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Yonder Escalante glamping resort takes the RV park upscale

A few years of road trips made it clear to Charles Tate just what most RV parks lacked. “Primarily, clean bathrooms,” he says.

Tate, a longtime financier, investor and dedicated traveler, became interested in RV parks after a family member opened one in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, put up a simple website, and was quickly booked 12 months ahead.

“Six or seven years ago,” Tate says, “I thought, ‘I’ve never really heard of a business like that — with no advertising you open, and your entire capacity is booked a year in advance.’ ”

He started researching the industry. “My son James and I took a real interest in it, bought a 1977 Airstream and started taking trips,” Tate says. They got a feel for what worked and what most assuredly didn’t — like those nasty bathrooms. The result is Yonder Escalante, a camping/glamping resort that opened this spring between Bryce Canyon National Park and the town of Escalante in Utah.

The 20-acre resort has 67 RV sites, 22 custom cabins and 10 vintage Airstreams. It grew out of Shooting Star RV Park, which Tate purchased in 2018. Some of the Airstreams, as well as the movie screen and some of the vintage cars that provide the “drive-in movie experience,” were already there.

“It had a really nice feel to it,” Tate says. “It created an emotional reaction beyond just a place to park.” Tate would add the aspects of glamping, the more “glamorous” version of camping.

“The whole glamping industry, which was a relatively new idea five years ago, has evolved,” Tate says. “RV parks really are just a place to park an RV overnight. We wanted to offer amenities to augment the customer experience, a better overnight stay than some of the hotels and lodges and B&Bs that exist outside the entrances of national parks.”

Some bulldozing was in order, with the old office and bathhouses bearing no resemblance to what has replaced them. The Lodge is home to the office, a general store and the covered, open-air, central gathering place. That space is complete with a variety of seating options, gas-powered fire rings, and books and board games for borrowing. Coffee, tea and breakfast pastries are served in the mornings. There’s another fire ring nearby at one end of a row of cabins, and the pool and spa are steps away.

“We wanted to have a place where people could work on their computer and not talk to anyone around them, or strike up a conversation; the choice is theirs,” Tate says. “We borrowed from successful businesses such as Starbucks, which is really about community: ‘And, oh, by the way, we serve coffee.’ ”

And oh, by the way, the bathhouses: They’re sleek, streamlined buildings with soothing piped-in music that starts just inside the door, in the central hallway that separates the spaces for men and women. In each are floor-to-ceiling stalls with louvered doors and a mirrored vanity accompanied by the expected electric hand dryers but also cloth towels (a black makeup-removing set on the women’s side), plus bottles of bamboo-and-lemongrass soap and lotion. Hair dryers and flatirons also are furnished.

Past shelves packed with rolled fluffy towels and behind frosted doors are the spacious shower stalls, with rainfall shower heads, pebbled floors, bamboo platforms and a trio of bamboo-and-lemongrass beauty products. The showers in the west bathhouse have Zen-garden-evoking enclosures that are open to the sky, for an outdoor shower experience.

“I’ve never been to an RV park that had an outdoor shower,” Tate says. “I always found that inconsistent with why people are doing it in the first place. And what’s more sensual than an outdoor shower?” For those who disagree, the showers in the Lodge bathhouse are indoor-only.

The Airstreams are spacious and maybe a little spartan. “It was our designer’s idea to really gut them and take them down to their aluminum skin, which is why people are attracted to them in the first place,” he says. There’s a climate system for comfort, and each has been fitted with a queen-sized bed, twin-sized daybed, chair and bench seating and occasional tables, plus a kitchen sink and cabinet.

The A-frame cabins have front and back glass walls. “When you lie in bed at night, you can see the stars out the window,” Tate says. A queen-sized bed, twin-sized daybed, chair, shelving unit and leather floors complete the cabins.

The cabins and Airstreams have no cooking facilities other than a compact fridge and mini-microwave, but each has a fire pit and grill, and the general store sells kits, complete with cooking, serving and dining utensils, for meals that can be prepared there.

Movies are shown Thursdays through Sundays on the outdoor screen. Guests can bring a chair, perch on the bleachers or find spots in one of the nine vintage vehicles equipped with sound and heaters. A concession stand is nearby.

Throughout, the emphasis is on the outdoors.

“We’re trying to break down the barriers between indoors and outdoors — provide enough protection and security to people to feel secure, but maximize the outdoors as much as one can,” Tate says. “We offer a product that’s more consistent with why customers choose to recreate this way in the first place. There’s so much to do in that part of Utah,” including Bryce Canyon (its Moss Cave is just down the road), Petrified Forest State Park, the Dixie National Forest and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “You can really stay a week and have a different experience outside the park every day.”

“It’s a prototype,” he says. “No one’s ever built an RV/glamping park quite like this one. We still have a lot to learn, but we seem to have gotten enough right that it seems right to keep things going in that direction.

“It’s a fun business to be in. I’ve never had so much fun doing due diligence in my life.”

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