Along the Kolache Trail

How did a traditional Czech pastry became a Texas bakery staple?

You know what they say: If life is a highway as sung by Tom Cochrane in Mad, Mad World (1991) and Rascal Flatts in Cars, a computer-animated sports comedy film (2006), I wanna pull over, get a Texas-size kolache (fruit or cream cheese-filled Czech pastry) and pick up the road trip later.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolache are round sweet-bread pastries with prune or poppy seed filling. They are considered to be Czech but deliciousness knows no borders and the neighboring cultures picked them up—including the Slovaks whose similar language uses the same word. While in Czech a kolach (KOH-lahch) is singular and kolache (ko-LAH-chee) is plural, the latter is sometimes used in the U. S. as singular. So you may sometimes hear kolaches (ko-LAH-chees) for the plural of the word.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Say it as you will, but I had never heard any form of the term until I spent my first winter in Central Texas where I found not just kolache for sale in bakeries but kolache franchises such as Kolache Factory. But what made Texas so kolache-friendly?

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, an abundance of land to settle and a list of grievances against the old-world homeland compelled waves of Czech immigrants to sail halfway around the world to Texas. Those grievances included various political frustrations ranging from feudalism and nationalism within the ruling Austrian Empire to religious persecution, conscripted military service, and a lack of freedom of the press.

Related: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to-late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out through the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Related: The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds of a feather flock together and today you can find many Texas communities with Czech roots. A region known as the Texas Czech Belt is a line of towns and counties that starts less than an hour south of Dallas and runs about 180 miles straight down the map to the town of Yoakum, Texas, just south of I-10 between Houston and San Antonio.

Cultural centers and museums are abundant as are Czech festivals as those places proudly celebrate their roots. But if there’s anything that tends to last long after the generations have passed, it is food. And the Czech kolach is the star of the show.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The kolach, as with a croissant or Danish pastry, is made using yeast, resulting in a more bread-like character rather than cakes, cookies, or pie crusts. The pastry is circular and measures about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The filling is laid into an open depression in the middle though I’ve also seen them with the pastry corners folded up together over the top to allow the filling to peek out of little openings after baking.

On the Painted Churches tour near Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditionally, in the Old World, fillings were limited to local ingredients: poppy seed, prune, apricot, cherries, and farmer’s cheese. But new lands bring new traditions, often driven by experimentation and whatever’s available.

Related: Historical Painted Churches of Central Texas

In Texas, you get all sorts of fillings: apricots, peaches, blueberries, pineapple, cherries, apples, pecans, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and chocolate coconut cream, to name a few.

Several bakeries in Fayette County feature a sausage wrapped in kolach fashion. This, to be honest, is not a kolach but a klobasnek (plural klobasniky), a delicious creation originating in the Czech immigrant population in Texas. To many Americans, a sausage in a pastry is a “pig in a blanket.” The true kolach is sweet, never meat-filled or savory.

So where can you find the best or the truest kolaches? Those are opinions folks fight you over with a passion. A good place to start is with festivals dedicated to the pastry.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Kolache Fest, one of the largest such festivals, takes place in late September in Hallettsville. More than 3,000 people attend and gobble up the thousands of kolache produced by the local Kountry Bakery which uses the recipes passed down by three generations of the Czech American Besetsny family. The festival includes polka music, a car show, a parade, arts and crafts, a BBQ cook-off (it’s still Texas), loads of other food, a kolache-eating contest, and a 5K run to burn off some of those calories. Central to the festival is a bake-off, the winner of which is crowned the Kolache Queen. It’s a huge deal for a sizeable Czech community.

Related: Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1989, the Texas state Legislature declared the town of Caldwell the “Kolache Capital of Texas.” The city of West received similar honors as the “Home of the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature” in 1997. Both of those places also have festivals that honor kolache. Draw a line through all three on the map and you’ve got the Czech Belt.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always the second Saturday of September, the Burleson County Kolache Festival, held in Caldwell, celebrated its 36th year in 2021. Septuagenarian Joe Rycalik, a local Czech speaker, opened the festival in the Czech language. Another proud local, 40-year-old Zach Zgabay who traces his roots all the way back to what’s now Czechia or the Czech Republic felt that language played an important part in the preservation of culture so he returned to college to learn Czech. If Rycalik retires, Zgabay may one day open the festival in a similar fashion.

Cookies at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several local bakeries collaborated to bake roughly 12,000 kolache. They went on sale at 8 a.m. and sold out by 2 p.m. The festival also includes a baking competition in 12 classes including apple, apricot, cheese, cheese, and other combination, peach, poppy seed, prune, and other fruit. There’s also an activity I might be more inclined to participate in Kolache Eating. But if you’re not in Texas, you may have to bake your own.

Related: Totally Texas

Just north of Waco, the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande. Here you find cinnamon rolls, strudel, cream cheese pound cake, pecan sandies, and cookies of all kinds, plus a repertoire of a dozen kolaches. The kolache is Weikel’s specialty, the shop’s motto (on the highway billboard): We got’cha Kolache.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bakery has become a traditional stopping point for many travelers on Highway 71 between Austin and Houston. Some say this Czech bakery’s kolaches are the best in the state. Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in La Grande, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can start your day in Schulenburg by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chili are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery is all the sweets to pick up for dessert.

Friday’s Fried Chicken in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best-fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half-mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… 

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

The Best RV Camping December 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in December camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in December. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in October and November.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia

Coastal Georgia RV Resorts offer 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp service and tables. The Resort’s roads are all paved. Fire rings are available at the Pavilion. Amenities include a game room, conference room, two bathhouses, two laundromats, a dock, and a store where you can find RV supplies as well as LP gas.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resort also offers a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are included. From I-95 (exit 29) and US 17, go ½ mile west on SR-17, turn left onto US-17 south for ¼ mile, turn east onto Martin Palmer Dr for 1 mile and enter straight ahead.

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

All RV sites at Palm Creek are back-ins with a minimum of 50 feet in length and 40 feet in width. All sites come equipped with patio pads and full hook-ups, including 50-amp electric service, cable TV, water, sewer, and Wi-Fi service.

Related: Campgrounds and RV Resorts Can’t-Wait To Go Back To

Palm Creek Golf & RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amenities include championship Par-3 golf course, four swimming pools, and Jacuzzi tubs, on-site bistro, pickleball, and tennis courts, lawn bowling, softball field, fitness center, ballroom, four laundry facilities, and nine dog parks.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Island, South Carolina

Edisto Beach State Park offers access to the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It also provides access to the saltwater marsh and creeks. An environmental education center highlights the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin. The trails wind through Edisto Island’s maritime forest of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees. During your walk, you may see white-tailed deer, osprey, or alligators.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

112 RV and tent camping sites with water and 20/30/50 amp electrical service is available ocean-side and near the salt marsh. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available for park guests near the office area and in the Wi-Fi room located adjacent to the office.

Eagle’s Landing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Landing RV Park, Holt, Florida

Big rig friendly with 100 foot long pull-through sites and utilities centrally located.  This 5-star park is easy-on, easy-off, a pleasant place to stop for a night, a week, or longer. It’s a great place to stop while traveling east or west on I-10 (Exit 45) or visiting northwestern Florida. This park is not listed in Good Sam.

Related: Announcing the Absolutely Best Campgrounds and RV Parks for 2021

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula, Louisiana

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service and all-concrete roadways. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with a swim-up bar, poolside cabanas, a lazy river with tiki bar, giant hot tub, fitness center, family pool, basketball and pickleball courts, fenced-in dog park. Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig.

Jamaica Beach RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamaica Beach RV Resort, Galveston, Texas

Jamaica Beach RV Resort is across the street from the beach on Galveston Island with wide-open views of the Gulf. The park offers 181 pull-through sites with full hookups, concrete pads, a picnic table at every site, and all-inclusive amenities like a 700-foot-long lazy river. 

Jamaica Beach RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other park amenities include a relaxing beach pool, family pool, indoor infinity hot tub, outdoor hot tub, splash pad, three laundry facilities, three shower houses, and pickleball courts.

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hollywood Casino RV Park, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Hollywood Casino RV Park offers tranquil beauty of the outdoors with waterfront views and on-site shuttle service to the casino with three restaurants. The park is big-rig friendly featuring 80 back-in sites and 14 back-to-back pull-through sites. Our site backs to a treed area on a bayou and is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV.

Related: A Dozen Spectacular RV Parks for Winter Camping

All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include a metal picnic table and BBQ grill on a concrete slab and garbage canister.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort, Pala, California

A new facility, Pala Casino RV Resort offers 100 full-service sites with grass lawns and picnic tables. Site selection includes 30 feet x55 feet back-in sites, 30 feet x 60 feet luxury sites with barbecue grills, and 30 feet x 70 feet pull-through sites. Amenities include 20/30/50 amp power, water, and sewer hook-ups, free Wi-Fi, cable TV, restrooms and showers, heated swimming pool, two spas, fenced dog park, and 24-hour security patrol.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort received top marks from Good Sam in every category including facilities, restrooms and showers, and visual appearance. The resort is located on SR-76, 6 miles east of I-15.

CreekFire RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

CreekFire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia

About 20 minutes west of Historic Savannah, Creek Fire is a new RV resort conveniently located ½ mile west of Interstate 95 at Exit 94. The park offers 105 RV sites, all suitable for big rigs. Site options include back-in and pull-through, gravel, and concrete. Interior roads are asphalt. Each site offers 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located.

CreekFire RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is adding 100+ new sites, two new pool features, a rally building, pool bar, and restaurant, market, and gym. Resort amenities include canoe, kayak, and boat rentals; a 1-mile nature trail around the lake, a tennis/pickleball court, bocce ball, and full shower and laundry facilities.

Related: Consider Your Needs When Choosing RV Parks and Campgrounds

CreekFire RV Resort opened in October 2017 with 105 sites, two park models, and seven cabins. Two years after opening, CreekFire was already expanding with another 100 RV sites planned.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, Wenden, Arizona

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest, and relaxation. The park offers a number of campgrounds with varying amenities.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 42 mixed-amenity sites. Campground F has 15 full-hookup sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site have a picnic table and fire ring. There are convenient vault and chemical toilets located throughout the campgrounds. The park is located 37 miles north of Wenden.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

November 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls: 15 Recalls Involving 7 RV Manufactures

A manufacturer recall can create a safety risk if not repaired

Your recreational vehicle may be involved in a safety recall and may create a safety risk for you or your passengers. Safety defects must be repaired by a certified dealer at no cost to you. However, if left unrepaired, a potential safety defect in your vehicle could lead to injury or even death.

Pechango Casino RV Park, Temecula, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a recall?

When a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a recreational vehicle or item of RV equipment creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle or equipment at no cost to the consumer.

NHTSA releases its most recent list of recalls each Monday.

It should be noted that RV recalls are related to vehicle safety and not product quality. NHTSA has no interest in an air conditioner failing to cool or slide out failing to extend or retract—unless they can be directly attributed to product safety.

NHTSA announced 15 recall notices during November 2021. These recalls involved 7 recreational vehicle manufacturers—Forest River (6 recalls), Jayco (4 recalls), Triple E (1 recall), Thor Motor Coach (1 recall), Newmar (1 recall), Heartland (1 recall), Keystone (1 recall),

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021-2022 XLR Toy Hauler recreational vehicles. The protective panel that separates the furnace and furnace components from the mid-deck cargo area is missing.

Dealers will install a felt-covered wall panel, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 1, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-574-642-0432. Forest River’s number for this recall is 79-1432.

Harvest Moon RV Park, Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2022 XLR Toy Hauler Recreational Vehicles. The vehicles were incorrectly wired, and they are missing 250AMP over-current protection, which could result in melted wires and an electrical short.

Related: October 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls: 27 Recalls Involving 15 RV Manufactures

Dealers will replace the gauge wire, and install a sub panel with the correct breaker, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 1, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-574-642-0432. Forest River’s number for this recall is 79-1429.

Frog City RV Park, Dubson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2022 Coachmen Catalina travel trailers. The panel that separates the furnace from the cooktop was not sealed, which could result in an inverted cooktop flame.

Dealers will seal the furnace from the cooktop, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 1, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-574-825-8657. Forest River’s number for this recall is 203-1434.

Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Continental and Cargo Mate Cargo Trailers. The coupler was improperly welded, which may cause the trailer to separate from the tow vehicle.

Dealers will inspect and replace the coupler, as necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 22, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-254-420-0171. Forest River’s number for this recall is 700-1438.

The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Cherokee ACKT29TEBL travel trailers. The tire size and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) on the Federal Placard are incorrect, which could result in the vehicle being overloaded. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 110, “Tire Selection and Rims” and 49 CFR Part 567, “Certification.”

Forest River will mail owners a new Federal Placard, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 22, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-260-499-2100. Forest River’s number for this recall is 17A-1439.

Clinton/Knoxville North KOA, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Impression Fifth Wheel Recreational Vehicles. The center identification light on the rear of the vehicle was incorrectly installed at a higher position than the other lights. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 108, “Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment.”

The remedy for this recall is still under development. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 29, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service Phone Number 1-574-296-2084. Forest River’s number for this recall is 83-1441.

Katy Lake RV Resort, Katy, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2021 Class A Cornerstone motorhomes. A machining defect may cause pressure to build in the power steering pump and break the shaft seal, resulting in a loss of power steering assist.

Related: September 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls

A Spartan or Shyft Group repair center will inspect the pump serial number, and replace the power steering pump if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 10, 2022. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267.

Tri-Mountain RV Park, Ridgefield, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2020-2022 Anthem, Embark, Reatta, and Reatta XL motorhomes. The rear suspension mounting fasteners that attach the rear-drive axle to the rear suspension may not have been tightened properly, which could allow the fasteners to loosen or break.

Jayco will work with Shyft to notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear suspension fasteners for damage, and replace and tighten them as necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 10, 2022. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267.

Las Vegas RV Park, Las Vegas, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2021 Jay Flight Octane travel trailers. The water heater was installed in the incorrect location, which could result in exhaust fumes entering the slide-out area of the trailer.

Dealers will relocate the water heater, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 13, 2022. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267.

Columbia Sun RV Park, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Jayco Swift and Entegra Ethos motorhomes. The seat belt automatic locking retractors may deactivate early, which can prevent the child restraint system from securing properly. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 208, “Occupant Crash Protection.”

Related: August 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls

Dealers will inspect and replace the seat belt retractors as needed, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 12, 2022. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267.

Sundance 1 RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triple E

Triple E Recreational Vehicles (Triple E) is recalling certain 2015 Free Spirit, 2015-2018 Unity, 2015-2016 Libero, 2015-2018 Serenity, and Wonder recreational vehicles. Please see attached 573 for a complete list of model numbers. The refrigerator exhaust vents directly onto the wood frame and surfaces, which can overheat the wood.

Dealers will install metal heat deflectors and screws, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on October 27, 2021. Owners may contact Triple E customer service at 1-877-992-9906. Triple E’s number for this recall is CA#8721-1.

The Springs at Borrego RV Resort, Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thor Motor Coach

Thor Motor Coach (TMC) is recalling certain 2017 Challenger, Miramar, and Outlaw motorhomes. The external compartment outer door skin may separate from the motorhome during transit.

Dealers will inspect the compartment door skin and replace the door as necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 29, 2021. Owners may contact TMC customer service at 1-877-855-2867. TMC’s number for this recall is RC000247.

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar

Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Essex, 2020-2022 King Aire, and London Aire motorhomes. A machining defect may cause pressure to build in the power steering pump and break the shaft seal, resulting in a loss of power steering assist.

On behalf of Newmar Corporation, Shyft Group will inspect the pump serial number, and replace the power steering pump if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 18, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar’s customer service at 1-800-731-8300.

Distant Drums RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heartland

Heartland Recreational Vehicles, LLC (Heartland) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Heartland Cyclone and 2019-2021 Road Warrior Toy Hauler recreational trailers. The transfer switch wire securement lugs may have been improperly tightened during production, causing the wires to come loose.

Related: July 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls

Dealers will inspect and tighten the securement lugs, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 29, 2021. Owners may contact Heartland customer service at 1-877-262-8032.

Tucson/Lazydays KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone

Keystone RV Company (Keystone) is recalling certain Arcadia 3660RL fifth-wheel travel trailers. The Federal Identification Label has the incorrect tire size and tire pressure information.

Dealers will replace the Federal Identification Label, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on December 29, 2021. Owners may contact Keystone customer service at 1-866-425-4369. Keystone’s number for this recall is 21-417.

Please Note: This is the 34th in a series of posts relating to RV Manufacturers Recalls

Worth Pondering…

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.

—Martin Van Buren

The Most Exhilarating Drives in Arizona

Here are a few Arizona roads to add to your bucket list

Arizona isn’t just desert, saguaros, and blue sky. Arizona is chock full of brilliant roads for scenic driving enjoyment.

Here are five Arizona roads you might consider adding to your bucket list.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail

lf you like your roads unpaved, occasionally one lane and blind mountain turns without a guardrail, then the Apache Trail (AZ-88) is for you. While there is blacktop from Apache Junction to just past Tortilla Flat, from there the road is at its most primitive. It hugs the sides of the mountain, alternating from two lanes down to one with either no guardrail at all or the mere illusion of one crudely fashioned from narrow pine boards that wouldn’t stop a coyote.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catalina Highway

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Related: Scenic Route It Is

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a nearly 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little over halfway down, at the apex of the biggest switchback, do yourself a favor and pull off at Windy Point Vista. There’s a scenic overlook that gives a great view of the descending road and a great photo op. Take it in.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

While perhaps any old strip of Historic Route 66 can provide a bit of a warm fuzzy, there are some stretches where that nostalgia can also live in the here and now. When they built this road, they weren’t blasting and bulldozing through mountains to straighten the path. The road went where they could find a place to lay it down.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in Kingman, head west off I-40 towards Los Angeles and you’ll find yourself without a lot of company on the stretch of Old Route 66 to Oatman. More than half of this 26-mile adventure is made up of long straight stretches occasionally interrupted by a simple curve.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But be ready for the twisties as you near Oatman. It’s those last nine miles from Cool Springs to Oatman that supply many (perhaps even most) of the photos you see of Arizona Route 66. Keep your eyes peeled as you slow to enter the town. Oatman prides itself on the wild burros that roam the streets, and you wouldn’t want to be the ass who wrecks his car swerving to miss one of the town’s furry little friends.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 89A

Another brilliant bit of rapidly rising mountain two-lane is AZ-89A, from Prescott Valley to Cottonwood. You’ll climb over 2,000 feet on this 31-mile stretch of tight bends and switchbacks through the Mingus Mountain area.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those wanting to obey the multitude of 15, 20, and 25 mph curve signs (certainly you among them) have plenty of scenic turn-offs. Go on a weekday. Tourists own this road on weekends, as the old mining town of Jerome is quite the destination and 89A is the one road there.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

U.S. 60 through the Salt River Canyon

In the middle of the 32,000 acres that are the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, State Route 60 is a narrow ribbon buckling through the harsh terrain. By starting in Apache Junction you’ll traverse the 1,200-foot-long Queen Creek Tunnel cutting through the mountain at a 6 percent upward grade.

Related: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Salt River Canyon Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now you’ll climb 4,000 feet via tight bends, S-curves, and the three consecutive switchbacks plunging into the canyon. The first half of this trip twists through the Tonto National Forest with views of the Superstition Mountains—the second half winds through the more brutal terrain of the Fort Apache Reservation where you’ll chase the Salt River for a while. Here, the canyon dictates the road. There shouldn’t be a lot of traffic, so it’s good for a scenic drive.

Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend time exploring Superior, Miami-Globe, and Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park before continuing onto San Carlos Reservation with stops at Apache Gold Casino and RV Park and Peridot Mesa, a broad hump of land often ablaze with poppy fields starting in late February and carrying on through March.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just past mile marker 268 on U.S.-60, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. It is recommended that you drive a half-mile down this road. We just parked and walked around and saw poppies, lupines, globemallow, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides. It was an amazing sight.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

10 Amazing Places to RV in December

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Lost Dutchman and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

Creating Drinking Water from Air

Watergen Mobile Box generates fresh portable water anytime, anywhere

An Israeli company has developed a machine capable of turning air into water. Watergen, established in 2009, is a global leader in the atmospheric drinking water devices market, machines that create drinking water from the air.

Along Ajo Scenic Loop, Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The production of drinking water from humidity in the air is one of the most important and innovative water extraction solutions available today, used to tackle the growing problem of depleting levels of drinking water in the world. Within a decade from now, it is estimated that 50 percent of the world’s population will live in areas without access to clean, fresh, and safe drinking water.

On the road to Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In basic terms, the machine works in a similar way to a dehumidifier—extracting water particles from the air, but in this case, the water is also purified to ensure its drinkable. The company says the optimal temperature for production is between 59 and 113 degrees F (15°C and 45°C), and 20 to 99 percent humidity.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen’s water generators come in a range of sizes to suit a variety of applications including cities, villages, commercial centers, schools, hospitals, offices, residential buildings, private homes, and mobile vehicles.

Big Bend National Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen’s Mobile Box system has generated considerable interest in recent months. The Mobile Box is the world’s first vehicle on-board drinking system capable of extracting clean water from ambient air. It can be mounted externally on various types of vehicles including trucks, trailers, buses, recreational vehicles, and all modes of luxury land and sea transport. And at only 66 pounds (30 kg), the impact on fuel consumption is minimal.

Anza-Borrego State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen’s Mobile Box was selected by Ford Motors to provide built-in water generators in its line of adventure recreational vehicles.

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The product was recently shown on the Ford Ranger pick-up at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. It was also displayed at the Smart Mobility Summit in Tel Aviv.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile Box will be preinstalled on Ford vehicles and can generate up to 6.6 gallons (25 liters) per day of fresh drinking water using only a 12V power supply and access to fresh air to produce the water. It will be installed on the flatbed of the pickup where it will occupy minimal space due to its compact dimensions—2 feet x 1.6 feet x 1.5 feet (63 cm x 53 cm x 46 cm). The Mobile Box unit is fitted with sturdy wheels for ease of transport on the flatbed of the Ranger.

Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ability to produce clean drinking water without relying on an external water source is a game-changer for those who seek off-grid adventures.

A Ford Ranger fitted with Watergen’s Mobile Box will embark on a 12-month tour of the United States in collaboration with the Outside magazine where journalists and members of the public will be able to see the system first-hand. Details were not available at the time of writing.

El Moro National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen’s patented technology enables cost-effective, low-energy generation of clean drinking water from the air, using a series of filters. After the air is sucked in and chilled to extract its humidity, the water that forms is treated and transformed into clean drinking water. The technology uses a plastic heat exchanger rather than an aluminum one which helps reduce costs; it also includes proprietary software that operates the devices.

Davis Mountains, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The company, headed by Russian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Mirilashvili, has a number of products already on the market including large- and medium-scale generators that the company says can produce between 58 and 1,585 gallons (220 and 6,000 liters) of water per day depending on the generator as well as an at-home device that can produce 6.6-8 gallons (25-30 liters) of water per day.

Near Hemet, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen has offices in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Russia, China, and India and works in 80 countries around the world based on the idea that “everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water.”

Coronado National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen also developed generators for the automotive market including the Watergen On Board which can generate up to 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per day and can be installed in trucks and buses.

Monahan Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The company will introduce the world’s first aftermarket water generator for RVs in 2022. The Watergen ON Board water-from-air generator is scheduled to be available through certain Camping World locations across the U.S. in the spring of next year. The pricing and other markets are yet to be announced.

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen ON Board harnesses humidity in the air to supply more than 10 gallons a day of pure, clean drinking water. Similar to above mentioned Watergen products this is done totally independent of any external water source or water hookup. The unit simply plugs into any power source that has a 12V power source.

This product will have special appeal for campers and RVs that want the on-the-go water generation and off-grid lifestyle.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We see water capture as one of the biggest opportunities for disruption in the outdoor market and Watergen is the industry leader. We are excited about our partnership with Watergen and the future of bringing Watergen GENius technology and systems to Camping World retail and install centers across America,” said Camping World SVP of Corporate Development Ryan Biren.

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Watergen is the global leader in Atmospheric Water Generation and this partnership with Camping World builds upon our vision of providing fresh, clean drinking water no matter where you are or where you are going,” said Watergen Americas President Dan Clifford.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The company launched its Watergen ON Board at Camping World’s very first Electric World location in Draper, Utah last month. This is in conjunction with Camping World’s annual investor conference.

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Watergen is also working with a number of car manufacturers and other high-profile clients.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier this year, Watergen embarked on a project in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to provide generators that could produce up to 1,585 gallons (6,000 liters) a day to Palestinians in the enclave who face a chronic water shortage.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gaza’s overused aquifer has been degraded by saltwater intrusion and contaminated by pollutants making most available water salty and dangerous to drink and forcing the import of bottled water, global news agency AFP reported in January. Only three percent of Gaza’s own water meets international standards, according to the United Nations which had in 2012 predicted that ecological pressures would have made Gaza “unlivable” by now.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Israel and Egypt tightly control imports to Gaza to prevent the Hamas terror group that controls the strip from importing weaponry, getting the machines approved took considerable time.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mirilashvili bought Watergen after moving to Israel in 2009. The company CEO and president has a colorful personal history including time spent in a Russian prison following a kidnapping conviction in a trial the European Court of Justice later found was flawed.

Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A religious Jew with a picture of a prominent Orthodox rabbi on his office wall, Mirilashvili told AFP that when he learned about Gaza’s water crisis, he immediately wanted to help.

Watergen inked a deal last year with Emirati firm Al Dahra to export the Israeli solutions to the UAE and other regional countries.

Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This summer, Watergen installed a generator for a Navajo Nation Native American community in Arizona to help them deal with a crippling water shortage. Nearly 10,000 families across Navajo Nation lack access to running water according to recent estimates. Local groundwaters have been contaminated over the years by mining and the situation has been exacerbated by the devastating drought affecting the western United States.

Jerome, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, the company’s system was donated to authorities in Brazil, Vietnam, and India. It also assisted rescue and recovery efforts during the 2018 California wildfires as well as providing clean water to the residents of Texas and Florida in the aftermath of the devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

McDowell Mountains Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watergen also developed a small-scale version for home and office use named GENNY which has the ability to produce up to 8 gallons (30 liters) of potable water every day—significantly reducing plastic usage and disposal by eliminating the waste caused by drinking bottled water.

On the road to Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GENNY also has the potential to serve as an air purifier, circulating clean air throughout homes through a small tweak in the water generation process, using the already existing technology to create a multipurpose product.

Worth Pondering…

Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother, and medium. There is no life without water.

—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893–1986), Hungarian biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937

Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

An area full of history, the American Southwest is dotted with beautiful towns worthy of exploration

From former mining town gems to desert beauties, and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in the Southwest.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options.

Related: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, Arizona

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat powerboat, or kayak.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome, Arizona

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman, Arizona

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets.

Related: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia, Arizona

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds.

Related: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride.

Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts line area roads, the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers.

Related: Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

The Best States for Snowbird Camping

One of the best parts of the RV lifestyle is the ability to simply follow warm weather wherever it may lead

While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.

Related: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

Based on the above model, here are the 10 best states for warm winter camping.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Alabama

Composite index: 62.6

Average maximum temperature: 57.7

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 548,000

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Georgia

Composite index: 67.5

Average maximum temperature: 58.6

Cumberland Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 4.3

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 747,000

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. North Carolina

Composite index: 67.8

Average maximum temperature: 51.9

Average minimum temperature: 30.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.8

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,575,000

Related: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Mainstreet Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. New Mexico

Composite index: 69.9

Average maximum temperature: 49.3

Elephant Lake Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 21.2

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 0.7

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 2,720,000

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Nevada

Composite index: 70.5

Average maximum temperature: 42.8

Above Hoover Dam, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 20.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 6,580,000

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana

Composite index: 74.5

Average maximum temperature: 61.4

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 40.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,276,000

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. California

Composite index: 79.3

Average maximum temperature: 53.5

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 33.6

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 19,623,000

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Texas

Composite index: 83.3

Average maximum temperature: 59.7

Padre Island, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 34.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.6

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,167,000

Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arizona

Composite index: 85.7

Average maximum temperature: 54.9

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 29.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 7,704,000

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Florida

Composite index: 87.5

Average maximum temperature: 69.9

Average minimum temperature: 47.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 2.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,920,000

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

In many ways the beauty of Arizona is embodied by its most famous natural landmark, the Grand Canyon but there is so much more. Discover the endless possibilities now.

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 16 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view, you absolutely have to add this to your bucket list. The hiking trails will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities! Check out the El Tovar Hotel, a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, the dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get as well.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

One of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the historic town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, and galleries plus hiking, birding, gallery-gazing, or dining, Bisbee offers a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room pueblo about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay served as the floor of the room built on top.

Hoover Dan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to walk across the dam or take a tour. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least, with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

Last year at this time, these were the most popular articles:

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area, which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has many things to offer, including the old courthouse, Whiskey Row, Elks Theatre, and numerous other tourist attractions. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners after a long shift underground. The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the range is known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. Papago is home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterward, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the park is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam?

A delicious discussion

We’re about to enter the hustle and bustle of the holiday season with Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas right around the corner. When we think of these two holidays, the meal often shared with family is what comes to mind.

It’s turkey time! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The turkey, dressings, and cranberry sauce are the stars of these delicious holiday spreads but there is one sweet product that appears in several different courses especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This one vegetable is a must-have for a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to be complete.

Lettuce for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vegetable I am speaking of is the sweet potato. Just mentioning it now does your mouth start to water thinking about the sweet potato casseroles, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, and candied sweet potatoes (not yams)? Yams have starchy flesh and a bark-type skin compared to the sweet potato with reddish-brown skin and moist sweet flesh.

What makes the sweet potato so unique during these holidays is how it can appear in so many different courses. The sweet potato can be used in bread, casseroles, pies—the list goes on with so many different delicious recipes to showcase the sweet potato. 

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, shopping for sweet potatoes in some grocery stores can be a puzzling experience. These commonly seen orange tubers we know as sweet potatoes are occasionally labeled as yams.

Related: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

You might be thinking, “But I see yams at my grocery store all the time”…and you’d be right that they’re labeled that way. But this label is deceiving.

Oranges for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can find sweet potatoes at just about any grocery store. However, in North America and Europe, you will only find true yams stocked at international and specialty markets.

Sweet potato or yam? That is the question.

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes with a relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Yams and sweet potatoes are botanically unrelated. Yams are part of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family, closely related to grasses and lilies, and originate in Asia and Africa. The edible roots vary in size from a half-pound to a record 130 pounds. There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95 percent of these crops are grown in Africa.

Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are from the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. Their colors may be white, yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and even purple, both firm and soft varieties.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potatoes used to make French fries or potato chips. Non-sweet potatoes (including red, white, and Yukon gold varieties) are part of the edible nightshade family. Other members include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, pimentos, and Goji berries.

Aside from growing similarly and looking alike, sweet potatoes and yams are often confused as the same vegetable. A true yam is a starchy edible root and imported to America from the Caribbean or Africa. Unfortunately, I can find none that are produced in North America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner (?) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the origin of the sweet potatoes has never been determined, many botanists think they originated in South America. The earliest cultivation records of the sweet potato date to 750 BCE (BC) in Peru although archeological evidence shows cultivation of the sweet potato might have begun around 2500-1850 BCE.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘New World’ in the late 15th century, sweet potatoes were well established as food plants in South and Central America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Spain, introducing them to the taste buds and gardens of Europe. Europeans referred to the sweet potato as the potato which often leads to confusion when searching for old sweet potato recipes. It wasn’t until after the 1740s that the term sweet potato began to be used by American colonists to distinguish it from the white (Irish) potato.

Related: Thanksgiving Road Trip: See the Best of Arizona in these 8 Places

The word yam is of West African origin. Two languages spoken there have similar versions of the word. In Fulani, the word is nyami and it means “to eat.”

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When colonists brought the sweet potato to North America, the Portuguese changed the word to inhame; the Spanish changed it to iñame; both are presumed derivations of the African words for yams due to their similar appearance. Its first usage in English was igname. By the mid-1600s, the English spelling had changed to y-a-m.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wherever and whenever they originated, and however they have traveled the globe, I’m incredibly thankful that most of us have sweet potatoes in our lives today especially as we approach Thanksgiving.

The yam is a major food source for millions of people in tropical and subtropical regions especially in West and Central Africa where at least 60 million people depend on it. More than 96 percent of the world’s production is grown in West Africa. However, 41 species of wild yams are becoming endangered and research is ongoing on how to preserve these essential plants.

Carrots for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to its latest publication, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, these species are principally those in the genus that are only found in Madagascar and southern Africa.

Yams are an important food in Madagascar. They are usually eaten boiled and provide an important source of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, and a range of micronutrients. While cultivated varieties are available, much of Madagascar’s rural community opt for eating wild yams.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worldwide sweet potato production and consumption are huge. All around the world people eat and use this food, its plant leaves, and roots. With a vast array of uses, sweet potatoes are among the world’s most important food crops. Annually, more than 130,000,000 tons (that’s 260,000,000,000 pounds) are produced around the world.

Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are primarily grown in tropical to subtropical regions since they prefer a daytime temperature of 75 degrees and warm nights. Sweet potatoes rank among the world’s seven most important food crops (along with wheat, rice, maize, potato, barley, and cassava). In over 50 countries, it’s one of the top five food crops grown with China producing over 90 percent of the total.

Related: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

Asia’s crop is used for both human consumption and animal feed. Yearly, China uses over 60,000,000,000 pounds of plant leaves as feed for pig stocks.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South America, the sweet potato’s original home, produces about 4,000,000,000 pounds yearly. North America produces about 1,200,000,000 pounds yearly. The top producing locations in the United States are North Carolina, followed by California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Significant numbers are grown in Texas, too.

Radishes for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most supermarkets carry one or two different types of sweet potatoes, about 25 varieties are available in the United States. And I was amazed to discover that this represents only a tiny fraction of the total diversity of sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato geeks of the world may be fascinated to know that the International Potato Center in Peru maintains a gene bank consisting of over 6,500 varieties of sweet potato. I don’t know about you, but personally, I wish I could try them all!

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potato varieties range in color from dark red to brown to purple to orange-yellow to white. They also have different tastes, sizes, shapes, and textures.

Here are just a few of the most popular types of sweet potatoes:

Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard sweet potatoes have reddish-orange skin and deep orange flesh. These are often the ones masquerading as yams at mainstream grocery stores. Who knew sweet potatoes could be so sneaky?

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White sweet potatoes are crumbly with white flesh and golden brown skin. They don’t contain as many antioxidants as orange varieties.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Okinawan sweet potatoes are also known as purple sweet potatoes because of their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, blue, and violet plant foods their beautiful colors. Anthocyanins are also what give Okinawan potatoes 150 percent more antioxidant power than blueberries. Despite their name, Okinawan potatoes are actually native to the Americas. They were brought over to Japan sometime in the 16th century where they grow well and have become a staple in Japanese dishes. In North America, you will most likely find true purple sweet potatoes in an Asian supermarket.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Japanese or Satsumaimo sweet potatoes are known for being sweeter than most other types. This is especially true when they start caramelizing in the oven.

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is a pigment and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also contain a modest but helpful amount of protein—around four grams per cup when cooked.

When compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and antioxidants. Surprisingly, considering their sweeter taste, they also have a mildly lower glycemic index score. This makes them slower to digest.

Walnuts for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the greatest sweet potato nutritional glory of all may be its rich supply of vitamin A. A single sweet potato offers over double the daily value for vitamin A.

Next time you shop for sweet potatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind. When you pick one up, take a close look at its skin (no, you don’t have to pack your magnifying glass). It should all be mostly the same color without visible signs of decay or cracking. Give it a little squeeze. You don’t want your sweet potato to be squishy anywhere, as this could indicate rotting.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get your sweet potatoes home, make them a nice place to rest in a basket on your countertop or pantry. You should keep them dry and cool (room temperature, not refrigerated).

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Typically, you should use sweet potatoes within a few weeks of purchase.

Chile peppers for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are affordable, easy to use and store, and available in many parts of the world all year long. Sounds pretty sweet to me!

Worth Pondering…

I don’t think; therefore, I yam!