Friday, 5 March 2010

The Shady Dell

Our Airstream has spent most of our trip being dwarfed by giant Winnebagos and supersize fifth-wheels. More often than not, our trailer has been a quarter of the size of its neighbors.
These rigs are way more comfortable than ours, but it does seem that vintage trailers are lighter, more stylish and built to last.
What would a trailer park filled with beautiful RVs look like? We had been pondering this very question for nearly a year - before leaving England - even fantasizing about how we would fashion our very own trailer park.

So it was with great joy that we discovered the trailer park of our dreams, The Shady Dell, in Bisbee, an Arizona mining town a mile up in the sky.

Jen and Justin are the proprietors of this park-cum-hotel, which is comprised exclusively of 1950s trailers and memorabilia.

Here, guests spend the night in stationary RVs, pretending that they too are a product of mid-century Modernism.

On offer are 11 restored beauties like the
- 1949 21’ Airstream
- 1957 17’ El Rey
- 1954 12’ Crown
- 1957 gold painted Airfloat
- 1951 33’ Spartan Royal Mansion

as well as wackier options including the Tiki Bus (complete with Tiki bar) and Rita D Yacht, a 38’ Chris Craft Yacht, both dating from 1947.

Lest these vehicles fail to impress, The Shady Dell even has its own 1950s restaurant, the minute Dots Diner, which is open for breakfast and lunch Friday through Tuesday. With quality ingredients, the menu is very reasonably priced.

Also in the works is a drive-in movie theater, complete with classic cars to seat viewers.

Luckily for us, there are a few spots set aside for visitors with their own trailers. Paying a very reasonable $30 plus $10 for the girls, we were parked across from our new friends Dan and Marlene’s modern Airstream and a California lady’s beautifully redone light yellow painted 60s tin can.

What prompted the young couple to take on this amazing project?

The two, who had met thanks to their shared love of all things vintage – classic cars, antiquing, music – had stayed at the park under previous management and joked that they’d love to take it over. So two years ago, when Justin, by chance, saw that it was indeed up for sale, they did just that – about a year into their relationship.

The park had declined under the prior owners, so there was a lot to fix before Justin and Jen could set about adding their own touches.

Now, all the trailers are in perfect condition, all kitted out with true-to-era fabrics, furnishings and fittings. Some even come with record players and TVs playing period music and shows.

Visitors get so swept up in the spirit of the place that they plan costume parties and even weddings there.

Most often, they hail from nearby Phoenix and Tucson, but regularly come from further afield, with European countries like the UK, Netherlands and Germany being well represented.

In addition to being one of the most pristine parks we’ve stayed in, it’s also the most fun. Jen and Justin, and their right-hand man - Ken, who preceded them as manager by 12 years – genuinely seem to enjoy running The Shady Dell, even finding time to dress the part. Because it's so darn pretty, it's hard to venture off the premises. (If you do want to, though, Bisbee is a handsome town with well maintained 1800s buildings and a mine shaft a mile deep that's open to the public.)

They all live on site: Ken, in an immaculate Spartan, and Jen and Justin in a small, beautifully decorated apartment (whose few nods to the present include a carefully hidden color TV) behind the office.

Are they RVers, too? Of course: Their own red-and-white Shasta, which sits near the entrance, still gets to go on the occasional trip or rally.

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