Desert Star: Palm Springs

Whether its golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, shopping, or hiking Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago when it was just a village in the desert and a popular weekend Hollywood getaway destination.

Only 100 miles east of Tinseltown, it was an easy drive, even in the days before freeways. And even though Hollywood’s winter climate was mild, the celebrities of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s headed to the desert for weekends of poolside relaxation.

Shopping El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. An escape from winter’s chill and snow, it is also a destination filled with numerous places to visit and things to do.

The Agua Caliente Cahuilla peoples were among the first to settle here and their descendants have established the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm), and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A moderately graded, foot path winds down into Palm Canyon for picnicking near the stream, meditating, exploring, hiking, or horseback riding.

The contrasting greens of the magnificent fan palms and more than 150 species of plants within a half-mile radius beckon the hiker into lush Andreas Canyon. A scenic foot trail leads through the canyon passing groves of stately skirted palms, unusual rock formations, and the perennial Andreas Creek. To access the Indian Canyons, take South Palm Canyon from Highway 111.

There are so many great trails to choose from—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours.

Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.

Hiking Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, at 500 West Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive, offers exhibits, an observation deck, and a theatre room for viewing a video that narrates the legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

Needing a change of pace? Let the Palm Springs Aerial Tram do the climbing, 6,000 feet of it. Along the way a wondrous panorama of the desert lands stretches below and beyond. From Mountain Station at the top, there are short nature hikes or longer trails of varying lengths. Be sure to bring a warm jacket as the temperature difference is dramatic at this elevation and snow is not uncommon.

Palm Springs from Tahquitz Canyon trail head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National  Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. Providing a picturesque backdrop to the desert cities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Jointly managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, the Monument can be accessed using Highway 74 (Palms to Pines Scenic Byway) from Palm Desert.

Located in Palm Desert, the world famous El Paseo Shopping District features over 300 world-class shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, jewelers, and restaurants lined along a picture-postcard floral and statue-filled mile. Known as the Rodeo Drive of the Desert, El Paseo boasts a wide spectrum of stores from Sak’s 5th Avenue to individually owned boutiques.

Browse your favorite luxury labels and chic boutiques, savor gourmet cuisine by the Coachella Valley’s top chefs, and wander through an array of art galleries set against a scenic backdrop. 

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Complete your Coachella Valley journey with something sweet by visiting the Shields Date Garden in Indio and you’ll find yourself in a date oasis where the Shields’ have been growing their own since 1924. Enjoy a date milkshake, a variety of date-centric dishes in the garden café, or educate yourself by viewing a short documentary on the cultivation of this exotic fruit which continuously screens in the café’s own theater. Be sure to also take a stroll through the garden in the back.

Worth Pondering…

We have 51 golf courses in Palm Springs. He (President Ford) never decides which course he will play until after the first tee shot.

—Bob Hope

What’s Next Is Almost Here

Newmar to Introduce Super C at RVX

RVX: The RV Experience, launching March 12-14, 2019 in Salt Lake City, will be the industry’s biggest event, designed to spark consumer interest in the RV lifestyle shared by millions of Americans by unveiling the latest products, celebrating innovation, and providing inspiration and education to dealers to drive RV businesses forward.

RVX will be the official “Kick-off to Camping Season” that will showcase the industry’s newest and best-selling products to dealers and consumers back home. This is NOT a consumer show, but a show that will highlight the products coming to market in the spring.

Newmar recently announced that it will unveil its first Super C model at RVX at 2 p.m. ET on March 13 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The manufacturer reported that the unit has been in research and development for the past two years.

The new 2020 Super Star will be live-streamed from the Newmar display.

The Super C RV will feature both a full air-ride cab and a full-wall slide-out.

Debuting at RVX 2019 is one of two models that not only represent the first we’ve ever built, but the first and only RVs in their class to feature both a full air-cab and a full-wall slideout. Don’t miss your chance to see it live on March 13 at 12 pm MST / 2 pm EST!

The RV Industry Association is the national trade association representing RV manufacturers and their component parts suppliers who together build more than 98 percent of all RVs produced in the U.S., and approximately 60 percent of RVs produced worldwide.

A manufacturer of Class A motorhomes, Newmar has chosen to lead rather than follow and deliver a high level of craftsmanship, innovation, and customer support. Newmar was founded in 1968 for one simple reason: to build a better RV.

NEWMAR: When You Know The Difference

Worth Pondering…

We chose an RV and RV lifestyle that’s right for us.

Best Things to See and Do in Arizona in 2019

For fun and adventure consider this your road map of the best things and see and do in Arizona in 2019

From cactus-studded deserts to snow-covered peaks, from vibrant cities to charming towns, Arizona defies description.

To the unfamiliar, its name invokes visions of cowboys and rattlesnakes, a land not for the faint of heart. The stereotype ignores the lush pine forests that carpet Arizona’s mountains, and the rivers and streams so plentiful that they have nurtured residents from ancient civilizations to today’s suburbanites.

Consider this guide your treasure map of the best things to do and see in Arizona in 2019.

Hop aboard Verde Canyon Railroad

You’re part of history aboard this excursion train on century-old tracks. But it’s the scenery and wildlife that truly capture the imagination.

The train departs from Clarkdale on a 40-mile round trip through a remote wilderness. Loads of ore from Jerome mines were once hauled on this line.

Today visitors enjoy towering canyon walls and the cottonwood-draped Verde River. Stand outside on open-air viewing platforms watching bald and golden eagles circle overhead, and remind yourself you’re still in Arizona.

Browse for treasures at Hubbell Trading Post

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. The National Historic Site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Wooden floors creak at every step. The store is crowded with goods and spicy with old aromas. Adjacent to the shop, a trader sits in the jewelry room, which also contains carvings, paintings, and clay work. In a third room, gorgeous hand-woven rugs are stacked in casual piles.

Details: Near mile marker 446 on State Route 264 in Ganado on the Navajo Reservation.

Look for spring wildflowers

Good years for spring wildflowers are sporadic. Super bloom years are rare indeed. Yet it doesn’t matter. There is no better reminder why we love Arizona than to spend a balmy February or March day in shorts hiking in fields of poppies, brittlebush, lupine, and their showy friends.

While the rest of the country is lashed by blizzards, nor’easters and ice storms, we revel in 70 degrees. Wildflowers are a Technicolor welcome mat the Sonoran Desert extends. It would be downright foolish not to accept the invitation.

Every year is different, of course, but reliable locations include Maricopa County Parks and Picacho Peak and Lost Dutchman state parks.

Walk the streets of Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

In between, impervious to the hail of bullets and river of whiskey that once defined the town the world’s largest rose tree grows. It was planted in 1885 and blooms every spring. There has to be a moral there somewhere.

Climb 7,000 feet in 24 miles

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

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

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

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

Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

One of the world’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon National Park, turns 100

John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.”

A universally recognizable iconic destination, Grand Canyon National Park is a true marvel of nature that’s on every RVer’s bucket list. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Although the Colorado River has been carving the Grand Canyon for over 6 million years, the Grand Canyon National Park is celebrating its 100th birthday today!

During 2019, the Park will commemorate its past and work to inspire future generations to experience the majesty and resources that the Park provides.

The first sighting of the Grand Canyon always comes as a surprise. It’s not one giant slot in the desert but a staggering series of splinters dominating the horizon. The colored layers in the rock, though, remain strikingly consistent.

A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million year ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

There are two public areas of Grand Canyon National Park, the North and South Rims. At 7,000 feet above sea level the Grand Canyon South Rim is the most accessible section of the national park with numerous places where visitors can admire the views.

The Grand Canyon is perhaps the most famous of American parks, and was the second most highly visited national park in 2017 with over 6.26 million visitors. Most visitors see it from overlooks along the South Rim. Crowds are usually thick along the canyon’s South Rim but quickly lighten the deeper into the canyon you hike.  

A much smaller number of people see the Canyon from the North Rim which lies just 10 miles (as the condor flies) directly across the Canyon from the South Rim. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a 220 mile drive from the more easily accessible South Rim, rises a thousand feet higher and offers a different perspective of the park. The North Rim generally closes at the end of October through the middle of May due to snow.

If you’re seeking a secluded escape to Mother Nature, you should be prepared: The Grand Canyon can be very crowded. The South Rim—home to the Grand Canyon Village and the well-worn Bright Angel Trail—is particularly popular for sightseers and hikers. It is on this side that you’ll find the most amenities. However, for a true escapist experience, head to the North Rim. This is the place for backwoods camping and hardcore hiking.

Grand Canyon Village is the center of activity and the transportation hub for the South Rim of the park. The Village is the only place where the Grand Canyon Railroad reaches the rim of the canyon. 

Within Grand Canyon Village, there are three main areas of interest: Visitor Center/Mather Point, Market Plaza, and the Historic District.

The Visitor Center/Mather Point is where most visitors park and get their first look at the Grand Canyon. Four large parking areas are located here as well as the transit center for the free shuttle buses.

Market Plaza is the business center where the general store, bank, and US Post Office are locate.

The Historic District with the railroad depot and original lodges is where the pioneer village started. 

To get around the Village, the Village Shuttle Bus (Blue Route) connects the Visitor Center/parking areas with the lodges, campground, restaurant, and shops. 

From the Visitor Center, the easiest and fastest way to get out and see Grand Canyon is to take the scenic Kaibab Rim Shuttle Bus (Orange Route). This bus provides the only access to the South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point. The Scenic Hermit Road Shuttle Route (Red Route) operates March 1 through November 30 and stops at nine canyon overlooks along the scenic 7 mile Hermit Road (west of the village).

Worth Pondering…

The Grand Canyon…

Do nothing to mar its grandeur…

Keep it for our children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

—Theodore Roosevelt

Find Comfort and Warmth in these Snowbird Roosts

Expect a warm winter season at these popular snowbird destinations

Stop wishing winter away; ditch your wool socks, grab your sunglasses, and get ready to see a whole different side of winter in these destinations.

Suffering through a long winter season is optional. The endless summer is far more appealing—and doable in these popular winter RV destinations.

Laughlin, Nevada

Average high in February: 69 F

If your idea of a winter wonderland includes shorts weather and desert backdrops, then flap your snowbird wings and head to Laughlin. Sitting along the Colorado River, this Nevada hot spot has game rooms galore for those who get a thrill on the craps table, and endless nature for those who like to cast for striped bass and rainbow trout. No matter if you’re eyeing the buffet spreads or boating on nearby Lake Mohave, one thing is certain: Laughlin’s weather sure beats the frigid temperatures back home.

Snowbirds love to: Hike around the petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon, and then chow down at one of the eateries in a riverside casino.

Harlingen, Texas

Average high in February: 73 F

Snowbirds are so prominent in this region that there’s a name for them: Winter Texans. Discover why they flock to the very southern tip of Texas with a visit to Harlingen, a southern city in the Rio Grande Valley. Just like people, birds migrate to this warm spot. Even in the height of winter, the mild weather affords you the opportunity to explore the Arroyo Colorado, where you can search for green jays and great kiskadees and 500 other species of birds that have been spotted in the area.

Snowbirds love to: Marvel at the masterpieces painted on the walls of downtown businesses, which are a part of the city’s beautifying Mural Project.

Phoenix, Arizona

Average high in February: 71 F

Snowbirds favor Phoenix. It’s not hard to figure out why. During the winter when the snow and rain flies up north, the Valley of the Sun offers up some of the greatest winter weather anywhere. Phoenix offers a variety of attractions that should satisfy some of the most discriminating tastes and leave some great life long memories.

One of the finest botanical gardens anywhere is in Papago Park. Home to one of the world’s largest cactus gardens, the variety of plants come from all over the world.

Snowbirds love to: Use their home base in the Phoenix area for day trips to Sedona, Prescott, the Grand Canyon, and to drive the Apache Trail.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Average high in February: 65 F

From dancing to shopping to exploring nature, Breaux Bridge offers a variety of activities for your enjoyment. It’s where food is almost a religion. Wander the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time before life became hectic. Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories.

Snowbirds love to: Get up close and personal with ancient mossy cypress trees, majestic bodies of water, and of course, the alligators on an airboat tour of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Apache Junction, Arizona

Average high in February: 70 F

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, 1,750 feet above sea level and 35 miles directly east of Phoenix.  It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.

Snowbirds love to: Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!

Birding Arizona’s Sonoran Winter Vacation Destinations

Enjoy nature while observing Arizona’s diverse bird species

Arizona is a great location for birders to observe new life birds, to study the birds of the Sonoran Desert, and to photograph resident and wintering species. Arizona’s species list of around 550 is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

While periodic rains green the Sonoran landscape, January through April is an ideal time for birding this unique cactus-dominated landscape and to enjoy some warm winter weather. The number of unique birds that range northward from Mexico and Central America and the western species that flock here during winter are big attractions.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also you can enjoy resident species including the greater roadrunner, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, Gila woodpecker, Harris’s hawk, and the ones with the weird names—phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia, and verdin.

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Cactus Wren at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular birding areas in the Phoenix area is located in Gilbert. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch consists of 110 acres with seven “water recharge basins” where wastewater is treated, creating a superb wetland and riparian wildlife habitat. More than four miles of trails wind through the preserve, making birding easy. The area is at its best from fall through spring.

American Avocet at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roughly 300 species have been identified here including various ducks and shorebirds, black-necked stilt, American avocet, grebes, cormorants, Gambel’s quail, Inca dove, black-chinned hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, verdin, yellow warbler, Albert’s Towhee, and little blue heron.

Northeast of Mesa is a beautiful Maricopa County regional park—Usery Mountain. Walks along a variety of hiking trails take you through an attractive abundance of native cacti and mountain outcrops that yield an abundance of Southwest birds including Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, Gila woodpecker, Inca dove, and gilded flicker.

Black-necked Stilt at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther east of Phoenix, a favorite hiking and birding location is Peralta Canyon, located on the south side of the Superstition Mountains. Drive east on Highway 60 past the town of Apache Junction to the Peralta Canyon turnoff. Along the way to the Peralta Trailhead, you will pass through beautiful landscapes filled with native cacti and palo verde trees where Harris’s hawks are a potential treat along with three species of wrens—cactus, rock, and canyon—plus Gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, verdins, and phainopeplas.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther south, to the west and east of Tucson, the two units of the majestic Saguaro National Park contains many species seen in few other places in the United States. The diversity of habitats in the park ranges from lowland desert to pine forests. These diverse ecosystems support a surprising array of bird life. Common desert birds include greater roadrunners, Gila woodpeckers, gilded flicker, cactus wren, and Gambel’s quail. Northern goshawks, phainopepla, yellow-eyed juncos, and Mexican jays can be found in the park’s higher elevations.

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Greater Roadrunner at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, Mexican jays, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Vermilion Flycatcher at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A premier birding region of the state is to the southeast of Tucson and includes Madeira Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, The Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Patagonia State Park. These remarkable birding locations offer a whole different birding realm, and frankly, winter isn’t the best of seasons to visit the Southeast. We will describe birding opportunities there in a future article.

Any day birding in Southeast Arizona holds a level of excitement that you will find a rare bird wandering north from Mexico but the region holds plenty of remarkable birds to search for, along mountain slopes and river valleys—any day.

Hummer at The Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best takeaway message for this article is that Arizona has exciting birds found in a variety of birding locations throughout the state for snowbirds and residents alike to enjoy—and warm sunny weather, even in February!

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

I Was Wrong About Yuma

I owe Yuma an apology

Pleasant temperatures, plenty of sunshine, outdoor recreation, tasty food, musical entertainment, local history, and natural wonders make Yuma a popular destination for winter visitors.

Yuma is located near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest corner of Arizona, on the border with California and near the border with Mexico.

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Home to almost 100,000 residents, the population nearly doubles with the arrival of sun-seeking snowbirds during the peak travel months of January, February, and March.

We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. The swap meets were cool. I like any swap meet I can find a bargain and Old Town was beginning to hold promise. Otherwise I disliked Yuma.

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a place of overgrown brush and littered garbage. I revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.

With 250,000 native trees and grasses planted enjoy nature and wildlife viewing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, or strolling along the riverfront trails at Yuma East Wetlands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

And what a difference! The transformation was amazing. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma.

Using La Quintas Oasis RV Resort as our home base we recently spent a month exploring the Yuma area. Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis is a 55+ park with 460 sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70 foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a good feel and the neighbors are friendly.

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis is a 55+ park with 460 sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma has a rich history which dates back more than a century, to the days of the Wild West where the streets were dusty and the Colorado River flowed untamed. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we have a list to lead you to some of the area’s top attractions.

The story of water and its impact on the people and land is the key to understanding the history of Yuma. Sitting at the narrows of the Lower Colorado River is the oldest city established on the river.

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark downtown development.

Located under the iconic Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge lies Yuma’s largest riverfront beach including picnic ramadas, multi-use pathways, and stretches of tree-covered lawns. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000.

The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest, established in the 1860s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is the site of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Supply Depot, a supply house for the military posts in the Southwest. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is only scratching the surface. It seems like we never run out of things to see and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be back in Yuma.

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Miriam Beard

Discover Usery Mountain Regional Park

The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The West began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Pass is known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, present a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they move into or out of the Coconino plateau region.

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated these lands.

Swilling presumably traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell in the summer of 1867 and came within sight of Usery Mountain Park, and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River.

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult.

These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. Whether you are looking across the plain, flat land, south of the recreation area, or to the west or north, great distances and surrounding mountains can be seen and enjoyed.

Arguably the most popular hike at Usery Mountain is the 3.2-miles Wind Cave Trail up Pass Mountain. Although the elevation gain is 820 feet, it’s considered a moderate hike. Views from this 2,840-foot elevation are breathtaking.

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. For a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.

The park’s modern campground offers 73 individual sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites can be reserved online.

Nightly camping fee is currently $32. Non-refundable reservation fee is $8. For non-campers, the day use fee is $7.

Usery Mountain is best explored from late autumn to early spring as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees.

Worth Pondering…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

More Highly Rated Snowbird Resorts, According To RVers

These five Sunbelt resorts have both convenient locations and top-quality facilities

You can learn a lot about campgrounds and RV parks by reading reviews by real campers and seeing photos of the property. It can help you find RV parks and resorts that offer spacious full hookup sites while avoiding crowded parks that get traffic noise all night.

RV Park Reviews provides information on what other campers have said and an overall idea of the park’s amenities. Reviews can also give you insider tips on what to see in the area and tourist traps to avoid.

These five Sunbelt resorts have both convenient locations and top-quality facilities that have ranked them the highest across the U.S. This list of top rated RV parks and resorts has been selected from parks personally visited.

Pechanga Casino RV Resort – Temecula, California

8.6 rating

Recently expanded Pechanga Casino RV Resort offers 168 full-service sites with 12 feet grass on either side. These sites include 24 pull throughs (76 feet x 18 feet concrete pads) and 142 back-ins (55 feet x 18 feet concrete pads). All sites have 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi access. Amenities include heated pool with two spas and four cabanas, fenced dog run, security patrol, and on-property shuttle service 24/7.

Top tip: Be sure to visit Old Town Temecula and Temecula Wine Country.

Lakeside RV Park – Livingston, Louisiana

8.5 rating

Great park near Baton Rouge. Easy-on, easy-off, Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with back-in and pull-through sites. The sites are good sized, especially the pull through sites. Our back-in site is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located.

Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit. The park is located around a lake, with boats, fishing, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and laundry room. The staff are great.

Top tip: Ambrosia Bakery sells around 20,000 king cakes during the Mardi Gras season. While the bakery offers a selections of pastries, cakes, candies, and chocolates, as well as a selection of deli items, Ambrosia is known for its cakes. This Baton Rouge shop is located at 8546 Siegen Lane (I-10, Exit 162).

Gulf Coast RV Resort – Beaumont, Texas

8.5 rating

Easy-on, easy-off, Gulf Coast RV Resort is big-rig friendly with pull-through sites in the 60-65 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. All sites are pull-through; sites #115 through 125 are 75 feet in length and sites #75 through 83 are in the 90 foot range. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table.

Top tip: If you have the time, tour the McFadden-Ward House. It is only about six miles from the resort and well worth the time.

Poche’s RV Park – Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

8.5 rating

RV sites at Poche’s RV Park are located on several sides of the pond overlooking the water. A pleasant and unique location with excellent fishing and birding. Sites are concrete and level and separated by grass. Fire rings at every other site. Picnic tables at every site. Relaxing campground with fishing at your door. Major complaint are the rough roads.

Top tip: The owners also have a great little Cajun market with a really good restaurant a mile or so away on the road to Breaux Bridge. Check it out if you’re looking for the real deal; home-made boudin sausage, alligator, crawfish etouffee, andouille, crawfish jambalaya, cracklin, fried catfish, red beans, cornbread dressing, and a great assortment of other quality Cajun specialties to either take home or eat there. Casual, authentic, and reasonably priced.

Golden Village Palms RV Resort – Hemet, California

8.3 rating

Golden Village Palms is a Sunland Resort, not to be confused with the much larger Sun Communities. Golden Village Palms is an older park with mostly back-in sites that are rather tight. Our site is barely 50 feet long and under 30 feet in width. Water and sewer connections are near the rear of the site; 50/30/20-amp electric service and cable TV (50 channels) are behind the RV. Wi-Fi service was intermittent. Paved streets and gravel sites with 35 pull-through sites in the 85-90 foot range. Amenities include a clubhouse, swimming pool, fitness center, volleyball courts, pickleball courts, and putting green. Passport America accepted for four nights.

Top tip: This might have been a nice place at one time but for the most part it is pretty ghetto.

Worth Pondering…

Home is where you park it.

10 National Parks to Visit Now That the Government Shutdown Is Over

Come along and visit these 10 national parks that don’t always get enough love

Good news! The government shutdown is over! Not only will you be getting your tax refunds, but you can also visit— trash free—America’s most treasured scenic and historically important federally-administered land. Of course, we’re talking about the National Parks Service sites.

But instead of talking up Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, two of which you’re already familiar, below are 10 national parks that don’t always get enough love.

Petrified Forest National Park

Most visitors come to see the ancient tree trunks which are preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged in a riverbed nearly 200 million years ago. And they’re quite a sight: Over time, the huge logs turned to solid, sparkling quartz in a rainbow of colors—the yellow of citrine, the purple of amethyst, the red-brown of jasper. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts and striated canyons.

Pinnacles National Park

California has so many well-known national parks that smaller parks tend to be overlooked. But Pinnacles should be on your must-visit list. Its unique landscape of towering rock formations that form “pinnacles” is the result of volcanic activity in the area some 23 million years ago.

Congaree National Park

Congaree offers the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern U.S. This South Carolina park includes the area where Congaree and Wateree Rivers converge. Canoeing, hiking, and fishing are all popular pastimes and may be enjoyed in peace thanks to the sparse number of fellow travelers.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

With its multiple stems the organ pipe cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ.

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

Capitol Reef National Park

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles. The park’s main driving tours include the paved Scenic Drive and two long, mainly unpaved, loop tours through the park’s Cathedral and Waterpocket Districts.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

A Nor-Cal beaut, Lassen is home to numerous active volcanoes which include fun, fumaroles (openings in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge). RV here, if you really want to “blow up” on social media.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place. Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon.

Arches National Park

Another reason to hit up southern Utah? Arches. And not like the St. Louis “Gateway Arch.” We’re talking an area that includes over 2,000 natural arches formed over 100 million years by a combo of water, ice, and extreme temperatures.

Big Bend National Park

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.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Located in the Badlands of western North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named for the 26th President. This austere landscape is home to a surprisingly dense population of wildlife including bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, wild horses, and bighorn sheep. Theodore Roosevelt is unique among the scenic parks in that it preserves not only an extraordinary landscape but also the memory of an extraordinary man.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?