Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

The Real “Triassic” Park

The colorful rock layers of northeastern Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park form a visual display of eroded badlands, dating to the Triassic.

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs, exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago, tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards, exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land below is awash in burnt sienna, deep maroon, dusty purple, and sprinkled here and there with green plants.

Petrified Forest, a surprising realm of fascinating landscape and science, was set aside as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific value. The Painted Desert was added later, and in 1962, the entire monument received national park status.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is recognized today for having so much more, including a broad representation of the Late Triassic paleo-ecosystem, significant human history, clear night skies, fragile grasslands ecosystem, and unspoiled scenic vistas.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 200 million years ago, flourishing trees and vegetation covered much of this area of northeastern Arizona. But volcanic lava destroyed the forest, the logs washed into an ancient river system and were embedded into sediment comprised of volcanic ash and water. Oxygen was cut off and decay slowed to a process that would now take centuries.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Minerals, including silica dissolved from volcanic ash, absorbed into the porous wood over hundreds and thousands of years, and crystallized replacing the organic material as it broke down over time. Sometimes crushing or decay left cracks in the logs. Here large jewel-like crystals of clear quartz, purple amethyst, yellow citrine, and smoky quartz formed.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion set the logs free millions of years later, revealing the petrified wood made mostly of quartz—that visitors to the park come to see.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though only seven species of tree have been identified through petrified wood, over 200 species of plants have currently been identified from other Triassic fossils, such as leaves, pollen, and spores.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to enjoy and experience Petrified Forest National Park is on foot. Designated trails range in length from less than a half-mile to almost three miles.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Westbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 311, drive the 28 miles through the park and connect with Highway 180 at the south end. Travel 19 miles on Highway 180 North to return to I-40 via Holbrook.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eastbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 285 into Holbrook then travel 19 miles on U.S. Highway 180 South to the park’s south entrance. Drive the 28 miles north through the park to return to I-40.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the features at Petrified Forest are on a scale best appreciated by leaving the car. Plan enough time to walk among the fossil logs and Painted Desert badlands.

For a half-day visit, follow the park road from the Rainbow Forest Museum toward Pintado Point. If you can stay longer, include a walk to Agate House, take the trail into the Blue Mesa badlands, and consider a hike in the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area.

Worth Pondering…

The way in which many Paleozoic life forms disappeared towards the end of the Permian Period brings to mind Joseph Hayden’s Farwell Symphony where, during the last movement, one musician after the other takes his instrument and leaves the stage until, at the end, none is left.

—Curt Teichert, 1990

Creole Nature Trail: Bayous, Beaches & Birds

Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail

Water—seemingly everywhere—is a big part of the Creole Nature Trail experience. Part of America’s Byway’s system, this All-American Road is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and plenty of wildlife and bird watching.

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

We used A+ Motel & RV Park on Highway 27 in Sulphur, Louisiana, as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring the area. Conveniently located on the trail, A+ Motel & RV Park earns its name with 134 full-hookup sites, neatly trimmed grounds with a stocked fishing pond, two laundry/shower houses, and two pools, including an adults-only pool with a covered patio and a 75-inch flat-screen TV. New in 2008, A+ is big rig friendly with pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two exits onto the trail from I-10; one near our home base at Sulphur, and, to the east, near Lake Charles. While both towns boast the usual stores, fuel stations, and cultural attractions like museums, casino gaming, and restaurants serving Cajun cuisine, we quickly drove into wild Louisiana wetlands. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We head south, passing through small towns, then farms, and, just past Hackberry, the landscape becomes meandering waterways with islands of grass as far as the eye can see. The road courses along the west side of brackish Calcasieu Lake. At 8 miles wide and 18 miles long, the lake earns its “Big Lake” nickname. Along the roadway, brilliant orange, daisylike flowers flutter in the breeze.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop is Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, at 125,000 acres, the largest along the trail. We pull into an area marked “Recreation” where a dozen locals are fishing.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a hop down the road, we stop at the Blue Goose Trail and wildlife overlook, a paved 1-mile walking trail and raised wildlife viewing platform. Atop the tower, the breeze through the grasses and bird tweets, cheeps, and squawks are the only sounds.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail is filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish, making it a key stopover for birds passing through the Central and Mississippi flyways. In fact, this area boasts more than 5 million migratory waterfowl and 400 species of birds, making it one of the top birding spots in the country.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While visitors will see birds and the occasional alligator along the road, the best way to explore the Creole Nature Trail is to hike refuge trails and walkways. We walked the Wetland Walkway, a raised, 1.5-mile-long boardwalk that wends through 6-foot-tall grasses to a two-story observation tower with a sweeping view.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sun, now fully emerged from the clouds, makes me glad I brought along my Tilley, a broad-brimmed hat. We spot roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, and red-winged blackbirds, and, while there are Alligator Alley warning signs, no gators.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another stop is Holly Beach, a community of beachfront homes leveled in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. Like a phoenix, the colorful stilted beach cabins have been rebuilt, and this “Cajun Riviera” is once again popular for sunbathing, swimming, and shelling.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a fiber-optic migration exhibit.

On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be lurking ’round the next bend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Finding the unexpected in Bluegrass Country

From our home base at Whispering Hills RV Park, we spent an enjoyable week exploring historic Georgetown and the local area. A generally pleasant campground in a pastoral setting, Whispering Hills RV Park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129 and 7 miles north of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 25.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using our tow-along, we drove several of the scenic back roads including the Buffalo Gals Homemakers Barn Quilt Trail near the small community of Stamping Ground, named for the buffalo herds that waited impatiently to drink from its spring.

Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day, we drove the scenic back roads past immaculate horse farms with manicured fields of bluegrass and miles of white and black plank fencing that are characteristic of central Kentucky. Another distinctive fence is the fieldstone or dry laid stone fencing. Although it’s almost inconceivable, no mortar of any kind was ever used. On this road trip, we ended our scenic drive at Keeneland Race Course, one of the most genteel, beautiful racetracks in the world.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. The first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad, Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture. The railroad running through the middle of the main street with a one-way street on either side of the tracks, creates much of the special charm and appeal of this friendly and quaint town.

Bluegrass Country Thoroughbred Horse Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Historic Midway, we continued onto Versailles, Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum, Wild Turkey Distillery, and Lawrenceburg.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Wild Turkey Distillery began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns, the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad). The tasting room houses the original copper still from the old Wild Turkey distillery. A delightful tour, led by a well-informed and articulate tour guide.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day and another road trip to Woodford Reserve Distillery. Set amid horse farms, Woodford Reserve was a scenic drive via Historic Midway. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn’s Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Re-opened in 1996, Woodford Reserve gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve bourbon is made much as Pepper’s bourbon was in the 1800s.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our final day we toured Frankfort visiting Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, Kentucky State Capitol and Floral Clock, Old State Capitol, Kentucky Historical Museum, and Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.

Kentucky Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons are bottled and sealed by hand.

Downtown Frankfort with Old State Capitol

The Trace Tour offers a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and begins with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found Georgetown to be the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. We  enjoyed our week but have left numerous attractions for another visit—Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, Danville and Shaker Museum, Ark Encounter, and Toyota Auto Plant Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park: The War Is Over

The stories of Appomattox Court House go far beyond the final significant battles of the Civil War

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War. Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home—where Lee made his formal surrender—and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the fact that it was all but deserted after the Civil War, it looks a lot like it must have when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site, and have been restored to their original condition. The highlight of the Park is the McLean house where Generals Lee and Grant crafted and signed the terms of surrender, bringing an end to the bloodiest chapter of U.S. history.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people think that the meeting between the two generals took place in the courthouse, which is now the park’s Visitor Center, but the historic rendezvous really happened in the parlor of the McLean house nearby. The reason for the confusion is that the town’s name was Appomattox Court House. If you spell courthouse as two words, it means the town. Many county seats in this area had Court House as part of their names, and some still do, like Amelia Court House. But if you spell courthouse as one word, then you’re talking about the building.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 9,000 men under Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee deployed in the fields west of the village before dawn and waited. The attack, launched before 8:00 a.m. and led by General Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, was initially successful. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The outnumbered Union cavalry fell back, temporarily opening the road. But it was not to be.  Union infantry began arriving from the west and south, completing Lee’s encirclement.  Meanwhile, Longstreet’s troops were being pressed from the rear near New Hope Church, three miles to the east. General Ulysses S. Grant’s goal of cutting off and destroying Lee’s army was close at hand.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bowing to the inevitable, Lee ordered his troops to retreat through the village and back across the Appomattox River. Small pockets of resistance continued until flags of truce were sent out from the Confederate lines between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. Rather than destroy his army and sacrifice the lives of his soldiers to no purpose, Lee decided to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although not the end of the war, the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia set the stage for its conclusion. Through the lenient terms, Confederate troops were paroled and allowed to return to their homes while Union soldiers were ordered to refrain from overt celebration or taunting. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These measures served as a blueprint for the surrender of the remaining Confederate forces throughout the South. Although a formal peace treaty was never signed by the combatants, the submission of the Confederate armies ended the war and began the long and difficult road toward reunification.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is largely a self-guiding experience. For this reason it is recommended that you begin your tour at the visitor center and get a map of the park. The visitor center is in the reconstructed courthouse building. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the park consists of nearly 1700 acres, most visitors focus on the old village. Using your cell phone you can learn more about nine specific sites around the park. There are four cell phone sites in the old village and five sites beyond the village core. These sites can teach about the military activities that occurred here in 1865 and about the people and county that played host to these events.

Visitors will not be charged an admission fee to visit the park.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.

―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina

Quite simply, South Carolina has it all, y’all—and the state has delivered to visiting RVers with a friendly southern drawl. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State beckons with a wave that signals everyone’s welcome—come on down.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park.

The Peachoid at Gaffney © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern charm makes Gaffney a desirable place to visit especially if your RV is a motorhome built on a Freightliner chassis. The Freightliner Custom Chassis Factory Service Center offers six service bays, 20 RV electric hookup, and factory-trained technicians. Be sure to visit the factory and see how the custom chassis is produced for the RV market. And the Peachoid, a 135-foot structures that functions as one million gallon water tank, is an iconic landmark that draws attention to one of the area’s major agricultural products.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thoroughbred Country was famous as a winter resort for some of America’s wealthiest families with names such as Goodyear, Whitney, Astor, and Vanderbilt had homes in the town of Aiken. The Winter Colony Historic Districts—90 room “cottages,” roads with equestrian stoplights, beautiful gardens, and a restored late 19th-century inn—recall the town’s golden era.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands city of Sumter, the beautiful black waters of Swan Lake form the setting for the spectacular Iris Gardens. The only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is also home to some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris featuring 120 varieties. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colorful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park showcases the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. An International Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area this 24,000-acre park is located in central South Carolina about 20 miles southeast of Columbia along the north side of the Congaree River. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on foot by using the over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe the Lowcountry and Resort Islands. Picturesque Beaufort charms visitors with historic Southern mansions, tree-lined boulevards, and an oceanside location.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest sea island between New Jersey and Florida, Hilton Head covers 42 square miles of broad beaches, nine marinas, over two dozen championship golf courses, and more tennis courts than any other resort of its size.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near historic Beaufort, four-mile-long Hunting Island is home to dense vegetation and wildlife making it the most natural of the Lowcountry Islands.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1670, Charleston has suffered fires, earthquakes, pirates, a civil war, and a hurricane. Charleston boasts 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings—136 from the late 18th century and more than 600 others built prior to the 1840s. RVers will find numerous Charleston things to do: wander cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques, browse the Old City Market where Gullah basket ladies peddle their wares, and peek at private gardens tucked serenely behind iron gates. House museums and monuments to wealthy Colonial merchants are open to visitors, as are the plantations and gardens that line Ashley River.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic beach resorts at Kiawah Island, Seabrook, Wild Dunes, and Edisto Island offer miles of unspoiled beaches and marshlands. The semi-tropical retreat of Kiawah Island offers 10 miles of undisturbed beaches and five world-renowned golf courses.

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing. Continuing for more than 60 miles along the Atlantic Coast, this string of beach resorts includes such ocean-side communities as Myrtle Beach, considered the Strand’s hub, North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Surfside, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, and Georgetown.

Middleton Place near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Myrtle Beach was founded more than 30 years ago when the communities of Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Ocean Drive, and Cherry Grove united. The historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet has earned the title “seafood capital of South Carolina” because of the fresh seafood drawn from its waters and served at the many restaurants lining the waterfront.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

Joshua Tree National Park Turns 25. But what is a Joshua tree?

Joshua Tree National Park celebrates 25 years as a national park

It should come as no surprise that 3 million people visit Joshua Tree National Park each year. California’s High Desert is a veritable wonderland of unique desert plant life, beautifully bizarre rock formations, and dreamy views, after all.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the Greater Palm Springs area, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Diego, the park is best known for the oddly shaped Joshua trees which actually aren’t trees at all; they’re yucca plants.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve been itching to visit, now’s a great time. The park recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. According to the National Park Service, on October 31, 1994, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to national park status as part of the Desert Protection Bill. The bill also added 234,000 acres to the park, bringing the total acreage of the park to nearly 800,000. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees are rock stars in the plant world when it comes to their ability to survive in scorching heat, freezing cold, and environments with little water. They can be found in the Mojave Desert at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically, Joshua trees are not trees, but plants. In 2011, The American Journal of Botany published a report confirming that there are two distinct varieties of Joshua trees: brevifolia and a smaller plant, jaegeriana McKelvey. The plant is a member of the agave family.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s uncertain how the Joshua tree got its name though it is thought to have originated with the Mormon pioneers heading west. The strange, contorted branches, it is said, made the sojourners think of the Biblical figure Joshua pointing westward to the “promised land”. Native Americans call them “humwichawa,” among other names. They are also referred to as yucca palms, and in Spanish they are called izote de desierto, “desert dagger.”

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native Americans used the plants’ tough leaves to make baskets and sandals. They used flower buds and raw or roasted seeds for food.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the trees there’s so much to see including incredible sunsets and stellar views of the Milky Way. There are rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths. Huge, rounded boulders pile up on top of each other and rectangular blocks thrust up from the ground at sloping angles, forming steep precipices.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hiking is fantastic! There is a variety of self-guided nature trails and longer hikes that offer different perspectives of the park. The aptly named Jumbo Rocks has a half-mile nature walk to Skull Rock and the Barker Dam walk (1.1 mile loop) is interesting in terms of the cultural history of the area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, there’s no shortage of desert critters including 3-foot-long lizards called chuckwallas, bighorn sheep, leaf-nosed bats, and red-tailed hawks. Also keep an eye out for American kestrels, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, and black-tailed jack rabbits. It’s not uncommon to see coyotes, rattlesnakes (five types of them make their home in the desert), and tarantulas, too. If you’re really lucky, you may spot a desert tortoise or a bobcat.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With eight different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no

name, where the streets have no name…

—Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year

For many, snowbirding isn’t just about having fun—it’s about avoiding the miseries of a northern winter. With the challenge of icy roads, shoveling snow, the cold, and being stormbound, is it any wonder so many of us like to escape winter?

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More and more snowbirds are now choosing RVing to the Sunbelt over flying to a rented or owned vacation home. RV snowbirding gives you the freedom to travel to different destinations, to leave and return when you want, and to enjoy the comfort of having your own stuff with you all the time. It’s your vacation home on wheels—how great is that?

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

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes. A key aspect of this preparation is making sure your home appears occupied.

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? (And how will you get there?)

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest flock to TexasMississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

Rio Bend Golf and RV Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Clermont Golf and RV Resort, Clermont, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to visit friends or sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

Lakeside RV Resort, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe your plan is to head to a single destination, park there, and treat your RV like a cottage; taking day trips and excursions from one home base. Or maybe your plan is to visit several destinations, spending a few weeks or even a month at each. This is ideal if you’re attending festivals and events, or checking off a bucket list, like your top 10 national parks or roadside attractions.

Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Either way, experienced RVers know that your first step—after you’re comfortable driving the RV, of course—should be to plan your route and research your overnight stops.

Pro Tips:

Arizona Oasis RV Park, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be realistic about how many hours you can drive in a day.

Reserve your RV parks in advance, based on your route. This guarantees you’ll have a spot to stop each night.

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

Make sure the park can accommodate the size of your rig. Plan to get there while it’s still daylight so you can park and set up and have time to relax.

Take holidays and long weekends into account: this will affect availability of camping sites.

Is Rover Roving with You?

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

Make sure your dog is trained, fit, and healthy for the type of travel you plan. Take into account the type of transportation, activities, and living situation. Ensure your dog responds to recall and “leave it” commands for everyone’s safety.

Hill Top RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

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

A Great Migration: Bosque del Apache

The sound of the sandhill cranes and the scent of roasting green chile herald the arrival of autumn in the Rio Grande valley

It was a frigid November morning at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where we had joined dozens of ardent wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, lined up tripod-to-tripod and scope to scope, ready and waiting for the action to begin.

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

We were standing on an observation platform called Flight Deck overlooking a network of fields and marshes teeming with thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese that pause here to feed and rest during their annual migration south.

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

Talk about a great migration! Every year starting in early November, some 10-15,000 sandhill cranes, 20-30,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks, and even a few hawks and bald eagles migrate to the Bosque del Apache. This annual event also attracts birders, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds who also migrate to the Bosque to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

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

Situated on the Rio Grande just a few miles off Interstate 25 south of Socorro (between Albuquerque and Las Cruces) in the tiny town of San Antonio, the 57,000-acre refuge was established in the 1930s to protect the sandhill crane. The majestic 4-foot-tall crane had nearly vanished along the Intermountain West Corridor, a vital north-south flyway for migratory waterfowl and many other birds.

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

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. As is a “fly in” at sunset when the flocks return to the shallow marshes after a day of feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge.

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

“They could go any minute now,” said the photographer next to us. An amateur wildlife photographer, here as a member of a photo tour group. “They take off all at once…thousands of them,” he adds, “and it’s really unbelievable.”

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

As we watched and waited, the sun inched over the eastern horizon illuminating a wispy fog rising from the marsh several hundred feet away. Then, without any discernible signal, it happened. In virtual unison thousands of snow geese erupted in a thunder of wings, and in a blur filled the sky as they flew low over head before soaring northward to spend the day feeding in the fields.

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

Sandhill cranes then started to walk. Others lowered their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight.

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

It’s unbelievable how they take off all at once, thousands of them. Nothing we’ve ever seen in nature compares to it. It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead.

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

Then in the late afternoon they streak the sky and return to the water to roost for the night. The afternoon fly-in is almost as enjoyable to observe as the morning fly-out.

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

The spectacular sunrise had also made us forget for a time the freezing chill as we retreated to the warmth of our toad.

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

Once warmed up, we drove the 15-mile one-way auto loop road and hiked the trails and observed large groups of snow geese and cranes, thousands of ducks of many varieties, hundreds of Canada geese, dozens of hawks, eagles, blackbirds, crows, roadrunners, sparrows, grebes, coots, and other birds along with occasional reptiles, amphibians and mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

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

The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

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

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The one-day entry fee is $5 per vehicle including all occupants; an annual pass is $25. Golden Age and other federal passes are accepted.

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

The refuge hosts a number of special events, including the annual Festival of the Cranes, staged during the height of the fall migration. The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes is set for November 20-23, 2019. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

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

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

6 Great Destinations to Visit on Veterans Day

Honor the men and women of the armed forces at these special sites

From Boston, Massachusetts and Saratoga, New York to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Mobile, Alabama, our list of great destinations to visit on Veterans Day offer new perspectives on being a veteran and the opportunity to honor those, current and past, who have served in the US military.

In honor of Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, we’ve found some great destinations that are steeped in military history.

Veterans Day, first celebrated in 1919 under the proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was in honor of the end of hostilities at the end of World War I (which formally ended in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918). The holiday changed to its modern form in 1954.

Boston Freedom Trail

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, Granary Burying Ground, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution (Old Ironside). and Bunker Hill Monument.

Saratoga National Historical Park

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) ranks among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last war to be fought on American soil was the Civil War, and one of its most renowned battles was that of Gettysburg, where around 50,000 casualties were suffered. Now visitors can step back in time and stroll through the battlefields, see where Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, tour the museum and even horseback ride along the trails. For a war that was so long ago, Gettysburg is the place where it becomes real and the sacrifices soldiers made become tangible.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

USS Alabama National Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching longer than two football fields, this World War II battleship today welcomes visitors to explore its deck, guns, machinery and bunks. Home to 2,500 sailors, it won numerous battle commendations, and led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay as the war ended. The park also has the World War II USS Drum submarine.

Alamo

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story is well known, passed down from one generation to the next. For nearly two weeks, 189 Texans stood tall against the assembled army of Mexican General Lopez de Santa Anna at a small mission and fortress compound in San Antonio. On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

Thank you veterans!

Worth Pondering…

While only one day of the year is dedicated solely to honoring our veterans, Americans must never forget the sacrifices that many of our fellow countrymen have made to defend our country and protect our freedoms.

—Randy Neugebaue

Death Knell of the Confederacy: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park commemorates the site of two seminal 1863 American Civil War battles, the Chattanooga Campaign and the Battle of Chickamauga

When the Civil War raged throughout the Union and Confederate lands from 1861 to 1865, it ranged to Tennessee, from the fields of Shiloh to the town of 5,545 citizens at the time of the Great Rebellion along the bend of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga, and into the state just south, at Chickamauga.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now interpreted at the national battlefield park that bears both names, the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, it almost seems fitting to twin these two names, the second of which stems from the first battle of Chattanooga when the branch of the Cherokee Indians, known as the Chickamaugua were moved west in the Trail of Tears from the area only two decades before.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest and largest of America’s Civil War military parks, Chickamauga and Chattanooga encompasses land in north Georgia and south Tennessee. 

In the fall of 1863, with the outcome of the Civil War still in doubt, more than 150,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought in a series of battles on the fields of this park. These battles were remembered as some of the hardest fighting of the war.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union campaign began in June and didn’t end until late November. When the battles were done, the Union had seized Chattanooga, and with it a gateway into the deep South. Chattanooga was a major railway center, and the following spring Sherman used it as his launching-pad to begin his march to Atlanta and the sea.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the Civil War, Chattanooga was considered to be an attractive area for its railroads and location, earning the title of the “Gateway of the Deep South.” In 1843, battles broke out in various areas in Chickamauga and Chattanooga with both the Union and Confederate troops experiencing victories and losses.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is headquartered at Chickamauga, Georgia, about 9 miles south of downtown Chattanooga. We were impressed by the preservation of the national park and appreciated the amount of information available to visitors, both laid throughout the park and within the visitors center, home to several museum exhibits about the Civil War and campaign for Chickamauga. Also, inside the visitor center is an Eastern National Park bookstore, and the Fuller Gun Collection, an impressive collection of military muskets and rifles from the colonial era through the early 20th century.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the seven-mile auto tour we saw monuments and memorials honoring those who fought there. We also noticed tablets, blue for Union and red for Confederate, that describe the soldier’s actions; they date from around 1890 when the U.S. Congress authorized Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the first such park in the United States.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll walk where Confederate and Union soldiers fought in the bloodiest two-day battle of the war on September 19-20, 1863.

In September 1863 the Union Army of the Cumberland was routed and the Battle of Chickamauga was over. In its wake were a broken Union army and 35,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The victorious Confederates controlled the field, and soon followed the Union Army to Chattanooga. Over the next two months Confederate forces besieged the trapped Union army. In November 1863 the Union Army, reinforced by Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, and Joseph Hooker, defeated the Confederates at Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union army may have lost the Battle of Chickamauga, but they won control of Chattanooga and drove the Confederates south into Georgia opening the war for union operations into the Deep South. As one Confederate soldier ominously wrote after the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, “This is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Park was the first Military Park of its kind. In 1888, former members of the Cumberland Army General H. V. Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer revisited the area, and were impressed to protect and commemorate the memory of the area. Two years later, this Park was established, and became the largest of the first four military parks, the others being Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.

The Chickamauga section of the park is free.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.