The Gold Rush Trail: California Highway 49

Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49 where charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the panoramic vistas and bubbling streams of the western Sierra Nevada foothills

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting articles to help you navigate the state of RV travel as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it’s safe to get back on the road again.

California is called the Golden State possibly for many reasons, among which, and in addition to its abundant sunshine, is the Gold Rush with its exciting and colorful history.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Boys, by God, I believe I’ve found a gold mine,” said James W. Marshall to his mill workers on January 24, 1848 after he discovered shining flecks of gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he and John Sutter were constructing on the South Fork of the American River.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold! The cry went up from Sutter’s Mill and brought a mass migration of people into California from the four corners of the world. This discovery in 1848 changed the course of California’s and the nation’s history. This event led to a mass movement of people and was the spark that ignited a spectacular growth of the West during the decades to follow.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By August, the hills above the river were strewn with wood huts and tents as the first wave of miners lured by the gold discovery scrambled to strike it rich. Prospectors from the East sailed around Cape Horn. Some hiked across the Isthmus of Panama, and by 1849, about 40,000 came to San Francisco by sea alone.

Angel’s Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the 49ers never intended to remain in California permanently. Most meant to seek their fortune and return to wherever they called home. But many sent for their families and stayed, causing a culturally diverse population to grow rapidly. Between 1848 and 1852, four short years, California’s population grew from 14,000 to 223,000.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gold Rush expended 125 million troy ounces of gold, worth more than $50 billion by today’s standards. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the gold in the Mother Lode is still in the ground.

Moke Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 49ers established hundreds of instant mining towns along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a river was panned or sluiced until the gold ran out. Permanent towns developed in areas where more extensive operations spent decades tunneling deep into the hills. 

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these historic and picturesque towns still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.

The original mining-era buildings in these towns are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of these towns.

Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth (see above) and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort (see below) in Jackson as our home bases, we explored parts of El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras counties along State Highway 49.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams compliment the stunning background of rolling hills.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We made stops in many old mining towns along the Trail. They retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Mokelumne Hill (Moke Hill), San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic town of Placerville is just minutes from over 50 farms and ranches of the Apple Hill area as well as award-winning wineries.

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty family owned wineries and vineyards dot the winding roads of the fertile Shenandoah Valley in northern Amador County. The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interesting places to stop are never far apart, and the drama of living history appeals to all ages. There’s no end to the nuggets you’ll discover in California’s Mother Lode Country.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Big, Diverse & Extreme

With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

The Colorado River is dammed on both sides of the Grand Canyon, forming two huge artificial lakes: Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures can be harsh, from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

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

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River. The main attraction here are the two large lakes: Mead and Mohave.

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

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

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

Sixty-seven-mile-long Lake Mohave, formed by Davis Dam near Bullhead City, still retains in its upper reaches some of the character of the old Colorado River. Literally millions of people use Lake Mead National Recreation Area each year with many of these visitors returning again and again to find that special cove, or campground, or just to sit on the shore and enjoy solitude of a quality that only nature can supply.

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

Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore, close to Las Vegas.

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

Named after Dr. Elwood Mead, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner from 1924 to 1936, Lake Mead began filling in 1935 following the completion of Boulder Dam, later designated the Hoover Dam after the 31st president, across the river at Black Canyon, 25 miles from Las Vegas.

Indeed, it was the construction of the dam and the arrival of thousands of workers which prompted the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the consequent growth of the city.

The scenery is impressive enough—clear blue water beneath gaunt rocky cliffs, but much can only be appreciated using a boat as the majority of the innumerable sheltered coves and flooded canyons, often with clean, empty beaches for camping, are quite inaccessible by road.

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are very few maintained trails though hiking opportunities are numerous. Most are cross-country, off-trail routes—destinations include narrow canyons, rock art sites, springs, and rock formations.

There are numerous access points to the shoreline especially the section northwest of Hoover Dam in Nevada which has numerous beaches, camping areas, and marinas.

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

The Northshore Road (NV-16) parallels the water for 40 miles passing through a colorful and  empty desert environment with numerous side roads leading towards the water of which three are to developed marinas: Callville Bay, Echo Bay, and Overton Beach, though this latter is currently closed due to low water levels.

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

The surrounding desert is characterized by barren mountain ranges with occasional bright red or orange sandstone outcrops; nearby Valley of Fire State Park is spectacular. Aptly named, Valley of Fire features vivid sandstone cliffs and eroded rock formations in fiery hues.

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

But the most visited section of Lake Mead is that closest to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay, plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach is a full-service campground that provides cable TV. Daily rates range from $34 to $50 plus 12 percent Clark County tax. Back-in, pull-through, and lakeview sites are available.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west side of Lake Mead has a number of free primitive campsites along tracks forking off Northshore Road, for example at Stewarts Point, near Overton Beach at the north end of the lake. Here, camping is allowed on a large area of the shoreline, which is flat, sandy, and sheltered.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of camping experiences are also available around Lake Mohave including Cottonwood Cove, Katherine Landing, and Willow Beach.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Sewer Tank Woes

Avoid RV black water tank problems

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Maintaining and emptying your septic system on a regular basis is an unglamorous—but necessary—part of any RV adventure. And without proper maintenance and care of this system, things can get pretty ugly.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the final epistle is written on the trials and tribulations of the RV Lifestyle—the Weekend Warriors, Snowbirds, and Full Timers—the subject of many conversations will focus on the woes of sewer tanks. Learning how to dump them is your first lesson and how to keep them from smelling is the second.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After graduating from your own personal version of RV Sewer Tanks 101, you may also require schooling in the finer details of how to unclog them, when you treat them badly.

It usually isn’t that big of a deal when you notice the sewer tanks filling up, especially when you personally don’t have to dump the tanks—its hubby’s job, yippee, you say! And it wouldn’t have been a big deal that day, since as usual we were camping in a park with full hook-ups, which mean an onsite sewer connection.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So on a typical day, when the tanks fills up, I—as in hubby, that’s me—just goes outside and dump the tanks, first the gray water, then the black as in sewer. That worked well for over 20 years.

That day, of course, life wasn’t so simple. As the lights on the tank monitor turned from green to amber then quickly to red, I knew that there was a problem.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s the problem?

At that moment I wasn’t aware that I had inadvertently left the black water valve open less than 12 hours earlier.

On that occasion I had dumped the black tank, closed the valve, and drained the gray as usual. After closing the gray water tank I attached a water hose to the black tank flush, opened the black and turned on the water. Flush complete, water turned off, and hose stowed.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I recall a conversation with an RVer who related a story about her husband who had a great idea. An idea so wonderful she said that he actually called it brilliant. An idea that he requested a pat on the back for. An idea he was sure you could only get from a real RVer, someone who knew what they were doing.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never mind that this particular genius of an idea went against what all the manufacturers recommended and what all the experts advised. This had come from a fellow RVer, a man who lived in his camper. A man he met for literally two minutes while camping in some off-beat location in the mountains of east Kentucky.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You guessed it folks—he left the tanks open. And, not just the grey tank but both of them! And now the black tank monitor indicated full while it was almost empty!

She could see from the expression on his face and the glazed look of his eyes, he was about to start tinkering and she knew right then, this would be her entertainment for the next hour or two.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After jolting out the door, she could hear him fumbling around in the storage bins looking for tools and who knows what else. She heard the water turn on and what sounded like a tote being filled. He was filling two five-gallon water tanks at the spigot.

She knew this was probably a big deal, but couldn’t help but relish in the fact that she had been right and that this was totally his fault.

Caring for your sewer tank system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next hour, he ran in and out of the camper tugging the heavy water tanks back and forth from bathroom to spigot. He checked the tanks then continued with his plan. She could hear him fiddling with the valve outside, cursing up a storm, while trying not to attract attention from the neighbors.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.

—Anon

Totally Texas

We rounded up as many “totally Texas” things to do, places to go, people to know, and sights to see

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse. It’s not so exaggerated to think of Texas as a whole country—800 miles wide and nearly that far from north to south.

There is something for everyone is Texas, from sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, and great cities to small villages and towns.

Texas is big and brawny in every way, a state brimming with natural assets.

Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few national parks can match the scenic variety of Big Bend. A land graced with desert, mountain, and river environments makes for a compelling study in contrasts. The Chihuahuan Desert, with its vastness and stark beauty, is joined by the abrupt canyons of the Rio Grande and the forested peaks of the Chisos Mountains.

San Antonio

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of America’s most beautiful cities, San Antonio has a great deal to offer. Fantastic museums, the wonderful and unbelievably photogenic Riverwalk, HemisFair Park and, of course, The Alamo are but a few of its highlights. And if you like the Alamo, you’ll love the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a string of four 15th- and 16th-century Spanish missions in and around the city. Another impressive aspect of San Antonio is the food.

Hill Country

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Galveston Island

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to South America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

Shiner

The Little Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week, where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Monahans Sandhills

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, the 425-foot-high dome that is the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest exposed batholiths in the country. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. The trail begins at the Westside parking area, where it descends briefly into an arroyo before ascending quickly.    

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

If you’re tired of hanging out at the Strip, within a few hours, you can be at some of the most amazing landscapes the US has to offer

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you think Las Vegas is just this one lonely spot in the middle of the desert—well, you’re probably right. But here’s the good news. It’s the perfect starting point for taking more than a few good road trips. So if you’re getting bored of the casinos and glitz of Sin City pack up your toad and hit the road for some interesting and fun filled getaways within a few hours’ drive.

Best Quick Escape: Lake Mead, Nevada

Distance from Las Vegas: One hour

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

There is a national park just minutes from Las Vegas that has Joshua trees, slot canyons, and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way. Lake Mead is the closest body of water of any significance to Las Vegas making it the first choice for swimming, boating, and jet skiing. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes.

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

Entry to the Lake Mead National Recreation is $25 per person (or $15 per person walking or bicycling) and good for seven days. A day pass for the Lake Mead Resort & Marina is $10 per vehicle but if you plan on coming back, the yearly pass is a far better deal at $30.

Best Cultural Getaway: Sedona, Arizona 

Distance from Las Vegas: Four hours and 30 minutes

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona and Red Rock Country has more than 300 miles of trails for hiking and biking, surrounded by green pine trees that contrast sharply with the deep red hues of buttes and canyon walls.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some consider Sedona to be in a vortex with the energy of nature especially strong in four locations: Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon. So get in touch with your spirituality or, at the very least, bring a yoga mat and absorb the scenery in a way that works for you. Sedona is also home to more than 80 art shops and galleries, showcasing the best local talent.

Best Riverside Getaway: Laughlin, Nevada

Distance from Las Vegas: One hour and 30 minutes

Laughlan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Colorado River, Laughlin has been transformed from a small mining town into an attractive tourist destination. While its neon lights are no match for Vegas, it does have numerous things to offer such as a scenic river walk, tons of outdoor activities, and the Laughlin River Run, a massive annual motorcycle event. You’ll be in hog heaven.

Laughlan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a river cruise or find a moment of zen at the mystical Laughlin Labyrinths, nine stone mazes that are both intriguing and energizing.

Vista del Sol RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a place to stay? Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort offers 740 spaces with full hook-ups, laundry facilities, showers, and free shuttles to the casino. Or cross the river and go for a spectacular view at the new Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona.

Best Getaway for Hiking: Zion National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: Two hours and 30 minutes

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the road and travel through Nevada, Arizona, and finally Utah to Zion National Park as the desert suddenly gets a lot more colorful. You’ll find yourself walking among trees, waterfalls, rocks, and a towering canyon. Don’t overlook the winter months—peak solitude season with fewer crowds to go along with the sunsets and stargazing. Just bundle up at night. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not all hiking trails are created equal. The infamous Angels Landing is a 2.5-mile hike with steep and narrow pathways. It even comes with a warning sign with the number of people who have died on the trail.

Best Modern Marvel Getaway: Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: 45 minutes

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoover Dam may be the most intriguing slab of concrete in the world. Highway travelers used to drive right over it but traffic is now diverted to the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which offers a cool view but isn’t quite the same experience. Tours run daily, ready to give a nuts-and-bolts look at how the whole thing operates, producing electricity for California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Mike O’Calhaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boulder City is the closest town to the dam and has a small tourism industry based around the engineering masterpiece, the construction of which pretty much set the stage for modern Las Vegas. It’s one of the few communities in the entire state where gambling is not legal.

Most Awe-Inspiring Getaway: Grand Canyon, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: Four hours (45 minutes by helicopter)

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know the deal. The Grand Canyon is the biggest hole in the ground in the U. S. making it a prime destination. There are more than a few tours that originate from Las Vegas including some by helicopter.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The South Rim is heavily visited and is run by the National Park Service. The Hualapai Tribe runs the West Rim and operates the famous skywalk. The remote North Rim is stunning but a pain to reach. No matter where you end up, please don’t fall down the canyon while trying to take a photo. It happens.

Worth Pondering…

Las Vegas is a 24-hour city. It never stops.

—Eli Roth

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros

Driving to the historic town of Oatman is a favorite Arizona road trip

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Here is our plan: We’ll drive to a town that shouldn’t exist. We’ll travel a twisted ribbon of pavement along Historic Route 66.

Historic Route 66 to Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman. Rising above town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman has about 40 gift, antique, and craft shops, two Old Time Photo Shops, Judy’s Bar, assorted ghosts, and several places to eat and listen to live music. Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The burg’s most famous residents are its four-legged ambassadors. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping on alfalfa squares sold by the shop owners.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the burros are in the middle of the road (which they frequently are), they have the right of way. Cars have to wait, no matter how long it takes. No honking, revving engines, or doing anything else to encourage them to move along.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter how tame they seem, the burros are wild animals. Use caution and common sense when feeding them. Do not feed junk food to the burros. Also, it’s best to leave Rover at home. Many burros consider the family pooch nothing more than a coyote with connections. The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman owes its place in history to two miners who struck it rich in 1915, uncovering more than $10 million in gold. A tent city soon sprang up as other miners heard of the gold find and flocked to the area; within a year, the town’s population grew to more than 3,500.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1930, it was estimated that 36 million dollars worth of gold had come from the mines. The town boasted two banks, seven hotels, twenty saloons, and ten stores. The town’s name is attributed to Olive Oatman, a young girl kidnapped by Indians and eventually rescued and returned to her family.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More modern events add to the allure of the tiny town, the most famous of which is a visit by Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who spent their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel in 1939. The well-used building, listed on the National Historic Building Registry, continues to attract visitors today. The Oatman Hotel is a great stop for lunch. The restaurant has killer buffalo burgers and the walls (and even parts of the ceiling) are covered with dollar bills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you notice folks clustering in the street without a ravenous burro in sight, it signals an impending gunfight. Gunfighter groups stage shootouts at various times throughout the day.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the mines shuttered, the stream of traffic along Route 66, the main route from the Midwest to California, kept Oatman alive. Then in 1952, Interstate 40 was constructed from Kingman, Arizona to Needles, California, bypassing this stretch of mountains. Oatman barely hung on.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the ’70s, Laughlin, Nevada started up; and in the late ’80s, Route 66 became a popular destination for tourists from around the world. Today, a half-million people visit this historic outpost each year. Not bad for an old ghost town off the beaten path. The town just waited for the world to come back around.

Folks start to roll out of town in late afternoon. Even the burros clock out and mosey back into the hills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. And one of the most scenic drives in the state. Now that’s something to bray about.

Back in the hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.

—Dave MacLennan

What Happens to ‘Stay Home’ When the Home Is on Wheels?

Not only do RVs provide a sense of distance from other campers, they also provide a sense of containment

First of all, the good news is that most RVers are prepared for national emergencies such as the the COVID-19 (coronavirus). That said we know the wave after wave of news updates, stricter camping and travel guidelines rolling out across the U.S. and Canada, and the associated stress are not things we often encounter as RVers.

The Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort in Jackson, California is closed and that includes its RV park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When national, state (and in Canada, provincial), and local governments issued stay-at-home orders shutting down many private and public campgrounds and public lands an estimated one million to two million full-time RVers were potentially left homeless. Across Facebook full-time RVer groups the sense of fear and panic was obvious. 

The 12 Tribal Casino Resort in Omak, Washington is closed and that includes its RV park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Full-time RVers consist of thousands of construction, energy, and medical workers, living mobile out of necessity for their jobs, as well as seniors and folks who sold their “sticks-and-bricks” homes to live a nomadic lifestyle.

The 7 Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, Oregon is closed but its RV park remains open. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A week after inviting RVs to camp in Winton Woods, Great Parks of Hamilton County (Ohio) ordered them gone by Thursday (April 2). No exceptions. Great Parks made this call Sunday afternoon to match moves the state made last week: closing all campgrounds to slow the spread of coronavirus. Great Parks had shut down campground cabins and bathrooms more than a week earlier but allowed self-contained RVs to stay. Until they didn’t! That put people in RVs in limbo again, some for the second or third time. Private RV parks like nearby Lebanon KOA are limiting space while wondering how long before the governor shuts them down, too.

The Gila Bend KOA in Gila Bend, Arizona is open and accepting reservations for one night only. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the challenges full-timers face in securing a camping site is the lack of clear and uniform directives between states and within localities. For example, some campgrounds can accept long-term visitors while others, depending on the municipality, cannot. 

Hacienda RV Resort in La Cruces, New Mexico is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virtual communities also have taken up the cause in connecting full-timers with open campgrounds.

Ambassador RV Resort in Caldwell, Idaho is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And many Canadian snowbirds are finding they have no place to land. The early return because of coronavirus fears has left thousands of RVers stranded. The snowbirds were heeding the federal government’s call for Canadians to return home from the U.S. and self-isolate themselves for 14 days in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency.

Nk’Mip RV Park in Osoyoos, British Columbia is open but is not accepting any new registrations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as they neared the border one problem became increasingly clear: They had nowhere to go. Thousands of stranded RVers many who have no brick-and-mortar residences have been calling RV parks and campgrounds all around the country looking for vacancies. Either they’re not open or they’re open and they’re already full or not accepting new RVers due to the fear of further spreading the virus.

Waltons Beach RV Resort in Osoyoos, British Columbia has delayed opening and is not accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of the problem is that the vast majority of Ontario’s 420 or so private campgrounds are prohibited by municipal statute from opening the season until May. And the few that do operate year round have not been listed as essential services by the province so it’s unclear whether they’d be allowed to take in new RVers.

Hilltop RV Park in Fort Stockton, Texas is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National and provincial parks—another potential refuge for returning snowbirds—are closed until April 30 at the earliest. The mandatory isolation order and the parks not being open are terrifying for many. 

Whispering Oaks RV Resort in Weimar, Texas is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found ourselves in a similar situation when the RV Park at which we had made reservations informed us that they had cancelled our reservation. We were left scrambling as we contacted dozens of parks. Finally due to a recent cancellation an RV park was willing to accept us.

Frog City RV Park in Duson, Louisiana is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While tenting is still the primary form of camping for most people, the data reveals that 24 percent (or 1.8 million individuals) camp in an RV. They come into outdoor settings bringing their own living quarters with them which are fully self-contained units that house everything they need to sustain life including their living rooms, kitchen, bedrooms, and their own bathroom, and hopefully in present days…their own toilet paper.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie

Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Pralines, the sweet pecan candy with a buttery, brown-sugar smell

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Cultural influences played a factor in the innovation of the candy in the American South. French settlers introduced their version in Louisiana where sugarcane plantations were a dominant industry and pecan trees were prevalent.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original praline was a 17th-century French dessert described as “almonds coated in boiled sugar.” According to popular accounts, they were originally created by the cook to French diplomat of César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin, a 17th-century sugar industrialist and were called “praslin.”

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some believe the comte had his cook devise an almond-studded candy to woo his various love interests. Or perhaps it was his butler who created the treat to cure Praslin’s painful indigestion or a clumsy young apprentice who knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramelized sugar.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The praline that emerged in the South was markedly different from its contemporary European counterpart. African-American cooks working for French colonists adapted the recipe by using native Louisiana pecans and adding cream. Voilà, the velvety, sugary pecan patty was born.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is believed that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns who came to New Orleans in 1727. They were in charge of the casket girls, young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans colonists. They were called casket girls (les filles a la casette) because each came to the city furnished with a casket-box filled with all their worldly possessions.

The nuns instructed the casket girls to be upstanding women in society as well as good wives to the settlers and in the course of their scholastic and domestic educations the girls were taught the art of praline making. Eventually the casket girls were married off and began to settle throughout southern Louisiana.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In his 1919 book about pecans, the agricultural historian Rodney Howard True called the crop “America’s most important contribution to the world’s stock of edible nuts.” Native peoples consumed pecans before Europeans arrived in America but the pecan’s history as a harvested nut is linked to a formerly enslaved Louisianan named Antoine.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The University of Georgia professor Lenny Wells wrote in his book, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree, that the nut had been harvested and perhaps even sold for centuries but that it was not viewed as capable of being industrialized. That perception shifted in 1846, Wells wrote, “thanks to the skill of a slave.” Antoine’s ability to produce high-quality nuts came through mastering the perfect combination of grafting partners to consistently produce premium nuts.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the mid-1800s, pralinieres were selling the candy in the French Quarter. Today, New Orleans tourists find it hard to leave the city without boxes of pralines.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas history of pralines is no less evocative. According to culinary historian MM Pack, the Texas praline’s ancestry came both from the east (New Orleans) and from the south (Mexico). Both France and Spain brought their sweet tooth to the New World “more or less at the same time,” Pack said. The pecan-candy traditions—pecans because they were plentiful and free—found a welcome home in Texas where industrious Mexican immigrants could make money from candy that was relatively cheap to produce.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack cited the Texas-Mexican history of the border town candyman (men selling sweets from carts and baskets) as a natural link for pecan candy at Tex-Mex restaurants.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the early 1900s, pecans became a source of income for Mexican immigrants who gathered, shelled, and dried them. Pecan candy soon became a tradition. Mexican-American know-how for pecan pralines found its way into Tex-Mex restaurants where Mexican candies—dulces—were sold.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being a thriving port city, people from all over the world came through New Orleans to the rest of the country and the praline spread with them. Nowadays most people are unaware of the candy’s historical origin, and the praline is thought of as a southern confection not necessarily specific to New Orleans. Some believe the pecan praline is a Texan candy, whereas others assume it came from Savannah.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pronunciation of the candy is a point of contention as well. In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where there are many communities settled by the French, the pronunciation is prah-leen with the long aaah sound which is closer to that of the candy’s namesake du Plessis-Praslin. Other regions of the country including parts of Texas and Georgia have anglicized the term and pronounce it pray-leen. However you say it, they taste the same. Other terms for pralines include pecan pralines, pecan candy, plarines, and pecan patties.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson

Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, like many of the small Central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884, and the arrival of a Carnation Milk condensing plant in 1929 put the town on the map. The plant still operates now part of Dairy Farmers of America and employs more than 200 people making dips and salsas.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a lot of locally owned businesses throughout the community that set the town apart. You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. They even had a warm cinnamon variety ready for “grab and go” consumption.

Schulenburg Historical Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Sengelmann Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To put some oompah in your day, walk to the Texas Polka Music Museum which honors the many artists who have brought polka power to Texas. There were old records, instruments, and even some DJ equipment from a local all-polka radio station. Visit the gift shop and purchase a polka CD to enjoy some road-trip tunes on the way home.

Texas Polka Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop: the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, dedicated to the local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise the countryside and follow the steeple on the horizon to St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, one of the area’s famed “Painted Churches.” While the brick facade may seem typical for a country church, inside lies a sanctuary full of ornate sculptures, stained glass, and paintings that rival those in the cathedrals of Europe.

Driving the countryside of Fayette County St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubin

In total there are more than a half-dozen of these painted churches including the three others we visited: Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina (pictured above), St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville (pictured below), known as “The Pink One.”

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Best Places for RV Travel this April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like the previous month, April was a victim of calendar shifting by the Romans. April was supposed to be the second month on the calendar after March, because after all, Aprillis is a derivative of the Latin base word apero- which means second. April was celebrated as the second month of the year, whereas now it’s the fourth month and is seen as the real beginning of spring in the U.S.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Could April be the best of all worlds? Summer comes early to Arizona. It’s also the best time of year to catch some bona fide bucket-list natural wonders from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest. Simply put: there’s an RV destination for you, no matter your jam.

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January, February, and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2019.

South Carolina

Great Swamp Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina begins as a wall of mountains on its western border as the Southern Appalachians rise dramatically from the piedmont below. The terrain mellows into river valleys as it moves east until it hits the coast and becomes wild again with untouched barrier islands, sandy beaches, and rough surf coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Water sports obviously dominate the coastal scene with untold miles of brackish rivers to paddle while the mountains have become a hotbed of cycling and hiking.

Texas

Davis Mountains of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is a lovely time of year in Texas. The weather is not yet too intensely hot, the skies are blue and clear, and things start to move outdoors—festivals, gigs, parties, eating, and drinking. The weather in Marfa, out in the High Texan Desert, is just right for walking the many miles around Donald Judd’s large-scale installations and land art out under the desert sun (at this time of year, not too harsh), and just right too for staying in a vintage van or airstream at El Cosmico.

Florida

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winter-sun state is wonderful in spring and autumn. It’s one of the best places to go on holiday in April for beach breaks or outdoor adventures with long sunny days and warm-but-not-hot weather—just right for tailing alligators through the mangroves or galloping around a cattle ranch, cruising around Miami’s art district or having a classic family beach holiday on the Gulf of Mexico.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is magic! Skagit Valley Farmers invite visitors to take a scenic drive through the valley and experience the art of farming during the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Tulips have been farmed here since the early 1900s and today, over a million bulbs are planted at RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town alone. The Magic Skagit Valley’s natural wonders also include shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River and one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park is America’s most spectacular landscape, a 277-mile long, 5,000 foot deep kaleidoscopic gorge of the Colorado River that cuts through the high desert plains of Arizona like a golden knife. Written into these sheer cliffs is one of the most complete geological records on the planet—nearly two billion years of the earth’s history etched into stone from the Kaibab Limestone laid down at its summit 260 million years ago to the 1.8-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at its base. Studying the rocks, layer by layer, you can almost see desert become swamp, oceans advance and retreat, and mountains rise and fall again. It’s like looking at time itself.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy a number of breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Repeatedly hailed America’s most charming and friendliest city, this Southern Belle offers cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages. And springtime is the perfect moment before steamy summer envelops the Deep South. Try jazz-club-hopping in the French Quarter, slurp fresh oysters on the seafront, and don’t miss the colorful Georgians of Rainbow Row. Better still, April’s annual Festival of Houses and Gardens invites you inside some of the city’s most incredible antebellum homes. Go have a snoop.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations