Yurting It

We were supposed to do this overnight trip back in December, but a nasty head cold hit Peggy and we had to reschedule for this weekend.  So we had a month to wonder what awaited us at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse near Leadville, CO. Good friends of ours told us about it a while ago, and I happened to meet a co-owner last summer, so there were some preconceived notions and mental images about what awaited us.  But we were absolutely blown away with what we experienced.

Stepping back a bit... The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is actually a decent sized yurt on a remote plot at 10,800 feet in the middle of the Rockies.  It's "off the grid" as they say:  lighting is provided by candles and propane lamps, heat by a wood stove, and bathroom facilities by a nearby outhouse.  During the winter, the more popular ways of getting to it are via cross country skis or snowshoes as it is about 1 mile back in the woods from the parking lot.  (They do offer to shuttle guests to and fro via snowmobile, but, honestly, if one is able-bodied what's the fun in that?)  Just this past summer the owners added two "sleep yurts" nearby so guests would not have to make the 1-mile trek back to the parking lot -- and then deal with some so-so lodging in the area -- and linger over dinner and enjoy the experience and area.

Now back to our experience... we made the approximate 3-hour drive out to the the check-in desk for the Cookhouse on Saturday, arriving around 2in the afternoon.  We got the low-down on both the dining and sleep yurts, were handed some snowshoes, and began our slow, leisurely walk through the woods.  To "get back" a little bit and stay off the groomed nordic ski trails, we opted for the snowshoe trail and gained the 300 feet in elevation to the Cookhouse in about 45 minutes.  Along the way we enjoyed the silence of the woods (save for the snowmobile going by to ferry our overnight bags to our sleep yurt) and enjoyed the limited views (a snow storm was approaching for that night so it was quite overcast.)

When we made it to the cookhouse yurt, we happened to cross paths with the one owner I met over the summer.  After chatting for a bit and using the adjacent outhouse, we continued on for the remaining three-tenths of a mile to our sleep yurt.  And to our surprise and delight, it was not nearly as "primitive" as we had imagined.  Inside there was a (very effective) wood stove, 2 low-wattage lights (powered by solar) and "running water" provided by a tiny submersible pump (with solar-rechargeable batteries) in a large reservoir under the sink.  It can accommodate six, and has down comforter bedding.  "Nature calls" were answered via a 30 foot walk out the door to the outhouse which is shared with the other sleep yurt.  The first flakes of snow of the arriving storm began falling shortly after we arrived, putting a nice glaze on the trees.  We, meanwhile, unpacked and relaxed inside our little piece of serenity in the Rockies before making our way back to the cookhouse for dinner. 

As we left for dinner, outside looked slightly different then it had 90 minutes prior – about over an inch of snow had fallen since.  We trudged along through the snowflakes to the cookhouse, and entered a wonderfully dim candle- and propane-lantern-lit dining room.   Over the next 2-plus hours we dined and chatted, enjoying courses containing elk and rhubarb, and chats about future travels.  It was well dark by the time we left dinner, and the snow was still falling, so our headlamp-guided walk back to our yurt was a nighttime spectacular.  We got back to the yurt, filled the stove with as much wood as it could take, and climbed under the down comforters for (what we thought would be) a quiet night's sleep.

I say that because as we lay there in our beds, the snow piled up on the roof.  Then every once in a while snow slid off the roof, making a sound as if it was ripping through the roof material.  Obviously it wasn't, but it was startling enough to wake us up throughout the night.  No complaints from us, though, as it meant there would be a winter wonderland awaiting us at daybreak.

Sure enough, as we and the sun rose, we noticed about 10 inches of fresh snow around the yurt, with more snurries falling.  We would have loved to linger around the yurt and/or trekked around the trails for a while that morning, but we needed to pack up and head back to the car as Peggy had a flight out to the UK Sunday night.  We were the first ones on the trial that morning so were breaking trail from the get-go.  It snowed enough overnight that at one point we lost track of our footprints from the night before and went (using the skiing term) "off piste" slightly and had to trudge about 75 yards through a knee-deep snowed meadow to get back on the trail.  We were eventually able to link up with the freshly-groomed nordic trails (our interest in breaking trail for the entire 1.3 miles was low) and had a nice, family walk on a quiet winter, Rocky Mountain morning back to the car.

Click on the photo below to see the online photo album of our visit.
TN Pass Cookhouse (Jan 2012)

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