Boston Freedom Trail

The famous Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick trail through Boston’s historic neighborhoods that tells the story of the American Revolution

Boston, a large, metropolitan city packed with revolutionary history, cultural venues, and sophisticated shopping and dining opportunities. A jaunt around “town” is like opening an American history textbook.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston has some of the worst driving and parking on the East Coast; its winding, angled roads meandering like the old cow paths they originally followed. But, don’t let this deter you; you will be rewarded many times over.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston had been a thriving city long before the United States itself existed. Founded in the 17th century, Boston has been the center of attention in New England since the colonial period. Today, Boston continues to boast some of the best attractions to be found in the Northeastern US. As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. For over 350 years, some of the world’s greatest patriots, writers, thinkers, athletes, and artists have called Boston their home, leaving an indelible mark on this incredible city in the process.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

Faneuil Hall (1742) was a meeting place for revolutionary leaders, and it now houses dozens of shops and restaurants. Built by wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1741, this imposing structure is the place where the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their dissent against Royal oppression.

Old State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old State House (1713) was the site of the colonial government and is open for tours.

The oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston, the Paul Revere House (1680) today serves as a museum.

Paul Revere House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest church in the city of Boston, the Old North Church (1723), and its famous signal lanterns are still in use.

The site of the Boston Massacre where five colonists died in 1770 has been preserved.

The First Public School was in Boston; some of its graduates include Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House (1729) was the largest building in colonial Boston. No tax on tea! This was the decision on December 16, 1773, when 5,000 angry colonists gathered here to protest a tax…and started a revolution with the Boston Tea Party.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to King’s Chapel (1688), the first non-Puritan church in the colonies, the Granary Burying Ground has the graves of patriots John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside), The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the Boston Tea Party is commemorated in a floating ship museum, not far from the floating museum aboard the USS Constitution, America’s first great warship. Launched in Boston in 1797, America’s Ship of State earned her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our National Park ranger-led tour, we visited sites along the Freedom Trail and heard about the American Revolutionary story, the people who lived here, their courage, and what they risked striving for freedom.

State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, the Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel, the site of the first public school, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Freedom Trail was created in 1951 to set recognize and set aside a cluster of historically significant building and locations in downtown Boston.

We began our 90-minute ranger-led tour at the Old State House and concluded at the Old North Church, five sites along the Freedom trail that highlights Boston’s role in the American Revolution. The other sites, prior to and following our ranger-led tour, were on our own.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.

—Samuel Adams

America’s Best State Parks

Check out the best of the best in our list of the most enchanting state parks in America

State parks are giving national parks a run for their money drawing an average of 807 million visitors annually.

Each state has a considerable amount of protected land with state park designation—a whopping 18,694,570 acres, to be exact. With 8,565 parks and 14,672 trails to explore, chances are there’s a local park worthy of a day trip. As a bonus, state parks also offer grandeur, history, and natural beauty.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park isn’t your everyday desert landscape. In fact, this 286-acre nature preserve is home to lush green meadows, juniper, Manzanita, and is adorned with miles of striking red rock formations. The park offers 5 miles of interconnected, family-friendly trails that traverse a variety of unique desert habitats.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Take a scenic drive along Arizona State Route 89A which winds its way through Oak Creek Canyon and provides several places to pull over and picnic or snap photos of incredible, colorful rock formations.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

You might be heading to South Dakota to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore but while you’re out exploring the Black Hills there’s another South Dakota gem you’ll want to add to your bucket list. Named one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destination and one of the country’s largest state parks, Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of granite cliffs, rolling plains, and beautiful mountain wilderness.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Drive the Wildlife Loop to see a variety of wildlife including bison, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk. Or, drive along Iron Mountain Road for incredible, panoramic views of the Black Hills and unique vantage points of Mount Rushmore.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Despite its grisly name, the view from Dead Horse Point remains one of the most scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, Dead Horse Point is an iconic peninsula of rock sitting on top of incredible vertical sandstone cliffs that was formed by geological activity millions of years ago.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Pack a camera and drive along Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway to experience the park’s deep canyons and ridges via a variety of scenic overlooks, including the most notable overlook: Dead Horse Point Overlook.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys at Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offering a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as close-up views of a unique desert environment.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

There is something for everyone inside Gulf State Park with two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a brand new Lodge and Conference Center. There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Gulf State Park has a multitude of activities to participate in including hiking, biking, fishing, exploring, geocaching, and paddling with beach vendors offering parasailing and kayaking. 

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination.

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

Park Highlights: If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

Circle of Ancients: Ancestral Puebloans

Ancestral Puebloans and their world

The sites of the Ancestral Puebloans are many and include Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Aztec Ruins National Monument. All combine to form The Circle of Ancients—a theme some have spent a lifetime exploring.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture. Archeologists have called these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word sometimes translated as “the ancient ones” or “ancient enemies.” We now call them Ancestral Puebloans, reflecting their modern descendants.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Ancestral Puebloans settled in Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) about A.D. 550. They are known as Basketmakers for their skill at the craft. Formerly nomadic, they were beginning to lead a more settled way of life. Farming replaced hunting and gathering as their main livelihood. They lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About A.D. 750 they began building houses above ground with upright walls made of poles and mud often with a pithouse or two in front. (Pithouses would later evolve into kivas.) From here on, these people are known as Puebloans, a Spanish word meaning “village dwellers.”

By A.D. 1000 the people of Mesa Verde had advanced from pole-and-adobe construction to skillful stone masonry.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1300, the population may have reached several thousand. It was mostly concentrated in compact villages of many rooms, often with the kivas built inside the enclosing walls. These stone walls are regarded as the finest ever built in Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About A.D. 1200, another major population shift saw people begin to move back into the cliff alcoves that sheltered their ancestors centuries before giving rise to the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is most famous. Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs.

Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late A.D. 1190s to late A.D. 1270s. They range in size from one-room structures to villages of more than 150 rooms such as Cliff Palace and Long House. Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about A.D. 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted. When the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde left, they traveled south into New Mexico and Arizona, settling among their kin who were already there.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In about 1110, a wandering band of Anasazi, a skilled farming people looking for a new home selected a high ridge along the west bank of the Animas River, opposite the present town of Aztec, New Mexico. They constructed a large dwelling of sculptured and fitted stones. Built over a four-year period, it was an E-shaped structure of about 400 rooms and 24 kivas that reached three stories high in places. About 85 years later, the residents of Aztec abandoned the region, and Aztec lay deserted.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1225, a group of Mesa Verde people left their high mesa and deep canyons in southern Colorado to move into the abandoned Aztec complex. Despite their considerable efforts in refurbishing Aztec, the Mesa Verdeans didn’t stay long. By about 1275, they also began to drift away and by 1300, the stone dwellings on the Animas had been abandoned.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around A.D. 900 a group of Anasazi Indians left Mesa Verde and settled 100 miles west at what is now called Hovenweep National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado state line. A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements and probably more considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. The pueblos tell of a sophisticated knowledge of a sun-Earth relationship.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1300 the site was deserted and the Anasazis had probably gone to other sites in northwestern New Mexico or northeastern Arizona.

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

While Chaco’s heyday had come and gone by the end of the 12th century, many other communities continued to thrive until the late 13th century, such as those found in the canyon walls of Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Land of the Blue Smoke

It’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited National Park of them all

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in a crossroads of sorts through the American southeast. Winding through the heart of it is one of America’s most famed and prized scenic byways, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rivers in the area draw rafters and kayakers from all over the country to learn, practice, and play in the whitewater. Long distance trekkers cross through 71 miles of mountains in the Great Smokies while journeying the epic Appalachian Trail. The Cherokee Indian reservation on the southeast side of the park tells the story of the area’s Indian heritage. For art, food, and other city-centric activities, Asheville, North Carolina, is just down the road. There are even caves that worm into the karst formations underlying the Smokies’ extreme western portions.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend time roaming from the park’s 870-feet-above-sea-level basement to its 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome and you will, in essence, have negotiated diverse vegetative topography akin to what you would find hiking the Appalachian Trail’s 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine. And above all, this park is very beautiful. It is for all of those good reasons and many others that visitors flock to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Appalachian wonder that straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee state line holds many stories. There are stories in the log cabins, plank churches, and architectural wonders that farmers built for their crops and livestock in Cades Cove and Cataloochee, stories of ridge runners and moonshiners in the mountains, Native American stories, and stories of nature.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is a valley surrounded by a one lane, 11-mile loop road that puts visitors among wildlife, historic buildings, and trails from where you can head off on foot to explore deeper. The driving road is closed Saturday morning until 10 am during the spring and summer, allowing access to cyclists and people to wander without traffic. Visiting during the week in the off-season, we had the road mostly to ourselves! 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Venture into this park draped over the ridgeline of the Appalachian Range and you’ll discover five different forest types; both grassy balds and heath balds near the mountains’ summits and an undergrowth that abounds with rhododendrons, magnolia, ferns, holly, and mountain laurel.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smokies were settled in the 18th century, logged into the 20th century, and have been flourishing almost as wilderness again since 1934 when this landscape was destined to become a national park. Despite the roughly 9 million visitors who traipse through the park each year, it continues to be a wellspring of biological diversity.

Mountain Farm Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could immerse yourself in Native American and early settler history in Cherokee, North Carolina. Stop in at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and visit the park’s excellent Mountain Farm Museum often the site of hands-on Junior Ranger programs and demonstrations and then walk the 1.5 mile Oconaluftee River Trail to view the wayside exhibits detailing local Cherokee and Native American history.

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest peak in any National Park often becomes iconic and Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky is no different. From 6,643 feet, one can see 360-degree views of the National Park and far beyond on a clear day. Or avoid the crowds with a hike to the fire towers atop Mt. Cammer or Mt. Sterling. Both are steep hikes (the 2 miles up to Mt. Sterling are rumored to be the steepest in the park) but the views from the crest of the Smoky Mountains are unparalleled.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s easy to lose an entire day or days exploring by car because there is so much to see just by looking out the window. It is when you head out on foot, though, that you really get a sense of the incredible vastness in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s an odd feeling being a simple human among millions and billions and trillions of trees. Odd and especially awesome when the blue haze that rests upon the tops of those trees is met by a distinct peacefulness that occurs there during the quiet of off-season. 

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird alert! More than 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Every year, synchronous fireflies light up the Smokies for about two weeks during their annual spring mating ritual. They are the only beetles in North America with the ability to flash in sync. 

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Colorful Road Trip Destinations for a Variety of Interests

Here are seven of our favorite colorful road trip destinations for spring, summer, and autumn RV travel

From multi-hued canyons to elaborately-decorated streets, there are hundreds of places in the U.S. that leave visitors spellbound by a vivid presentation of colors. Some appear so beautiful that you’d be forgiven for believing that they have permanent filters attached to them.

Check out these seven colorful spots you don’t want to miss when traveling around the country. A kaleidoscope of colors await!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The horseshoe-shaped, russet rock hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park are a true sight to behold. This is one of the world’s highest concentrations of hoodoos and their colors alternate between shades of purple, red, orange, and white. One of the most rewarding ways to admire these geological wonders is to hike to Sunrise Point and its panoramic lookouts where you can witness the magic of the sunlight hitting the rocks.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall Foliage of Stowe, Vermont

The state of Vermont is an ideal spot for admiring the fall foliage. Forests cover three quarters of the state, so there is no shortage of places to discover the brilliant shades of gold, red, and orange of the sugar maples. But if you have to choose one destination, then make it Stowe. The image of the whitewashed Stowe Community Church set against a forested backdrop is emblematic of the town.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Desert, Arizona

The Painted Desert derives its name for the multitude of colors ranging from lavenders to shades of gray with vibrant colors of red, orange, and pink. It is a long expanse of badland hills and buttes and although barren and austere, it is a beautiful landscape of a rainbow of colors. You simply cannot fully experience the wonders of the Painted Desert without visiting Petrified Forest National Park which also sits about 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona, next to the Painted Desert.

Rainbow Row, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rainbow Row, Charleston

Boasting a landscape of Antebellum, Georgian, and Greek Revival treasures the Charleston Historic District has postcard-perfect images at the turn of every corner. Rainbow Row is a delightful street of 13 Georgian townhouses painted in bright pastel colors on East Bay Street downtown. Once used by merchants, the houses fell into abandonment after the Civil War until a local judge and his wife purchased a house and painted it pastel pink in 1931.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

The iconic landscape of Monument Valley symbolizes the American West worldwide with its towering buttes and sweeping skies. Located on the Utah-Arizona border, a 17-mile loop drive takes visitors through the park, and guided tours are also available which allow access to more remote parts of the park. A $20 cash-only fee is charged to enter the park and the on-site The View Campground has views living up to its name.

Fields of tulips © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skagit Valley, Washington

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is magic! The Skagit Valley’s natural wonders also include shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River, and a large agricultural community. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is designed as a driving tour. There is no one location that you go to for the festival. The fields are centrally located in the valley between La Conner and Mount Vernon with events and happenings sprinkled all around Skagit Valley.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Worth Pondering…

The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color.

—Hans Hofmann

New River Gorge National River: A River Runs Through It

A rugged, whitewater river the New River is actually among the old rivers on Earth

Located in southern West Virginia, New River Gorge National River preserves over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River between the towns of Hinton and Fayetteville from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake. The park and surrounding area are rich in cultural and natural history with an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities. 

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep and spectacular canyons, the New River is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth. It has carved and continues to carve the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1978, New River Gorge National River offers something for everyone. New River, estimated to be over 250 millions year old, is the second oldest waterway in the world after the Nile. Its meandering course through the Appalachian mountains hides many natural wonders that appeal to every type of outdoor enthusiast.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River is renowned for its excellent recreational opportunities: whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, birding, camping, picnicking, biking, and simply enjoying the solitude the natural world.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The upper part of the river (southern section) features rapids ranging from Class I to Class III and include long pools of steady water, whereas the Lower Gorge of the New River (northern section) is far more difficult in comparison with Class III to Class V rapids, littered with large boulders and strong currents. Commercial outfitters conduct trips down the river from April through October.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most begin their visit to New River Gorge at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center near Fayetteville. Inside are exhibits pertaining to the gorge’s history and recreational attractions, along with an auditorium. A walking path leads to a grand overlook of the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. Other visitors centers are located at Sandstone, Grandview, and Thurmond.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An engineering feat, the New River Gorge Bridge is the largest single steel-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Its completion saved motorists well over an hour over narrow two-lane roads down into the New River.

A monumental steel arch built on a grand scale not often seen in bridge construction, the New River Gorge bridge opened in 1977 as the highest and longest arch bridge in the world with a height of 876 feet and a main span of 1,700 feet.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most unusual design element of the bridge was the decision to use a special type of steel that develops a brown colored rust coating that naturally protects the steel. It saves the West Virginia Department of Transportation a million dollars for every time they would have had to paint the bridge as well as giving the span a natural, rugged look that blends into the tree-filled surroundings.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the arch design was chosen, other bridge types considered for the 3,030 foot long gap included a suspension bridge, a jackknife truss-arch, and a continuous truss. Luckily, the best design prevailed and West Virginia became the proud owners of one of the largest and most beautiful bridge structures in the world.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The New River Gorge is special in that it is the only high bridge in the world to be celebrated precisely because of its height. Every year on the 3rd Saturday of October an official “Bridge Day” is held and the span is completely closed to vehicles. Nearly 200,000 people are then allowed to walk on the bridge for a one day festival that is centered around the spectacular view of the New River and BASE jumping.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bridge Day has been canceled for just the second time in its history. Concerns with the Covid-19 pandemic and ability to safely stage the event led the decision to cancel the planned 2020 installment of West Virginia’s largest one-day festival which would have been held on October 17.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Before the New River Gorge was a natural attraction, it was known more for its coal. In 1863, the first railroad line was installed through the valley, bringing industry and a boom-town mentality to a region that was all but inaccessible. Coal mining camps and support towns, such as Thurmond, prospered for the latter part of the 19th century, but all of the towns are now just mere shadows of their former selves, and most cease to exist today.

New River Gorge National River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River is accessible by US-19 and Interstates 64 and 77 in south central West Virginia. The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is located just north of Fayetteville via US-19. The Sandstone visitor center is off of SR-20 at I-64, exit 139. The Grandview region is accessible via I-64, exit 129 and SR-9. 

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma

—John Denver

National Parks are Best in Autumn

Six of the best national parks to visit in the fall

If you’re thinking about visiting a national park this fall, you’re in luck. There’s a secret many travelers with flexible schedules have long known: national parks are best in autumn.

Of course, that’s not true of every national park—there are more than a few best visited during other seasons of the year. But, generally speaking, autumn can be a spectacular time to visit the nation’s parklands. The temperatures have dropped and the crowds have thinned, meaning you can enjoy the scenery without breaking a sweat or competing with other visitors for a photo.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best of all, depending on when and where you travel you will get the added bonus of a vibrant display of fall foliage. Just remember, as winter draws nearer, snow can cause road closures at Glacier, Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic, and Rocky Mountain national parks.

So plan ahead and get the timing right, and these will be six of the best national parks to visit in the fall.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fall is arguably the absolute best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park and take in the colorful display of leaves from the observation deck at the peak of Clingman’s Dome.

Cade’s Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, if you prefer a scenic drive, admire the autumnal hues from Cade’s Cove Loop Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway (also known as “the Tail of the Dragon”). Fall temperatures in the Smokies are also a great alternative to the oppressive heat that comes with summertime in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a very popular national park which often creates crowding issues during the peak summer months. But in fall—especially if you can delay your visit until late in the season—the crowds taper off along with the temperatures. If you have your heart set on some of the more popular trails, such as Angels Landing or the Narrows, a less-busy autumn day will be a far more enjoyable experience.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Another Utah park best seen in autumn is Arches National Park. In addition to glimpses of changing leaves, the temperatures are more tolerable with highs in the 70s in October (compared to daily highs in the 90s from June through August). The 3-mile hike to the Delicate Arch is easier to manage when the air is cooler. If you’re hoping to capture some amazing photographs, the autumnal light cast on the red rocks is spectacular.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park’s hills run with red knotweed in late summer. Because this national park has a volcanic landscape, much of it is austere though bright color pops on autumn days particularly along its hillsides and in its meadows where cadmium-yellow rabbitbrush, crimson knotweed, white pearly everlastings, and golden and rust-colored grasses are seen peaking in the waning days of summer and early autumn. Technically, they are late blooming wild flowers rather than true “autumn color.” Though because of their timing, we classify them as fall color.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia may not have the same nationwide recognition as Great Smoky Mountains or Zion but it holds treasures of its own especially in the fall. Shenandoah is known for its fall foliage which usually peaks in late October or early November. The red, orange, and yellow hues signifying the changing of the season can be enjoyed not only during hikes within the park but also from the serpentine Skyline Drive that runs 105 miles north and south along the Blue Ridge Mountains right through the national park.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Most people don’t think of South Carolina as a fall foliage destination but autumn there is long and colorful and best of all begins much later in the season than other destinations which means you’ll be able to get in a “second autumn”. The best time to see the leaves here is mid-November through the first half of December. Take the 2.4-mile boardwalk hike through the park or one of the many trails into the backcountry for miles upon miles of color. Another great option is to paddle along Cedar Creek in a canoe. It meanders under canopies of spectacular fall foliage.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

It’s hard to go wrong with a trip to a national park during the fall. After all, September, October, and November are really the best times to get out and enjoy the crisp, autumnal air before winter blankets everything with snow. Whether you’re seeking lower temperatures and smaller crowds or you’re purely in pursuit of peak foliage, pack your jacket, bring the camera, and prepare for an unforgettable trip.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.

―Jim Bishop

Road Tripping in Bourbon Country

Everything you need to know about the ultimate U.S. liquor and where to learn more

America’s Native Spirit can be made anywhere in the U.S. and still be called bourbon but some 90 percent is Kentuckian. In the Bluegrass State, there are, as every tour guide says, more bourbon barrels aging (nearly 5 million) than residents (4.5 million).

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2012, the Kentucky Distillers Association launched the Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. It’s essentially a map of seven micro-distilleries to complement a similarly self-guided tour of seven larger ones. Each has its own passport. Fill with stamps for a free T-shirt. That achievement briefly intrigued. Assessing geography and open hours, however, led us to five, plus one not on the sanctioned trail.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Per federal law, bourbon is whiskey consisting of at least 51 percent corn produced at each stage within a range of proofs (too high or low and you’re back to whiskey) aged in new (one-time use only) white oak barrels. Throughout the trail, you’ll hear about Kentucky’s mineral-rich limestone water but there’s no bourbon without a barrel.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A barrel is really an ingredient. Without it, you’d be drinking White Dog, the clear grain distillate (aka moonshine) that enters a barrel. What exits is brown (darkest when aged longest) and hopefully multidimensional. Whiskey is pretty simple. It’s a function of recipe, barrel, warehouse, and time.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbons are made in limited quantity at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, along with other lauded labels—Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, George T. Stagg. They’re not pouring or selling anything Van Winkle there, but following a walk through the park-like property’s architectural timeline of two centuries of distilling, you can sip up to three ½-oz tastes of other products including the distillery’s namesake.

Tasting laws are strict. Fortunately, these counties are now wet; Woodbridge was dry on our first visit over a decade ago. They’re also flowing with another type of spirit.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prior to our first trip to Bourbon Country I had heard of Jim Beam, and little else. Fittingly, Jim Beam’s Fred Noe, the company’s seventh-generation Master Distiller is the great-grandson of Jim who protected their yeast (think sourdough bread starter) by driving it back and forth to work in a jug. They’ve used that same strain since 1935. You can see the jug on the tour at the company’s American Stillhouse in Clermont, under padlock.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve also been to Maker’s Mark (actually, twice), the first distillery to reach out to visitors. At the time, people said ‘what the heck are you doing’ when they put a lot of money out just for show. That’s what people did for horses, not bourbon. But every year they sold everything they made and the rest of the industry took notice.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Wild Turkey, we meet Jimmy, legendary Master Distiller, more than 60 years in. Similar to our other tours, we enter a massive, unfriendly-looking warehouse (think prison or horror film), holding some 20,000 barrels. These “rack houses” can have a 50-degree temperature variance between top and bottom floors. That’s part of the mystique of bourbon: Most warehouses are heated and cooled by nature’s whims, resulting in barrels of differing nature. The challenge is to blend and create a consistent taste.

Barrels at Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reaching for a visible wet spot on a barrel our guide says, “Leaks prove bourbon is getting into the most porous parts of the wood. That’s how you get the syrupy goodness.” As the weather changes and the wood expands and contracts, the bourbon flows in and out. Mostly it stays in. The greatest amount of loss is attributed to evaporation and referred to as Angel’s Share.

Bourbon needs to be in the barrel for two years to be bourbon, but most are aged for six or more. At a loss rate of about 5 percent a year. No wonder ghosts linger about. You get your share too when you enter. It’s delicious.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Woodford Reserve, where you’re most reminded you’re in thoroughbred territory—gigantic, fenced, hilly, and grassy farms surround the picturesque national landmark—the warehouses are temperature-controlled, a somewhat controversial modernization. Buffalo Trace has some of these, too.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 20 years ago, Brown-Forman renovated the vacant buildings and started mixing up what’s now the world’s only triple-distilled bourbon. Everyone else does two. Woodford emphasizes the harmony of five areas of flavor: sweet aromatics, fruit and floral, spice, wood, and grain.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best Kentucky bourbon country trip includes both large and small distilleries. Visit four and you’ll return home with an understanding of the product, the process, and the history. And you’ll have taste, but not a full glass. There are no bars on any property.

Boundary Oak Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s essential to remember that open hours are limited—and that Covid-19 is impacting travel and tourism—3 p.m. is the last tour most everywhere. Sundays don’t start until 1 p.m. Some distilleries are neighbors; many are a good hour apart. Choose your favorite label, and work around it.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our trail was more or less a 200-mile oval between Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Lexington. We used two RV parks for our home base: Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville and Whispering Hills RV Park north of Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington).

Worth Pondering…

Let dreamers whine

Of the pleasures of wine

For lovers of soft delight

But this is the song

Of a tipple that’s strong

For men who must toil and fight.

Now the drink of luck

For the man full of pluck

Is easy to nominate

It’s the good old whiskey of old Kentuck

And you always drink it straight… 

The Ballad of Whiskey Straight, a 19th-century Kentucky poem

The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on Earth

Like many of America’s national parks, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has many cool pockets to explore. Nothing compares, though, to the feeling you get when standing before the hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s essentially a gigantic bowl-shaped valley filled with weird, orange rock spires. These hoodoos are formed by wind and the expanding ice that cracks and weathers the entire canyon resulting in this mysterious and distinctive rock formation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For this article, I want to highlight a few different ideas that will deliver a diverse experience in Bryce—where to drive, hike, stay, and wander—with the caveat that at this one-of-a-kind national park there is nothing more spectacular than the red rock nation that sprawls across Utah’s high desert on the Colorado Plateau. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Drive

Hitting the scenic auto-trails in the national parks is often the best place to gain an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service in an effort to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby. A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hike

Standing inside the amphitheater—even to walk just a short distance into the hoodoos—allows you to become a part of the landscape. The Navajo Loop trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail because of its accessibility and its beauty. Descending first into the Wall Street section, you are thrust upon an iconic scene in the park, a 700-year-old Douglas fir tree that rises in the midst of a slot canyon to search for sunlight in the sky. Traveling farther, you will find a vast network of trails leading into the hoodoos where you can chart your own course. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the recently renovated 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lodge was built in 1919 by Reuben C. (Ruby) Syrett who was so spellbound by the scene at Bryce that he decided to start up a “tourist rest” where he and his family could host visitors to the area. As the park became more popular, so did Ruby’s—it is an absolute can’t miss in the area (you couldn’t miss it even if you tried!)

Everything you need to fuel a park adventure is available there. The operation is still family run—by Ruby’s son Carl and two generations that follow him.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Wander

A 1-mile walk between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point offers panoramic views of the amphitheater and is suitable for the entire family. Each overlook is situated at a trailhead where you can descend into the hoodoos if you want to explore deeper.

Before you go, check Bryce Canyon’s official website for park alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

  • The youngest geologic formations found on the Colorado Plateau dating back just 65 million years are found in Bryce Canyon
  • Hoodoos are jagged pillars of rock that have withstood centuries of erosion caused by water, ice, and gravity
  • Hoodoos can be found on every continent though Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of them of any place in the world 
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At a glimpse

Total acres: 35,835

Date established: September 15, 1928 (dedicated a National Monument in 1923)

Main attraction: Largest concentration of hoodoo formations in the world

Designation: International Dark Sky Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation: 8,000-9,000 feet

Highest peak: Yovimpa and Rainbow Point at 9,105 feet (at the end of the 18-mile scenic park drive)

Number of maintained hiking trails: 8

Cost: Entry $30 per vehicle

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

20 Charming Towns for Your Bucket List

Hit the roads less traveled

When planning a road trip, most travelers search out popular destinations. It’s usually cities they’ve read about or towns and attractions that have been recommended by friends or family or on social media. But there are an unlimited number of small towns in America that are worth visiting even if you didn’t know they existed. These 20 unheard-of towns across the U.S. may not be on your bucket list but they absolutely deserve a spot.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

History buffs and beach lovers alike will love this small island town off the Georgia coast. There, you can play a round of golf, fish, visit historical sites, and climb to the top of the St. Simons lighthouse for amazing views.

Bisbee, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee, Arizona

Back in the day, Bisbee was a major silver and copper mining hub, but now it’s a quaint small town home to artists and dreamers. With houses on cliffs’ edges and a mine cavern that you can still explore, it’s picturesque.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

If you like whiskey, Bardstown is a can’t-miss stop. The bourbon capital of the world, Bardstown is to several distilleries including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Be sure to tour My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months.

Corning, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone.

Woods Hole, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

This tiny, bustling Cape Cod town was once a pass-through destination for Martha’s Vineyard ferry travelers. Now it holds its own thanks to a charming waterfront filled with restaurants and shopping.

Marietta, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

This town was settled in the 1700s and named in honor of Marie Antoinette. Today, it’s a historic riverboat town that’s ideal for families who seek out vacations full of outdoor adventures.

Cedar Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Key, Florida

This secluded beach community is less about the hustle and bustle and more about small town living. Proof: The restaurant- and buffet-filled streets of the mile-long historic district are filled with bicycles instead of cars.

Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Bon Temps et Bon Amis, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana is the place to be.  For toe-tappin’, lip smackin’, ol’ fashioned fun, this little town has something for everyone! Nestled on the banks of the Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge is a unique community filled with “Joie…

Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

This cute town boasts an Amish community and the largest flea market in the country featuring a whopping 900 booths that cover 100 acres of land. You can munch on treats like sweet corn, while the kids feed animals at the petting zoo.

Fairhope, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists and writers. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.

Helen, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen Georgia

Helen is a replica Bavarian Alpine town the family will enjoy visiting. A faltering logging town, Helen resurrected itself in 1969 by requiring all of the buildings to be designed in the style of a south German mountain village. It features a downtown with specialty shops offering everything from toys, to pottery, to fudge, and delicious German delicacies like Spätzle and Bratwürst.

Gruene, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene, Texas

Gruene (pronounced like the color green) is designated a historic town by the state of Texas—part of that history is musical. The oldest dance hall in the state (still in its original 1800s-era building) is most famous for its country concerts, but swing, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, and folk musicians take the stage, too. The likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage at Gruene Hall.

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waterbury, Vermont

Look around town with its brick commercial architecture and sampling of handsome early homes. Most travelers, however, are either passing through or looking for “that ice cream place.” Just to the north of Waterbury along Route 100 Scenic Byway lie a major destination for food-lovers—Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Cabot Cheese Annex—and Waterbury Center, with its stunning views of the Worcester Range.

La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange, Texas

You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in this Central Texas community, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and serve as creative outlets. The Texas Quilt Museum is located in two historic 1890s buildings.

Moab, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Moab is a small city in eastern Utah famed for its natural beauty and fun escapes for adventure lovers. Moab is a quick drive from two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and home to the most popular state park in Utah (Dead Horse State Park). The La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop Road features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of red rock landscape. 

Urbanna Oyster Festival, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

A beautiful Colonial port town, Urbanna offers surprises around every corner. Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival, more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, and townspeople.

Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s and 40s, up to 30 trains a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Murphys, California

The town of Murphys is overflowing with wine courtesy of 25+ tasting rooms dotting Main Street. The microclimates in the Sierra Foothills AVA allow for all kinds of grape varieties but the most common varietals include zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay. There are also a numerous nearby vineyards that offer on-site wine tasting. 

Worth Pondering…

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama