Sylvia Davids smiles from behind the campstore counter, framed by Kit-Kat clocks with swinging tails and swiveling eyes, Chapstick, packets of laundry detergent, a photo of Elvis, and a sign that reads “FRESH COFFEE ANYTIME.” She wears bright pink cat’s eye glasses and a smile. It’s rare to find someone so much in her element, living the dream.
She and her partner Larry Hill opened the Starlite Classic Campground in Cañon City, Colorado, five years ago. The property along Highway 50, directly behind the Gold Mine Rock Shop and on the way to the Royal Gorge Bridge, had been abandoned when they found it. Larry drove the tractor through the tall grass, and Sylvia walked ahead to make sure he didn’t run into anything. (They found a swimming pool and a miniature golf course. The swimming pool is now in use; miniature golf is play at your own risk.)
The two had long been collecting and restoring vintage trailers—think silver bullet Airstreams or any of the kitschy boxes on wheels with chrome wing accents and mobile kitchens that were popular when Americans were exploring the nation’s highways in the 1950s—when they met at a camper rally, a place folks like them get together to talk about and admire these home-away-from-homes. Larry rolled up in a 1962 TePee trailer that is on the property today. They soon discovered they both shared the dream of opening a vintage camper campground
“We created the logo and the name and looked for a property that would fit our list of criteria,” said Sylvia.
Four years later they found that property here, about two hours away from Denver and a mile away from the 1,000-foot gorge and suspension bridge with the Arkansas River running with rafters far below. Now there are nine vintage camper trailers on the property, a camp store with showers and bathrooms, an adjoining laundry with two vintage pinball machines (Larry used to play in pinball competitions in the 1970s), and room for a few tents and RVs.
Complimentary bikes with banana seats and flaking paint lean against the store ready for a roll around the campground. Larry can be seen walking around the property with his grey ponytail and jeans, smoking a pipe. Friends drop by to hold court on the campstore porch couch next to a vintage jukebox and a cage of chirping zebra finches.
Sylvia proudly gives us a tour of our trailer for the night, The Sally, a 1962 Shasta Airflyte SC with hot pink sparkly vinyl couches that pull into beds (pink and white polka dot sheets are in the overhead cabinet), gold flecked kitchen countertops, and Pink Panther curtains. She points out the new pink aluminum percolater she just added to the kitchen, for drinking coffee out of your vintage pink melamine coffee cups, and explained how the tabletops fold up against wall. The floor is pink and white confetti linoleum squares.
The trailers on the property sleep anywhere from two to six people, each with their own wacky theme. Each has its own front porch complete with your own patch of Astroturf and awning strung with party lights, along with vintage lawn chairs for sitting outside and sipping a cold beer.
Ours had swinging owl lights in green blue and yellow, and a miniature picket Chihuahua-size fence. Another nearby had a groovy hand chair and disco ball that flashes at night.
Larry’s Tepee Trailer, dubbed the Flamingo Lounge, is hitched to a 1958 Chevy Biscayne—and comes with plastic flamingos and matching powder blue lawnmower in the “front yard.”
The Tiki Bago has a thatched tiki bar (complete with a handcrank blender) and those coconut monkeys with the googly eyes to watch you as you drink.
The temptation is overwhelming to poke around each trailer to see what special touches Sylvia and Larry have added, but the campground rules warn specifically against peeking into other trailers. I guess we’re not the only ones who have the urge.
The truth is we are giddy in our own trailer. We crank open all of the windows and pop the ceiling and enjoy hunks of pork BBQ that we picked up in town and cold Colorado beers on our sparkly tabletops. We pull out the sheets I’d imagine the Pink Ladies from Grease having a slumber party on and pop some Jiffy Pop popcorn from the campstore on the mini-range without having to get out of bed.
The beauty of ‘camping’ in a trailer is all the comforts of home but it feels like sleeping outside. The night breeze carried the tribal sounds of a man singing and drumming somewhere out there in the high plains desert, perhaps enjoying Colorado’s marijuana laws, judging from his warblings. Dogs bark in the distance, a few campfires crackle, an occasional car whizzes by on the highway.
And the stars shine so bright you can see to several distant galaxies. On my way back from the camp bathroom, I pulled one of the 1960s lawn chairs into the open, leaned back, and took in the expanse of sky, thankful for Sylvia and Larry’s little slice of heaven.
Starlite Classic Campground
30 County Road 3A
Canon City, CO 81212