In our year 2022, high-desert “bohemian” getaways like Joshua Tree or Marfa are on the verge of being overrun. The Airbnb-Instagram industrial complex and its throngs of venture capitalists, influencers, gurus, and clout chasers have begun slowly stripping these places of their idiosyncrasies, turning them into Pinterest-ready paradises for festival-wear fetishists.
So when The Daily Beast was invited to check out Yonder Escalante, a chic new camping resort in the southern Utah desert—featuring neatly designed A-frame cabins, restored vintage Airstreams, and a drive-in theater with parked classic cars—I must confess: I was skeptical.
My cynical ass hauled itself out to the middle of nowhere late this summer fully expecting to be floored by the natural splendor (who wouldn’t be!) but with a nagging sense of mistrust of yet another sleek, Instagrammable glamping retreat.
Instead, I let go. And I found myself deeply enjoying a long weekend of wonder.
Yonder Escalante is part RV park/part campground/part upscale lodge situated on a 20-acre plot of land right up along Scenic Byway 12—emphasis on scenic because holy hell this drive is just one gasp after another.
The resort’s distance from major cities (Vegas, five hours west; SLC, five hours north) seems to weed out the trend-chasers I so grumpily decried, so much that it feels like a real haven for true believers and adventure seekers.
A relaxed, unpretentious, and carefree experience makes sense considering the glampground was built by a father-son duo who lived the real RV life and came away wanting to create a space for fellow travelers who seek more than “just a parking spot.”
And it definitely is way more than that. Accompanying the 22 cabins, 10 Airstreams, and 35 RV spots is a laundry room along with a spa-like bath house with luxury toiletries and private outdoor showers. A food truck offers breakfast burritos and oatmeals by morning; several delicious sandwiches, including a house smash burger, along with Dole Whip soft-serve and heapings of tots and fries at all other hours. A general store sells DIY meal kits, snacks, and alcoholic beverages. And a mid-century, open-air communal lodge features fire pits overlooking the vast, dusty desert landscape.
The pool/hot tub is a welcome oasis before or after a full day of exploring the surrounding areas. Indeed, there’s an immense amount of stuff to look at and hikes to consider. And Yonder Escalante is the perfect home base for the requisite day trips as it sits within driving distance of both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks and their countless sights, as well as the myriad slot canyons, hoodoos, and river trails dotting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A simple daytime drive east on Route 12 turns into a thrill ride on the Hogsback, a stretch of the byway that climbs to the narrow crest of a ridge with immediate drops in the hundreds of feet on either side of the road.
On this particular trip, we hiked Bryce Canyon’s Queens / Navajo combination loop, which included the famed “Wall Street” and its steep, narrow switchbacks; the Devil’s Garden, a remote playground of sandstone formations and arches several miles down the bumpy Hole-in-the-Rock Road; and Lower Calf Creek Falls, a nearly seven mile out-and-back to a 126-foot waterfall tucked away deep within the canyons.
Nothing like multi-hour hikes through some truly extraterrestrial-looking landscapes to reset the neurons in this media-addled brain, release some dopamine, and experience pure, uncut awe.
But it was back at Yonder Escalante where I was more surprised to capture some of that childlike joy.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by Airstreams. Something about that retro-futuristic curved aluminum shape—like a sci-fi silver bullet to somewhere, anywhere that isn’t here—has long led me to stop and gawk whenever I spot one. (Shoutout to the person who parks theirs on my favorite cobblestone street in Red Hook.) And so every time I approached our Airstream trailer, I admittedly felt giddy to be there. Absolute dweeb, I know.
I’ve been camping plenty of times and am certainly guilty of wincing at glamping as “inauthentic” or “bougie.” But the Yonder experience sacrifices none of the simple pleasures that make camping enjoyable in the first place. Like cooking on an open flame.
“There’s nothing like a campfire and a can of beans,” Tom Waits once sang, and while there were sadly no cans of beans available, Yonder does offer a delightful series of DIY meal packages: A local whole chicken, spatchcocked and sous-vide in advance so that it stays juicy and you only need to brown it to your liking; or a generous cut of steak from a family-owned meat processor in Kanab; and sides of various fresh and fully seasoned veggies along with—of course—a s’mores kit.
Out in front of each trailer or cabin is a fire pit and plenty of space to just hang out. And so we happily did so for all three nights, almost like a ritual: Return from a long day of hiking, spark up the fire pit, sit around for hours drinking beer, taking in the crisp desert air and staring up at the darkest sky I’ve seen in years with a hazy band of the Milky Way visible.
And then we go to bed and do it all again.