Welcome to the Frontier Drive-Inn, in San Luis Valley, Colorado.
Few sounds travel through the mountain ranges surrounding the Frontier Drive-Inn, in San Luis Valley, Colorado. There are nearby balers threshing hay, conveyor belts moving potatoes from the earth to a transport truck, and a robot softly humming as it creates 3D-printed “Skylos” made from Adobe mud.
The futuristic machine seems inconsistent with the natural landscape as it deposits mud in a circular pattern, but the emerging structure does indeed feel befitting of the area. And it’s all the perfect visual representation of the old-meets-new atmosphere the Frontier Drive-Inn is going for.
More than three decades ago, the screens went dark at the Frontier Drive-in. But, thanks to a wayward movie production and one man’s vision, the movies came roaring back to life in an otherwise desolate landscape over the summer of 2022. But that’s not all. Because over the summer, the theater opened a few luxury hotel suites made from Steelmaster sheds and plush glamping yurts alongside those aforementioned Skylos. This way, guests can watch movies right from bed, or if they stay in a Skylo, look straight up to the starry night sky.
“Many of the potato cellars, houses, and even the downtown buildings in the San Luis Valley are largely Native-built Adobe structures,” architect Ron Rael told Travel + Leisure. Rael is known for his seesaw installation that bridged the U.S.- Mexico border wall. He’s also the man who conceptualized the Skylos at the inn “It’s a local material, but we’re doing something different — bringing traditions and new technologies together in unexpected ways.”
Rael holds deep reverence for the land. He grew up in the San Luis Valley, as did seven generations of his family before him. And that’s why he ensured everything, even down to the pattern the 3D printers use to create the structures, is connected to this land.
“The fields surrounding the Frontier are all circular,” Rael said. “The 3D printer I devised spins around the center. This reflects the larger context of this area. Even the texture I’ve created looks like a pile of potatoes.”
The drive-in, which opened its doors in 1955, had sat abandoned since 1986. But, in 2015, it got its time in the limelight once again thanks to Adam Gildar, Frontier’s program director, who happened onto the site while looking for a filming location.
“I was working with artists from Mexico City on a project for the Biennial of the Americas. We wanted to shoot a film in the Great Sand Dunes National Park but kept striking out with permits,” Gildar said. That is, until he found Frontier, which was quick to give the crew a filming permit.
But after filming, he couldn’t get it out of his head. So, he shared his knowledge of the space with Mark Falcone, a board member of the Biennial and a man with the resources to bring the site back to life.
Now the space, equidistant to the Wolf Creek Ski Area and Great Sand Dunes National Park, is as eye-catching as they come. It’s a destination meant to be visually savored thanks to its mixed materials like the bright steel of the sheds to the soft canvas coverings of the yurts held up by rich, dark wood.
On a recent visit, I stayed inside one of the inn’s ultra-chic Steelmaster sheds. Upon entry, the concrete floors felt cool on my hiking-ravaged feet, and the blend of woven lampshades, braided chairs, and creamy drapes instantly put me in a meditative state.
Making my way around the suite I noted every luxurious detail — from the sleek ceiling fan that operates in two directions depending on the breeze flowing through the screened sliding glass door to the radiant heat coming from the floor and a shower stall so big it could be its own room. And remember, this is all within a shed.
I’m sure I would have been just as happy in one of the inn’s yurts, which come with the same neutral design palette and the bonus of a skylight, but sans a private bath. But that’s OK, as there are lovely little communal bath houses just around the corner for all yurt guests.
And guests are always invited to enjoy the weekend movies together on the inn’s lush green grass, or they can take a seat on one of the straw bales hauled in from local farms. And don’t worry — there are plenty of movie snacks to be had at the inn’s snack bar, which still boasts its vintage green neon sign.
On my last morning, I made it outside as the sun came up over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. But I wasn’t alone. Industrious farmers were already hard at work gathering potatoes. Thanks to this sight, it became even more apparent that the Frontier Drive-Inn lives in the in-between, and we all should be happy to sit in the middle.
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published 2022-11-24 22:48:09