Utah lodge combines Airstream trailers, cars, drive-in movies
Getaway • One-of-a-kind lodge provides a vintage drive-in style experience.
Published: June 11, 2012 09:39AM
Updated: September 11, 2012 11:31PM
Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune Airstream trailers in Escalante.

Escalante • Utah’s Highway 12 — which winds its way 124 miles from Panguitch to Torrey — has dozens of natural attractions from alpine forests and ancient sea beds to pink rock turrets.

But this scenic byway also boasts a relatively new man-made curiosity — The Shooting Star Drive-In. It’s a one-of-a-kind resort that combines Airstream travel trailers and vintage convertible cars with a drive-in movie theater.

Owner Mark Gudenas, a Chicago native, opened the resort about a year ago on 25 acres just west of Escalante. The main attraction is the eight restored vintage Airstream trailers that guests can rent starting at $149 a night. There are seven vintage convertibles where travelers can sit and watch an old-time movie on a large outdoor screen. The resort also has its own RV park.

On a warm May evening, just hours before the recent eclipse, a few lucky souls sat in the vintage cars watching the cheesy black-and-white science-fiction film “It Came from Outer Space.” As he does most nights from spring until fall when the Shooting Star is open, Gudenas made certain the Looney Tunes cartoons and feature film were playing properly. In between, he sold popcorn, vintage soda pop and candy — think wax lips and candy cigarettes — and caught a glimpse of the movie.

Accommodations • A movie buff for as long as he can remember, Gudenas decorated the Airstreams in a manner he thinks John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe or Robert Redford would have liked when they were filming on location in Utah.

Each trailer has a kitchen, a tiny bathroom, beds, satellite radio and television as well as a wooden deck with Adirondack chairs and a propane grill. Gudenas even sells ready-to-cook packs of steak, salmon, chicken, brats or hamburgers so his guests don’t have to hunt for the grocery store.

Gudenas is easy to spot: He wears 1950s-type bowling shirts — a style he adopted long before Charlie Sheen made them famous on “Two and a Half Men” — and a straw porkpie hat. He delivers dinner and breakfast on a vintage 1966 bright yellow electric golf cart.

“He is a character,” said Neil Crane of Woodbridge, Conn., who enjoyed his unique Utah accommodations. “I saw portions of the movie and it was a good contrast to all the nature around us. It was like staying at a nice upscale motel.”

Amy Sceery, also from Connecticut, discovered the resort via the Internet.

“I love hobbyists and clearly this guy is an extraordinary hobbyist,” she said. “We had a fantastic time in the area, and he had some great tips.”

Drive-in memories • Gudenas, who operates the facility with his son, said one of his first memories as a child is watching “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in the backseat of his parents’ Ford Fairlane at a double drive-in movie theater. During his youth, he returned to the drive-in many times: He hopped the fence and pulled the speaker off the post before he was shooed away. He also remembers going in his first car, a 1966 Mustang.

As an adult, Gudenas worked in marketing and advertising for Time magazine in Chicago. He came West in a Volkswagen convertible in 1979 and worked at an art center, an advertising agency and eventually as director of corporate marketing for a large green-building program company in California.

When that company purchased Bud Bailey Construction in Salt Lake City, Gudenas would often fly to Utah for meetings. Instead of heading back to California on Friday nights, he would rent a car and drive to southern Utah. The spectacular terrain made him return again and again.

About eight years ago, Gudenas began collecting Airstream trailers — as well as the vintage convertibles — from all over the country.

The Shooting Star Drive-In is the marriage of “two iconic symbols of freedom and adventure on American highways,” he said. “Then there was the fun and unique adventure of a drive-in movie theater. So I built all of them and put them together.”

He searched all over southern Utah for the right place to build the resort, looking in Springdale, Kanab, Moab and Panguitch and eventually settling on an RV park in Escalante.

“It had to be just right,” he said. The town of Escalante is almost exactly in the middle of the 124-mile stretch of Highway 12, making it a good home base to explore the recreational areas in either direction.

It took him nine months to build the resort, doing most of the renovations himself.

“I lived in a city for a long time and I could always go back,” he said. “But I am digging the lifestyle out here. I like getting my boots dirty and wearing my tool belt to work on all the Airstreams. I enjoy interacting with the guests. You meet fascinating people coming from all over the world.”


Shooting Star Drive-In

What •A one-of-a-kind resort along Utah’s Highway 12 where travelers can stay in restored Airstream travel trailers and sit in vintage convertible cars while they watch a drive-in movie.

Where • 2020 W. Highway 12, Escalante; 435-826-4440.

Cost • Airstream trailers can be rented starting at $149 per night. Each trailer includes a kitchen, bathroom, beds, satellite radio and television as well as a wooden deck with Adirondack chairs and a propane grill.

Details • shootingstardrive-in.com

Drive-in movie history

Robert Hollingshead is credited with building the first open-air movie theater where movie buffs could watch from their own cars. He built a prototype in his driveway in Camden, N.J., using a 1928 Kodak projector mounted on the hood of his car. He projected onto a screen nailed to trees in his backyard and used a radio placed behind the screen for sound. Hollingshead was granted the first patent for the Drive-In Theater on May 16, 1933, and he opened the first drive-in in Camden that same year. Admission was 25 cents for the car and 25 cents per person.

Source • About.com inventors

Airstream trailer history

The distinctive-looking Airstream trailer dates to 1929, when Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it and then erected a tent on it. His wife, Marion, refused to go camping without a kitchen, so he built a teardrop-shaped shelter that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove. He published an article on “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars” and sold 15,000 detailed instruction plans. After several friends asked him to make them trailers in his backyard, the Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932. Airstream is credited with the first holding tank, ladder frame, pressurized water system and, in 1957, the first fully self-contained travel trailer.

Source • Airstream Trailers