6 Road Trips to Take in 2020

If 2020 is your year for exploring we have some amazing road trip ideas for you

If you read this article you certainly have more than a passing interest in the RV lifestyle. That’s why one of my goals each day is to so equip you. I want you to be the smartest camping person in the park. So if they ask you today what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on, just tell them this.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a new adventure to embark on in 2020? Then look no further because these are our top road trips to add to your RV travel itinerary.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s something on this list for everyone. All you need to do is pack up the RV, get comfortable, and enjoy the magnificent sights that await you round every bend in the road. These journeys range from a few hours to a few days and can easily be customized to suit your road trip desires.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deservedly recognized as an All-American Road, the 123 miles of Scenic Byway 12 highlight Utah’s sheer diversity of natural wonders introducing visitors to the photogenic landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 begins near Panguitch where you’ll drive beneath two crimson-colored sandstone arches and ends in Torrey, a blissful spot that offers ample opportunity for outdoor recreation.

Apache Trail, Arizona

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this winding 41.5-mile road, just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part paved and part well-graded gravel, Arizona Highway 88 was an old stagecoach route that shuttled in supplies for Roosevelt Dam’s construction in the early 1900s. It begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. Due to its narrow width and tight turns, this route is not recommended for larger vehicles including RVs.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is everywhere along the Creole Nature Trail. Birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and alligators make their home in the four wildlife refuges that can be found along the 180 mile-long byways that make up the Trail. You can do the trail in a day if you just do the walking trails and go to the different wildlife refuges, take pictures, enjoy nature, and have a beautiful sunset. You can literally spend as much or as little time as you want.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting at the north end of the western leg of the trail, Adventure Point is the place to become acclimated to natural wonders of the Trail—and learn what to look for and where to find it once out in “Louisiana’s Outback.”

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The 469 miles of America’s Favorite Drive links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the use of the milepost system (the numbers increase as you drive south), you can easily find points of interest along the way (don’t rely on GPS here). Take it slow and stop at the many overlooks to enjoy the views.

Charleston to Savannah, South Carolina and Georgia

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lined with massive oak trees that drip with Spanish moss and elegant antebellum plantations, the two-hour drive between two of America’s favorite southern cities make for an amazing road trip. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets of Charleston and wander past secluded gardens and historic buildings that boast intricate iron wrought balconies.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Historic District by horse-drawn carriage in Savannah and embark on leisurely strolls along the Savannah River. Shop and indulge in the regional cuisine on River Street where historic cotton warehouses have been converted into trendy boutiques and restaurants.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina. Opened and dedicated in fall of 1996, this highway starts at 800 feet in elevation and climbs over mountains as high as 5,390 feet at Santeetlah Overlook on the state border.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing.

The Seasons of My Life

Every new season of life is an opportunity to learn and grow

When I was born in 1941, life expectancy was 63 years for men and 66 for women.

Medical advances and healthier lifestyles have paved the way for greater longevity.

Enjoying our new motor coach at Vista del Sol RV Resort at Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With my 79th birthday approaching in August, how much longer will I live?

I don’t spend much time thinking about it.

Author Henry Miller wrote that life itself should be the art and that—in the spirit of Shakespeare—we should regard ourselves as players on a stage.

Enjoying beauty and photographing it at the Amador Flower Farm in California Gold County. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time has a way of moving quickly and catching you unaware of the passing years. It seems just yesterday that I was young. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years have gone. I know that I lived them all. I have glimpses of how it was back then and of my hopes and aspirations and dreams.

Surrounded by nature at Corkscrew Sanctuary in Southern Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I have cried over the death of our son.

I have toured London and the Scottish Highlands, Paris and the French Rivera, Rome and Venice, Lisbon and the Algarve, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Maui and Hawaii, St. Lucia and Barbados, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and Bangkok and Singapore.

Enjoying autumn along the Cherohala Skyway in North Carolina and Tennessee. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a long list of goals still on my bucket list.

But I am no longer driven.

I realize life is sweet and I am lucky to be here.

Touring the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, here it is—the winter of my life and it catches me by surprise. How did I get here so fast? Where did all the years go? I remember seeing older folks through the years and thinking that those older people were light years away from me and that winter was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like.

Tip-toeing among the tulips in Washington’s Skagit Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, here it is—my friends are retired and moving slower—I see an older person now. Some are in better and some in worse shape than me—but, I see a great change. They’re not like the friends that I remember who were young and vibrant; but, like me, their age has started to show. We are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we’d become. Each day now, I find that just completing the daily crossword puzzle is a real target for the day!

Photographing the wildlife along the Creole Nature Trail in southwestern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, here it is—I enter into this new season of my life unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and lack of energy to do things that I wish to do. The winter has come, and I’m not sure how long it will last; but this I know, a new adventure has begun.

Enjoying the beauty and serenity of Jasper National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life has regrets. There are things I wish I hadn’t done and things I should have done; but, there are many things I’m happy to have done. It’s all in a lifetime.

Touring Kentucky Bourbon County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not yet in the winter of your life, let me tell you straight—it will be here faster than you think. Whatever you would like to accomplish in your life, do it NOW! Don’t put things off too long! Life goes by—and it goes by too quickly.

Savoring tasty Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do what you can TODAY, as you can never be sure whether this is your winter or not! You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life.

Life is a gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one.

Henry Miller said we either devour life or we are devoured by it. That worked for me when I was younger. But, as I say, I am quieter now.

Enjoying the beautiful Okanagan Valley Wine Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I enjoy the camaraderie of good friends and neighbors. I enjoy good food and quality wines, and hiking and photography.

Another decade on the planet? I plan to read books I have put aside and continue exploring the US Sunbelt in the comfortable luxury of our motor coach.

Touring Historic Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How long can I lead this lifestyle? Where was I going?

Life is good. If I have worries, they are of my own making. If I can, I will try to help others.

Touring the Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I will never pass this way again, but it would be nice to be remembered for some small deed in the heart of another.

Awe-struck at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is too short to let even one day be frenzied or frazzled or frittered away. Life is too short not to take time to do the things that will hold the most meaning for you. So let yourself float like a leaf on a stream, relax with your memories, and let yourself dream.

Camping on the banks of the mighty Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is too short and flies by if you let it, so choose what you want every day—and go and get it.

Springtime in the desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The future is uncertain. A wise sage once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. 

LIVE HAPPY IN 2020!

LIVE IT WELL!

ENJOY TODAY!

The end of a beautiful day in the Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Enjoy life NOW. It has an expiry date!

Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

With 350 sunny days each year, Tucson is one of the sunniest cities in America. It’s also a superb desert to take in the great outdoors.

From cactus-spotting in Saguaro National Park and biking down Mount Lemmon to mountains on all four sides and southwestern sunsets that seemingly last forever, Tucson is brimming with outdoor adventures—even skiing!

Here’s what you can expect before planning your first (or next) visit.

The cactus capital of the world

Forest of saguaros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is known for its “friendly green giants,” a.k.a. saguaro (pronounced “suh-wah-roe”) cacti that dominate the landscape. Whether you travel to the nearby national park or not, you will encounter them everywhere you turn, and you’ll be sure to admire both their height (up to 50 feet tall) and wondrous presence.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can drive, hike, or bike among them and when seen at sunset or sunrise, they take on a timeless presence. In fact, they can live for over 200 years in ideal conditions.

Two national parks (sort of)

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the century, National Geographic endeavored to rank every national park in America. Much to the chagrin of the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park took the number one ranking.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why? Navigating through towering green cacti that appear alive and guardian-like is a surreal experience. You’ll never see one move, but their stature suggests they’re about ready to step across the horizon. The park is split into two districts, each with its own unique activities and topography. For more dense cacti, head to West Unit. For paved scenic drives closer to the mountains, head to Saguaro East.

Die-hard desert museum

Hawk demonstration at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, it takes one tough cookie to survive the Sonora Desert. That fight for survival is on full display at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre outdoor zoo, indoor aquarium, botanical garden, and natural history museum not far from the west entrance of Saguaro National Park.

Gila monster at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With two miles of designated trails, shade cover, and ice cream on site, it’s an enlightening way to soak in both state and Tucson history.

Old West sunsets

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know those postcard photos of silhouetted cacti and palms in the foreground of a radiant pink-orange sky? That’s everyday life in Tucson with the mountains off to the west. For ideal views, head to Sabino Canyon on the northeast edge of Tucson. Simply put, the clementine and purple sunsets here are amazing—some of the best we’ve ever seen.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram routes provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along the Sabino route riders are free to get off at one of the nine shuttle stops, do a little birding, have a picnic, or spend time along one of the many pools and cascades that grace Sabino Creek.

Magnificent hiking

Hiking at Catalina State Park northwest of Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed by four mountain ranges with magical names—the Santa Catalina to the north, the Santa Rita to the south, the Rincon to the east, and the Tucson to the west—the city of Tucson is surrounded by trails. Each one winds through the rugged and sometimes otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti stand like sentinels in the sand and ancient canyons await exploration.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many trails from which to choose, but the ones most beloved by Tucsonians are those that run through Sabino Canyon. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas, Sabino has long been an oasis in the desert.

A striking sight

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the vast Sonoran Desert on an Indian reservation just nine miles southwest of Tucson, one would not expect to find a beautiful church. Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.

Beating the heat

Driving Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the temperatures start to rise, head to Mount Lemmon which is about an hour’s drive north of downtown. From there you can enjoy 9,000 feet hiking elevations and temperatures up to 30 degrees cooler than the valley.

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In winter, you can also enjoy budget-friendly skiing at the well-rated but small Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. With nearly 200 inches of annual snowfall and regular snowstorms, you can always find fresh powder stashes and light traffic.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

Georgia Is On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through
Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind

Whitewater rafting, mountain hiking, beachside biking, music and art festivals, local shops and boutiques, history, and southern hospitality…there’s so much to experience in the Peach State. Keep Georgia on your mind as you plan your next RV trip.

Ocmulgee National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History buffs will find plenty to see and do in Georgia, including history and heritage museums, historic homes, as well as tours and trails. The Ocmulgee National Monument is dedicated to the 12,000 years of human habitation in the Macon area. Earthen mounds and a ceremonial lodge are available for viewing.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city in Savannah, a place filled with southern charm and the largest historic district in the country. Steeped in history, antebellum beauty and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored on foot and by trolley. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them. Along the way, you’ll happen upon numerous historic homes like the Mercer Williams House, popularized by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and the home of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1736, three years after the founding of Savannah, James Oglethorpe came to St. Simons Island to establish a town that would serve as a bulwark against the Spanish in Florida who still claimed the coastal islands now being settled by the English. To achieve this goal, he established Frederica.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the incredible 100 miles of Georgia’s coastline lies the magical seaside retreat of the Golden Isles. Nestled along stretches of sand dunes and salt marshes, the mainland city of Brunswick and its four beloved barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Islands—offer breathtaking landscapes, a variety of recreational pursuits, and inherent tranquility.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest and southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, offering a wild escape in a natural landscape of dunes, marshlands, maritime forests, and wild horses roaming its beaches. The National Seashore spans more than 36,000 acres, nearly a third of which is designated wilderness.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved Macon

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, discover the more than 400 Civil War sites offering a wealth of battlefields, cemeteries, arsenals, museums, mansions, and stories.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is an area of swampland in southern Georgia, covering more than 770 square miles. It is a maze of watercourses, cypress swamps, and swamp grassland. Interesting features are the “floating islands,” which quake under foot but nevertheless support whole forests and in the past provided protection for Indian settlements. The swamp is home to many endangered species, as well as an estimated 10,000 alligators. From the little town of Waycross there are boat trips into the swamp.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia’s 47 state parks offer opportunities for outdoor adventure. Go rafting or kayaking on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus. Hike the Appalachian Trail that starts at Springer Mountain in the North Georgia Mountains.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park offers a large campground, golf course, and Sportsman’s Cabins, as well as kayak rentals, playgrounds, and trails. The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. It surrounds Laura S. Walker Lake and sits just to the north of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres, anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the Blood Mountain. Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters, along with a seasonal swimming beach available to visitors of all ages throughout the summer months. With all there is to see and do, you’ll want to make sure that Georgia is on your mind.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Visiting National Parks in Retirement

When picking your next national park adventure, consider what you love to do, hope to see, and what’s most important to you

Retirement! What does that word mean to you? For us, it means RV travel and the freedom to visit places we’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time.

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

National parks are amazing places to visit for people of all ages. Whether it’s to walk the trail, hike, or camp these parks are national treasures that should be seen and enjoyed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks are an ideal destination for retirees not only because of the distinct natural beauty. But also because anyone over 62 visiting these protected lands can purchase a senior pass.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Senior Pass is a ticket that covers entrance fees to 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees to national parks and wildlife refuge as well as day use fees at national forests and grasslands. This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If you are visiting a location that changes per person, the pass will also cover the entrance fee for up to four adults. If you are visiting a location that charges per vehicle, the pass covers the non-commercial vehicle and its passengers.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can either buy an annual pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80. You have to be a U.S. citizen age 62 and over in order to be eligible to buy one. You also need to have proof of residency and age before the pass is issued.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over half a million senior passes are sold each year to retirees who want to explore both the big-name parks as well as the smaller, more obscure (but still stunning) sites. To help narrow down the choices, here are 10 of our favorite federal recreation sites for retirees to hit. Though technically not a national park, this list includes national wildlife refuges, national seashores, national monuments, and national military sites.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is the largest intact freshwater wetland in North America. The Refuge is made up of a variety of habitats, and includes over 40,000 acres of pine uplands that are managed for longleaf pine around the swamp perimeter and on interior islands. Other habitats include open prairies, forested wetlands, scrub shrub, and open water (lakes).

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm in the canyon.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. 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.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache supports one of the most diverse and unique assemblages of habitat and wildlife within the Southwest. Eleven miles of the Rio Grande bisects the Refuge. The extraordinary diversity and concentration of wildlife in a desert environment draws people from around the world to observe and photograph wildlife.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is called Arches for a very good reason. There are roughly 2,000 arches within the park — delicate, natural sculptures varying from three to over 300 feet high. Arches is also full of towers, spires, hoodoos, and ochre-colored sand.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A park that will please history buffs as well as nature lovers, Gettysburg is famous for the major Civil War battle that took place on its grounds in 1863. History struck again when it became the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address later that year.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. The Tucson Mountain District (West) has many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana is a great place to visit for birding and draws in people from all to look for birds like the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, and Altamira Orioles. There are 12 miles of trails, visitor center, suspension bridge, and 40 foot tower for visitors to explore.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles protecting a diversity of plants and animals.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. 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.

Worth Pondering…

On being retired…we woke up this morning with nothing to do and by evening we had not completed it!

Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Oases in the Sonoran Desert

When exploring Arizona, it is always an amazing experience to come upon a lake. With the desert landscape surrounding the water, the lake jumps out as the sapphire hues of the water sparkle against the rugged desert terrain.

Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is one of those Arizona lakes. A man-made reservoir, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River. The pristine waters of the Verde River was spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery, with gentle sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This reservoir on the Salt River offers plenty to do. The Saguaro del Norte recreation site is near Stewart Mountain Dam and has a restaurant, picnic tables, restrooms, boat ramps, and a marina with boat rentals. Board the Desert Belle for a sightseeing cruise. A camping site with 30 spaces is accessible only by boat and is open year-round. The Arizona Game and Fish Department keeps the lake stocked with a rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and channel catfish, to name a few.

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most scenic of the Salt River-fed lakes, Canyon abounds with the steep walls and cliffs its name suggests. The beauty more than makes up for its comparatively small size. Tuck into a secluded cove and fish for bass, trout, and many other kinds of fish, or take a leisurely cruise and marvel at the scenery.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic year-round weather makes Canyon Lake a great destination for all watersports and camping enthusiasts. When ready for a break, pick a spot along the 28 miles of shoreline and enjoy a picnic, or stop at the Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina for a casual meal.

Watson Lake

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps you prefer your water with a view. It’s hard to beat the rocky sentinels standing guard along Watson Lake. A Prescott-area gem, the Granite Dells consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite that have eroded into an unusual lumpy, rippled appearance. Worn smooth by the elements, the Dells provide a scenic backdrop as you kayak or canoe along the calm surface of the lake. And when the light is right and the surface is mirror-like, it’s a photo op like no other.

Lynx Lake

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the cool pines just outside of Prescott, Lynx Lake Recreation Area offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities that includes hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, boating, and picnicking. If you’re looking for a cool, calm, and relaxing day, this small body of water offers some of the best fishing in the area.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled amid ponderosa pines and claiming temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below those in the desert, Lynx Lake holds rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and more. Even better, its waters are limited to electronic—or people-powered watercraft, perfect for fishing or napping.

Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. The campground overlooks a 265-acre man-made lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, trout, and catfish. At an elevation of 3,750 feet and adjacent to the Sonoita Creek Natural Area, the park becomes a year-round haven with 105 campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, water, and 20/30/50-amp electric service; select sites also have a ramada. A dump station is centrally located in the park.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A paradise for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. Hikers can stroll along the beautiful creek trail and see a variety of birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds.

Worth Pondering…

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

—John Muir

5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

The American South has a mixed reputation in U.S. popular culture: it’s home to sweet tea, gravy and biscuits, country music and the blues, barbecue and soul food, friendly and helpful people, and beautiful and diverse landscapes.

Historic Savannah Carriage Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first time we visited the South was in 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. We found an incredible region of helpful people, a countryside dotted with rolling hills, farms, and forests, and hearty food rich in flavor. From Charleston to New Orleans and Nashville to Mobile and everything in between, the South was extraordinary.

Historic Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 18 years we have further explored the region. There is prodigious variety here, a region of many impressions.

The food will make you happy

Cajun hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food plays a central role in Southern life and is rich in both flavor and diversity. Each region has its own specialties—barbecue in Memphis and North Carolina, Creole and Cajun food in Louisiana, seafood along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, soul food in the Low Country, and fried chicken and gravy most anywhere in the region. And there’s pralines and pecan pie, both Southern traditions.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many picture Southern food as greasy, fried, and heavy fare. While much of it is hearty, the richness in flavor and variety is outstanding. There is something for everyone, and if you go hungry while visiting, it is your own fault.

Crawfish pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I could spend a lifetime eating my way through the South. (Mental note to future self: Do that.)

Music makes the region go ’round

Music of the region © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music is a way of life here. The sound of live music fills the air everywhere. Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans are famous music haunts, but even the tiniest towns throughout the South have robust live music scenes. From jazz to country to blues to bluegrass, there’s a music soul to this region. One can dance, jam, and sing the night away.

The people really are friendly 

Louisiana Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a common belief that the South is home to the friendliest people in the country. And along with Texans and small-town America they probably are. They are cheerful, talkative, and incredibly helpful. Strangers wave hello, inquire about your day, and generally go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. The folks here have hospitality down to an art.

Bye, Ya’ll come back now! Ya hear?

The landscape is stunning

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Southern landscape is beautiful and diverse. The Smoky Mountains are a vast, dense forest filled with inviting rivers, lakes, and trails. The Louisiana bayou is haunting with moss-covered trees and eerie calm. The hills of Appalachia stretch for wooded miles and the Mississippi Delta, with its swamps and marshes is gorgeous. And the beaches of the Florida Panhandle the Alabama Gulf Coast are so white they sparkle.

To understand The South, you have to understand its past

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a student of history, I was excited to explore the area’s colonial cities and Civil War sites. Cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Savannah, Memphis, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston helped shape the country—and their history and influence are important to the story of America.

Jekyll Island Club, the Golden Isles, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was in these cities that many American cultural and political leaders were born, the Civil War began, battles were won and lost, and the rise and fall of slavery was sown. Voodoo, alligators, wild horses, African culture, and the wealthiest families in the United States are all part of the history of the Golden Isles of Georgia. These cities and their history help explain a lot about Southern pride and culture.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the area more with each visit. It’s one of the most culturally rich areas in the country. There’s a reason why its cities are booming.

Football is a way of life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go visit the region, get out of the cities, travel through the mountains, and find your way into the small towns. You’ll discover friendly people, heavenly food, amazing music, and an appreciation for a slow pace of life.

Worth Pondering…

Y’all Come Back Saloon 
She played tambourine with a silver jingle
And she must have known the words to at least a million tunes
But the one most requested by the man she knew as cowboy
Was the late night benediction at the y’all come back saloon

—written by Sharon Vaughn and recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys

The Real Sunbelt Lives Here

Here is where you’ll find sunshine this winter

Can’t stand the gloom of the Pacific Northwest? Winters in the Northeast? Bone-chilling temperatures and blizzards of the Midwest? Then pack the RV and head to Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the following U.S. cities get sunshine more than 84 percent of the time (or more than 300 days a year, if you do the math based on those percentages)—far more than most places in the U.S.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before we get started with the list, let’s give out the four honorable mentions to round out a top 10—Fresno, California and Reno, Nevada with 79 percent annual sunshine and Flagstaff, Arizona and Sacramento, California with 76 percent.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although omitted from the NOAA analysis, Las Cruces, New Mexico (45 miles northwest of El Paso) boasts similar percent of sunshiny days with the West Texas city.

Now, grab your sunscreen and take a look at the six U.S. cities that get the sunniest days.

El Paso, Texas (84% Sunshine)

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’d be pretty cool to live on Sunshine Court in El Paso. It’s a short, aptly-named street in the eastern part of the city. The El Paso area is home to Franklin Mountains State Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Hueco Tanks State Park, and numerous other scenic and historic places that are best observed on sunny days, of which there are plenty.

Las Cruces, New Mexico (84% Sunshine)

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces (pop 75,000) is the largest city in southwestern New Mexico and has been a popular resting stop along traditional trade routes for centuries. Las Cruces is located in the Mesilla Valley close to the Rio Grande River and is framed dramatically by the Organ Mountains to its east, allowing for a variety of recreational adventures within a short drive of town.

Tucson, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Saguaro National Park just outside of city limits to the east and west, Tucson is another great spot to soak up the sun in nature. It was also a great place to film Westerns, including Tombstone, the hit starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp.

Phoenix, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Bush Highway near Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another Arizona city with lots to do, Phoenix is the state’s capital and the home of the aptly-named NBA team the Phoenix Suns. A giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo is even named Sunshine. Snowbirds can take advantage of all that sunshine by enjoying a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, driving the Apache Trail, or hiking Usery Mountain.

Las Vegas, Nevada (85% Sunshine)

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

Viva Las Sunshine. If you head to Vegas, you’re not taking too much of a gamble on the weather. Odds are, it’s plenty of sun (and plenty of overwhelming heat in the summertime). So be sure to get out of the casinos and enjoy it. The region offers Red Rock National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Valley of the Fire State Park, and so many more opportunities to get off of the Strip.

Redding, California (88% Sunshine)

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I was surprised this NorCal city edged out Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson on the list, but alas, it did—clocking a whopping 321 or so days of sunshine each year. The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay is a Redding icon and acts as a massive sundial—perfect for this sunny city.

Yuma, Arizona (90% Sunshine)

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With nearly 330 days of sunshine a year (4,300 sunny hours), Yuma actually holds the world record for most recorded annual sunshine, according to Current Results. Reporters at the aptly-named Yuma Sun will tell you that rain is an actual news story there. Not just downpours, but any rain.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All that sun comes at a price in the summertime though, because guess what? Yuma is also the hottest city in the nation. But you sure can’t beat that sunshine in the winter. Ask any snowbird who winters here!

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast!

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life around Rockport changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. The storm forced people from their homes and patients from hospitals and turned quiet streets into turbulent torrents.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We first visited Goose Island State Park in December 2011. During our recent visit earlier this month we noted that recovery efforts are under way. The east end of the island, the fishing pier, the Group Hall, and all overnight camping on the Bayfront side is closed to public access due to park construction and repairs. These closures are expected to last several months. This will impact fishing and birding access and other day use activities.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000 year old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter.

The Big Tree before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small bridge connects the main portion of the park—one of the oldest in the state park system—to a small sliver of sand that gives the park its name. The ancient barrier island has been shrinking due to erosion caused by Gulf currents and wave action from the surrounding bays. Stepped-up efforts in recent years, including installation of offshore rock breakwater, dredging, and marsh restoration projects, have stabilized the island’s shell ridge, oyster beds, seagrass shoals, tidal flats, and salt marshes.

The Big Tree after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 500 bird species have been recorded in the area, including the whooping cranes which spend each winter in the coastal marshes of nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Bayside camping at Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Developed RV campsites in a secluded, wooded area are available, all with water and electric service. Amenities include a fire ring, outdoor grill, and picnic table. There are also 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity. The park can accommodate a maximum of 64 in the one-acre Group Camping Area. Covered picnic tables (the Park calls them “open cabanas”) are all that remain of the Bayside camping area following Hurricane Harvey.

Wooded area camping at Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing opportunities include speckled trout, redfish, drum, and flounder; crabs and oysters are abundant as well. There is a regular boat launch and a kayak/canoe launch (bring your own boat). A fish cleaning station is provided. You do not need a fishing license to fish from shore or pier in a Texas state park.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nearby adjunct of the state park holds the magnificent Big Tree. With a height of 44 feet, circumference of 35 feet and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey for more than 1,000 years.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page posted a photo of the tree following the storm surrounded by the wreckage of its brethren. Younger trees, they wrote, might have perished in the calamitous storm—but “you don’t get old by being weak.” Texans seem to have found some solace in this 44-foot pillar of strength.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park was initially built in the ’30s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach the state park drive 10 miles north of Rockport on Texas Highway 35 to Park Road 13. Travel two miles on Park Road 13 to reach the park entrance. 

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive carefully as you enter the Park and drive through the Park—some of the roads are narrow and tree lined with low or overhanging branches.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

5 Surprising Facts about Arizona you didn’t know (But Now You Do)

All sorts of intriguing tidbits of information define Arizona. Everyone knows they’ve got sun. How many of these other Arizona facts do you know?

Arizona is endlessly amazing. There are all sorts of intriguing tidbits of information that define the state. Take its special relationship with the sun, for example. Florida calls itself the Sunshine State but that’s only because they’re playing fast and loose with the truth.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is actually the sunniest state. In fact, Yuma, tucked away in the southwestern corner of the state is the sunniest place on Earth. That’s according to the World Meteorological Association. No wonder Yuma’s agricultural business booms with crops basking in more hours of sunshine than anywhere else.

As for Florida, let them keep their little motto. Grand Canyon State sounds catchier anyway. Here are nine cool, fun, weird facts about Arizona.

The National Monuments Rock

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

Grand Canyon is an iconic national park. Slightly lower than national parks in the pecking order are the national monuments. Those can be created by a presidential decree, not an act of Congress. Arizona has 18 national monuments, more than any other state, and they protect some of the most spectacular scenery and cultural treasures.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona national monuments include such gems as Canyon de Chelly, Organ Pipe Cactus, Montezuma Castle, Vermilion Cliffs, Ironwood Forest, Agua Fria, and Walnut Canyon. And Chiricahua, known as the “Wonderland of Rocks,” is a place of staggering beauty and should be on your travel list.

Burros Run Oatman

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This former gold mining town is most famous for its four-legged ambassadors. Burros loiter in the middle of the street and collect handouts from travelers. Here’s the thing, though: This wasn’t some scheme concocted by the Oatman Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Office of Tourism, or any other agency. The burros initiated the program.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out. At some point, they said the heck with foraging. Now they wander into town each day and stand around blocking traffic while people feed them alfalfa cubes and carrots sold in every store. (Please don’t feed them anything else.) In late afternoon, just before shops close, the burros mosey back into the hills. They repeat the scenario every day. Where else do critters organize a union and execute a business plan?

Lousy with Hummers

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re going to be overrun by something, what’s cuter than an abundance of hummingbirds? More species of the colorful little winged jewels have been recorded in Arizona than any other state. That’s a lot of the wee flyers buzzing around feeders and flowerbeds.

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some live in the state year-round, hummingbird migration accounts for the numerous types of hummingbirds flashing among the flowers of the state. At least 13 species have been recorded in southeastern Arizona alone. The source of much hummingbird migration is in Central and South America.

Arizona is the Wild West

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a cast of characters rode across the Arizona Territory and shot their way into the history books. Billy the Kid killed his first man at Fort Grant. The Earps and Clantons swapped lead in a legendary gunfight in a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral. Cochise is buried here. Geronimo surrendered here.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s bloodiest range war raged across the high grazing lands below the Mogollon Rim. The ironically named Pleasant Valley War began as a dispute between the Grahams and the Tewksburys and eventually ensnared friends, neighbors, and hired guns. Every attack seemed to prompt a bloodier response.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The war finally ended, not through any truce but because nobody was left to kill. In 1892 Ed Tewksbury gunned down Tom Graham on the streets of Tempe. Ed Tewksbury was not convicted but there were no more Grahams to come after him. The Pleasant Valley War claimed between 20 and 50 lives depending on whose account you believe.

Altitude with an Attitude

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert is celebrated in Arizona in a surprisingly vertical way. Tall, lanky saguaros are the state symbol. Saguaros grow very slowly. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200-4,800 pounds.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mean elevation of Arizona is 4,100 feet above sea level. The state has 26 mountain peaks soaring above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of high country.

Superstition Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than half the state sitting at 4,000 feet—mountains and desert in such close proximity it’s never hard to locate the season your heart desires all year round. That may be the sweetest fact of all.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers