“Escape the grind and who will you find? Escape the grind and what will you find?”
These words echo in our heads as we pull up to the gravel parking lot of our humble abode for the evening, and it’s clear our stay here will be a break from the fast pace of every day life. It’s been a long, four-hour drive from Durango to Taos, N.M., much of it without cell service, and the secluded, vintage hotel is a welcome respite from the road.
As we venture further in, the metal glints under the unforgiving desert sun, but it’s impossible to tear our eyes away from the vibrant trailers parked across the flat tract of land. It’s as though we’ve walked not into a retro campground but through a tear in the space and time continuum, and into an era when bell bottoms and Beatlemania were at the height of popularity.
We, of course, have not time-traveled to the 1960s, but are instead standing in awe of some beautifully refurbished trailers born six decades earlier. This is where we will be staying. Welcome to Hotel Luna Mystica.
Thelma and LouiseWe met Louise on a Monday, and despite the negative connotations with that particularly dreary day of the week, she was as cheery as sunshine on a cloudy day. Named for one of the main characters in the iconic 1991 Ridley Scott film, “Thelma and Louise,” this 1967 Avion Tourist is our home for the night.
Louise, the newest addition to the grounds, is docked at the perimeter of Hotel Luna Mystica, a vintage trailer hotel and campground eight miles northwest of Taos, N.M. Here, visitors looking for the unique experience of combing their love of vintage and the outdoors can rent a 1950s/60s/70s refurbished trailer overlooking the New Mexico desert. Just across from the hotel, only a minute walk from our trailer, is Taos Mesa Brewery, where you can catch dinner, beer, and some live music.
Our trailer looks just as plucky as her red-headed namesake. With her pink vibrant exterior dotted with flowers and the retro interior, we wanted to hitch her up to our ride and take her on our own highway adventure. Hopefully, not an adventure that ends in murder and mayhem.
Her partner in crime, Thelma, another 1960s Avion Tourist, is also at rest in the lot.
Thelma is a silver beauty that looks a little more down to earth, with lots of blue and brown tones in the interior. The Hotel Luna Mystica website describes her as “the more playful sister of our Avion pair. When we found Thelma, she was just about to drive herself over the edge. We convinced her life always has its ups and downs; sometimes a change of scenery and open skies flips everything upside down.”
From Louise’s front deck, we have the perfect view of the desert plains stretching toward a jutting mountain backdrop. A few yards away is a fire pit, where we will later find ourselves staring up at the endless starlit skies next to a comforting blaze of tinder. This is also where, amidst a pause in conversation, an owl perched nearby will grow bored of our talking and take off into the darkness, effectively scaring the daylights out of everyone and inspiring a slew of laughter from our group.
Inside the trailer, the decor is charming in its minimalistic approach: a French press and some coffee on the counter, a few books and clay jars stacked above the bed, and a picture frame or two hanging on the walls. There are wood floors, a refrigerator and microwave from a bygone era, and the paint matches the pink on the outside. It’s simple, small, and cozy – a comfortable setup if you’re looking for an outdoor experience without the fuss of putting up your own tent.
Desert easeHere in the quiet New Mexico desert is where Ryan Irion chose to offer travelers a small slice of arid paradise.
“We’re trying to run a hotel and all that entails, and we’re also under construction and adding new trailers,” said Irion, the owner. “We’re still two businesses – a development and hotel business.”
At Hotel Luna Mystica, you can find everything from Airstreams to Spartans. Their oldest residents are a 1950 Spartan Imperial Manor and a 1950 Spartan Mansion, and the trailers’ names are just as diverse as their personalities. There’s Jazzy, Rosie, Christopher, Esmerelda, Judd, Soy Capitan, Spartacus, Apollo, Dona, Sundance, Yogi, Ralphie, Thelma, Louise, Pollux, Dennis, Terry, and Castor. The monikers come from anywhere, from the name of the individual who donated the trailer to favorite movie characters.
There are currently 19 trailers available for nightly rentals – 18 individual and one hostel trailer that offers eight bunk beds. Next year, Irion said, they plan to have 24 trailers and an office lounge with a rooftop terrace.
Irion is a civil engineer living in Austin, Texas, but his brother, Dan, one of the founders of the neighboring Taos Mesa Brewing, lives in Taos, and Ryan has visited him for the last 20 years. The mystical draw of the area never gets old.
“There’s something there you can feel and perceive. It’s a special place on a deeper level,” Irion said. “I think a lot of people resonate with that feeling. It feels like a special, connective place. I love being in that area at night and seeing the stars. To be in an Airstream hotel, there’s that modern comfort that brings you into nature rather than staying in a brick and mortar building.”
Be warned, though. The hotel doesn’t shield you from the wildlife you share the space with, so you might see a snake or scorpion going about its day.
“They were there first, so we’re barging in on their territory to see if we can share a space with them,” Irion said. “What we have is an experiential hotel. We have more and more people living in cities, and with technology, people get less and less connected with nature and wildlife. When people come there and see rabbits running around or hear coyotes or see owls flying through, people get excited. It’s something that they’re looking for.”
An uphill climbInviting as it is, Hotel Luna Mystica wasn’t built in one day. These things never are.
It began when Ryan’s brother, Dan, looked over the vast, empty land across from Taos Mesa Brewing and came up with the concept of starting an RV park on the lot. He convinced their uncle to purchase the adjoining eight-acre tract next to the brewery to use in the long term. Next, they persueded their uncle to start an RV park there. They got the license, but when their uncle realized how much was going to have to be put into starting such a business, he decided against it.
“The brakes were put on and the plan halted, but it planted a seed,” Ryan said.
Down the road, a local man began coming around to the brewery and talked about starting an Airstream hotel. He and Ryan got in contact, formed a partnership, bought land from the brewery, and began their business. Eventually, his partner had to pull out of the deal, “but we kept marching forward,” Ryan said.
The name Hotel Luna Mystica came by way of group think.
“The whole idea of a vintage trailer lodging establishment was new for a lot of people and we didn’t want to get viewed as a trailer park, which is one of the reasons we named it a hotel, and quite frankly, it is,” Ryan said. “You park your car and you stay in a separate area. It makes it sound a little more classy and distinguished. It’s like Hotel California – we’re out there in the desert and in the Southwest. We wanted something that sounded like the area that tied in the geography. It’s the desert with big skies and the moon. We got together one night and had fifty possibilities for names. ... Hotel Luna Mystica seemed to hit on all the points.”
Ryan said they look for their trailers all over the Southwest, in Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Since they opened in 2017, people have come forward with their trailers, looking to get rid of them. Those trailers often hold sentimental value and their owners want to see them enjoyed by others.
“It saves us time and gives us connections. As far as rehabilitating them, we have someone local who works on them – Drew Carlton. He designs custom homes. ... He’s got it down and he’s spitting out great trailers for us. For the decor, we all sit down and discuss that – we pick out themes and colors and he builds them.”
Depending on the trailer, renovations can take anywhere from a month to three months.
When asked which of the trailers was his favorite, Ryan laughed. There’s no way he can pick one. It’s like asking him to pick a favorite family member.
“I love Louise. The outside paint job was phenomenal with the polish. ... Drew’s baby was Spartacus, which has a jacuzzi tub that’s supposed to look like train car. I love Apollo. It’s a thirty-five foot Airstream and they usually didn’t make them more than thirty-one feet long. Airstream made them for the railroad and there’s not many in existence. Judd is a Vagabond with steel construction. It has a painted mosaic floor. I could talk about the features in all of them that I really like.”
Naming the trailers gives them the opportunity to create their personalities. It feels more personable to give them a name, Ryan said, and after all, why not have some fun with it?
“They’re part of us. It makes them more like family.”