National Park Programs that Enhance Your Visit

Planning a trip to one or more of the thousands of federal recreation sites across America? Enjoy the convenience of a pass that covers entrance, standard amenity (day use), and other recreation fees.

It is no secret that the National Park Service (NPS) sites are absolutely amazing. From breathtaking views to incredible hikes to awesome history lessons, there’s something for everyone in these spectacular places. Many people are not aware that in addition to keeping these parks, monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, and trails in tip-top shape, the NPS also offers a variety of programs to enhance your visit to each location.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an RV traveler, there’s a good chance you find yourself visiting NPS sites often. And if you don’t, you really should because these protected places are incredible. Therefore, it makes sense for you to learn about all of the outstanding programs offered by the NPS so you can take full advantage and make your visits as awesome as possible.

Unfortunately, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, finding out about these programs can be somewhat problematic. That’s where this article comes into play.

Below I’ve listed six amazing programs offered in the national parks. Determine which ones are useful to you and ensure to access them on your next outing to a national park.

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

“America the Beautiful” Pass

First and foremost, I absolutely must mention the “America the Beautiful” pass. This pass allows the holder to enter all NPS sites without paying entry fees. And this pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Six agencies participate in the Interagency Pass Program Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day-use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free. The cost for this pass is $80 for 12 months. As you might imagine, it can be a huge money saver if you visit several national parks a year.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Types of Passes

Even better than the “America the Beautiful” pass is the special passes available to seniors, military members, and people with disabilities. Senior passes are provided for US citizens or permanent residents age 62 or older and the cost is $20 a year or $80 for a lifetime pass. Military passes are for current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members; US military veterans; and Gold Star families and are free of charge. Lastly, the Access Pass is for US citizens or permanent residents with a permanent disability and is also free to obtain. In addition to entry to the parks, these three passes offer cardholders discounts on most campsites.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Every Kid Outdoors” Program

Another way to obtain a national parks pass is through the “Every Kid Outdoors” program. This program gives every 4th grader (and 5th grader for 2021 only) an annual national parks pass for free. The goal of the program is to ensure every child has a chance to see the majesty of America’s national parks while making memories outside. The pass is valid from September 1st of the child’s 4th-grade year through August 31st of the following year and is available from everykidoutdoors.gov.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junior Ranger Program

Even if your child isn’t in 4th or 5th grade right now, there is still an NPS program that is wonderful for them. The Junior Ranger Program is tons of fun for kids ages 5–13 and gives them the opportunity to be fully engaged in their visits to the parks. To participate, simply visit an NPS visitor center and ask for a Junior Ranger book. These are usually free but occasionally you may be charged a small fee. Fill out the book as you explore the park, return it to a ranger, be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger, and go home with a park-specific badge to display on a sash, banner, or anywhere else you see fit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BARK Ranger Program

Have fur babies rather than human children? If so, the BARK Ranger program might be of interest to you. Similar to the Junior Ranger Program, this program gives dogs (and kitties) an opportunity to join the NPS team by earning special badges. In this case, the badges are park-specific dog tags and are earned by learning the rules of visiting a national park.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volunteers-in-Parks Program

Last but not least, there is the Volunteers-in-Parks program. This awesome program gives national park lovers a chance to donate their skills and time in order to help improve the parks. It is open to all individuals, but children under the age of 18 must-have signed permission from a parent or guardian. In return for their efforts, volunteers who complete at least 250 hours of work in a single calendar year will be offered a volunteer pass that gives them free entry to NPS sites.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

—Eleonora Duse

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Summer

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your summer adventure

The smaller towns in the United States feature many great locations to visit when looking for an underrated summer vacation. Each of the towns has its own standout attractions that will make for a good trip in your RV. These are ten small towns in America that should be on one’s travel bucket list.

Red Rock Canyon between Panguitch and Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options. Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medora, North Dakota

Situated in the Badlands, Medora has established itself as a popular destination despite having fewer than 200 residents. Visitors flock to Medora to visit outdoor attractions including Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to take in the sights and sounds of the American Frontier. Perhaps the town’s most notable and unique event is the annual Medora Musical. Every summer from June through early September, the town hosts a professionally produced musical celebrating President Theodore Roosevelt’s sojourn in the region.  

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months. Incorporated in 1770, it stakes its claim based on an early mansion built by Governor John Wentworth on what eventually became Lake Wentworth, just east of Winnipesaukee.

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

Many of the towns in Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is tiny Shipshewana known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through October. Due to the Amish lifestyle, you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations and historical displays, you’ll travel back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone, South Dakota

You may not have heard of this little town of less than 350, but if you’re planning a road trip to one of America’s most iconic monuments, chances are you’ll drive through its winding streets or rent a room in one of its many lodges and resorts. Located a short drive from Mount Rushmore, this former mining town has successfully pivoted to become a desirable destination for tourists, while maintaining its small-town charm.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams, Arizona

West of Flagstaff in the Coconino County, Williams is on the historic Route 66 and at the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Williams is named after a mountain man called William “Old Bill” Williams. A popular destination for tourists, there are many fun activities to keep you entertained here in Williams.

Tour historic Route 66—Williams was the last town to have its section bypassed. Check out the Williams Depot and see a steam locomotive before wandering the historic Business District.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

This tiny, bustling Cape Cod town was once a pass-through destination for Martha’s Vineyard ferry travelers. Now it holds its own thanks to a charming waterfront filled with restaurants and shopping. Woods Hole is the epicenter of marine and biological science in the US with more than five major science institutions headquartered here (WHOI, MBL, NOAA, SEA, and Woods Hole Research Center).

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

How and How Often Do People Die in America’s National Parks?

Traveling to a national park this summer? What are the odds of dying during a visit?

For travelers heading to national parks this summer, fun and sun are on most visitors’ minds. While some danger lurks at these natural treasures, new data shows that park-goers, by and large, survive the great outdoors.

An October 2020 analysis from Panish Shea & Boyle LLP which reportedly used data provided by National Park Service (NPS) for the years 2007 through 2018 showed there had been a total of 2,727 deaths spread over hundreds of sites across that 12-year period while approximately 3.5 billion visited during that same period. This equates to less than eight deaths per 10 million visits to park sites during that time frame. It is important to say that based on this data visiting national parks is very safe overall.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, the NPS Public Risk Management Program (PRMP) analyzes mortality data to identify trends, leading causes of death, and high-risk populations. While injury rates in national parks are very low compared to injury rates in the U.S., injuries can and do happen when visitors are unprepared, exceed their experience or fitness level, or do not understand or heed hazard warnings. Being aware of the common causes of injuries in parks can help visitors understand the hazards associated with their activities and be better prepared before they go.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PRMP reported that between the calendar year 2014 and 2016, 143 of 419 park units reported one or more deaths for a total of 990 deaths or six deaths per week. The mortality rate was 0.1 deaths per 100,000 recreation visits with 53 percent of deaths in that time frame due to unintentional causes like drowning and vehicle crashes. Around half of the medical deaths occurred as an individual was engaged in physical activity—like hiking, biking, or swimming—and 79 percent of deaths occurred among males.

Banish Shea & Boyle LLP data showed that drowning, motor vehicle crashes, “undetermined” causes, and falls were the top four killers highlighting the rural and scenic nature of most sites.

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

Washington’s North Cascades National Park was the most dangerous, statistics-wise, with 652 deaths per 10 million visits. Lake Mead National Recreation Area saw the most deaths during the period of the study at over 200 though there were more than 85 million recreational visits to the site during the years measured.

Data on fatalities in the parks from 2010 to 2020 released by Outforia in May—obtained using a Freedom of Information Act request to the NPS—showed the most common causes of death were falls, medical or natural deaths, or “undetermined” or “unexplained” deaths.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unsurprisingly, the most visited parks tend to have the most visitor fatalities. Over the last ten years, Grand Canyon had the most visitor deaths, 134, followed closely by often densely-packed Yosemite, 126. Deaths and disappearances continue at Yosemite into 2021.

Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited park in 2019 with over 12 million visitors. It experienced 92 visitor deaths since 2010 while Yellowstone had 52. Interestingly, the park with the sixth-highest number of death, Alaska’s rugged Denali, had far fewer visitors than the other five. Yellowstone had 4,020,288 annual visitors and 52 deaths. Denali had 51 deaths and just 601,152 annual visitors.

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

Of course, while every death is tragic, the National Parks had nearly 3 billion visitors from 2010 to 2020 including 327.52 million people in 2019 alone. Due to the pandemic 2020 visitation numbers fell to 318.21 million people. If you’re careful, the parks can be quite safe.

Falls are by far the biggest killer of park visitors responsible for 245 deaths over the ten-year period studied. Medical or natural death was responsible for 192 mortalities followed by “undetermined” (166), motor vehicle crashes (140), and drowning responsible for 139 deaths.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Suicides were uncommon; just two parks, Grand Canyon (15) and Rocky Mountain (11) had more than ten deaths in ten years. More people were killed by wild animal attacks (6) than homicide (5.) Deaths from environmental factors were most common at Denali (18) and Grand Canyon (14) with one known for extreme cold and the other for extreme heat.

It can reach 120 degrees in the shade in the lower portions of Grand Canyon and tragedies do occur. A 49-year-old woman, her husband, and a friend hiked about four miles down the South Kaibab Trail when the woman became dizzy, disoriented, and then stopped breathing. The cause of death was believed to be heat-related. The high at Phantom Ranch that day was approximately 114 degrees. But even first-time campers, like those flocking to the parks in 2021 as the pandemic wanes can survive by using common sense like drinking plenty of water, avoiding the hottest parts of the day, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But these statistics do not take into account the numerous near-death experiences in the national parks such as the 21-year-old woman who recently fell into the icy waters of Maligne River in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. She slipped from a rock near the bank of the river while taking a photo. Fortunately, a 48-year-old man and his wife were in the right place at the right time and were able to rescue her from the fast-moving water.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While 2021 mortality data is not currently available recently reported deaths offers further insight into the issue:

  • New Mexico State Police reported on July 6 that a 63-year-old man had been found dead in the shadeless White Sands National Park
  • In April, a grizzly bear attacked and killed a backcountry guide while fishing along the Yellowstone National Park border in southwestern Montana
  • In June, a 26-year-old woman fell to her death at Zion National Park while canyoneering
  • A 56-year-old man fell to his death from Sequoia National Park on Memorial Day
  • A 53-year-old woman on a backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon died of a heat-related illness in June
  • A 64-year-old professor of Biology died last month while solo hiking in Yosemite National Park

Worth Pondering…

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.

—Claude Bernard

A Window into a Unique World: Amish Life along the Heritage Trail

Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic backroads

A few days in northern Indiana’s Amish country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail.

Quilt Gardens in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions even as the world around them changes at break-neck speed. Modern technology—including television and electricity—are noticeably absent from Amish homes. The Amish “connect” in a different way—through engaging conversation, straightforward business transactions, and a solid grounding in faith and family-based values. Take a cue from them…slow your pace, unplug, and recharge.

>> During your Heritage Trail adventure… discover 17 super-sized quilt-inspired Quilt Gardens and 22 hand-painted quilt-inspired Quilt Murals.

Quilt Gardens Mural in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail combine quilting, gardening, and art into one extraordinary ride where you’ll see 16 quilt gardens composed of more than a million blooms as well as hand-painted murals. Every quilt garden and quilt mural has its own intricate pattern, many are original designs and each has its own unique story. Each of the unique communities that host quilt gardens and murals have their own special character and fun finds you’ll want to explore.

Amish Acres © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start in Nappanee with a guided tour of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmstead at Amish Acres. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Learn the whys and ways of the Amish as your guide takes you through the Old Order Amish farm’s original buildings including the farmhouse kitchen and smokehouse along with a leisurely farm wagon ride through the 80-acre farm with a stop at the one-room German schoolhouse.

Sit down to a traditional family-style “Thresher’s” meal—named for the feast that typically followed a day in the fields. It’s served amid the hand-hewn beams of the century old barn Restaurant.

Rentown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take to the road and explore Nappanee’s Countryside Shops. It’s an interesting mix of rural businesses—many are Amish-owned and some are off the beaten path. Miller’s Variety Store is packed with fun finds. Fresh pies and other delectable baked goods are made on site at the newly expanded Rentown Store and loose leaf teas and tea making supplies line the shelves at Teapot & More at Coppes Commons. The Amish are known for their woodworking skills. The Schmucker brothers at Homestyle Furniture specialize in hand-crafted furniture.

Amish Buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Need to know … Buggies and bicycles are the main modes of transport for the Amish. You’ll see plenty of the former along backroads.

Leaving Nappanee drive northeast to Goshen and admire the classic courthouse in the heart of town. Peek into the bunker-like police booth on the Corner of Main and Lincoln dating back to the days when John Dillinger was the bane of bankers. Don’t miss the Olympic Candy Kitchen, “the sweetest little place in town,” for a soda at the old-fashioned fountain or some handmade chocolates.

Old Bag Factory in Goshen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1896 the Old Bag Factory is home to producing artists, antiques, specialty shops, and cafes. The historic character of the complex provides a unique and charming setting for the specialty shops it houses.

Das Dutchman Essenhaus © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow Country Road 22 northeast to Middlebury where your destination is Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an enormous complex that includes a bakery and a handful of village shops. Discover Indiana’s largest family restaurant which offers both family-style and buffet and menu dining options serving over 30 varieties of pie. After a satisfying meal stroll through the campus grounds with five unique Village Shops, take a carriage ride, or play mini-golf.

>> Amish Customs and Culture … ever wonder why the Amish are referred to as “Plain People”? The main reason is because of the way they dress—very plainly. Rather than patterns on their clothing, only solid colors are worn. The men’s trousers have no zippers and instead have a button fly. Women use straight pins to fasten the sides of their dress together.

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The roads that connect Middlebury and Shipshewana are lined with Amish farms and businesses. Driving east on Country Road 16 you’ll share the road with black carriages drawn by spirited horses, many of which stop at Dutch Country Market, Rise ‘n Roll Bakery, and Heritage Ridge Creamery. Amish hands and skillfully blended basics create some of the best baked goods we’ve ever tasted. Start at Dutch Country Market for the supersized cinnamon rolls and house-made noodles. Rise ‘n Roll Bakery offers up display cases full of loaves of wheat bread, pies, cookies, and donuts. There are no better donuts, period! The cheeses at Heritage Ridge Creamery are made with milk sourced from Amish farms.

Amish buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Handmade and locally grown is not a trend for the Amish. Generations have perfected the art of hand-stitched quilts, pie (you’ll find every flavor from Amish Sugar Cream to German Chocolate to pecan), and roadside produce stands (they pop up everywhere; selections vary with the seasons).

Shipshewana Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From peaches to pumpkins, the stalls are packed with locally grown produce at the Shipshewana Flea Market on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Home to the Midwest’s largest outdoor seasonal flea market (open May through September), 700 vendors cover 40 acres of land selling everything from home decor and clothing to plants and tools. If you love the spirit of competition felt at a live auction, you’ll want to visit on Wednesdays for the Shipshewana Trading Place Auction.

Menno-Hof © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to tour Menno-Hof to learn about Amish and Mennonite history, lifestyle, and beliefs with multimedia presentations and 24 display areas. You’ll travel through five centuries of history from origins in Switzerland to their arrival in America.

You’ll feel like you’re at a Thanksgiving meal whenever you eat in Amish country. Portions are generous and the homemade goodness comes through with every bite. You can dine family-style or order from the menu at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery where they bake up to 29 varieties of pie. While you’re working up your appetite, shop around in any of the onsite shops, featuring handcrafted furniture, a craft barn, and bakery.

Yoder’s Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue 4 miles south along Indiana Highway 5 to Yoder’s Popcorn, for popcorn the way you remember it. Try their renowned Tiny Tender Popcorn.

Trip tips and courtesies:

  • Take care when driving—buggies travel well under the speed limit
  • Keep a sharp eye out for buggies as you crest hills and round corners
  • Flashing headlights and car horns can startle buggy horses
  • Don’t ask to photograph or film the Amish; it’s against their religious beliefs
  • Respect private property but take some time to chat with Amish shop owners and artisans who welcome guests
  • Amish businesses are closed on Sundays
Amish crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Amish are islands of sanity in a whirlpool of change.

—Nancy Sleeth, Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life

Traveling To a National Park this Summer? Prepare For High Temperatures!

Searing heat that has settled over the Southwest has National Park Service officials urging visitors to prepare for the high heat and know their limitations

Summer inspires us all to go outside and explore the great outdoors. High temperatures and the risk of heat illness can happen in any national park environment whether it’s an urban, historical, mountainous, or desert park. Be prepared for high temperatures and the increased risk of heat-related illnesses while recreating.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s one thing that many Americans (and Canadians) can affirm right now: It’s freaking hot. In case you still had any doubts, the hottest place on Earth is as hot as it’s ever been—at least in terms of recorded temperatures in modern times. Death Valley National Park recorded a high temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) on Friday (July 9, 2021) and 129.4 degrees on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. When dawn broke Sunday, the low temperature was a sweltering 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). By the late afternoon, the mercury has swelled to a blazing 128.6 degrees. The combination of the two produced the highest daily average temperature ever recorded on the Planet: 118 degrees.

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

Those temperatures come as Death Valley and other areas in the Western United States continue to be blanketed by scorching heat. The Friday temperature matches 130 degrees recorded in August 2020. While some weather watchers point to a 134-degree measurement in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, that record has been widely disputed—with many in the meteorological community are suspicious of that mark because of temperatures recorded that day in nearby areas. But, that is still hot, brutally hot, especially for the unprepared in the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Expect high temperatures of 110 degrees to 120 degrees. Drink plenty of water and carry extra,” reads a warning on the park’s website. “Avoid hiking (after 10 a.m.). Travel prepared to survive. In the case of a heat related illness, get to a cool place and seek help as soon as possible.”

At Grand Canyon National Park, “an excessive heat warning” was in effect last weekend for the lower portions of the Grand Canyon with temperatures reaching 115 degrees. Elsewhere, an excessive heat warning was also posted for Zion National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, the National Park Service (NPS) encouraged visitors to recreate responsibly if they came to the park during this summer’s “record high temperatures.”

“During this time of unprecedented high temperature visitors are asked to consider rescheduling visits to when weather conditions improve. Many visitors and staff have experienced heat illness as temperatures exceed 110 degrees during the day,” park staff reported. “You can recreate responsibly by packing plenty of water and salty snacks, visiting early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are less extreme, and by keeping your outdoor activities short in duration.”

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

Lake Mead has been under a severe heat wave since late June. High temperatures in the park are anticipated to be over 110 degrees for the next few days and over 105 degrees for the next several weeks, a park release said. Current forecasts show that lows are not expected to be below 80 degrees for the foreseeable future, it added.

Rangers have been very busy responding to multiple medical emergencies caused by the excessive heat. The call volume is extreme and unfortunately not every request for assistance can be granted, the park said, adding that, “visitors are cautioned to prepare for their visit assuming no ranger response.”

Heat related deaths and illnesses are preventable. Despite this, around 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat-related illnesses happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, this might not be enough. In these cases, a person’s body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. Heat illness can lead to serious complications and cause damage to the brain and other vital organs and can lead to death if not treated quickly. Heat strokes, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburns, and heat rash are all examples of heat-related illnesses.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most heat illnesses happen from staying outdoors in the heat for too long. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of heat illness. Older adults, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at highest risk. However, even young and healthy people can be affected if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.

Check the weather before you head out. Sometimes the weather can make your activity unsafe. Remember that the mountain, trail, lake, or canyon that you are planning to hike, climb, or boat on will still be there another day when the conditions are better.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For practical tips on staying safe in the outdoors this summer, click here.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Campgrounds and RV Resorts Can’t-Wait To Go Back To

Can’t wait to go back to and enjoy these campgrounds and RV parks and resorts

2020 was a wash for the travel world. Entire segments of the industry were temporarily shut down. Airlines faltered. Hotels and restaurants closed their doors for months at a time (many shuttered permanently). It was, in a word, bleak.

While the travel industry will be fundamentally different in the future, there is hope on the horizon. We’re not totally out of the woods but it feels good to start eyeing that “where I want to travel next” list as we move into the summer of 2021.

One of the key aspects of any adventure—whether on a road trip, closer to home, or at a far-flung locale—is where to stay. Campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts often reveal something about the place, thereby becoming integral to the trip itself. A good RV park is a nice place to park your RV; a great RV resort is an experience that sticks with you.

Following are ten of my favorite campgrounds and RV parks and resorts around the US that I can’t wait to get back to when we make plans to travel again. Let’s get to it!

Usery Mountain Regional Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional Park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana

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. 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).

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort, Pala, California

A new facility, Pala Casino RV Resort offers 100 full-service sites with grass lawns and picnic tables. Site selection includes 30 feet x 55 feet back-in sites, 30 feet x 60 feet luxury sites with barbecue grills, and 30 feet x 70 feet pull-through sites. Amenities include 20/30/50 amp power, water, and sewer hook-ups, free Wi-Fi, cable TV, restrooms and showers, heated swimming pool, two spas, fenced dog park, and 24-hour security patrol. Pala Casino RV Resort received top marks from Good Sam in every category including facilities, restrooms and showers, and visual appearance. The resort is located on SR-76, 6 miles east of I-15.

CreekFire RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

CreekFire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia

About 20 minutes west of Historic Savannah, Creek Fire is a new RV resort conveniently located ½ mile west of Interstate 95 at Exit 94. The park offers 105 RV sites, all suitable for big rigs. Site options include back-in and pull-through, gravel, and concrete. Interior roads are asphalt. Each site offers 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. The park is adding 100+ new sites, two new pool features, a rally building, a pool bar, and restaurant, a market, and a gym. Resort amenities include canoe, kayak, and boat rentals; 1-mile nature trail around the lake, tennis/pickleball court, bocce ball, and full shower and laundry facilities.

Jamaica Beach RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamaica Beach RV Resort, Galveston, Texas

Jamaica Beach RV Resort is across the street from the beach on Galveston Island with wide-open views of the Gulf. The park offers 181 pull-through sites with full hookups, concrete pads, a picnic table at every site, and all-inclusive amenities like a 700-foot-long lazy river. Other park amenities include a relaxing beach pool, family pool, indoor infinity hot tub, outdoor hot tub, splash pad, three laundry facilities, three shower houses, and pickleball courts.

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hollywood Casino RV Park, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Hollywood Casino RV Park offers tranquil beauty of the outdoors with waterfront views and on-site shuttle service to the casino with three restaurants. The park is big-rig friendly featuring 80 back-in sites and 14 back-to-back pull-through sites. Our site backs to a treed area on a bayou and is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include metal picnic table and BBQ grill on concrete slab and garbage canister.

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park, Atmore, Alabama

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park is a new RV park conveniently located on the casino property. All 28 sites are 75-foot pull-through RV stations with 30 and 50 amp power, water, and sewer. Wi-Fi service is available at the site. Clubhouse amenities include restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Shuttle service is provided to and from the casino resort with access to gaming floor, bowling alley, movie theater, arcade, pool/hot tub, spa, fitness center, and six dining options. The casino and RV park are conveniently located off I-65 at Exit 21.

Eagle’s Landing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Landing RV Park, Holt, Florida

Big rig friendly with 100 foot long pull-through sites and utilities centrally located.  This 5-star park is easy-on, easy-off, a pleasant place to stop for a night, a week, or longer. It’s a great place to stop while traveling east or west on I-10 (Exit 45) or visiting northwestern Florida.

Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina

Barnyard RV Park offers 129 level and grassy sites with paved interior roads. All sites include water, sewer, electric (30 and 50 amp), and cable TV. Most sites are pull-through and can accommodate large units including a tow car. Amenities include bath and laundry facilities, Wi-Fi available at the site, and a dog park. Barnyard RV Park is located 8 miles from downtown Columbia. From Interstate 20, take Exit 111 west on US-1 to the park. On weekends, experience Southern hospitality at the huge Barnyard Flea Market. The RV Park is located behind the Flea Market.

Wahweep RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Worth Pondering…

For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

National Park Facts: The Biggest, Smallest, Oldest, Newest, Most Visited, and More…

My list of 50 National Park Service (NPS) facts is full of stats, trivia, and surprising insights about everything from visitor numbers and volcanic activity to drug busts and the deadliest trails

Looking for some fun, interesting, and quirky national park facts to impress your hiking buddies or the family on your next road trip? This post has you covered, serving up oodles of interesting info and insights about national parks as well as the odd astounding trinket of trivia from the parks’ long and rich history. From the discovery of highly illicit “vegetation” in Sequoia National Park’s illicit to the nation’s deadliest trail, our list of national park facts has it all! 

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

1. The combined size of all of NPS sites is a whopping 84 million acres which is slightly larger than Finland and only slightly smaller than Germany.

2. There are a total of 423 NPS sites in the National Park System with parks in every state and also the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina) is the most visited national park attracting more than 12.4 million in 2020. 

4. The oldest national park is Yellowstone (Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana), which was founded in 1872.

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

5. The newest national park is the aptly named New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia), which was founded on December 27th, 2020.

6. The biggest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias (Alaska) which encompasses a whopping 13.2 million acres.

7. The smallest national park is Hot Springs (Arkansas) which measures a mere 5,500 acres.

8. The highest point in the national parks is the summit of Denali in Denali National Park (Alaska) at 20,310 feet.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Additionally, Denali National Park has the widest range of elevations from 200 feet in Yentna River to 20,302 feet at the summit of Denali.

10. The lowest point in the national parks is Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park (California) which lies at 282 feet below sea level.

11. The state with the most NPS sites is California with 28.

12. The deepest cave is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) and measures a mind-boggling 1,593 feet deep.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky) has the longest cave system in the world with more than 3,454 mapped miles.

14. At 1,932 feet deep, Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) is the deepest lake in the US.

15. The national parks are home to over 400 endangered animal and plant species.

16. In 2014, rangers in Sequoia National Park (California) discovered a multi-million-dollar cannabis cultivation facility in the park. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. White Sands National Park (New Mexico) contains the largest gypsum dune fields on the planet.

18. The NPS employs roughly 20,000 people who are assisted by a further team of almost 250,000 volunteers.  

19. There are over 18,000 miles of trails in the national parks (for comparison, the Great Wall of China measures 13,171 miles in length) 

20. The NPS contains over 75,000 archaeological sites and about 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures.

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. The US, believe it or not, has one national park that’s situated south of the equator—The National Park of American Samoa which encompasses 9,500 acres of land and 4,000 marine acres.

22. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana is home to more than 500 active geysers—more than half of the active geysers in the world.

23. The Yellowstone Caldera is a supervolcano that measures 43 by 28 miles wide. It has also caused three of the biggest volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history.

24. Sequoia National Park (California) was the first national park established with a view to protecting a living organism—the giant sequoia trees from which the park takes its name.  

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

25. Additionally, Sequoia National Park is home to the largest living tree in the world, General Sherman which stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at its base.

26. Sequoia National Park is also home to the highest mountain in the lower 48 states—the 14,494-foot Mount Whitney.

27. When a giant sequoia tree fell and blocked a road in Sequoia National Park in 1937, the NPS simply created a tunnel through the 275-foot by 21-foot tree.

28. Everglades National Park (Florida) protects more than 25 percent of the state’s original everglades (subtropical wetlands).

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) which connects Grand Lake and Estes Park is the highest continuously paved road in the U.S. and includes breathtaking views and vistas along its entire 48 miles.

30. NPS sites include 2,000 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia, a 37-mile-long barrier island (Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland), and a 184-mile-long canal from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland (C&O Canal National Historical Park).

31. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota) was the first cave to be named a national park in the world. 

32, Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii) is the largest volcano on earth both in terms of volume and height above its base. It contains about 19,000 cubic miles of lava and rises more than 50,000 feet above its base including the portion which is beneath the ocean.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

33. The Grand Canyon (Arizona) is 277 miles in length, 10 miles wide, and about 1 mile deep. 

34. Before Zion National Park (Utah) became “Zion National Park” in 1919, it was known as Mukuntuweap National Monument.

35. Angels Landing is THE classic Zion hike and one of the most harrowing hikes in the canyon with a trail along sheer cliffs with huge drop-offs.

36. Lassen Volcanic National Park (California) is one of the few places on Earth that contains all four of the world’s known types of volcanoes—stratovolcanoes, volcanic domes, shield volcanoes, and cinder cones.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

37. Saguaro National Park (Arizona) is split into two sections—the Tucson Mountain District sits west; the Rincon Mountain District sits east; and the city of Tucson sits in between the two.

38. The saguaro is the largest cactus in North America and can weigh up to nearly 5,000 pounds and live up to 200 years old.

39. Joshua Tree National Park (California) is where the Mojave and the Sonoran Desert come together.

40. Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona) has a world-class fossil record with artifacts dating to the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, before the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed our planet. The Triassic era is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”  

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

41. Some of the trees in Petrified Forest National Park measure up to 200 feet—about the length of the wingspan of a 747 jet. 

42. Petrified Forest is the only national park where a segment of Route 66 exists.

43. Big Bend (Texas) is the only national park to have an entire mountain range, the Chisos Mountains, within its borders.

44. The mosquito meter at the visitor center in Congaree National Park (South Carolina) ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone!”  You can find the war zone during the summer months. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

45. Dry Tortugas (Florida) is one of the most remote national parks and is accessible only by high-speed ferry (Yankee Freedom), private and charter boats, and seaplanes. 

46. While many of the national parks have meandering scenic driving roads, Pinnacles (California) does not. It is explored mostly along with hiking, walking, and climbing trails.

47. Utah is home to the “The Mighty 5”—Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef National Parks. Capitol Reef is the least visited of the five.

48. Arches National Park (Utah) earned its name for having more than 2,000 sandstone arch formations, the largest collection of in the world. In addition, there are thousands of other wonders in the shape of pinnacles, spires, needles, hoodoos, gargoyles, balanced rocks, and domes.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

49. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado) has the largest collection of ancestral Puebloan artifacts ever found—there are more than 5,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings documented in the park.

50. The highest wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado) is the Painted Canyon standing at 2,250 feet from river to rim. An estimated 33 minutes of sunlight penetrates the canyon each day. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which national parks will you visit this summer?

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

Heat Safety

High temperatures can be dangerous for humans and their pets. Make your visit to a national park, state park, or other recreation areas memorable for the right reasons!

Last year, as temperatures soared into the triple digits in Texas, staff at 39 Texas State Parks handled 132 heat-related illnesses in humans and pets. Now that summer has begun and temperatures are steadily climbing, consider these six heat hacks for staying safe in the outdoors. Then read about heat illness and care of your four-legged friend while on the trail.

Golfing in Hurricane Valley near St. George, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Hacks

Plan your trip with these heat hacks in mind.

Here are the top six heat hacks recommended for park visitors:

Hydrate

Drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Don’t forget to bring enough for your four-legged family members too.

Horse back riding in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Block the Rays

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen before heading outdoors. Apply liberally and frequently and reapply every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating.

There goes my Tilley! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dress Smart

Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley), good walking shoes, sunscreen, and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun. For pets, protect paws against blistering by hitting the trails during cooler times of the day when the ground isn’t hot or by putting booties on pets to help shield paws from the hot ground. Touch the pavement or ground with the back of your hand. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.

Stay Salty

Food helps keep up energy and replace salt lost from sweating. Eating snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, pretzels, tuna, and dried fruit is a fantastic way to nourish your body while on the trails.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buddy System

Two brains are better than one. It’s beneficial to have someone with you in hot conditions so you can look after each other on the trail. With high temperatures hitting the US and Canada, heat-related illnesses are common, and having a friend around to help recognize the early symptoms can save you from getting sick.

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

Plan Ahead

Study a trail map and take it with you. Average hikers move at 2 miles per hour, so allow yourself sufficient time to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Be sure to rest in a cool or shaded area to recover from the heat if necessary. It is also a good idea to let someone know your hiking route before you hit the trails and what time you should be back. That way, if you become lost, people know where to look.

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Illness

Look for these symptoms of heat illness.

Heat Strokes

  • Throbbing headache
  • No sweating
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid, strong pulse
Hiking Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Exhaustion

  • Faint or dizzy
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cool, pale, clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Muscle cramps

If someone shows signs of heat illness, take these steps:

  • Move person to a half-sitting position in the shade
  • Call 911 immediately
  • Treat based on humidity: If below 75 percent, spray the victim with water and vigorously fan; or above 75 percent, apply ice packs on neck, armpits, or groin
It’s a dog’s life! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat and Dogs

Every year, dogs die after hiking with their owners in parks. Your dog will follow wherever you lead. But remember, your pet is wearing a fur coat and isn’t wearing shoes. Remember the five-second rule. Place the back of your hand on the pavement or ground. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.

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

Dog’s Hiking List

  • Leash (no more than 6 feet)
  • Collar with tags
  • Water
  • Food/treats
  • Dog booties
  • Plastic bags (for poop pickup)
  • Foot care
Staying cool in the shade along the Lower Colorado River, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For practical steps on staying cool in your RV this summer, click here.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Corpus Christi: City by the Sea

Sun, sky, sea, and sand best sum up this city by the sea

Corpus Christi is home to numerous one-of-a-kind places to see and do but the USS Lexington stands out. The Lexington is a World War II-era aircraft carrier that operated in the Pacific Theater and served until 1991 racking up more records than any other ship in the history of naval aviation in the process.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, follow the ramp to the Hangar Deck where you’ll receive a self-guided tour map at admissions. Five tour routes cover 100,000 square feet and 11 decks. Allow up to four hours to explore all five routes. Smartphone users can enrich the tours by downloading a QR code reader app that corresponds to codes at various exhibits (English and Spanish). “Yellow shirt” volunteers, many of whom served onboard the USS Lexington, are stationed throughout the ship to answer questions.

Nearby, the Texas State Aquarium provides insight into the creatures inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico and oceans beyond. Its conservation and rehabilitation programs for turtles and dolphins, in particular, earn the aquarium nationwide respect.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors allow a minimum of four hours to explore the Texas State Aquarium, an indoor/outdoor adventure spread over six acres of glimmering shoreline. Besides aquariums filled with sharks, barracuda, lionfish, and other marine species, highlights of the four-level attraction include touch tanks, interactive displays, wildlife shows, 4-D movies, and a splash park (open in spring and summer). Upon arrival, check the Visitor Map and Guide (free with admission) for show schedules. For the best seating/viewing, arrive at each venue 30 minutes prior to scheduled program times.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The attractions sit side by side on North Beach, a section of Corpus Christi located on the far north end of the city. They are next to Harbor Bridge (U.S. 181), a large, arched span that stretches across the Corpus Christi ship channel. Note: The iconic, LED-lit bridge is undergoing a major upgrade. Once complete, the new Harbor Bridge will be the tallest point in South Texas and the longest cable-stay bridge in the United States.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new bridge design incorporates a number of aesthetic features including a shared-use path, a community plaza, nighttime LED lighting, and xeriscape landscaping (derived from the Greek xeros meaning “dry,” the term means literally “dry landscape.”). In all, the project includes the design and construction of just over six miles of bridge and connecting roadway. Before visiting, check for traffic updates at harborbridgeproject.com. Also, because of 2020 closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, check the status of each facility before you go.

Make your first stop at the Corpus Christi Visitors and Information Center where plenty of information is available. While in the area, be sure to visit Heritage Park, a collection of eight historic local homes that have been restored by non-profit organizations to their former splendor.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area in which Corpus Christi is located was first explored by Europeans in 1519. Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez identified the area as Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), giving it the name of the religious feast day. Attempts to establish missions were actively opposed militarily by local Native Americans.

When Texas became a republic in 1836, it claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border. Mexico disagreed and set the border farther north at the Nuces River. Corpus Christi was established where the Nuces River reaches the Gulf of Mexico in order to set up a base of operations to pursue the boundary dispute.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1839 US troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor set up a small tent city there in preparation for battle with Mexico. Among Taylor’s troops were three future US presidents: Taylor himself, Franklin Pierce, and Ulysses S. Grant. Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederacy, was also present.

The settlement at the Nuces River remained and Corpus Christi came into being. It did not become part of Texas until the Mexican war of 1846. By then it had become a supply route for US troops headed to Mexico.

Corpus Christi Heritage Park© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The person responsible for establishing Corpus Christi as a permanent settlement was Colonel Henry Lawrence Kinney, an adventurer from Pennsylvania who established a trading post in the area in 1839. After the Mexican war, Kinney aggressively promoted the town throughout the East as “the Italy of America” because of its sunny climate.

Captain Forbes Britton of Virginia returned to Corpus Christi with his wife in 1850 after retiring from the army. Their home, built on land they purchased from Kinney, (Britton-Evans Centennial House) is the oldest existing structure in the city. Built in 1848-1850, the brick house has foundations of a shell create, cement reinforced with oyster shells indigenous to the area.

Corpus Christi along the sea wall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1920s the Army Corps of Engineers dug a deep ship channel. Corpus Christi is the deepest port on the Texas coast. The city’s position was enhanced further with the introduction of the Naval Air Station and its advanced flight training school.

The two-mile sea wall running through the heart of the business district was constructed in such a way as to open the city to the Bay rather than to form a barricade. Stroll the sea wall and you’ll pass by work and party boats, cruise boats, and shrimp boats sitting at anchor in the marina.

Corpus Christi along the sea wall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Steps lead down to the water and to the popular “T” head docks for pleasure boats. The waterfront was designed in the late 1930s by Guzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore. He worked with the city at that time on the major landfill project that created Shoreline Boulevard and Corpus Christi Beach. His design joined the beauty of the miles of blue water with the cityscape.

The revitalized downtown area provides visitors with an array of stores, restaurants, and nightlife. The center of activity downtown is the Water Street Market, a collection of places to dine, shop, and then relax with a cool drink and evening entertainment.

Corpus Christi North Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the bay is Corpus Christi’s front yard, then the beaches on Padre and Mustang islands are its backyard. The natural wonders of Padre Island National Seashore—at 130,434 acres, called the longest remaining undeveloped barrier island in the world—make it a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts. Of the world’s seven sea turtle species, nests belonging to five—leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and Kemp’s Ridley—are found at Padre Island National Seashore. It’s also a top spot for windsurfing.

Corpus Christi North Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Henry Kinney’s vision was fulfilled in the years beyond his lifetime as Corpus Christi evolved from a smugglers’ cove and frontier trading post into a booming tourist and vacation area, modern commercial buildings, and palm-lined boulevards.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Elmer Kelto

National Parks Have a Problem. They Are Too Popular.

If you’re planning to visit a national park on your summer RV trip, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are flocking to the national parks this summer.

Imagine traveling across the country to visit one of the most stunning national parks only to find it was at capacity and the park was closed to additional visitors.

Arches is one of a number of headliner national parks seeing overcrowding as summer gets into full swing in a year when leisure travel volume is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels or even exceed them. The influx of visitors is forcing the park to temporarily shut its gates almost daily. And disappointed visitors aren’t the only consequence of overcrowding. The natural environment is impacted and the local community is affected, too.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since October 2020, visitor numbers at Arches National Park have consistently climbed as much as 70 percent in some months compared with previous years according to the National Park Service (NPS). On multiple days last week, the park started turning visitors away before 8 a.m. In previous years, Arches would sometimes turn people away on weekends. Now it’s happening almost daily. Arches had over 25,000 more visitors in May of this year compared to May 2019. Visitors who can’t get into Arches often go to nearby Canyonlands National Park or opt for recreation opportunities on public land outside of the national parks which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2021 will be our busiest year on record according to a park spokesperson. The big spikes in visitation are mostly at the most popular 12 to 15 destination national parks. This year, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks reported their highest first-quarter visitation numbers since they started collecting such data roughly 30 years ago, a state report says. Yellowstone recorded almost 108,000 visits and Grand Teton saw over 194,000. Those represent increases of 20.7 percent and 22.8 percent from 2020, respectively. 

Yellowstone National Park saw more than 483,100 people in May, the most visitors ever recorded at the park during that month. Yellowstone also saw a 50 percent increase in Memorial Day weekend visitation compared with 2019 and Yellowstone and Grand Teton had their busiest Aprils ever. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has seen record visitation each month throughout the year. Zion had over 80,000 more visitors in May than in 2020. For the first four months of 2021, Mount Rainier National Park recorded over 130,000 visitors, one of the busiest beginnings to the year that they’ve had in the last 25 years.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As of now, six national parks require advance reservations of some kind: California’s Yosemite National Park, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, Hawaii’s Haleakalā National Park, Maine’s Acadia National Park, Montana’s Glacier National Park, and Utah’s Zion National Park. Will advance reservations spread to other popular parks? That begs the question, “Do we really want recreation.gov handling this crowding too?”

The NPS encourages visitors to explore lesser-known parks throughout the park system which includes 423 NSP sites: national seashores, national monuments, national recreation areas, national historic sites, and a host of other designations. Other options include state parks, regional and county parks, and city parks.

Instead of sticking to the top attractions this summer get off the beaten path and look for the hidden gems. Explore these NPS sites that include seven national monuments, four national historic sites and parks, three national parks, and one national seashore located in nine states from coast to coast.

Which national park will you visit this summer?

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado

Recreational visits in 2020: 19,856

Walk in ancient footsteps at Hovenweep. Soak in the silence. Marvel at a night sky overflowing with stars. Hear a lone coyote’s howl.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park, Arizona

Recreational visits in 2020: 23,726

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Recreational visits in 2020: 30,223

Follow the ancient passageways to a distant time. Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Once you’ve visited the ruins, meander to the Animas River via a segment of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail or peruse museum exhibits and 900-year old artifacts.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

Recreational visits in 2020: 34,288

Known as an “iron plantation,” Hopewell Furnace illustrates how mining and producing iron ore spurred the United States to economic prosperity. Visitors to this Pennsylvania site can see demonstrations and hike the surrounding area which was originally farmland.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Moro National Monument, New Mexico

Recreational visits in 2020: 36,328

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country. At the base of the bluff called Inscription Rock are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Recreational visits in 2020: 37,295

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York

Recreational visits in 2020: 49,091

See the place where Franklin D. Roosevelt was born and buried in Hyde Park. The home is also the location of the first presidential library.

Chiricahua National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Park, Arizona

Recreational visits in 2020: 44,794

A “Wonderland of Rocks” is waiting for you to explore at Chiricahua National Monument. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 12,025-acre site.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Recreational visits in 2020: 52,542

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. The bridges are named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

LBJ National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, Texas

Recreational visits in 2020: 75.322

On the banks of the Pedernales River in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, the LBJ Ranch tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Recreational visits in 2020: 76,752

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Recreational visits in 2020: 78,358

Built atop a small 120-foot ridge is a large pueblo. With 77 ground-floor rooms, this pueblo held about 50 people. After about 100 years the population doubled and then doubled again later. By the time they finished building the pueblo, it had 110 rooms including second and third-story structures, and housed 250 people. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Recreational visits in 2020: 119,306

If you really want to experience nature, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is a perfect place to go. It’s home to one of the tallest deciduous forest canopies on earth which offer great bird watching and wilderness tours. For those feeling more adventurous, there is also kayaking, hiking, canoeing, fishing, and even camping.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

Recreational visits in 2020: 139,336

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Recreational visits in 2020: 165,740

Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley.

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known—as most men have not—either mountain or the desert, is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch