Spot the Charm
Bill and Julane Sullivan of The Red Barn House Retreat R&R, on Thursday August 3, 2017, in Upshur County. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Wilderness Meets Luxury: Glamping provides camping atmosphere with more conveniences

By Clare McCarthy
Published August 30, 2017

Julane and Bill Sullivan didn’t have glamping in mind when they decided to open their Red Barn House Retreat to the public two years ago. But they now welcome people from near and far to experience the wilderness in a more luxurious style.

“People who like to camp are pretty down to earth, wholesome type people,” Julane said. “We’ve just had very, very nice people stay here. It’s been a really great experience.”

With its cement floors, tin roof and wooden walls, the barn house is rather rustic but offers a luxurious retreat away from the world, with a full service bathroom, a good-sized kitchen and comfortable beds. Nestled in the piney woods and vast farmland between Gilmer and Longview, the barn is in a remote location away from the busyness of the world.

“It’s nice to be able to lay down in the bed and go to sleep, and it’s nice to go out and cook hamburgers or hot dogs over the fire pit and to walk through the woods but then be able to come in and take a shower or watch a movie,” Julane said.

Glamping — glamorous camping — has become a new craze across the country, offering those who enjoy the outdoors a more comfortable, luxurious place for rest and relaxation. Whether in a cabin, barn, teepee or treehouse, people can experience the luxury of a typical hotel room in a remote outdoor area.

“To me, the difference is tremendous,” Julane said. “You can camp outside, you can be outside and enjoy the outdoors, but you don’t have to completely rough it all the way. You can enjoy the luxuries of today’s world without it being too luxurious.”

The couple’s son built the Red Barn House with his wife about eight years ago after Julane and Bill sold four acres of land to them from the family farm. After receiving a job offer in Tyler, their son moved away, leaving the barn house empty and unused.

“So we purchased the red barn from him,” Julane said. “And we did a few different updates on it — not much, but we just did a few things to make it more friendly to people coming to stay… It took us about six months to where we thought it was ready, and then we put it out there. We’ve had great success.”

The couple advertises the retreat on various vacation rental websites, but only recently joined Glamping Hub, a website specifically designed for those who enjoy camping in comfort.

The barn has attracted visitors from across the country, but mostly from Dallas and Houston. Some have come from as far west as California and as far east as Georgia.

“We know people from all over the country because of this and many of them keep in touch with us,” Julane said. “Several people have come back, too. We haven’t even been open that long but they already come back. One family loved it here so much they came back like three times in a matter of six months and they decided to move to the Longview area. It’s been an incredible experience as far as getting to know people and making new friends and that kind of thing.”

While most people come for a weekend getaway or family reunion, some have held weddings, birthday parties and baby showers at the retreat. Visitors can spend the day outside fishing, zip lining or walking through the woods, then cuddle up on a plush couch and watch a movie in the barn’s personal home theater.

“We’ve mostly had families come that just want to get away from things — like from Houston and Dallas — they just want to come to the country and be able to just walk through the woods and sit on the porch and hear the birds,” Julane said.

ArShawnaise Crockett’s first experience with glamping was at the Red Barn House Retreat and she said she couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

“I had the most spectacular time,” she said. “I really liked that there was no setup involved. You just had to bring your luggage inside; you didn’t have to set up the tent, you didn’t have to get the fire immediately going.”

ArShawnaise, who is from Houston, goes camping often on the beach. She said glamping offers a completely different — but more relaxing — experience that she hopes to have again.

“With regular camping, you’ve got to set up the tent, the fire pit, pull out the coolers, heat up the barbeque so you can have something to eat,” she said. “You’ve got to worry about dirt, the weather, having extra ice and enough firewood to keep you warm… At this place, we just unpacked, changed our clothes and relaxed.”

ArShawnaise stayed in the winter, which meant it was a little too cold to ride the zipline or play in the water nearby, but she said that didn’t matter since the board games and home theater in the barn offered plenty of entertainment.

“There are bed and breakfasts everywhere but when you find one that’s like a diamond in the rough in the middle of nowhere, that’s really cool,” she said.

But Julane and Bill’s retreat isn’t the only place to go glamping in East Texas. Music Springs, a 60-acre farm in Hawkins, has tent campsites as well as several cabins and a fully furnished teepee, which can comfortably sleep six.

“We just wanted something unique,” said Mike Maxson, who owns the farm with his wife, Vicki. “We have weddings, we have music events. We even have a camp meeting every October, which is a three-day Christian outdoor event. People come from all over to spend a few days here.”

The teepee, which is 20 feet in diameter, has a carpeted floor, a queen-sized bed and two queen-sized futons, along with several bedside tables.

“So it’s not like rough camping, but it’s camping,” Mike said. “We book it quite often, even in the heat. In summertime, we have big fans and stuff like that so it makes the heat a little more bearable. It’s a unique experience and it’s pretty nice even when it’s hot.”

The teepee and cabins are nestled in the trees, which provide a shady canopy over the area. An on-site restroom facility, showers and outdoor kitchen offer a clean and convenient place to rinse off or cook some food after a day of outdoor play.

“The best time for camping around in this part of the country is from October all the way through May, through the winter months,” Mike said. “Our winters are normally pretty mild so camping is much more preferable during that time, but there’s still people in the summertime that like camping and want to stay in the teepee.”

With a rustic outdoor amphitheater, picnic tables and campsites, Music Springs attracts weekend campers, newlyweds and families at all times of year. Mike and Vicki only recently started listing Music Springs on Glamping Hub, but hope to attract more glampers as the teepee gains popularity.

“We may add more teepees in the future, but right now we’re thinking about adding something that’s become real popular,” Mike said. “We’re considering trying to find some of those farm-style grain bins and convert them into cabins. We haven’t done that yet but we’re in the process.”

For those interested in taking an outdoor vacation complete with the luxuries of everyday life, glamping might be the ticket to rest and relaxation.

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