December 2020 RV Manufacturer Recalls

A manufacturer recall can create a safety risk if not repaired

Your recreational vehicle may be involved in a safety recall and may create a safety risk for you or your passengers. Safety defects must be repaired by a certified dealer at no cost to you. However, if left unrepaired, a potential safety defect in your vehicle could lead to injury or even death.

What is a recall?

When a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a recreational vehicle or item of RV equipment creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle or equipment at no cost to the consumer.

NHTSA releases its most recent list of recalls each Monday.

It should be noted that RV recalls are related to vehicle safety and not product quality. NHTSA has no interest in an air conditioner failing to cool or slide out failing to extend or retract—unless they can be directly attributed to product safety.

NHTSA announced 21 recall notices during December 2020. These recalls involved 10 recreational vehicle manufacturers—Forest River (6 recalls), Triple E (3 recalls), Thor Motor Coach (2 recalls), Keystone (2 recalls), Jayco (2 recalls), Winnebago (2 recalls), REV (1 recall), Newmar (1 recall), Grand Design (1 recall), and Airstream (1 recall).

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2019 Coachmen Chaparral and Shasta, 2019-2020 Coachmen Concord and Orion, 2020-2021 Coachmen Cross Trek and Forest River Berkshire, 2019-2021 Coachmen Freelander, Leprechaun and Prism, 2020 Coachmen Mirada, Pursuit and Sportscoach, Dynamax Force, DX3, Dynaquest XL and Isata and Forest River Wildwood and 2008 and 2020 Forest River Salem vehicles equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the o-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 2, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-825-4995, or Dometic customer service at 1-574-293-0681. Forest River’s number for this recall is 51-1259.

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

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Coachmen Galleria motorhomes built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. The outer area of the brake hoses on the front and rear axles may have been damaged during production.

Forest River will notify owners, and DVUSA dealers will check the condition of the brake hoses on the front and rear axles and replace them as needed, free of charge. The recall began December 10, 2020. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-825-6310 or Daimler Vans customer service at 1-877-762-8267. Forest River’s number for this recall is 51-1263.

Jekyll Island Campground, Jekyll Island State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 East to West Della Tera and Silver Lake recreational trailers. The outdoor grill may be able to be stowed away while the propane hose is still attached and while the burners are on.

Forest River will notify owners, and to prevent the condition from occurring, dealers will move the propane hose connection to the edge of the drawer slide in the outside kitchen, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 16, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-264-6664. Forest River’s number for this recall is 500-1265.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2020-2021 XLR Boost Toy Hauler recreational vehicles. The Federal Placard and Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) label may state a lower weight than the actual weight. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 120, “Wheels and Rims-Other Than Passenger Cars.”

Forest River will notify owners and will provide a new Federal Placard and replace any damaged tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-642-0432. Forest River’s number for this recall is 79-1257.

Poches RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2018-2020 RPOD travel trailers. The sewer termination bracket may fail, causing the plumbing to drag on the ground or to detach completely.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will install a new securement bracket, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 19, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-642-3119, option 2. Forest River’s number for this recall is 51-1265.

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

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Puma travel trailers. The outdoor cooktop may be stowed away while the propane hose is still attached and the burner is on.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will install a bracket to the drawer housing the outside cooktop preventing the drawer from being closed while the propane line is still attached, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 27, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-642-0606. Forest River’s number for this recall is 425-1269.

New Green Acres RV Park, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triple E

Triple E Recreational Vehicles (Triple E) is recalling certain 2019-2020 Serenity S24CB, 2019-2021 Unity U24MB, U24RL, U24FX, U24CB, U24IB, U24TB, and 2019-2021 Wonder W24FTB, W24RTB, W24RL, W24MB motorhomes. An incorrect brass connector was used on the propane connection to the flared connection of the Truma water heater fitting. The connector did not have the correct bevel to seal to the Truma water heater swivel fitting.

Triple E has notified owners, and dealers will replace the incorrect brass connector with the correct brass connector (part number115-3219), free of charge. The recall began November 17, 2020. Owners may contact Triple E customer service at 1-877-992-9906. Triple E’s number for this recall is CA#9822-1.

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

Triple E

Triple E Recreational Vehicles (Triple E) is recalling certain 2018-2020 Serenity S24CB, 2018-2021 Unity U24MB, U24FX, and 2020-2021 Unity U24RL motorhomes. When the vehicle is driven with the fresh water tank partially filled, the fresh water tank bracket can shift side to side, resulting in the chassis wire harness getting chafed, resulting in a loss of tail lights.

Triple E will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional bracket to resolve the issue, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 7, 2020. Owners may contact Triple E customer service at 1-877-992-9906. Triple E’s number for this recall is CA#9835-1.

Bird Basin Campground, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triple E

Triple E Recreational Vehicles (Triple E) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Unity U24RL motorhomes. The galley overhead cabinet assembly is missing a heat shield over the cooktop.

Triple E will notify owners, and dealers will install a repair kit, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2020. Owners may contact Triple E customer service at 1-877-992-9906. Triple E’s number for this recall is CA#9845-1.

Capitol City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thor Motor Coach

Thor Motor Coach (TMC) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Daybreak, Four Winds, Chateau, Freedom Elite, Quantum motorhomes built on a Chevrolet chassis. The BIM (Battery Isolation Manager)/BIR (Battery Isolation Relay) is not watertight when exposed to engine compartment heat.

TMC will notify owners, and dealers will replace the BIM/BIR with a Trombetta solenoid, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on January 17, 2021. Owners may contact TMC customer service at 1-877-855-2867. TMC’s number for this recall is RC000206.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thor Motor Coach

Thor Motor Coach (TMC) is recalling certain 2021 Four Winds motorhomes, equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the o-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

TMC will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 18, 2021. Owners may contact TMC customer service at 1-877-855-2867. TMC’s number for this recall is RC000207.

Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone

Keystone RV Company (Keystone) is recalling certain 2020 Cougar 22MLS, 22RBS, 25RDS, 26RBS, 26RKS, 27RES, 29BHS, 30RKD, 31MBS, 32RLI and 34TSB recreational trailers equipped with a Solar Prep or an off-the-grid “OTG” Solar Camping Package. The Solar Prep wiring to the 12VDC breakers located by the battery may not be connected to the protected side of the breaker.

Keystone will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the installation of the Solar Prep wiring at the circuit breaker mounted close to the battery and remount the wiring if needed, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 12, 2021. Owners may contact Keystone customer service at 1-866-425-4369. Keystone’s number for this recall is 21-392.

Columbia Sun RV Park, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone

Keystone RV Company (Keystone) is recalling certain 2019-2021 Outback 335CG and 340BH recreational trailers. A section of the frame rail may have inadequate support where the draw bar is attached, allowing the frame rail to buckle.

Keystone will notify owners, and dealers will add reinforcement plates to the existing frame, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 15, 2021. Owners may contact Keystone customer service at 1-866-425-4369. Keystone’s number for this recall is 20-391.

Ambassador RV Park, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Alante, Precept, and Precept Prestige motorhomes and Entegra Vision, Vision XL motorhomes built on a Ford F-53 chassis. The engine covers may not contain sufficient heat insulation, causing the interior surface temperatures to be excessive.

Jayco will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional insulation insert, and a foam seal on the outer edge of the cover, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 18, 2020. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267. Jayco’s number for this recall is 9903527.

Phoenix Destiny RV Resort, Goodyear, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Fifth Wheel Northpoint 387RDFS(LZ) recreational trailers. The welds on the axle spindle may fail, causing the wheel/spindle assembly to break away from the axle tube.

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The recall is expected to begin December 28, 2020. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-617-776-0344. Jayco’s number for this recall is 9901526.

River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winnebago

Winnebago Towable (Winnebago) is recalling certain 2021 Micro Minnie trailers. These trailers were built with undersized axles that may not support the weight of the vehicle and could break.

Winnebago will notify owners, and dealers will replace the 2,500 lb rated axle with the correct 4,000 lb rated axle, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a schedule for recall notification. Owners may contact Winnebago customer service at 1-641-585-6939 or 1-800-537-1885.

Distant Drums RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winnebago

Winnebago Industries, Inc. (Winnebago) is recalling certain 2021 Revel, Vista, and Adventurer Motorhomes. The power bed motor may experience an internal gear failure, causing the bed to extend prior to the safety strap engaging.

Winnebago will notify owners, and dealers will replace the power bed motor, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a schedule for recall notification. Owners may contact Winnebago customer service at 1-641-585-6939 or 1-800-537-1885. Winnebago’s number for this recall is 164.

Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA, Desert Hot Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

REV

REV Recreation Group (REV) is recalling certain 2021 Fleetwood Discovery, Discovery LXE, Pace Arrow, Pace Arrow LXE, Bounder, and Southwind and Holiday Rambler Armada, Endeavor, Nautica, Navigator, and Vacationer motorhomes. The primary gear of the bed lift motor may fail, allowing the bed frame to drop.

REV will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, and if necessary, replace the bed lift motor, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 12, 2021. Owners may contact REV customer service at 1-800-509-3417. REV’s number for this recall is 201109REV.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort, Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar

Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2019-2020 Bay Star and Ventana, 2019 Ventana LE, 2020 Canyon Star, Dutch Star, Kountry Star and Super Star and 2021 Bay Star Sport motorhomes equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The stove’s saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the o-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

Newmar will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 19, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is 20E 071.

The Lakes and Gulf Resort, Chowchilla, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Design

Grand Design RV, LLC (Grand Design) is recalling certain 2020 Transcend recreational trailers. A gas leak may occur at the joint between the cook stove’s gas saddle valve for the burners and the manifold under the burner surface.

Grand Design will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit that includes gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts and orange stickers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 20, 2021. Owners may contact Grand Design customer service at 1-574-825-9679. Grand Design’s number for this recall is 910022.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airstream

Airstream, Inc. (Airstream) is recalling certain 2019 International, Flying Cloud, and Classic recreational trailers, equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The stove’s saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the O-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

Airstream will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2021. Owners may contact Airstream customer service at 877-596-6111 ext. 7491.

Please Note: This is the 23rd in a series of posts relating to RV Manufacturers Recalls

Worth Pondering…

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.

—Martin Van Buren

Best of 2020: Top 10 RVing Articles of 2020

We have our 2020 winners! See the top articles in RVing with Rex!

Time glides with undiscover’d haste

The future but a length behind the past.

—John Dryden

Hello, RVing friends! The year is turning over and another 12 months of RVing, photography, hiking, and birding has flashed by.

I’m trying to squeeze in all of the things I didn’t get to do this year into these last remaining days of 2020. Truth be told, we weren’t able to do a lot of things.

The End is almost here!

Historic Georgetown Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is article # 704 since my first post on January 16, 2019. Okay, the end isn’t near, but the end of the year is almost here, and it’s time to think about wrap-ups as 2020 draws to a close. The end of the year is the traditional time for doing a summary and some reflection.

Looking back there were certain events and articles that kindled reader interests. Thank you for reading and returning frequently to read my latest articles. Thank you for your continuing support!

Historic Adairsville Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We can all agree this was a year like no other, at times feeling like a refugee from reality. As the year mercifully comes to a close, RVing with Rex celebrates the must reads that you loved the most over the past 12 months. I’ll start off by doing a sincere thank you so much for reading this year.

It’s always fascinating to look back and see what stories enjoyed the most readership and interest that year. The results often confound my expectations.

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

Today, I’m delighted to bring you RVing with Rex’s Best of 2020: a collection of articles about RVing and the RV Lifestyle.

RVing with Rex readership in 2020 smashed the prior year numbers with an incredible 168,247 unique visitors and 357,560 page views. So what was the most popular article of the year?

Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We check our readership data for several important reasons. First and foremost, I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what my readers actually want to read. While it’s tempting to assume I know what you want to read—my gut and personal preferences have some definite opinions—but the data is the reality.

This is actually a relief as it gives me a concrete direction on what types of content to focus on going forward. I can’t always provide the content that’s most wanted as I attempt to keep the blog well-rounded and offer something for all RVers—and wanna-bes—but the readership data is a fantastic guide.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing with Rex would like to wish its readers a safe and happy New Years.

Here are the top 10 most read and most popular RVing with Rex posts of the year, listed in the order of their readership numbers.

And the most popular article of 2020 is…

15 Bad Camping Decisions

You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to enjoy a camping trip; there are options for every camping skill level and travel taste

Number Page Views: 63,859

Originally Posted: September 3, 2020

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 7 Tragic Rookie RV Mistakes To Avoid

Make sure to avoid the following rookie mistakes

Number Page Views: 30,473

Originally Posted: August 24, 2020

The Grandest Drive in Arizona

Follow Highway 89A and hold on tight

Number Page Views: 23,353

Originally Posted: September 3, 2020

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Absolutely Best National Parks to Escape the Insanely Crazy Crowds

They rarely make Instagram but vast national monuments offer spectacular beauty and wilderness adventure

Number Page Views: 16,606

Originally Posted: November 3, 2020

The Best RV Parks for Visiting America’s National Parks

A guide to the best RV parks near the most popular national parks

Number Page Views: 13,073

Originally Posted: August 2, 2020

Peachoid, Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

Number Page Views: 12,862

Originally Posted: August 8, 2020

Bucket List Trip for Your Lifetime: America’s Ultimate National Park Road Trip

Are you looking for a special bucket list destination? An inspiration for an once-in-a-lifetime trip?

Number Page Views: 11,512

Originally Posted: August 29, 2020

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island is one of the few surviving unspoiled beach communities in the U.S.

Number Page Views: 6,791

Originally Posted: February 19, 2020

Here’s the Proof that Utah is the Most Beautiful State

Soaring peaks and deep red canyons around every bend

Number Page Views: 4,690

Originally Posted: August 9, 2020

Burr Trail Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Absolutely Best Road Trip from LA to the Grand Canyon

This road trips goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA

Number Page Views: 4,485

Originally Posted: July 26, 2020

A Happy New Year to all my readers. Best wishes for 2021. Find what brings you joy and go there.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May the months ahead be filled with great RVing experiences! Remember, the journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing. Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Worth Pondering…

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light,

The year is dying in the night.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow,

The year is going, let him go.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Rôder with Family

How about y’all? Do you like to rôder?

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination to pack up the RV and rôder.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the Happiest City in America has plenty of family friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go rôder!

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things to do and experience? There’s no shortage of ways to experience the Happiest City in America and its nearby communities. Here are some of my favorites for first-time visitors and those already in love with all things Cajun.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat, or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene, including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that make up Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region. Here are some smaller towns that are a short drive from Lafayette and are well worth the trip.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott – 5 miles; 13 minutes from Lafayette

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge – 9 miles; 10 minutes from Lafayette

Breaux Bridge was given its name from an early Acadian family who built a bridge over the Bayou Teche, a main waterway used during the Acadian’s arrival in the 1700s. The bridge over the Teche now celebrates the town’s other title, given to it by the Louisiana Legislature in 1959. Yes, without argument, Breaux Bridge is “The Crawfish Capital of the World”.  Its downtown district is the perfect day trip destinations for a main street walk and bite to eat. Take note, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is held annually in May. Breaux Bridge’s downtown district is worth a visit during any season for shopping, dining, and live music. Check out venues like La Poussiere, Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, and Tante Marie’s Kitchen for a weekly live music schedule.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinville – 16.3 miles; 26 minutes from Lafayette

St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish. It lies on Bayou Teche and is the third oldest town in Louisiana with many buildings and homes with historic architecture. The historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church and La Maison Duchamp on Main Street are part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. St. Martinville is also the site of the “Evangeline Oak”, featured in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Acadian expulsion. It is also the site of an African American Museum and is included as a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail which was established in 2008.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia – 20.5 miles; 32 minutes from Lafayette

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting New Iberia. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to Buddha (a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds). Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Most Breathtaking Deserts to Explore in Winter

These deserts are even more stunning in winter

Desert regions might conjure up images of soaring temperatures, rolling sand dunes, and prickly cacti. And while these areas can be excruciatingly hot during the summer, they transform in the winter with falling temperatures, serene landscapes, and even, on occasion, powdery snow.  

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One benefit of winter travel is you’ll usually experience fewer crowds. Winter light can be harsh for photography but it can also create incredible shadows and sunrises and sunsets you just don’t find during the summer months. Depending on the rainfall and temperatures, the latter part of winter may signal impressive spring wildflowers.

From California to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, these eight desert areas are beautiful to explore in winter.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two major deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. This outstanding scenic point overlooks a breathtaking expanse of valley, mountain, and desert.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter brings cooler days, around 60 degrees and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. With the right timing, it doesn’t get more magical than seeing freshly fallen flakes gracing the smoothly rounded boulders that seem straight out of The Flintstones and the Joshua trees that look like something from an alien planet. Don’t miss other highlights of Joshua Tree including the fan palms (Washingtonia filifera). These trees are some of the tallest palms native to North America and can live around 80 or 90 years.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Organ Pipe is where “summer spends the winter” with warm days (60s) and chilly nights (40s) common from late fall to early spring. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. There are 28 different species of cacti in the monument, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. These cacti are all highly adapted to survive in the dry and unpredictable desert. They use spines for protection and shade, thick skin, and pulp to preserve water, unique pathways of photosynthesis at night, and hidden under their skin are delicate to sturdy wooden frames holding them together.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico is one of our favorite winter road trip destinations and Santa Fe is one reason why. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax. As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise. Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. An escape from winter’s chill and snow, it is also a destination filled with numerous places to visit and things to do.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. There are so many great trails to choose from—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours. Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.

Rio Grande River and Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This sprawling west Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm along the Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size and geographic diversity this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week or more with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend receives very little precipitation as storm systems are blocked by the mountain ranges that surround it. Snow is rare and generally light. Winter visitors should prepare for a variety of conditions. Air temperature changes by five degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation change; temperatures in the high Chisos Mountains can be 20+ degrees cooler than temperatures along the Rio Grande. Be prepared for this kind of variation during your trip. Winter visitors should be prepared for any weather; temperatures vary from below freezing to above 80 degrees.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California with just over 640,000 acres. There are over 10,000 years of human history recorded here including Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. Winter is a popular time to visit Borrego Valley as it’s sunny and warm. When you have sufficient winter rain, spring wildflowers begin to show as early as February. Hiking and mountain biking are popular in the canyon washes and over the ridges of red desert rock.

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

Winter also sees the visitor center open daily. The visitor center is an experience in itself as it was built with the environment in mind. It was built underground and has a landscaped roof topped with plants, native soil, and rocks. You can reserve camping sites in the park which has 175 developed sites, eight primitive campgrounds, and plenty of options for dispersed camping.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

The red rock expanse of Southern Utah is stunning in all seasons, but winter is unique. Arches is one of the most beautiful national parks to visit in winter (seriously!). The quietness of the park is perfect for those hoping to photograph the beauty of Arches in winter. Yes, it does snow in Arches National Park although not often. When it does snow, it tends to be a light covering that melts fairly quickly. If you’re timing is right, you will be able to see the arches and fins covered in snow creating a unique landscape where the orangey-brown rock contrasts beautifully with the white snow. And wherever you roam, you find few other travelers and plenty of peace and solitude.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

Located in Arizona’s high desert under the towering southwestern rim of the vast Colorado Plateau, Sedona is blessed with four mild seasons marked by abundant sunshine and clean air. Almost the entire world knows that Sedona, strategically situated at the mouth of spectacular Oak Creek Canyon, is a unique place. Characterized by massive red-rock formations, as well as the contrasting riparian areas of Oak Creek Canyon, the area surrounding this beloved community is at least as beautiful as many national parks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter months, Sedona transforms into a dazzling wonderland with light dustings of snow and millions of twinkling stars amidst the dark night sky. Sitting at 4,500-feet elevation, the town enjoys moderate winters. Mild temperatures during the day are perfect for hiking the famed Red Rock Country. Snow occasionally dusts the upper reaches of the surrounding mesas and mountains in a most picturesque fashion.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

The Amazing Badlands of El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments

Finding beauty, solitude, and a connection with those who came before

Located in western New Mexico, El Morro and El Malpais national monuments are a mere 46 miles apart. They preserve rugged, demanding landscapes that have attracted travelers from ancestral Puebloans to early 20th century homesteaders.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A way-station of sorts, El Morro is a towering cliff was a reliable spring at its base that quenched the thirst of travelers. Many carved petroglyphs, names, and dates into the soft sandstone to show who came before. Despite the broken lava fields that cover the landscape, El Malpais saw settlement as early as 1300. Today visitors study the signatures at El Morro, or peer into the lava tubes that worm beneath El Malpais’ surface. But there’s also the backcountry of both that attract visitors who look for beauty, solitude, and perhaps a connection with those who came long before. I was one such traveler.

Along I-40 midway between Gallup and Albuquerque, I turned south off the interstate. I am visiting two impressive national monuments: El Malpais and El Morro. While they are a short distance apart, each monument is unique and meaningful especially when experienced on one trip.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais is Spanish for “The Badlands.” There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. Lava that once poured from five separate magma flows produced the black, ropy pahoehoe, and clinkers of a thousand years ago. Islands of earth that were surrounded, rather than covered, by lava are spots of undisturbed vegetation called kipukas. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.

Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is much to see. I found expansive lava flows, cinder cones, complex lava-tube cave system more than 17 miles long, fragile ice caves some filled with ice even in summer as well as soft-looking sandstone bluffs and mesas, easily viewed from Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. Inhabited for 10,000 years, the area also contains historical and archaeological sites.

Many points of interest are accessible from New Mexico Route 117. The Sandstone Bluffs Overlook is reached by a short walk from a parking area along the highway. Excellent overviews of the lava flows as well as the surrounding terrain are seen from this vantage point. I look south to the Zuni-Acoma Trail, a 15-mile round-trip hike over the rugged Anasazi trade route which crosses four of the five major lava flows.

Instead of a well-defined path clearly visible on the landscape, a series of rock piles called cairns are used to trace a route across the land. These routes are common on lava landscapes where creating a traditional trail or footpath is not possible due to the extreme nature of the terrain. Hiking cairned routes requires more attention to navigation. Making sure I have the next cairn in sight before leaving the one I’m at.

The uneven nature of the terrain demands that I keep my eyes on the land while walking and pay more attention since the surface is not even. Hiking poles are not useful here needing both arms for balance as I climb up and down over the sharp lava tubes as I locate the rock cairns that mark the way. To enjoy the views, I stop, get a secure footing, and then look around to stay familiar with the landscape as it changes. This trail is sobering, the warm November sun, deep sinkholes, and steep drop-offs forcing me to constantly reckon with what matters, namely, my preparation to meet the challenges I encounter. The hike into the lava fields and back takes time. Arriving back on sandy terrain at last, I appreciate the softness underfoot.

La Ventana Natural Arch, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I stop to explore La Ventana Natural Arch, “The Window.” Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder. Standing at the base of this awe-inspiring 120-foot natural stone arch, I look up through it into the heart of the mountain.

Continuing down the highway, I drive through The Narrows where lava flowed past the base of 500-foot sandstone cliffs. A picnic area is located here and hikers will be intrigued by the unusual lava formations they’ll find. At the Lava Falls Area, I explored the unique features of the McCarty’s flow and marveled at the plant life that is adapted to life in the lava. It is quiet here.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ancestral Puebloans who lived here, at a place now known as the Dittert Site must have relied heavily on the seasonal pools, before the local climate changed and water became increasingly scarce. Areas of El Malpais have been accessed by the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, and Ramah Navajo people for thousands of years once building pueblos here as well as continuing to practice cultural traditions today.

My travels through El Malpais now lead me to El Morro as for so many travelers over hundreds and thousands of years. El Morro means “The Headland,” a massive sandstone bluff rising 200 feet above the desert floor guiding me to water. Hills rise to form a cuesta, a geologic feature with banded sandstone bluffs and cliffs forming a natural water reservoir at the center. The top of the formation acts as a self-contained watershed, bringing snowmelt and the runoff of desert rainstorms down walls funneling this life giving resource to the small, clear pool (See photo above), a reliable year-long source of drinking water.

Inspiration Walk, El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before venturing out I view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions. I walk the Mesa Top Trail, a loop that starts from the pool, travels alongside Inscription Rock, and climbs up through gamble oak and juniper across the top of the rocks themselves to the ruins of Atsinna, meaning “place of writings on the rock.”

The Puebloan ancestors of the Zuni settled this place, undoubtedly for this water source in the badlands. They left petroglyphs of lizards and birds, bighorn sheep and bear on Inscription Rock. Later in time, more names were carved into this stone: Spanish conquistadors and Catholic Church bishops, U.S. Cavalry captains and Army expedition leaders, ordinary soldiers and scouts, and homesteaders heading west.

The oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro reads, Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605. Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

We follow the backroads of history and trails across the badlands remembering those who came through the wilderness before. The words and ideas and landmarks they left for us, show us the way to find what we seek. And what we need. These trails are well-marked at El Malpais and El Morro, to help us make our way safely.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Verde Valley: Ruins to Riches

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country

Everyone knows that Arizona is the Grand Canyon State. But we came in search of other riches: the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the quirkiness of an old mining town, and the mysteries of stone left by those who once thrived here but have now vanished. We found all this and more as we toured Verde Valley, 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma’s Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. We owe the name to early settlers who thought this five story pueblo was of Aztec origin. In fact, the superb masons who constructed this cliff-clinging citadel were likely ancestors of the present day Hopi and Zuni. Spanish explorers called them Sinagua (“without water”) because they were dry farmers, coaxing their crops of corn, beans, and squash from the arid desert soil.

The little oasis below the pueblo is an exception, a pleasant place to stop and have a picnic by the creek under the shade of white-barked Arizona sycamores.

Nearby, a natural limestone sinkhole filled with water has created Montezuma Well. The Indians who lived here centuries ago engineered an elaborate irrigation system to divert water from the spring-filled well to their fields. Ditches and ruins were visible as we hiked along the well’s trail.

Camp Verde, the oldest community in the Verde Valley, was established in 1865 as a cavalry outpost to protect the settlers from Indian raids. The old fort in the middle of town is now Fort Verde State Historic Park. Exhibits in the headquarters building explain the history of 19th-century soldiering in central Arizona.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Camp Verde we headed northwest on State Route 260 through Cottonwood. In the 1920s, Cottonwood was known for having the best bootlegging booze for hundreds of miles. The town has settled down since, with the Old Town section working to regain some of its picturesque quality.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What rogues lived hereabouts! Bootleggers below and up the mountain of the “wickedest town in the West”. That’s mile-high Jerome, once home to the biggest copper mine in Arizona and boasting 15,000 people before it busted. The mine closed in 1953 but the town is decidedly open as a tourist magnet and arts community. Friendly folks here, all 450 of them.

Jerome is like one of those old houses built without an architect, full of twists and turns and unexpected finds. It’s a magical jumble of a town and conveys a free and easy atmosphere. Maybe it’s the breathtaking views across the Verde Valley all the way to the red rocks of Sedona and the distant San Francisco peaks. There are enough oddity shops, galleries, watering holes, ice cream parlors, and crooked buildings fronting narrow streets to fill a charming day. Visit the Douglas Mining Museum to learn the history of the area.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Down the hill from Jerome is Clarkdale, an old copper mining company town now best known for the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train that takes you on a four hour tour of the stunning Verde River Canyon.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby Tuzigoot National Monument is the next stop. Tuzigoot—Apache for “crooked water”—is such fun to say, you’ll want to stop there for the name alone. Over 77 rooms once buzzed with life in this beehive of a hillside pueblo, their Sinagua occupants farmed by the river below.

The red rock country of Sedona lures photographers, artists, hikers, and nature lovers. Sedona, an art colony and resort, has served as a base for more than 80 movies and TV productions. Traveling through sagebrush country toward Sedona, the earth began to change color from white to orange to red. Erosion-carved buttes created brilliant red temples against the dark blue skies.

Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1950 the surrealist painter Max Ernst moved to Sedona; it was the beginning of the town’s reputation as a haven for artists. No wonder—the surrounding red rock spires and buttes trimmed with deep green pine stands fill the eye with vibrant sculpture. Around sunset take the Red Rock Loop to Crescent Moon Ranch State Park to watch Cathedral Rock’s red turrets deepen and flame in the ember light. For more red rock splendor, drive down to the aptly named Bell Rock. You can take a short hike to the rock and see if your intuition leads you to the vortex (energy emanating from the earth) that locals say exists there. On the way back, stop to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross nestled securely between two rock spires.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you can pull yourself away from gawking at the scenery you’ll discover so much to do in Sedona that you’ll wonder where to begin. Browse the galleries. See the Sedona Art Center where live exhibitions of working artists are common. Stroll Tlaquepaque, the village modeled after a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico. Among the enchanting archways and courtyards with lilting fountains you’ll find shops, galleries, and restaurants, as well as special events.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

All the wonder with none of the crowds

Summer will always be the most popular time to visit national parks. For generations, families have flocked to these precious natural wonderlands to commune with nature—and to crowd hiking trails, overtake campsites, and transform peaceful naturescapes into theme parks. But sometimes you long to experience the natural sounds of nature without the discordant noise of humanity. And to do that may involve packing warm clothes. 

Winter is a magical time for many of the parks. The trails clear. The campsites are less likely to be serenaded by a guitar-picking yodeler. Fire danger is down. And, unlike peak season, you’ll feel like you have it mostly to yourself. These are the parks that are at their absolute best in winter. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

In the summertime, Zion is basically Disneyland. It’s crowded. It’s hot. You’re standing in two-hour lines just to board the tram. End this madness and go during winter. Just 13 percent of Zion visitors journey to the park between November and March for a wintertime visit in one of nature’s most glorious settings. Even better, once you’ve had your fill of the park and its legendary trails, you’ll be able to explore all the surrounding (and vastly overlooked) state parks unencumbered.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

With average summer highs of 99 degrees, Joshua Tree is just too hot to enjoy for much of the year. However, a great time to visit is in the winter. During January, February, and much of March, Joshua Tree will treat you to mild temperatures and relative quiet. See this strange beauty before the mercury rises and the Coachella Valley Music Festival and spring break crowds arrive. Joshua Tree is not only a national park where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge but also the name of the funky little town outside the park. Give yourself time explore the park as well as the shops and curiosities along the main drag on Twentynine Palms Highway (State Route 62).

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce is beautiful at any time of year, but if you’ve never seen those famous spires and hoodoos dusted with snow then you owe it to yourself to do so. The entire park is an embarrassment of riches come wintertime. There’s cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and a winter festival. The drier air this time of year makes the desert skies unparalleled for stargazing; you’ll find regularly scheduled astronomy programs including full-moon snowshoe hikes at the newly designated International Dark Sky Park. Nowhere else on Earth will you get as vivid a look at Mars overhead while feeling like you’re standing on the Red Planet.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

You may have been curious about Congaree National Park but it wasn’t a place you wanted to visit in summer because the area gets so hot and muggy. Winter, it turns out, is a great time to explore without contending against the park’s dreaded “Mosquito Meter.” The park is a cypress swamp intersected with creeks and lakes. The cypress trees grow with the bases of their trunks underwater. The simplest path for new visitors is the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Trail. Its raised planks are less likely to be washed out than the muddy trails on the ground. Also, this is not a park I’d visit in midsummer, as the bugs are unbearable. Autumn, winter, and early spring (before the bugs come out) are the most enjoyable times of year to visit.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Overlooked and under-visited despite its proximity to bustling Tucson, Saguaro’s expanses of cartoonishly contorted cacti and relatively easy hikes are best explored during the winter. In the off season, the already thin crowds dissipate and you’re free to cavort with cactus wrens and gaze at petroglyphs with little interruption and minus the oppressive heat. Even better, the backcountry campsites—a relatively hot commodity numbering a scant 20—are easier to bag, allowing you to spend the night under the stars with only coyotes (and maybe roadrunners, given the landscape) as your company.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is famous for the approximately 2,000 arches located throughout the park. Driving from the park entrance to the end of the road at Devil’s Garden is a total of 18 miles, one-way. There are numerous spots to pull out and take in the sights of the park. Crowds? No way. Heat stroke? Not very likely! Traffic jams? Nope. Winter is off-season at Arches which means it’s the perfect time to visit. Snow certainly falls in Arches but it rarely sticks around for more than two or three days. It’s a photographic jackpot: one day you’ll get the contrast of snow on the red rock landscapes and the next day the sun will shine, melt the snow, and blue skies will complement the park’s sandstone formations. Basically, winter in Arches is a win-win.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Located along the San Andreas Fault in central California, Pinnacles National Park is of geological significance and is known for its beautiful and diverse habitats that range from spectacular wildflowers to oak woodlands and chaparral scrub, caves, and rock spires. The giant boulders you see at Pinnacles today were formed as a result of volcanic activity that occurred over 23 million years ago. Enjoy hiking trails, rock climbing, exploring caves, star gazing, camping, and bird watching. Boasting a Mediterranean climate, the Park enjoys mild winters with moderate precipitation.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend is most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain. The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two. Summers are hot; the desert floor is often above 100 degrees. Winter is pleasantly mild and usually sunny. Snow is rare and generally light. Winter visitors should be prepared for any weather; temperatures vary from below freezing to above 80 degrees.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow bring a slower pace to one of the nation’s most visited national parks. After the December holidays, winter visitors find paths less traveled throughout the park. Dramatic winter storms bringing several inches of snow are contrasted with sunny days. Crisp air and a dusting of snow bring a new perspective to the temples and buttes emerging from the canyon floor and provide a perfect backdrop to view the canyon’s flora and fauna. The South Rim of the park is open year round. Winter solitude blankets the North Rim of Grand Canyon which is closed to vehicle traffic during the winter. Pack your jacket and winter gloves, avoid the crowds, and come experience a Grand Canyon winter wonderland!

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Glistening white slopes extend as far as the eye can see. A ski resort in the dead of winter? Hardly! Those white slopes are glistening with grains of sand, not snowflakes. Black-diamond trails drift and shift with the wind. Cars inch forward on a hard-packed white surface. The black-diamond signs refer to the difficulty of navigating gypsum dunes rather than groomed ski trails. And even though the road may look freshly plowed, it is packed sand, not snow that forms the white surface.

Worth Pondering…

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes the fashioning hand.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Christmas 2020 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

Thanks to the madness of 2020, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.

It’s been said for months that 2020 is not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers know so firsthand. Canadians have had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend short-sleeve time with friends at resorts and rallies in the South have had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are volatile, uncertain, and complex times but with wide-scale vaccinations we are looking forward to a brighter, more social tomorrow. RVing will continue to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.

But despite 2020’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug in their, er, storage areas can embrace the world outside their door and view a pristine snowfall. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!

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!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

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

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Worth Pondering…

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

Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

For barbecue, the outdoors, and small-town vibes

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind you, Texas is big. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, though, are strategically placed for day trips.

Here, the best road trips in Central Texas.

Historic Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Blanco River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For beautiful scenery and cool water

When you think of a relaxing vacation near water, Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Central Texas is peppered with a number of watering holes, lakes, rivers, and creeks that help soothe the intensity of the summer heat, as well as hikes and trails galore.

McKinney Falls State Park near Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the Austin city limits, you have Barton Springs, Bull Creek, and Shoal Creek and their associated greenbelts as well as Lady Bird Lake. But if you’re looking for something a bit more off of the beaten path, head out a little farther into the Texas countryside to explore these alternative options.

San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Float down the San Marcos, Comal or Guadalupe rivers

Since the summers get real hot in Central Texas, be well-prepared for this aspect of reality. That being said, relaxing outdoor activities—and floating down a gentle river is a popular summer pastime. There are actually are three major rivers popular for floating in this area. There’s the spring-fed San Marcos, which is located in the town of San Marcos exactly halfway between Austin and San Antonio; the short, spring-fed Comal, located in New Braunfels a little south of San Marcos; and the Guadalupe.

San Marcos River in Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve never gone tubing before, here’s what to expect: You’ll be sitting in a giant inflatable tube with your friends. Many float rental places offer string you can use to tie your floats together into a large raft. You’ll start upstream at the rental facility’s dock, float down to a certain stopping point, and then the facility will bus you back to your starting point.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike at Enchanted Rock

One of Texas’ most frequented state parks this scenic area near Fredericksburg boasts 11 miles of trails and a namesake 425-foot granite centerpiece. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. Arrive in the morning avoid the crowds. Remember to bring solid hiking boots—conquering the rock’s peak is the equivalent of a 30-to 40-story stair climb. 

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayak at Blanco State Park

A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. Choose from a full hookup camping site or site with water and electricity. Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park is a great spot for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors. Many folks come here to swim but the park is more than a great swimming hole with beautiful scenery and colorful history. On the river, you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and kayak or canoe the Guadalupe River which boasts the 5 mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Guadalupe River State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While on land, you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watch. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Camping is the way to go, here with 85 campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water, and electricity.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene

In Gruene (pronounced like the color green), floating up and down the Guadalupe River on the weekends is a way of life. Gruene is designated a historic town by the state of Texas. Part of that history is musical. The oldest dance hall in the state of Texas (still in its original 1800s-era building) is most famous for its country concerts, but swing, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, and folk musicians (both up-and-comers and big names) take the stage, too. The likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage at Gruene Hall, a true must-stop when you’re passing through. Limited seating is first-come, first-served, so give yourself plenty of time to grab a beer and find a seat on the benches in the back.

City Market BBQ, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

Luling is home to some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only 3 meats—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative new-comer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins!

Zedler Mill on the San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather paddle than swim, you can rent kayaks and canoes on site.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

St. Mary Catholic Church at High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The Underrated Coast

So much more than the Redneck Riviera

Americans tend to forget they have a third coastline. Sure, they’re aware the Gulf of Mexico has beaches but they tend to lump those in with Florida which then gets lumped in with the Atlantic coast. And the whole rest of the coast from Alabama to Texas gets criminally overlooked. The Gulf Coast is much more than the “Redneck Riviera”, a label it’s long since outgrown. This is a land of magical swamps, remote white-sand beaches, artists, musicians, and colorful characters. And it is the best coastal road trip few have taken.

Ocean Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the end of Florida in Pensacola, driving west to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, you’ll skirt the turquoise waters of the gulf while dipping into lush marshlands and storybook small towns. You’ll discover a side of the south you never knew. Come along and see why the Gulf Coast truly is America’s most under-appreciated coastal road trip.

Although Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and other areas took a major hit from Hurricane Sally, the area has begun to recover. Be sure to phone ahead for destination updates.

Near Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)

One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

After responsibly enjoying the Flora-Bama head west on Perdido Beach Boulevard about 10 miles for the sweeping gulf views to Gulf State Park. Here you can immerse yourself in the sand dunes and Spanish moss that made Alabama’s beaches so beautiful before the condo boom. If you’ve got the gear, the park’s got plenty of RV, tent, and car camping sites. Or reserve one of the fully-furnished cabins that sit along Shelby Lakes. Take advantage of the park’s free bike-share program where you can hop on its 28 miles of trails and roll under live oaks then over a boardwalk to the area’s only stretch of sand not lined with condo towers. Nothing but sand dunes, pelicans, and the lapping waves to join you.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

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

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved\

Mobile, Alabama

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as the crawfish capital of the world. Breaux Bridge hosts the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festival.

Tabasco Factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Seawolf Park, Galveston Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

At the final stop on our coastal road trip you’ll discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, and historical sites. The Coastal Bend’s natural resources and moderate climate remain the primary attraction for visitors to the Rockport-Fulton area. Be it sport fishing, bird-watching, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here still revolves around Aransas Bay.

Worth Pondering…

I do like to be beside the seaside.

—John A. Glover-Kind