To say Joe and Melissa Taylor enjoy camping would be an understatement.
For them it’s a lifestyle — especially now. The couple and their three children are currently living in a camper while construction begins on their new home.
They purchased their first travel trailer five years ago but recently traded it for a larger, 30-foot model. It was a necessary upgrade to comfortably accommodate the family of five and their dog, Lillie.
To some the drastic reduction in space would be a test of patience and endurance. But the Taylors have more than embraced their temporary living quarters. In fact, they chose it specifically for the adventure. A travel trailer has always served as a home away from home for the family that ranks camping at the top of their family traditions.
“This is something Joe and I have enjoyed since we started dating 10 years ago,” Melissa explains. “Joe always camped with his family. All three of our daughters love to camp, especially when there are marshmallows and other kids involved.”
The couple brought their second daughter, Millie, home to a travel trailer when they were building their first home. Keira, their oldest, took her first camping trip at three weeks old during the annual Fourth of July trip, when family and friends gather for a fun-filled weekend of swimming, fishing, sun bathing, relaxing and a catfish fry and potluck — a tradition Melissa says long proceeds her lifespan.
Locally, Joe and Melissa prefer to camp at Criss Cove. The family once took a trip to Backbone State Park in Dundee and plan to revisit the area soon.
“We typically camp Friday to Sunday, but if we can squeeze in a third night that’s even better,” Melissa says. “Joe likes to fish, and the girls pretend they do, too, so they can have a little Dad time. Something about spending all day just hanging out, having fun and then relaxing around a crackling fire at night sets the soul at ease.”
The parents almost always pack a slip-n-slide and sprinkler to keep the kids entertained. They take walks, pick flowers and end each night with a fire.
Keira, Millie and their youngest, Jeneva, often asked when they could camp again, which made the transition from their home to the camper much easier. The girls have adjusted well to their short-term digs — aside from a scare or two from the occasional thunderstorm.
“They have a bunkhouse in the back, and it’s a slumber part every night,” Melissa says.
The Taylors’ current accommodations present some challenges, however. Melissa works from home, which means she’s set up with her laptop in the small space for the time being. In the evenings the family gets creative to avoid becoming stir crazy. If the weather is nice they stay outside and grill most of their meals. Melissa admits to becoming quite proficient at one-pot dishes for the inside oven.
“Joe grills or smokes different kinds of meat, and we’ve perfected a few Dutch oven favorites and breakfast burritos,” she laughs.
The family still fights the usual battles with clutter and keeping toys and other items picked up so they aren’t tripping over one another.
But, for the most part, the travel trailer still feels like home.
“At night we even wind down with a little NetFlix on the TV. Similar to living in a house, only smaller,” Melissa says.
Home away from home
Larry and Laura Silverthorn rarely set an alarm clock — the birds begin chirping at 5 a.m. and the couple is easily awakened.
The Silverthorns own a home in Winterset, but choose to spend eight months of each year at Pammel Park, serving as hosts and living in their travel trailer.
For six years Larry and Laura have left home the first week of March to serve the campground while simultaneously partaking in their favorite hobby. Their kids are grown, and they are enjoying their “second act” together in nature, just miles from home.
Along with another set of hosts they open and close the park, sell firewood and ice, check guests in and take care of the lawn, cabins and fire pits. They even troubleshoot common problems with the electricity in the cabins, among other things.
“Laura used to work for a dentist,” Larry explains. “She has even pulled a few loose teeth for some of the kids staying out here.”
Larry and Laura grew up camping. When they married they decided to keep the tradition going. At first they tent camped, but when a rainstorm left them drenched and cold one evening they decided to purchase their first pop-up camper. They traveled with both of their children well into the kids’ high school years to Lake Okoboji, Green Valley, Creston, Corning and Muscatine.
“My favorite was our trips to Lake Okoboji,” Laura says. “Boating and visiting Arnold’s Park — we have a lot of great memories.”
The couple invested in a fifth wheel trailer after their youngest child finished high school. They’ve owned five travel trailers over the years.
“It was a running joke that for three years in a row we had a new camper,” Laura laughs. “If you’re going to live in it, you want to like it.”
On a typical day the Silverthorns wake up early and leave the campground to go to work. Laura is a teacher at Winterset High School, while Larry is a plant engineer with Madison County Healthcare. On the weekends they wake up, cook breakfast and immediately begin checking guests into the campground. Larry grills frequently and also leads cast-iron cooking demonstrations.
When hosting, the Silverthorns are responsible for most of the upkeep and maintenance. Most of the questions regarding the river and the park are referred to them.
Laura fondly remembers campground hosts treating her children to ice cream during family trips and she and Larry decided to do the same. Every Saturday kids can stop by the Silverthorns’ camper for an ice cream bar. They also show movies with popcorn on Saturday evenings.
“We want to keep the campground very family oriented,” Laura says. “We watched our very first movie on the side of the camper. Larry tried to make popcorn over a fire and it went everywhere. Now we have a movie screen and a popcorn machine.”
The couple has their fair share of funny stories from their years at Pammel Park, but Laura’s favorite involves what she calls her “$100 lawn chair.”
“I had just bought a $50 lawn chair, and when I got up and walked away the wind blew it into the fire pit, and I had no idea,” she explains. “All that was left was a frame. It turned into a $100 lawn chair because Larry and our friend Jeff bought a new one and replaced it. I later realized what had happened.”
The Silverthorns are constantly amazed by the amount of people who visit the campground from other countries. It’s not uncommon for people to stop in with a tent to take a rest break while biking across the U.S. Many people just come out to drive through the park on Sunday afternoons.
As fall approaches, Larry and Laura plan to savor the last two months enjoying the great outdoors before heading back home.
“It’s always strange to go from living in a 40-foot camper to that big house and walking around on two whole floors,” Larry says. “When we go home we just know that winter is coming.”