When folks hear the word "Yurt" they usually respond with "What?!?!" so I need to start this post with a definition, then I can get into the meat and potatoes of the post.
a tentlike dwelling of the Mongol and Turkic peoples of central Asia, consisting of a cylindrical wall of poles in a lattice arrangement with a conical roof of poles, both covered by felt or skins. (Courtesy of Dictionary.com)
A yurt in a provincial park is not made of skins and poles. It is an aluminium frame with a heavy rubber-canvas covering. There are insulated covers on the windows, an electric heater inside, and an electric light in the ceiling. The yurt has a small table and six chairs, and a pair of bunkbeds to sleep six inside. You can plug in all manner of things if you wish, or you can travel mostly unplugged with only basic comforts. We chose the latter, but we have heard of folks bringing TV's and VCR's to use in the yurt, and why not!
Ontario's Provincial Parks began introducing yurts to their campgrounds about 5 or 10 years ago as a way to extend the camping season. The yurts are up year round and provide an alternative to tenting for out of towners who may not have luggage space for a full camping gear setup, or for campers out of season who may not be set up for year-round camping. The idea has met huge public approval, with the yurts often being booked up months in advance. Spending a weekend (or more) in a yurt in Algonquin park has become one of the required experiences for every Ontario outdoorsman, and so I was excited when I managed to book a yurt in the Mew Lake Campground before spring thaw.
Each yurt site is equipped with a very basic kitchen shelter, a picnic table and a fire pit. You can park a car on the site, and most are very convenient to pit toilets and a short walk to a comfort station with showers and flush toilets. In the past I have only winter camped in quinzees, so having a yurt and pit toilets was a luxury to me. Flush toilets were a necessity to the girls.
We left Toronto at about 5:00 PM on Friday night, and after a detour to drop off the dog at her Puppy Camp for the weekend, made our way north via Highway 11 and 60 Algonquin. After taking into account stops and detours for puppy camp, fuel, milk, pee breaks, etc. we chugged into the park at close to 8:00 PM. The park office was closed when we arrived, so we continued past teh west gate, and through the highway 60 corridor. Momma and I took bets on where the gates to the Mew Lake campground would be, and ticked off the kilometers until we arrived. Momma won, with the camp being exactly at kilometer 30.
We wove through the campsite until we found our site (#54) and then backed up to the yurt in the dark, emptied the car and then crashed, wondering what we would wake up to in the morning. Everyone was tired, and the drive had wore on longer than expected.
Inside the yurt it was very dark with the windows closed, so everyone slept late. We finally emerged close to 10:00 AM on Saturday morning. It had snowed overnight, and the world was that magical Algonquin mix of pine trees, snow, jays, and fresh air that seems to come out of a movie.
I made breakfast while everyone scrambled to get out of bed, and then while we ate we talked about what to do. In the park in the winter there is so much to do, and so few people, that it really is the best time to be there. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, dogsledding, ice skating, photo safaris, and so on and so on. there were people in the park doing all these things, and yet the park was mostly empty.
We finished breakfast and did dishes, then played around the camp for a while before heading out. I made a small quinzee for the boys to play in by building up a snowbank, then hollowing it out with my avalanche shovel. I had brought it specifically to make a quinzee - there is no chance of an avalanche in Algonquin.
If you ever have the chance to spend a night in a quinzee, go for it. With the door covered and a small ventilation hole in the roof, you can heat it to about 10° - 15°C with just a small candle, and they can be very comfortable to spend a night in. our boys just played in the one I made, and that was good enough for me.
Once everyone was finished playing in the quinzee, we tried feeding the birds. In the Mew Lake campground the birds are very tame, and they will eat out of your hands. If you are patient. And your 3 year old will stay still. Since we were neither, we spread birdseed on the table and the birds came to us that way. We only got bluejays, but we saw nuthatches and chickadees in the trees, and a murder of crows gathered to keep an eye on things.
Feeding the birds was fun, but the boys grew restless, so we grabbed our skates and walked over to the skating rink by the comfort station. The rink was an old-school outdoor rink without boards or lines, but it had good ice and picnic tables and benches for putting on our skates. We had to shovel a skim of snow off, and the ice would be good to go.
We strapped on skates, and everyone was geared up and ready to go!!
Stuck in the snowbank beside the rink, there were a dozen hockey sticks, and at the other end of the ice there was a net. It didn't take long and everyone was on the ice. Chuck was showing her grace and style...
And Buddy was working up to his NHL debut (Go Habs Go!!)
But Cuppa, well, he started out by skating on his knees...
And then he tried skating with a helper...
And then he decided it was more fun to sit on the bench and watch us skate instead of actually skating himself. Pretty soon another Dad came with his boys, and we all played and played. Buddy was the referee, and did the face offs, Dads took turns being goalies and coaches, we played until the sun warmed the ice and it got to soft to skate on, and then we found the hard spots in the shadows and skated there instead. We skated and played hockey all afternoon until our feet had blisters and our hands were frozen. It was just like back when we were kids and every school had a rink behind it.
Buddy was very proud to be the last one to take off his skates, and we were all impressed with how well he did skating this year. He's really improved! After we had all had enough skating and hockey, we headed back to our yurt and made hot chocolate and smores.
After the smores and hot chocolate, it was time for dinner (Sausages, scalloped potatoes and salad) and then it got dark, so we stayed in and played cards until everyone was too sleepy, then it was off to bed until tomorrow.