Before the pandemic—and subsequent rise of the nomadic lifestyle and #vanlife—tens of millions hit the open road in RVs. It was simply less glamorous than skoolies (school buses refurbished into homes) with rooftop desks. Back in the spring and summer of 2019, an estimated 25 million people stayed at 18,000 campsites in what we now view as tiny homes on wheels.
Largely inspired by the nostalgia of the great American road trip and the legendary Route 66, Texas-based entrepreneur Charles Tate built his first hospitality concept alongside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. At about a five-hour drive from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, Yonder Escalante offers direct access to 1.87 million acres of public land within the monument, which is known for striking views and landscape, its scientific significance as one of the most important sources of dinosaur fossils, and as the last place in the lower 48 states to be explored.
“[Charles] had an appreciation for places within the United States that are really exceptionally beautiful that a lot of people never get to experience because they’re harder to get to or people don’t necessarily know how to do it,” explains Emma Sallquist, Yonder’s director of sales and marketing.
Operating since 2021, the roadside accommodation is open seasonally from March through November and features 32 tiny cabins that are 135 to 150 square feet, 10 refurbished Airstreams, 67 RV campsites, and an open-air lodge with a general store, communal bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers, and a pool and Jacuzzi. (Rates start at $69 for campsites, $129 for RVs, $199 for cabins, and $249 for Airstreams.) Spread across 20 acres of land, the property purports to offer a home base as a sense of community for travelers with an emphasis on connecting with nature and what the area has to offer.
However, Yonder itself was not originally established to be a travel destination. Similar to how the dating app Hinge advertises the ultimate goal being to delete the app because you’ve found someone to date, Yonder Escalante was built to offer explorers of this unpopulated area a more modern place to stay. Sure, it’s a welcome and comfortable reprieve with amenities like Dyson hair dryers in the bathrooms and nightly movies shown at the drive-in screen to be enjoyed in a fleet of vintage cars with snacks and free popcorn, but the point is to get off the property.
“Even when we have a full house, from the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. there’s not that many people on property, not that many cars, and not many people in a lodge,” Emma says. “Everyone is out doing [things], and then we’re the respite to come back to at the end of the night.”
Yonder is unlike other tiny home or glamping experiences located just outside of major cities that offer the access and convenience city dwellers seek with the space and views that their homes lack. While there’s no bar or sit-down type of restaurant, there are cocktail kits and an assortment of beverages available in the general store—spiked Kombucha and wine included. For food and dining, travelers have the option to pick up ready-made items from an on-property food truck or dinners to cook over the fire pit at each site. (For the most part, these travelers are prepared for life on the road.)
More specifically made with nomads in mind are the modern outdoor showers with high-end bath products, and a laundry room that accepts credit cards—a notable difference from National Park campsites. “For a lot of people—even discerning travelers that are worldly and have seen a lot of places internationally and domestically—this particular pocket of the country is new and can be a little bit overwhelming,” Emma explains. “Our goal is to minimize the barriers of entry and intimidation.”
Creating anything aligned with travel trends will likely attract residents from the greater New York and Los Angeles regions, but Yonder also hosts guests from San Francisco and San Diego in addition to folks within a five- to six-hour radius like Salt Lake City, Park City, and parts of Arizona and Colorado.
While those who visit in fully outfitted tour-bus-style RVs tend to do their own thing, as they have all the necessities on four wheels, the van-life types heavily leverage Yonder’s amenities. “A lot of people will show up in a van, then start to look around and see the cabins and see the Airstreams and upgrade,” Emma adds.
This nomadic lifestyle led by many of their visitors is baked into the business, as Yonder’s seasonal staff is largely nomadic as well. “There is a pretty significant population within the United States of people that live in a van or have an RV, travel the country, and move from property to property,” Emma says. “They might have a winter property that they spend three or four months working at, and then a place where they spend the warmer months, and they might return to those two properties year after year, and there’s people that want to keep moving every four months.”
Differing from seasonal staff, like in the Hamptons, for example, Yonder doesn’t have a major metropolitan area to pull from. For most of their staff, it’s a stop along the way. “You can create a really incredible culture and ethos, but at the end of the day, if what’s driving a person and bringing them there in the first place is this kind of zest for exploration and adventure, there’s an expiration date, no matter how great the experience is for an employee,” she adds.
This requires creativity in hiring and twofold considerations for accommodations, as it’s likely the staff will live on the property. “When we have [hiring] needs, we’ll partner with van-life and nomadic lifestyle content creators to advertise job postings and opportunities,” Emma explains. In addition to referrals, they also partner with CoolWorks.com, which Sallquist calls “the industry leader in outdoor, ranch, resort, ski town, and seasonal jobs.”
Establishing a community on the property is not only highlighted in the design choices of the bathrooms and lodge, but it’s also representative of the way the staff lives on the property and how Yonder hopes to retain them season after season. In addition to spending time together during off hours or having bonfire birthday celebrations, the reality is many of them live in their mobile home or within staff housing on the property, which makes run-of-the-mill errands a bit more taxing. According to Emma, the management at Yonder is “super privy to personal needs that [the team] have on property.”
This can look like general manager Linz DeSeno, who lives locally, running employees into town a couple times a week for groceries or errands, coordinating friends and family visitors, excursions deep into the hard-to-reach public lands of the Monument to explore during their season, and managing everyone’s incoming mail and packages. Having a team who not only understands but lives a similar way of life as a lot of visitors—or at least that seems attractive to those making the trek—affords a deeper level of understanding for their guests. Yonder serves as everyone’s temporary home to “rough it” (with plumbing and a hot tub), a comfortable place to lay your head in a corner of the country’s most preserved and protected lands.