WINCHESTER BAY - Joe Kresse drove all the way from his home in Auburn, Wash., to claim the perfect campsite for a Valentine's weekend outing with his wife.
Of course, campsites that come with microwave oven, full-sized refrigerator, 25-inch color television, ceiling fan and pop-up plexiglas skylight, electric heat, double sink and tile-floored bathrooms are not all that easy to find.
But the Kresses had all that for their four-night "campout" at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, overlooking Lake Marie about three miles south of Winchester Bay.
Joe Kresse, you see, had booked a deluxe yurt, one of several upscale accommodations available in the Oregon State Parks system.
"I wouldn't really call this camping," Kresse said of his spacious accommodations, which included two futon-style couches and a funky bunkbed with a double bed on the bottom and single on top.
The only "roughing it" part of the experience is that the Kresses had to bring their own bedding and food, and do all open-flame cooking outdoors. (Of course, the units come with a full-size propane barbecue for those who don't feel like pumping up their Coleman stove.)
Oh, and the television set doesn't get any reception. It's good only for watching videotapes played in the attached VCR.
Kresse paid only $45 a night for his deluxe yurt, the going rate during the winter. During high season, the units rent for $66, compared with $16 for a typical campsite with no electric hook-up.
"We've become big fans of the `Discovery Season,' ' Kresse said, referring to the Parks Department's promotional term for its program that offers discounted rates between Oct. 1 and April 30 each year.
And campers have become big fans of yurts, although most of them are not anywhere near as fancy as the one the Kresses rented.
A yurt is a circular, domed, portable tent styled after the ones used by Mongolian nomads. Parks officials, however, like to say `YURT' stands for Year-round Universal Recreational Tent.
"It's kind of a marketing ploy," said John Allen of Newport, OPRD's Area 1 manager.
Yurts made their first appearance on the state parks campground scene in the early 1990s, when a pair of of them were tried out at Cape Lookout State Park. Allen put in the agency's first large-scale order for yurts in 1994, for a dozen units that were installed at Beverley Beach State Park.
"That worked out so well, and reservations were so popular," Allen said, that the department applied for and received a private foundation grant and lottery dollars to fund the purchase 98 more yurts.
The yurts are manufactured by Pacific Yurt Works Company in Cottage Grove. The state provides the foundations, wooden floors and covered porches, Allen said. (The Parks and Prisons program builds the foundations and makes the furniture.)
All Parks Department yurts come with a lockable wooden door. "I think that's what a lot of people like about them," Allen said.
Kresse rented one of six `deluxe' units, available only at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. Those units measure 24 feet in diameter.
The older and more common `rustic yurts' are 16 feet in diameter and lack the "extras" included with the deluxe models.
The smaller rustic yurts come with the double/single bunk bed, a fold-down couch, table and chairs, and electric lights and heater. Clear plastic windows let in light.
But even those relatively spartan accommodations "are like a luxury campout to my guys," said Dave Quanbeck, scoutmaster of Troop 118 in Winston, shortly after the troop checked into three yurts at Sunset Bay State Park near Charleston.
Troop 118 rents yurts there every winter, Quanbeck said - "usually right after we've been snow camping."
"We like to catch two or three buckets of crab, go into town and get a bunch of steaks, and have steaks and crab for dinner," Quanbeck said. "Between that and yurt camping, the boys think they've died and gone to heaven."
Each 16-foot yurt has beds for five, although Parks Department regulations allow up to three other persons to sleep on the floor. The rustic tents at Sunset Bay rent for $27 a night.
Quanbeck said the yurts are warm and comfortable.
"They're very well insulated," he said. "We've stayed here on some really bad nights and we've stayed plenty dry and warm. ... I mean, you can't hear anything but the wind howling on the outside."
The tent walls "have a space-age insulation - it kind of looks like aluminum foil with foam stuff inside," Allen said.
While the insulation works well in temperate Western Oregon, "it's very difficult to heat them good enough in Central and Eastern Oregon," Allen said. Several yurts originally installed east of the Cascades were later moved to the coast for that reason.
Renting a yurt on a summer weekend or a holiday requires advance planning. "You have to book 'em several months in advance for weekends in summer and holidays," Allen said.
But the statewide occupancy rate for all 190 yurts was 67 percent, according to Frank Howard, an OPRD spokesman in Salem. That means they sat unused a third of the time.
Reservations for yurts must be made by telephone (as many as nine months or as few as two days in advance) by calling (800) 452-5687 during normal weekday business hours. Availability can be checked online at www.reserveamerica.com.
Three of the six deluxe yurts, located only at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, are visible through the trees. The interior of a deluxe includes a cabinet with a TV and VCR, bunk beds, electric heat and a ceiling fan. Scoutmaster Dave Quanbeck sits at a table in a rustic yurt, which is 16 feet in diameter and has beds for five people.