8 Arizona Spots Every Birder Should Know About

Welcome to paradise. A birder’s paradise, that is.

Arizona offers some of the best birdwatching in America. Thanks to Arizona’s rich riparian habitats that stretch from north to south, the state is a top destination for every serious—and not-so-serious—birdwatcher in the country. Birders can marvel at an array of exotic and rare species, from tiny hummingbirds to giant California condors.

Want to get started? Check out this guide to Arizona’s best birding locations.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sight of thousands of wintering sandhill cranes is the main attraction at this 1,500-acre preserve. Between October and March, more than 20,000 cranes arrive, mostly from the Midwest, but some come from as far as Siberia. You can see the birds all day long, but if you get here before sunrise, you’ll spot them leaving their roost to feed—an unforgettable experience.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cool walls of Ramsey Canyon Preserve lure more than a dozen hummingbird species (violet-crowned, broad-billed and blue-throated, to name a few), giving this region the title of “hummingbird capital of the United States.” The delicate birds flock to the ecologically unique spot where plants and wildlife from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts blend with those from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

Gambil’s quail at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro Riparian area contains nearly 57,000 acres of public land stretching some 40 miles in a narrow band south from St. David. Most visitors start at San Pedro House which features interpretive signs of various native plants of the area, riparian, and wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy has designated San Pedro House as a globally important bird area. The cottonwood and willow trees provide essential habitat for a variety of wildlife including over 350 species of birds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

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

You’d be forgiven for thinking you can see exotic bird species only in Arizona’s wild lands. But you’re in for a pleasant surprise: Migratory routes pass through urban areas, too, making for great birdwatching in major Arizona cities. This riparian preserve, a premier bird site in metro Phoenix, was established in 1999 as a wetland habitat. In winter, ducks and water birds make their home here, as well as rarities like roseate spoonbill and little bittern.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina Stte Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, 25 miles north of Tucson, the park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Greater Roadrunners, Gambel’s Quail, Say’s Phoebes, Harris’s Hawks, and 42 other bird species call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting, and 10 species of migrating warblers.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Anna’s hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The multiple riparian habitats at this state park bring such sub-species of hummingbirds as the green-and-gray Anna’s or the hunched Costa’s, while the wooded areas, lake and river attract species like wrens, sparrows and orioles.

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cottonwood and willow trees at this 126-acre site not only offer shade for land-loving wildlife like the Mexican vole, but they also provide homes for the water birds and migrant shorebirds that visit during the winter. Other cool-weather birds include the bald eagle, peregrine, and osprey. In summer, you might spot breeding birds such as wood ducks and yellow warblers.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

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

This massive recreation area straddles the border between Arizona and Utah and is notable for one specific bird species—the spectacular California condor. Only several hundred of these birds are still in existence, and many have been introduced into the wild at Glen Canyon. They have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Look for these graceful creatures as they fly free over the Colorado River, dipping and soaring along the air currents.

Greater Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Czech Out La Grange

We headed to Central Texas to Czech out the town of La Grande and discovered a fanciful cache of history and culture

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches” — quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the surnames of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. The town began in 1826 as Moore’s Fort; it became the county seat of Fayette County in the Republic of Texas in 1837.

Fayette County Court House in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state. The Czech immigration to the Lone Star State began in 1853 and was largely over by 1912. The estimate is that there are roughly a million Texans who trace their roots back to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Slovkia.

Texas Heroes Museum at Old Fayette County Jail in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, we Czeched out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center on Fairgrounds Road. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy”, and we certainly felt welcome. The Center serves both as a meeting place for organizations as well as a museum showcasing traditional wedding dresses, passenger lists, genealogies, and immigrants’ belongings. The Center gave us a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

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

As wars were brewing in Europe, men were waging war in Texas — drawing us next to Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The park sits on a high sandstone bluff above the Colorado River. The expansive view from the bluff overlooks the town, dense forests, and the winding waters of the Colorado River. The two sites are connected by a scenic nature trail with each telling their own unique story.

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

Our first stop was Monument Hill, towering memorial saluting the men who died in battles against Mexico in the 1840s. A tomb holds the remains of 52 Texas heroes who died in the Dawson Massacre and the Texan Santa Fe and Mier expeditions.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first of the battles took place in 1842, when Capt. Nicholas Dawson led 53 volunteers from La Grange against 500 Mexican troops in the fight for San Antonio; 36 Texans were killed. Their remains are entombed in a granite crypt with their names etched in stone.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the second incident, a year later, 176 Texans made a valiant escape during a prisoners’ march to Mexico City but were recaptured by Col. Domingo Huerta. As punishment, each drew a bean from an earthen jar; one out of every 10 was a black bean. Those unlucky enough to draw the condemning black frijoles were executed at dusk. Their remains are entombed in today’s monument.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short hike from the tomb led us to the ruins of the Kreische Brewery where German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische founded one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. The Kreische Brewery site consists of the Kreische house, outbuildings, which were built in 1855-1857, and the Kreische Brewery (which looks more like a medieval castle than a brewery), built in the 1860s.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreische came to Texas in 1846 from Saxony, Germany, purchased 172 acres of land on the bluff in 1849 and began a successful career as a stonemason, brew master, and businessman. His was a story of early Texas family life, blue-collar work ethic, enterprising spirit, and business acumen that tells of German immigration into Texas. He built a three-story house and, in 1860, began building a brewery. By 1879, it was the third largest brewing operation in Texas.

Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a tour of the brewery ruins, we saw ample evidence of his ingenuity, including an aqueduct system he designed to channel water downhill from a spring to the brewing room. After the brewery tour, we admired the beautiful three-story stone house that Kreische built for his family—at a time when most settlers were still living in log cabins.

Historic La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of the mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck

Apache Trail: Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat and Beyond

“a feller could meet hisself comin’ round one of them bends”

An historic road and a National Scenic Byway, the Apache Trail winds through, around, up, and down the Superstition Mountains. The 120-mile scenic route takes travelers through deserts, mountains, canyons, by cliff dwellings, along lake shores, and through old mining towns.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road winds its way from Apache Junction, passing Canyon lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. It goes from Roosevelt Dam to Globe-Miami and then becomes US-60 and heads west to Superior and back to Apache Junction.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The greatest scenery lies within the first 44 miles from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Dam. The road winds through a very wild region showcasing wildlife, volcanic debris, and huge, layered buttes. It’s a trip into outback Arizona and back in time. It’s not a modern road and is paved just past Tortilla Flat. From there it’s a narrow dirt road until near Roosevelt Dam.

Apache Trail near Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail was built as a haul and service road for the construction and maintenance of Roosevelt Dam. For the most part, it is a single-lane road with occasional pull-outs. In 1919, several stations stood along the trail to supply travelers with their needs. There was Government Well, Mormon Flat, Fish Creek Lodge, and Snell’s Station between Mesa and the dam. The completion of the Phoenix-Globe Highway through Superior in May 1922 allowed drivers to circumvent the entire Superstition Wilderness area, an almost roadless region.

Apache Trail and the Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once past Apache Junction, the Superstitions dominate the road.

Apache Trail and Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of these Superstition Mountains and surrounding area. Nature trails crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings that include a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed. 

Apache Trail and Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Goldfield Ghost Town with the Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Mine Museum offers train rides and an Old West atmosphere. Shops and restaurants line the quaint streets. It was once a booming community of 5,000 with three saloons and a hotel. Most of the residents earned a living in 50-odd mines around the area in the 1890s. Goldfield offers an interesting guided tour of a reconstructed section of the Old Mammoth Mine.

Apache Trail and Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next you’ll pass the Lost Dutchman State Park, which is the starting point for several hiking trails and has a great campground with electric and water utilities and several picnic areas.

Apache Trail and Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular stop along the Apache Trail, Canyon Lake, with a surface area of 950 acres, is the third and smallest of four lakes created along the Salt River. Two others, Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake, are upstream. Canyon Lake lies approximately 15 miles up the Apache Trail. 

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short distance further, Tortilla Flat now has a permanent population of six but once boasted a school, hotel, general store, and about 125 residents. The Tortilla Flat Stage Stop became a tourist attraction many years ago. Fire destroyed many of the buildings in 1987. Most have been restored, though not like they originally were.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five miles up from Tortilla Flat, the road turns to dirt, but the scenery gets even more spectacular. The trail is filled with many twists and turns. Old-timers claim “a feller could meet hisself comin’ round one of them bends.” High cliff walls stand watch over both sides of the road as it goes through Fish Creek Canyon.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Creek Hill is an experience in itself. It is steep, narrow, and slow going, but anyone can make it who drives with caution. The canyon narrows and then suddenly opens up to show a spectacular view of Geronimo Head.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next is Apache Lake, surrounded by towering cliffs and majestic saguaros. There’s an excellent view of the Painted Cliffs and Goat Mountain across the water. Apache Lake has an marina, motel, and restaurant all in one spot.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road runs alongside Apache Lake as it nears Roosevelt Dam. There is a good view of the dam from near water level.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail has stopping points to view the lake from above and take a good look at the bridge over Roosevelt Lake. At this spot one can head to Payson or stay on the trail to Roosevelt and Roosevelt Visitors Center operated by the Forest Service. The Tonto National Monument is just a few miles off the highway up in the mountains.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

Rio Grande Valley: Birds, Birds, and More Birds

More than 500 bird species have been documented throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley offers the ultimate birder’s paradise.

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower Rio Grande Valley — the ancient delta of the river from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico — contains resacas or oxbow lakes, Tamaulipan thorn woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and forest. Thanks to these diverse habitats and the Valley’s location on the Central Flyway of migrating birds, more than 500 bird species have been recorded in this area, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay (pictured above), black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured below), roseate spoonbill, and the Altamira oriole (pictured below).

Altamira Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Less than 5 percent of the area’s natural habitat remains, however. In the late 1990s, that alarming fact spurred the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, six local communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch the creation of the World Birding Center. Today, the World Birding Center consists of nine individual sites, including three state parks: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, Estero Llano Grande, and Resaca de la Palma.

Yellow-rumped Warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Together, the parks safeguard nearly 2,200 acres that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife — places for visitors to experience nature and the landscape of the Valley close to its original state.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Green Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 355 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies that have been recorded there, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

Tufted Titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 798 acres once resembled the patchwork of many state parks, with tent and RV campers and day-trippers driving in and out. But its transformation to a World Birding Center site included elimination of all traffic except bicycles and a park tram that makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

Fulvous-whistling Duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking into Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park we’re serenaded to a cacophony of calls from trees lining the road — the loud and raucous clatter of plain chachalacas (pictured below), squawks of woodpeckers, and cooing of doves.

Plain Chachalacas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Clay-colored Robin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the park, bird feeders hang in open areas, mobbed by brilliantly colored green jays, golden-fronted woodpeckers, and great kiskadees with lemon-yellow bellies. Other birds sighted at the park include the eastern screech-owl and yellow-rumped warblers.

Great Kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Resaca Vieja Trail winds through trees and brush alive with cheeps, chirps, and squawks; the platform at Kingfisher Overlook surveys a large oxbow lake. On the far side of the park, the 1.8-mile Rio Grande Trail winds to the edge of the country, the Rio Grande, although it’s difficult to see through the thick brush.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the two-story-high Hawk Tower, though, there’s a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of nearby Mexico and the tree canopy. In addition to resident raptors such as white-tailed kites and gray hawks, many other species migrate past the tower during spring and fall, including Swainson’s and broad-winged hawks.

Black-vented Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

Most Beautiful Cities in the Southwest

The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty

With an amazing variety of landscapes, the Southwest is a fascinating and awe-inspiring area to explore.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the City Different, Santa Fe embodies a rich history, melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture and art to the food. For 400+ years, Santa Fe has improved with age. In addition to more art galleries than you could imagine, Santa Fe boasts a long list of museums and a full calendar of art exhibits and festivals. In addition to these visual experiences, you will want to experience authentic New Mexican cuisine. Make sure to try green chili in as many forms as possible, as well as a variety of moles.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor recreation in and around Las Cruces is as scenic as it is sporty. Hiking the Dona Ana Mountains provides plenty of places to scan the scenery, and you can tackle both by mountain bike or horseback. One of the area’s most scenic destinations is White Sands National Monument, where sugary dunes stand in contrast to colorful sunsets and varied desert hues. Be sure to wander the streets of historic Mesilla.

Las Vegas, Nevada

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

Las Vegas needs no introduction, but many people don’t know it’s one of the best places to visit in the Southwest for more than the glittery Strip. Outside the city, the scenery unfolds endlessly. Nearby Valley of Fire State Park houses such awe-inspiring spots as the towers at Rainbow Vista to the colorful White Domes. The 13-mile scenic drive in Red Rock Canyon is among the cluster of great Southwest road trip ideas, and hiking, camping, and geological exploration deliver all the wonders of the desert.

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. Saguaro National Park is situated on either side of the city. These tall and ancient cacti stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges which cradle the Tucson valley and are showered with sunshine over 300 days a year. The average winter temperature is 70.

Lake Havasu, Arizona

Colorado River south of Lake Havasu © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 400 miles of shoreline and more than 300 days of sunshine and lots to see and do year-round, Lake Havasu is the boating Mecca of the Southwest and a popular Arizona getaway.Lake Havasu City is the off-roading, ultralight-flying, boating, and rock climbing capitol of the Southwest. One of the most interesting—and surprising—attractions in Lake Havasu is the London Bridge. It’s also one of the must-see places to see in Arizona to relax by a sparkling lake in Arizona’s warm desert.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Near Carlsbad Caverns looking south © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed Carlsbad Caverns are one of the biggest Southwest tourist attractions and lend this region an air of beauty and mystery. Plan to stay late and see the bats as they take flight for the night. Take to the hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park a short distance south of the Caverns to experience the wonders of Chihuahuan Desert backcountry, cool off in the swimming hole at Sitting Bull Falls, or take the whole family to the scenic Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.

Williams, Arizona

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Come to Port Aransas and Mustang Island and discover the island life

Long a favorite with Winter Texans, Port Aransas offers many activities from walking the beach in search of seashells to taking a tour boat, a deep sea fishing charter, or a sunset dinner cruise.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been said, “In a small town there ain’t much to see, but what you hear makes up for it.” Not so with “Port A,” as the locals call it. Sun, sky, sea, and sand best sum up this waterfront town.  A short drive from Corpus Christi, you can visit Port A via the JFK Causeway (South Padre Island Drive) or by traveling through Aransas Pass and taking the 24 hour ferry across to Mustang Island.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original island life destination, Port Aransas and Mustang Island is 18 miles of shoreline and wide, sandy beaches—with everything you need to plan the perfect beach vacation. But this is no ordinary island. Just ask the locals and visitors who’ve ranked it one of the best beaches in Texas.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gulf coast island offers year-round outdoor activities from sport fishing and parasailing to birding, dolphin watching, kayaking—and the only seaside links-style golf course in Texas. Stroll through town on a rented golf cart, explore the shops, galleries, and enjoy an array of restaurants, from “cook your catch” to roadside taco stands to fine dining.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the “Fishing Capital of Texas”, Port Aransas boasts the best in all areas of the sport. Anglers can take an off-shore excursion, fish the bays and channels, and cast a line in the surf or from one of the lighted public piers. Fishing tournaments abound during the summer, with one nearly every weekend, ranging from kids to women only and billfish to redfish tournaments.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find year-round festivals and events, including the annual BeachtoberFest, the Whooping Crane Festival (February 20-23, 20200, and Texas SandFest (April 17-19, 2020).

Watch for low flying birds! Located in the heart of the Central Flyway, Port Aransas and Mustang Island are a birder’s paradise. Hundreds of species of resident birds and thousands of migrants can be found here. Encounters with Coastal Bend species such as the roseate spoonbills, least grebes, reddish egrets, black-bellied whistling ducks, tri-colored herons, and stilts bring birding enthusiasts back to this island sanctuary time and time again.

With six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Port Aransas Nature Preserve, South Jetty, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, UTMSI Wetlands Education Center, and Mustang Island State Park, Port ‘A’ hosts many must-see lookouts for avid birders and wildlife photographers. Boardwalks and observation towers are built over wetlands with vegetation pockets specially designed to attract birds.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Birding Center, Wetlands Park, Paradise Pond, and the Nature Preserve were designed to give birders the “up-close” ability to observe hundreds of species in their natural habitats. From the natural wetlands, inlets, and 18 miles of natural beaches and dunes to the rock jetties, piers, and marinas, the island offers dozens of perfect vantage points to marvel at the magnificent migrating birds that consider Port ‘A’ the perfect rest stop.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best ways to enjoy Port Aransas’ awesome natural beauty is the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. A long, well-maintained boardwalk with benches, free telescopes, and an observation tower makes for excellent up-close views of local wildlife including alligators, crabs, redfish, and a huge variety of birds.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Port Aransas Nature Preserve encompasses 1,217 acres of undeveloped land in an area formerly known as Charlie’s Pasture where early island residents once grazed their cattle. Features at the Nature Preserve include over three miles of hike and bike trails, a pavilion, boardwalks over algal flats, crushed granite trails on the uplands, covered seating sites, and two towers overlooking wetland areas around Salt Island.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover why Port Aransas and Mustang Island is ranked one of the top 10 best family beaches in the U.S. by Family Vacation Critic (TripAdvisor’s family travel site) and celebrated by Fodor’s Travel as one of America’s 25 favorite beach towns.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Elmer Kelto

6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

Your guide to the best RV parks and campgrounds in Louisiana

Few states can match the charm, culture, and soul of the Pelican State. This zest for life makes Louisiana an excellent state to bring the RV. To help you on the journey to the bayou, here are six of the top RV parks and campgrounds in Louisiana.

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2009 with paved streets, Cajun Palms offers long pull-through sites that range in length from 55 to 75 feet. Not to be ignored are the back-ins to the lake in the 55-60 foot range. Pull through and back-in sites have 20 feet of space between each concrete pad.

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A full service resort, Cajun Palms features numerous traditional as well as high tech amenities. Accommodations consist of over 300 deluxe RV sites and 25 cabins. RV sites have full hookups, 30- and 50-amp, 70+ channels of digital cable, and on-site water and sewer. Easy-on, easy off Interstate 10 (Exit 115) at Henderson (near Breaux Bridge).

Frog City RV Park, Duson

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frog City RV Park opened in 2006. The park is located just off I-10 in Duson, a small town 10 miles west of Lafayette and deep in the beautiful Cajun countryside. With 62 spacious RV sites, Frog City offers Wi-Fi, cable TV, pull-through sites, swimming pool, coin-operated laundry, and private hot showers that are sparkling clean.

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paved interior roads for EZ-in and EZ-out and dog walk areas. The park offers convenient adjacent facilities including Roady’s Truck Stop with excellent fuel prices and great Cajun food (be sure to try their boudin).

Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge 

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The appeal is all in the name, fish and camp in the heart of Louisiana. Poche’s RV Park has highly rated facilities, 88 Pull-through sites equipped with 30/50-amp electric service, sewer, and water. The park also features a clubhouse, showers, laundry, dog walk, playground and more.

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’re guaranteed to reel the big one at Poche’s, the park boasts fifty acres of well-maintained ponds stocked with largemouth bass, bream, and catfish. No license is required and you can keep the fish you catch for a delicious fish fry. Try heading to Poche’s in early May when Breaux Bridge hosts their annual crawfish festival. 

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston

Riverside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy-on, easy-off, Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with 127 sites. Back-in sites are in the 55-60 foot range and spacious pull-through sites in the 65-70 foot range; 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer are centrally located.

Riverside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No cable TV (Baton Rouge and New Orleans channels available on antenna). Wi-Fi (Tengo) works well; no problem locating satellite. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit.

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with swim-up pool, poolside cabanas, a lazy river, giant hot tub, fitness center, and family pool.

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig. With the utilities located toward rear of site one must unhook the toad and locate the motorhome at the rear of the site to access the sewer.

A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur

A+ Motel and RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park is named as it gets an A-plus in our book. A+ Motel and RV Park have everything an RV wants and needs. There are plenty of bathhouses, showers, and laundry facilities to take care of all things dirty along with picnic tables, BBQ pits, a dog run and more, all under 24-hour security. 

A+ Motel and RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We stayed at A+ Motel and RV Park in 2013 and again 2019. Sites have been added since our initial stay and now offer 118 pull-through and back-in sites. Big rig friendly our pull-through site has ample length to accommodate large RVs. Since utilities are located near the rear of the site one must unhook the toad and locate the motorhome at the rear of the site to access the sewer.

A+ Motel and RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throw your line out at their private fishing pond, take the boat out or relax in the adults-only heated pool. Just choose which body of water you want to relax or get around on, Lake Charles, Prien Lake, and the Calcasieu River are nearby. You’re also right next to the great flora and fauna of the Creole Nature Trail

We selected this list of Louisiana RV parks and resorts from parks personally visited.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Hank Williams, Sr.

Rediscovering the River: Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found little to hold our interest.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Eventually we thought we’d give Yuma another try.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a difference! We were amazed at the transformation. 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.

Colorado River State Historic Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since we wanted to see this transformation up close we visited the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area and wandered the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, Gateway Park, and West Wetlands before crossing the river on 4th Avenue.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The very first train to enter into Arizona did so at Yuma, crossing over the Colorado River from California in 1877. And, although that original crossing point no longer exists, a 1907 Baldwin locomotive sits on the very spot where the tracks entered town. At the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, we found a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.

Pivot Point Plaza, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can climb into the cab (but please not on top of it). With 16 colorful panels describing how people crossed the mighty Colorado River in Yuma over the centuries, the plaza provides an excellent introduction to the history of Yuma Crossing, a National Historic Landmark.

Sunrise Point Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It also preserves the concrete pivot on which the original swing-span bridge turned to allow steamships to pass on the river—which before dams were built and water was diverted to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas—came up to the level of the plaza. A staircase from the plaza leads into Gateway Park.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park. With convenient vehicle access of Gila Street and shaded parking under Interstate 8, Gateway Park has a large beach, picnic armadas close to the water, restrooms, playground, and large stretches of tree-covered lawns. It is located at the center of the riverfront multi-use pathways with a magnificent view of the historic Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge.

West Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West Wetlands was the original site of Yuma’s “City Dump”. It closed in 1970 and Yumans dreamed of converting these 110 blighted acres into a beautiful riverfront park. Today these dreams are becoming a reality. With local, state, and federal financial support, the first phase of the park opened in 2002, including the lake, picnic armadas, boat ramp, restrooms, parking, and picnic areas. Each year since, more and more features have been added including the Ed Pastor Hummingbird Garden, a lighted multi-use pathway, Army of the West statue, a disc golf course, and the Stewart Vincent Wolf Memorial Playground, that kids love to call “Castle Park”.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day we visited the East Wetlands and Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, drove over the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, and wandered the Sunrise Point Park (part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area).

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through a unique partnership among the Quechan Indian Tribe, City of Yuma, Arizona Fish and Game Department, and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, more than 200,000 native species of trees and grasses have been planted over its 400 acres since 2004. On the south side of the Colorado River, there is a 3.5-mile signed hiking trail. For those interested in a shorter walk, there is a beautiful overlook along the river about one-half mile upstream from Gateway Park affording a 360-degree view of the wetlands. Part of the paved riverfront path extends along the edge of the Yuma East Wetlands on a canal levee.

Quechan Indian Museum, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north side of the river, the Quechan Indian Tribe has developed Sunrise Point Park (Anya Nitz Pak), overlooking a restored marsh and 40 acres of the finest stands of native cottonwoods and willows along the lower Colorado River. The park is reflective of the tribe’s culture.

Worth Pondering…

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

—Okakura Kazuko

Corpus Christi: Sparkling City by the Bay

It is no wonder that Corpus Christi bills itself as the Sparkling City by the Bay

There’s no denying that Corpus Christi is one of the most beloved destinations in Texas, and for good reason. However, among the well-known ways to enjoy a day on the bay, Corpus Christi is packed with plenty of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path surprises.

I headed to this bay-front city in search of my own adventure.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll along a scenic soft sandy beach. Watch sailboats glide on the bay. Step inside a legendary World War II aircraft carrier or tour an aquarium that provides insight into the creatures inhabiting the Gulf. These are among the many experiences you can have when you visit Corpus Christi, the largest coastal city in Texas.

Corpus Christi Bayfront Seawall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With miles of pristine beaches and numerous attractions, Corpus Christi combines outdoor adventure with big-city culture to create something that any traveler will love.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although there are many ways to enjoy a trip to Corpus Christi, the city is known for its beautiful beaches. There are a total of nine beaches to choose from, each of which offers its own set of experiences.

North Beach, Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some of the best fishing around, look to Padre Island Balli Park and the 1,240-foot-long Bob Hall Pier.  For surfing and people watching, check out North Packery Beach. To see some of the birds and wildlife that live in the region visit Indian Point, Mustang Island State Park, or Padre Island National Seashore.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Corpus Christi’s most prominent attractions is the USS Lexington, a historic aircraft carrier that served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Stand on the flight deck and take in a spectacular view of the downtown area then explore the rooms below. Follow the path below decks and you’ll see the captain’s cabin, combat information center, dental clinic, sick bay, and engine room restored to look just as they did during World War II.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk a few blocks south on North Shoreline Boulevard and you’ll be at the Texas State Aquarium, where you’ll get an up-close look at the diverse aquatic animals that live in the region. Watching Atlantic bottlenose Dolphins play, touching, and feeding stingrays, and marveling at majestic sea turtles are just a few of the things you’ll do at the aquarium, a popular place for the entire family.

Corpus Christi Bayfront Seawall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located along scenic Shoreline Boulevard, Corpus Christi Bayfront Seawall and promenade is a sight unique to Corpus Christi. The sea wall was constructed in such a way as to open the city to the Bay rather than to form a barricade. Steps lead down to the water and to the popular “T” head docks for pleasure boats. You can jog, bike, or simply meander along the 1.5 miles of path while taking in some great views of the waterfront. Sink your feet into the sand on McGee Beach overlooking Corpus Christi Bay.

Heritage Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heritage Park is the site of twelve historical Corpus Christi homes, the oldest dating back to 1851. Many of the homes are recorded Texas Historical Landmarks and each is beautifully restored and a tribute to the ethnic diversity and culture of the area. The Galvan House hosts and supports many art and cultural activities and events. The Multicultural Center includes the Galvan House, the Courtyard, Central Plaza and the Lytton Memorial Rose Garden. Make a stop at the Visitor Information Center in the Heritage Park Merriman-Bobys House for more information about the park and Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are numerous other things to see and do on the south side of the bay. The 180-acre South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center allows visitors to wander a network of walking trails along Oso Creek and then enjoy the center’s gardens which focus on bromeliads, roses, orchids, palms, and other native and foreign species.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by the Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History to learn about the cultural and natural history of this part of the Texas Gulf Coast. Head across Bayfront Science Park to The Art Museum of South Texas where regional fine art, photography, ceramics, and textiles are on display. Visit the Selena Museum founded in honor of Corpus Christi resident and top recording artist Selena Quintanilla Perez.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of this may sound like a lot to see and do but it’s just a few of the unforgettable sights and sounds of Corpus Christi! How can anyone resist a visit to this Sparkling City by the Sea?

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Elmer Kelto

Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Phoenix is a hub for a number of memorable day trips that allow you to explore Arizona for the day and be back to your snowbird roost by night

Phoenix is the perfect central hub for a long list of Arizona day trips—the Phoenix area makes sense as a snowbird roost as it offers plenty of RV parks, hiking, golfing, and other activities. These excursions are iconic bucket list material and can be reached within a few hours or less.

As a bonus, the roads leading to these destinations are interesting and gorgeous as well. So if you want to truly enjoy the scenic beauty of Arizona, consider these day trips, one day at a time.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It takes roughly two hours to travel from Phoenix to Sedona, so there’s many hours in between to soak into the natural and new age aspects of lovely Sedona. Known as Red Rock Country for the colorful red rock formations that dominate the landscape, Sedona is a popular destination for photographers, nature lovers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Sedona is home to hundreds of miles of trails, some easy, some difficult, yet all loaded with magnificent views of the surrounding million year old ancient rocks.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ah the day trip of all day trips—the magnificent Grand Canyon is on most bucket lists, and the South Rim resides 230 miles north from Phoenix. Sure, you might want to spend more time at this landmark, but it could be done in a day. What can we say? This mile deep canyon is over 18 miles wide at some points, and displays mesmerizing geological colors and formations. Camp, hike, or just stop for a peek—regardless, it’s a “must”.

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, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An ancient civilization carved clever dwellings into the sturdy rock of what is now a famous monument. A lot more than Montezuma attracts people to the site—Wet Beaver Creek, a flourishing spring and interesting wildlife are just a few things to put on the list when stopping through. The drive will set you back an hour and a half.

Prescott

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott is surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and enjoys a cooler climate that’s perfect for experiencing all four seasons in the outdoors. This is a nature lover’s paradise with lots of opportunities for camping, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. Check out the downtown historic area as well as Watson Lake, the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, and Whiskey Row.

Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hefty 20,000 acres comprise this large park featuring 62 miles of hiking and biking trails. Historic sites such as old locomotives and school houses create an intriguing environment that melds with the outdoors. It takes just under two hours to get there.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s a day trip round-up without mentioning a sweet highway? This stunning drive is the literal “gateway” into the area’s that house iconic red stone formations of Arizona making it highly significant. One hundred and ten miles from Phoenix, the breathtaking drive offers glimpses of amazing foliage and spanning views.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill between Prescott and Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month.

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. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Yuma

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About three hours away, you can drive southwest to Yuma, a popular snowbird destination with some excellent historic attractions and sand dunes for outdoor recreation. Tour Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and then sample delicious dates at Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm. You can often find fun local festivals taking place in the historic downtown area and also head over to the Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area to drive ATVs up and down the dunes.

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. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.