When the Pioneer Fire ravaged the Boise National forest near Idaho City, it charred the landscape for miles, devouring tons of timber, and damaging or destroying several back country yurts managed by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. But the man who manages the system of yurts found a silver lining to the clouds of smoke.
The fire burned down the whispering pines yurt, but it also cleared the perfect spot for a brand new yurt, that opened just in time for the upcoming winter season according to yurt manager Leo Hennessy. "It's actually enhanced the area for winter, because now we have better views, and we have lots of open slopes," said Hennessy "so the tele-skiers are really drooling. We have some slopes behind here that have never been skied. So whoever gets this yurt this winter is going to have some great skiing right behind us."
Hennessy, who built the first yurt here in 1996 used his twenty two years of experience to build the Taj Mahal of Idaho back country yurts.
"This yurt is a cumulation of all of the stuff that we've found that has been the best in the others... So this is basically a design that is the best of the best."
The new "Hennessy" Yurt sits on an open hilltop overlooking a vast valley and several of Central idahos' magnificent mountain ranges.
It's the perfect spot for people who want a true back-country experience with minimal effort and maximum comfort.
"You don't have to bring a stove, you don't have to bring a tent, so it's a wonderful way to be able to get out into the wilderness and be comfortable warm and cozy," said Brenda Adams, a Parks and Rec volunteer who loves the yurts.
The Hennessy Yurt is equipped with beds for six people, a wood burning stove for heat, a propane stove for cooking, and a small solar panel that provides just enough energy for interior lights but, by design, not enough to plug in a lap-top. And forget about social media and texting. There is no cell service on this mountain top, but there is plenty to see.
"We were actually up here during the last full moon, that evening, and the moon came up over there, and it was gorgeous." said Madonna Lengerich, a long-time volunteer who helped cut the two mile trail skiers and snow shoers will use to get here in the winter. When there is no snow, a four wheel drive will put you a few steps from the front door. Lengerich says her years of work are worth the satisfaction of providing a back country experience to those who might not have the skills, drive or equipment for a multi-day hike.
"It's very satisfying to make it so that people who are not used to being in the woods can do it under controlled circumstances pretty much and learn to love the mountains and the woods. And in this day and age i think its really important that people come out into the mountains and learn to love them and respect them, and everyone needs to learn how to take care of them. That's where it's at."
Every yurt in the system has a journal for visitors. Leo says his favorite entries are written by people who call it a life changing experience. He can't wait to see what visitors write in this new journal, at this new yurt, that was named in his honor.
"I greatly appreciate that, and am very humbled by it, but also it made me want to make this yurt the best. So if you want to come see the best yurt up here, it's the Hennessy Yurt, cause it's the newest and it has all the great ideas. It's a great experience out here. Just sitting on the deck with a glass of wine and watching the sun come up or go down is just an amazing experience."