By: Rebecca Lee Benwitt

Yurt1.jpgAside from the grisly maraudings history tells
us Genghis Khan was famous for, the Mongolian chieftain was also
known for having tremendous roadside-sleeping style. For
overnighting, Khan and his nomadic militia used yurts, circular
drapings of fabric or animal skins stretched over poles
(picture a cross between a tent and a tepee).

To see for yourself what life in these ancient structures was
like, one need search no farther than our own Cachuma Lake. There
are three yurts there (one that is wheelchair-accessible), grouped
together at the far end of the campground. And for a not-so-high
sum, they’re rentable for sleepovers year-round. Each comes with a
cute name (Sage, Poppy, and Lupine) and sits perched at
the edge of a gentle cliff overlooking a cove occupied only by
driftwood and ducks. The location is supremely peaceful. My son and
I tried a three-day stay recently. And after first collecting, from
the entrance gate, our key, grounds map, and space heater
(handed through the car window by the ranger), we slowly
drove to the site — careful to avoid the many squirrels zig-zagging
across the asphalt. Our yurt was surrounded by a fence and had its
own yard stocked with a personal picnic table, BBQ, fire pit, water
spigot, and expansive view of the lake and surrounding

Yurt2.jpgThe yurt contained two sturdy bunk
beds — doubles on the bottom, so you could sleep a total of six
people — a table, four chairs, a fire extinguisher, and electrical
outlet (I wished I’d brought my coffeemaker). Through the
two windows blew breezes infused with scents of fresh moss and

We unpacked our blankets (you bring your own),
watermelon, firewood, and laptop, and walked (bikes would be good
to bring) across the campground to the Cachuma Grill, located in
the marina. The Grill turned out to be no greasy-burger,
cigarettes-in-the-sand kind of place, but a pretty little eatery
with lots of shade, frilly flowers planted in a wheelbarrow,
periwinkle-blue picnic tables, and a menu someone’s put some
thought into. After tasting the fish tacos, fresh and crunchy in
all the right places with cabbage, homemade salsa, and chipotle
cream sauce ($7.49), I wasn’t surprised to learn the owner, Craig
Lingham (whose grandparents started the Grill in 1954),
was once an instructor at the San Francisco Culinary Institute.
This place was so tasty and pleasant I’d come up just for the day
to have lunch and feed the ducks waiting patiently for French

The next day we took a pontoon, or patio boat, for a nice mellow
motoring around the lake. This is a really civilized way to cruise,
particularly if you have no nautical experience or previous
boat-handling skills. Jason, the attendant, showed us everything we
needed to know to make our way around the lake before we shoved
off. It was easy to drive (no mysterious knobs or dials on the dash
to worry about) and comes with a full roof. You can putter around
exploring coves at your leisure. There’s a floating bathroom in the
middle of the lake for emergencies. Our vessel seated 10 ($105/hr),
but for a less spacey experience, you can “take a tern around the
lake” on the regularly scheduled Wildlife Cruises aboard the Osprey
($15 adults, $7 children 12 and under).

At dawn the next day I sat on the yurt’s large wrap-around deck,
drank hot tea, and enjoyed the atmospheric drama of the heavy
morning mist over the water. For breakfast we had a choice: Eat the
Shredded Wheat and black bananas in the trunk of my car, or throw
economy to the wind and visit the Grill again. Option two rewarded
us with Debbie’s Delights’ warm cinnamon rolls, coffee, and hot
chocolate. It was fun to see all the early boating activity going
on at the dock, plus two cats stretching in the morning sun
dreaming of fish guts, no doubt.

Near the entrance to the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area is the
Nature Center, a place I’d heard of but never visited because I
thought it couldn’t be worth the drive from Santa Barbara. Note to
all, particularly those with children: It’s worth the drive. Housed
in an old ranch house, the Nature Center has a fascinating, clever,
and fun collection of interactive cultural history and nature
exhibits. There are fish tanks, a bird room, a Chumash pantry,
puzzles, interesting handouts, eggs, nests, and fur patches to pet.
In the plant room are seeds in jars, burrs on a sock, and a recipe
for Horehound Candy. Outside are postings for mountain lion talks,
kids’ fishing workshops, and an interesting display of “Wrappus
Discardus” (Discard Vine) branches behind glass hung with
milk cartons, cigarette boxes, and bottle caps.

We loved the Nature Center, as would children or visitors of any
age. My son’s favorite display was The Scoop on Poop, an exhibit
consisting of a drawerful of real life samples — raccoon, coyote,
and opossum deposits, and then slipped into the middle of the boxed
bits of doo-doo, a container of “droppings” labeled “Snowman”

At night, yurt-life was the best. We sat on the little slope
outside and ate hot dogs and s’mores (made with cinnamon graham
crackers, my invention), and watched the sun set over Bradbury Dam.
And after shutting our door and tucking in behind the canvas
contours of our home away from home, we would stargaze through the
skylight hearing nothing but wind and rippling water outside. And
the rest is history.

4-1-1 Fees: $45-$65 per night depending on yurt
size and season; non-refundable $15 reservation fee. Two-night
minimum stay for weekends, three nights for major holidays. General
store, a gas station, coin laundry, and hot showers (25 cents/3
minutes). For reservations, call 686-5050, Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-3
p.m.; or visit


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.