All in all, it took a couple of days to build the platform and a couple of hours to get the tent up.

I’ve had the tent up for a couple of years now and it has really become an extension of my home. A futon, a dining table, a food prep counter, a rocking chair and a wood stove create a cozy atmosphere but still allow the tent to keep a very spacious, open feel. Since my house is less than 1000 square feet, the tent gives me extra space for visiting guests, dinner parties and happy hour. Sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the normal day to day routine, cook on a wood stove and hang out in natural light for a change. It’s kind of a mini grounding experience without leaving home. I’ve overnighted in it when the temps were single digit and stayed toasty with the wood stove cranking. I open the front and back doors in the summer and almost always get a nice breeze passing through.

Although my tent doesn’t overlook an entire organic farm like Mary Jane’s, it does offer up a nice view of a healthy little patch of organic garden. I love sharing both the garden and the tent with friends and family and I can tell by the smiles and the comments that they think it’s pretty groovy scene also. Check out Mary Jane’s site... http://www.maryjanesfarm.org/bb/ . Maybe you’ll fall in love too!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yurt Film

We at the Colorado Yurt Company have long be interested in a certain genre of film that comes from countries in and near the former Soviet Union. Films like The Cave of the Yellow Dog and
Mongolian Ping Pong depict modern nomads and the slow but certain modification of their lives out on the Central Asian Steppe. These films usually move fairly slowly- smiles and glances, not bomb-blasts or love affairs, move the plot along. And there are always slow pans of heart-breakingly beautiful and desolate landscapes and, of course, yurts. In fact, Salon.com film reviewer, Andrew O'Hehir, recently dubbed this sub-genre "Yurt Cinema" and reviewed a film called Tulpan which he calls the Citzen Kane of Yurt Cinema. We've not yet seen the movie but can't wait. We'd love to hear from anyone that has seen the picture or about any films that you feel fit into the "Yurt Cinema" genra. Check out O'Hehir's review of Tulpan.

*Promotional photo for
Tulpan provided by Zeitgeist Films.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Yurts in Paris: Colorado Yurts Played Host to Voices from Around the Globe

In January I had the opportunity to travel to Paris, France to see 25 Colorado Yurts go up in the Grand Palais. The yurts were for an installation by famed photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand and his group Good Planet. The art piece is called 6 Billion Others.

The Grand Palais is a structure of staggering proportions. It dates from 1900 but today it still has one of the largest glass ceilings in the world. Event organizers (from the design firm Scene) told us that although the Grand Palais is an awesome space, it can be rather difficult to control. That's why they chose to use yurts as the space in which the art would actually happen. The 25 yurts were to comprise 25 mini-cinemas.

We arrived before the show opened and yurts were starting to pop up all around us. Some were fully pitched. The latice and rafters were up on others. The effect was awesome. Normally we think of yurts as natural and traditional spaces, meant to be pitched in organic settings. But here they were surrounded by steel and glass- a monument to industrialisation. Colorado Yurts are traditional but have adapted and because of this they work well in all sorts of environments. Even in the most modern of settings they fit.

Check out this video to see one of the most impressive yurt pitches ever:

We didn't quite know what the organizers meant by saying that the Grand Palais is difficult to control until the show's opening night. Of course, we liked the idea of yurts in Paris and we know that they make beautiful settings in which to show movies, but there was a practical element to using them to too: Paris in January is cold and it's very difficult to heat a space that is 72,000 square meters. Yurts, on the other hand, are very good at retaining heat when necessary. So when we arrived on opening night we, along with the many thousands of other guests, headed straight to the warmth of the yurts.

Each yurt showcased a different film in which people from around the world responded to a different question. One film asked individuals what war has meant in their lives. Another spoke to the meaning of family; still another was about how to make love last. The films were honest, moving, and sometimes funny. As we watched regular people from around the world, we understood something more about the similarities and diversity among the world's population. At the same time we realized that we were sitting with people from around the world and there, inside the yurts, we began to feel a little closer to them.

Check out some of the videos at the 6 Billion Others website.
To learn more about the Colorado Yurt Company's role in 6 Billion Others take a look at this.

-By Sam Kigar
*Photo by
Dominique Erhard

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colorado Yurt Set Up Slide Show

Check out this video we put together showing how to put up your yurt, from deck to dome:

(The video is not a substitute for directions!)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Welcome to the Colorado Yurt Company blog!