Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is more than just 6-ton gigantic cacti (though it has those, too)

Yearning to see towering, giant saguaros in their native environment? Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor near Tucson, Arizona.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique to the Sonoran Desert the park’s giant saguaro has a slow growth cycle and long lifespan. The cactus grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years, flowers begin production at 35 years of age and branches, or arms, normally appear at 50 to 70 years of age. An adult saguaro is considered to be about 125 years of age and may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. A saguaro’s lifespan can be up to 250 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the saguaro is merely the headliner for a roster of desert vegetation to be seen as you hike or drive through the park. You’ll also spot spiny ocotillo, huge clumps of prickly pear, and the tiny hedgehog and stubby barrel cactus, as well as spiky mesquite and palo verde trees.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First designated as Saguaro National Monument in 1933, the area received national park status in 1994. It is also the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham people who today continue to play a role in the park’s culture visiting every year in the early summer to pick saguaro fruit.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, the giant saguaro cactus silhouetted by the setting sun is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the U.S. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants. Saguaro is actually two parks separated by a metropolis of 1 million residents: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. In 2018, the park drew 1,229,594 recreational visitors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is located within a desert but contrary to what you might expect there is an abundance of life. Plants here are adapted to drought, so during long dry periods they are able to go dormant conserving their water. At these times many plants appear lifeless but shortly after a rainfall they’re able to come to life sprouting new green leaves. Within just 48 hours after a rainfall, the ocotillo plant is able to change from what appeared to be a handful of dead sticks into a cheerful shrub with tall green branches, covered in new leaves.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to a broad expanse of desert, Saguaro National Park features mountainous regions. These varied landscapes provide ideal habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna. Current research indicates there are approximately 400 species in the Tucson Mountain District and approximately 1,200 species in the Rincon Mountain District.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tucson Mountain District ranges from an elevation of 2,180 feet to 4,687 feet and contains two biotic communities—desert scrub and desert grassland. Average annual precipitation is approximately 10.27 inches. Common wildlife include Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, greater roadrunner, Gila woodpeckers, desert tortoise, and coyote.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park ranges from an elevation of 2,670 feet to 8,666 feet and contains six biotic communities. The biotic communities (starting from the lowest elevation) include desert scrub, desert grassland, oak woodland, pine-oak woodland, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest. Average annual precipitation is approximately 12.30 inches.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountains peak at a considerably higher elevation than the Tucson Mountains, therefore there are more biotic communities and increased plant and wildlife diversity. Because of the higher elevation in the Rincons, animals like the black bear, Mexican spotted owl, Arizona mountain king snake, and white-tailed deer live in this district.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While each season has its draw, spring, when the desert blooms with yellow, orange, and purple wildflowers, is hands-down its most beautiful and busiest time of year. Fall is similarly temperate and winter offers the chance to see the water flowing in the washes. Arizona’s merciless heat makes summer significantly less popular.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is a major lure

The park’s name was derived from that of an early Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who came through in 1774 in search of a land route from Sonora, Mexico, to Spanish settlements along the California coast. The explorer’s name is combined with Borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep that live in the rocky hillsides of this desert.

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

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.

Early American history holds a prominent place in the Anza-Borrego story; between the years 1848 and 1880, a steady stream of California-bound travelers crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert along the Southern Immigrant Trail or by way of the Butterfield Stage Line on their way west from Missouri. This was the only all-weather road overland route across the American continent at that time. Thousands of sheep and cattle also made the arduous journey as Arizona ranchers drove their herds across the desert to feed the hungry miners in California gold fields.

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

Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our own journey took us along Interstate 10, then south on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on County Highway 22, which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo, with their graceful wands richly tipped in deep scarlet-red blossoms.

Driving to the state park visitor center we were momentarily confused. Walking up the trail there were no buildings in sight. Then we realized that the visitor center had been built underground with a desert garden covering it. The 7,000 square-foot building houses exhibits, a small theater, and bookstore. Park rangers were helpful in answering our queries and directing us to interesting scenic drives and hikes.

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

Later in the day we drove our four-wheel-drive dinghy up the sandy wash to Fonts Point, where the Borrego Badlands spread out to the southeast. Deep chocolate ridges twisted and turned in convoluted patterns of crumbling sandstone where thick layers of fossilized shellfish and coral told the story of an ancient sea that covered the area millions of years ago.

Driving southwest of Borrego Springs to Ocotillo Wells we drove south on Split Mountain Road to Split Mountain where tremendous geological pressure had rolled a sandstone cliff into a spectacular, spiral rock face. The road wound through the middle of a sandy wash, and we held our breath a couple of time when our tires started to spin in the deep sand.

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

Farther along Split Mountain Road we parked and hiked back to see rare elephant trees with their thick, stubby trunks, free-form limbs and peeling yellowish bark. Early Native Americans used the reddish-colored sap of the tree as a dye. Near the end of the road we hiked the steep but easy trail up to the wind caves which as strange sandstone formations from an ancient seabed. From there, we had a splendid view out over the Carrizo Badlands and the unique Elephant Knees formation.

Yet another dinghy side trip, this time following County Highway 2 took us southeast along the Old Southern Immigrant Trail as it wound in and out of the park boundary. Reaching the Blair Valley area, we pulled off and hiked the short 0.25-mile Morteros Trail to a boulder-strewn area where a Kumeyaay village stood centuries ago, leaving their story behind in the agave cooking pits and metates that are still found there. Unique pictographs tell more of their story to those who may have any idea how to decipher them.

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is quite a lure. And there’s so much more to discover on our next visit.

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

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Matching Your Snowbirds Destinations with Your Lifestyle

We’ve made the snowbird trek to southern California and Arizona numerous times

Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, is not only a “fine sight to see”, it’s a stepping stone to adventure. And yes, we did stand on the corner in Winslow, referencing the lyrics from Eagles’ Take It Easy. No one in a flatbed Ford was turning round to look, though.

There are vortexes in Sedona and you’re supposed to feel some New Age energy. We didn’t feel it—but this Red Rock country is beautiful.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbirds want to leave Minnesota during the worst of the winter. January, February, and March are the prime months. They leave after the holidays and return in April. Others head out as soon as the first frost hits the pumpkins in October coming back when they can plant their geraniums outside.

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those Northern locales, of course, are Canada and various states in the Northeastern U.S., Upper Midwest, and Northwest. Snowbirds start arriving in late fall, stay for months while it’s frigid back home, and depart before students fill the beaches for spring break.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve made the snowbird trek to southern California and Arizona numerous times. But searching for new ways to “take it easy” pursued other southern climes. Our snowbird travels have now included all the Sunbelt states.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular snowbird destinations is Quartzsite. Not far from the Colorado River, this dusty Arizona outpost expands to hundreds of thousands as RV folks arrive every winter for the largest rock hound exposition in the United States and free camping.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At its core, Quartzsite is a boondocker’s paradise. There is every type of camper from weekenders to full-timers and from small trailers to tag axle diesel pushers. It’s a friendly atmosphere with many Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping areas available. Free is a great camping word, right? In as much, you don’t hear it very often. Keep in mind that this is dry camping and your rig must be fully self-contained.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the BLM areas, you can camp for free for up to 14 days. If you are a long-term camper, the cost is $180 to stay from September through April. There are no assigned spaces, no hookups, and hardly any roads. For your money you get access to potable water, sparsely scattered pit toilets, a dump station, and trash bins. Pick a site from the 11,400 acres of open land and you’re home.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV camping.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Hiking Indian Canyons, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But to accomplish snowbird status you really need to do some serious planning. If you want to be a snowbird there truly is more to it than just forwarding your mail. It is not easy to pack it up and leave for three months or more. Some people have trouble with a two week vacation.

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

RVing for an extended period so far from home during the long winter months isn’t all sun and fun, especially if you don’t prepare properly. Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes.

Desert wildflowers near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re new to the snowbird lifestyle or an experienced RVer, creating your own customized checklist is a great way to keep track of your seasonal preparations.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when I hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our home in Alberta, something in my genes starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the motorhome with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

Stephen Foster State Park: Land of Trembling Earth

What better way to begin a winter southern adventure than a stop at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Stephen C. Foster State Park, named after the popular Southern songwriter, is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia.

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

Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.  Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Inhabiting the lush vegetation of the Okefenokee are 223 species of birds, 41 of mammals, 54 of reptiles, and 60 of amphibians.

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

In an earlier post we explored the East (main) Entrance to Okefenokee, located 11 miles southwest of Folkston. Using Okefenokee RV Park in Folkston as our home base we continued our exploration of Okefenokee with a day trip to Suwannee River Visitor Center at Fargo and Stephen C. Foster State Park (West Entrance), a distance of 160 miles return. Both entrances to Okefenokee are located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is located on Jones Island, 18 miles northeast of Fargo on State Highway 177. The Suwannee River, which flows past this park, is the main outlet of Okefenokee Swamp. Stephen Foster, who wrote the song “Way Down Upon The Suwannee River,” is the namesake for this preserve.

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

This is the only entry point to Okefenokee Swamp with overnight RV accommodations. The campground at Stephen Foster State Park offers 64 campsites with water, electrical, and cable TV hookups. Amenities include rest rooms with hot showers, laundry facilities, fire rings, picnic tables, and a small store. There are numerous sites suitable for large rigs; however, extreme care is required when navigating the interior roads. The park offers nine overnight cabins for your non-RVing friends as well as a marina with rental boats and a trading post that supplies fishing and picnic paraphernalia.

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

A half-mile wheelchair-accessible nature trail includes a boardwalk and a sampling of the trembling earth so characteristic of the Okenfenokee. A visitors center has interpretive exhibits. But the best way to see the swamp is by water. There are 25 miles of well-marked water trails within the swamp. A horsepower limit applies to water craft.

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

You can take a guided tour of the swamp or rent a powered johnboat to see Billy’s Island, once the site of the Okefenokee’s largest settlement during the cypress-logging era. It is estimated that more than 431 million board feet of timber was taken from the area between 1909 and 1927. The only remnants of the logging today are rusted and ruined equipment. But the swamp is still alive.

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

Also a popular fishing area, anglers try for jack fish, bream. and catfish.

A water trail also leads to Minnie’s Lake, another popular fishing area amid the towering cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss.

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

Make sure to stop by the Suwannee River Visitor Center, where you can learn about the area wildlife. Located in Fargo, southwest of Stephen Foster State Park and backed by Spanish-moss draped trees, the Suwannee River Visitor Center overlooks a bend in the black-water river where people can fish and launch boats.

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

Inside, visitors learn that tannic acid produced by decaying vegetation is what gives the river its tea color, and that unlike other reptiles, mother alligators actively care for their babies. Animal displays include a black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish, and numerous birds, including a wood stork.

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

A short film takes visitors on a leisurely trip through the river and swamp, highlighting flowers, insects, misty morning fog, and the many creatures that call the waters home. The center also includes exhibits on the timber industry, local history, and energy efficiency.

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

The Suwannee River Visitor Center is operated by Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851

Why You Need to RV in the South This Winter

Here’s how (and where) to migrate to warmer weather this winter

Summer has technically been over for a while now, but does it really have to end? The answer is “no.” If you’re one of the many who love summer, why not continue to chase it and enjoy an endless summer in the South?

You may have some hesitations about packing up and heading south during the winter, but there are a number of reasons why you’re going to love hooking up in the southern half of the states when the weather up north takes a turn for the worse.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s start with the obvious. The weather down south is a dream in the winter. During the heat of summer, much of Arizona and Texas may be less than ideal, but when the winter storms hit elsewhere in the country, you’ll be comfortable walking around in shorts and a t-shirt.

Riviera Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you aren’t looking for summer-like weather, heading just a bit south in the winter will give you much more bearable weather than up north. Imagine stepping outside of your RV in the morning to sunshine as opposed to snow. You don’t have to ask us twice which one we’d rather have.

Folly Beach, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As much as we love summer, we cannot bring ourselves to love the mosquitoes that come along with it. Enter: winter camping in the south. For the most part, it’s bye-bye to mosquitoes except for some parts of southern Florida but you will definitely see relief from the summer swarms.

Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While flocking to the south isn’t a rare thing (the term snowbird certainly is a real thing), you’ll find there are still not nearly as many travelers at some of the southern states hot spots as there are during summer. Think places like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Alabama Gulf Coast. While you may find some crowds, you won’t be dealing with the massive numbers of people that you will in the summer.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some RV parks and campgrounds are only able to operate part of the year due to the restrictions that weather places on their usability. However, thanks to the great weather down south you’ll find that all the parks are open. And, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be a lot less crowded than during the summer, so chances are good you’ll have the opportunity to pick your favorite camping spot.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You need more gear to camp in the winter than the summer. However, if you’re camping down south in the winter, it’s essentially the same as camping up north in the summer, so you won’t need a bunch of extra gear.

Lovers Key State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sounds like a win-win, right? In case you need more convincing that a southern camping trip this winter is the right thing to do, here are some great spots that may sway you.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as one of the top 10 places in the world to get in some seriously good stargazing, Big Bend National Park in Texas is a great place to escape to in the winter. But the night skies aren’t all there is to see here. You’ve got everything from hiking to birding, canoeing to hot spring soaking in Big Bend. This is a great place to see some beautiful desert scenery that will have you forgetting winter exists.


Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As New Mexico’s biggest city and one that you’ve certainly heard a lot about, there is a lot to explore in this city. The museums here are among some of the country’s best, and the shopping is great if you’re in the market for some beautiful Native American crafts.

However, if you’re more into outdoor exploration, then you’ll want to head just outside the city where you can hike, bike, and climb to your heart’s content.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona is a must. This species of cacti is native to Mexico but exists in the United States just here at the monument. Winter is an ideal to visit when the temperatures are moderate and you’ll catch some stunning photos. The warm temperatures make for ideal camping conditions.

Anza Borrego State Park

Anza Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert is the palm oases which you come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty. Anza Borrego State Park has a plethora of camping options, with four established campgrounds and 175 total campsites.

Worth Pondering…

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

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

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

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

The 10 Best National Parks and Monuments in Arizona

A guide to the best, the famous, and the lesser-known national parks and monuments in the Grand Canyon State

Arizona’s nickname may be the Grand Canyon State and that namesake national park may draw more than six million visitors a year and rank as the second most popular in the country. But the canyon is just one of many natural wonders in a state unusually rich in them. Here, a guide to 10 of the best, both the world-famous and those undiscovered by the masses.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It took millions of years for the Colorado to wear down the surrounding landscape and create the Grand Canyon.

Why: It’s one of the natural wonders of the world

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon lives up to its name; it’s the biggest canyon in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Numbers don’t do the place justice—its sheer size is awe-inspiring, but it’s also a stunning record of time. Over millions of years, the Colorado River sliced the landscape into sheer rock walls, revealing many layered colors, each marking a different geologic era.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The slow process of fossilization transformed ancient trees into solid quartz.

Why: There aren’t many places you can reach out and touch 225-million-year-old fossilized trees

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors to Petrified Forest 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. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts. Don’t neglect the pastel-hued badlands of Blue Mesa, where a paved hiking trail loops around the blue-white rock.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The iconic, long-armed cacti at Saguaro National Park only grow in the Sonoran desert.

Why: See the tallest and oldest saguaro cacti in the country

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is divided into two segments, one on either side of Tucson. On the west side, in the Tucson Mountain District, you’ll find the densest stands of saguaro and sweeping views from the Valley View Overlook Trail. The Rincon Mountain District, on the east side, features Cactus Forest Loop drive and dramatic mountain silhouettes.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

This labyrinth of three narrow canyons has sheltered indigenous peoples for 5,000 years.

Why: It’s one of world’s most sacred places

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

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads, but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Would your house look this good 800 years from now?

Why: It’s one of the continent’s largest and best-preserved cliff dwellings

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carved into a cliff 1,500 feet above the ground and featuring more than 20 rooms constructed in multiple stories, it’s a remarkably example of Sinaguan architecture. Today a short trail takes you to a viewing spot below the ruins, and museum exhibits help you imagine what life was like in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert

Why: This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Thirty-One species of cactus have mastered living in this place, including the park’s namesake.

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Wonderland of Rocks” is waiting for you to explore.

Why: Explore a magical landscape of sculpted rock

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites including a four-story earthen structure.

Why: For more than 650 years the Casa Grande has stood as a meeting place and landmark

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has starred in so many Hollywood movies that its silhouette is known all over the world.

Why: You’ve seen it in movies, and it’s much better in person

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no landscape in the United States as associated with the Wild West as Monument Valley. It’s both supremely foreign and eerily familiar. John Wayne rode out from between the park’s famous red rock buttes, The Mittens, in Stagecoach and The Searchers.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowning a desert hilltop is an ancient pueblo built by the Sinagua people.

Why: Witness the legacy of a people who lived in the Verde Valley 1,000 years ago

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by a culture known as the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, beauty is below me, beauty is above me. I walk in beauty.

—ancient Navajo poem

Consider Your Needs When Choosing RV Parks and Campgrounds

Prioritize your wants and needs

Nothing can make or break your RV trip like choosing a campground not suited to your family’s needs and interests. When selecting a park, think about your camping style and ask yourself the following questions:

Are you camping with a young family, are you an active couple looking for outdoor adventures, or are you a snowbird who enjoys on-site activities and the opportunity to meet new friends?

Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How large is your RV and what amenities do you require? Full hook-ups? 30- or 50-amp electric service? Are you looking for a rural or urban setting and do you travel with pets?

When researching campgrounds we normally contact the campground office and ask specific questions about their policies and their park. Questions to ask include:

  • Rental rates (nightly, weekly, monthly per your needs) including taxes? Any discounts available?
  • Availability of Wi-Fi and cable TV?
  • What is included in the above rate—full hook-ups, 20/30-50-amp electric service, Wi-Fi, cable TV?
  • Is the park big-rig friendly? Length and width of sites? Are sites relatively level? Do the sites have concrete pads, grass, gravel, or dirt?
  • Will I have difficulty obtaining a satellite TV signal?
  • What are the park’s amenities—club house/activity room, pool, spa, rest room and shower facilities, laundry?
  • What is your pet policy? Restrictions on certain dogs breeds?
  • What is your reservation policy? Is a credit card required to hold a site? If so, is it processed immediately? What is your cancellation policy?

Make note of the name of the person you talked to.

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

The “perfect” campsite is likely to vary from person to person. Think about what you want to do as well as what those in your group want to do and choose accordingly. Although there may be some variations of what you are looking for, you may want to take some of the factors mentioned below into consideration, when choosing the “perfect campsite”.

Do I have a preference for a pull-through or back-in site?

What are your electric requirements? 20, 30, or 50-amp service?

Is the breaker box in reasonable condition and does the polarity check out?

Do you require a sewer site?

Is the site long enough?

Is the site wide enough?

Is the site relatively level?

Is the site in a high-traffic area? Near a dumpster? Dump station?

Are there low-hanging branches?

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

Will I be able to extend all slides?

Will I be able to extend the awning?

Will I be able to open all bins?

Will I be able to obtain a TV satellite signal?

Do I want the afternoon or morning sun?

Where are the utilities located?

Where is the closest Wi-Fi tower?

Whether you plan to stay one night, a weekend, a week, or longer, there are campgrounds that meet your needs. All are unique. No two parks are the same. Each campground will provide something a little different.

Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

But do not ask me where I am heading,

As I travel in this limitless world

Where every step I take is my home.

—Eihei Dogen

Now Visible On Google Street View: Arizona State Parks

Get a sneak peek of Arizona’s State Parks and Trails with new Google maps

If you’re going to take advantage of this cooler weather by heading out for a hike, Arizona State Parks and Trails have a new virtual tool to help you plan your trip. Imagine seeing your favorite Arizona state park or trail before you head out, giving you the chance to plan your hike or view your campsite.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails partnered with Google earlier this year to make that happen. Nearly 200 miles of trails throughout all of Arizona’s state parks are now visible using the Street View function on Google Maps.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails staff used the Google R7 Trekker Camera to capture 360 views of all state parks and more than 175 miles of trails in and connecting to the state parks across Arizona. The data is now live on Google Earth and Google Maps enabling visitors to see trail conditions and plan the perfect hiking adventure or preview the beauty of a park before planning a weekend adventure. Use of the camera was free after Parks submitted a request and detailed information about which trails would be documented.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over six weeks, staff hiked more than 200 miles carrying the Trekker which weighs 45 pounds and includes 15 individual lenses to capture a 360-degree view of each trail and park. The data will help visitors understand the difficulty of trails, topography, and what to expect to see along the route, as well as the accessibility of the trail and the layout of the park. The project also had the added value of identifying any trails in need of maintenance or repair in the park system. 

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

Google has now processed and uploaded this park data to the existing Earth and Maps databases for free use by the public. The information can also afford people the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a trail without having to physically climb or travel.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s just a really neat way for people to navigate from their desk and see what we have to offer,” said Michelle Thompson, with Arizona State Parks and Trails in a news release. “If they were looking at something and they wanted to say, ‘Is this a hike I’d be able to accomplish? Is this going to be too difficult for me? What does the park look like? Should I make the drive?’ Then that’s all something that they can see.” 

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to use this amazing virtual tool.

1. Google a state park you’re interested in checking out. For example, search Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park and click “maps.”

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zoom in on the park. You see the little yellow person in the bottom right of your screen? Click on it and drag to the trail. While dragging, the trail will illuminate in blue. Set the figure down and you have entered “street view” mode.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your ground level point of view will include white arrows. Click on these arrows to follow the trail. You may also toggle your view in 360-degrees to check out the world around you. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails manage and conserve 35 natural, cultural, and recreational areas. Here are several of our favorites.

Catalina State Park 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park 

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the rich banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert just east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Christmas 2019 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re back in the Great State of Texas enjoying the Southern sunshine and warmth, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty Texas BBQ, fruit and cream kolaches, and pralines—and pecan pie with Blue Bell icecream.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Reveille to my numb mind.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

Travel Photography Guide

Travel photography is exciting and gives you a chance to explore new subject matter and photography styles

In today’s post I’ll offer a little guidance on what images to take and how to create a stunning travel portfolio. One aspect I love about travel photography is the diversity of techniques available to create a well-rounded image set.

The No. 1 rule: Engage the viewer! Your viewers may never visit your location. So, a travel photographer must convey a sense of place, mood, emotion, taste, and smell through captivating images. In other words, snapshots just don’t cut it.

Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below you’ll find an outline of subjects and techniques to help you photograph your next travel story—and engage the viewer! From simple family vacations to travel books, try these tips to creatively photograph your travel adventures.

Brooks County Courthouse and the old Chisholm Trail, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s a small world after all” and we know a lot about other places without having been there. For example, when I say “San Antonio” most people think of the Alamo and the River Walk. Or, if I mention “New Orleans,” the French Quarter comes to mind. 

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photographing iconic structures and characteristics of a location establishes where you are and gives the viewer a starting point. Often these subjects are clichés, at least in the sense that they have been photographed thousands of times.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the shot. But, cliché subjects require fresh perspectives, interesting light or different angles to show the viewer an iconic landmark in a new way. Make it your mission to photograph the Alamo unlike it ever has been photographed before or during a special event or reenactment (see photo below).

Reenactment during the anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go shopping. Yes. That’s what I said: Go shopping! But be sure to shoot photographs while shopping. Farmers markets, swap meets, and street fairs are great locations for photography.

Galt Farmers Market, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try some of the local flare and photograph the kiosk vendors. Think about what makes the market special. Local foods and crafts paint the picture of the area and you can almost taste the fresh peaches and apples in those orchard fruit stands.

Baskets of fruit and vegetables at a local market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiment with depth of field and photograph baskets of fruit and veggies up close. Shooting wide open will result in soft blurry backgrounds which helps reduce clutter. Also, look for interesting beams of light filtering through the scene.

Truth BBQ in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food can make or break a trip for many people. Yet, despite how important food is during a trip, many photographers never take photos of food during their travels.

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s a quick tip: Sit near a window with diffused light and let the chef do all the food styling. Plus, you can use the simple diffused light coming in through a window to compose compelling food images. Remember that although food photography is very detail-orientated, try to keep it simple. And, take several steps back for a compelling image through the window as the outdoors street scene unfolds often with amazing pastel shades.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many regions of the country are defined by their architecture whether it’s adobe construction in New Mexico or the opulent mansions of the Gilded Age.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe structures are extremely durable in arid climates and account for some of the oldest existing buildings in the world. Located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors (see photo below) served as the seat of Spanish colonial government for centuries. The building was named a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1999.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, Rhode Island. This coastal town is set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century including The Breakers (see photo below) but that’s far from the only draw.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Research the area you’ll be visiting. Architecture isn’t all about big buildings or churches. You might try photographing a cobblestone alley or an old library interior or renowned book store (think, Powell’s in Portland, the world’s largest independent book store) with volumes of books.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, don’t forget about the countryside, landscape, and wildlife. They can be a major draw for travelers and photographers. Landscapes are often best photographed in early morning or late afternoon light. Stormy weather can result in very dramatic images and provide a fresh look to an iconic scene. Wildlife can also be an important part of a travel portfolio. Decide if wildlife defines your location and photograph the species that identify the area.

Early morning light at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you can see, there is an almost limitless array of subject matter at your disposal when it comes to RV travel photography. But remember what’s important as a RV travel photographer: Capture the essence of the destination through creative, stunning photographs of diverse subject matter.

Cerulean Warbler at Falcon State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Greater Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.

—Matt Hardy