6 State Parks to Explore Following the Government Shutdown

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history is over―at least for now.

The shutdown has affected national parks in many ways, including piled-up garbage, unusable toilets, vandalism, closed roads, and closure of some parks. And don’t expect conditions to return to normal in the short term. It will take time.

But if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, there are numerous state and county parks to explore instead. With this in mind, we put together a list of wonderful state parks based on our RV travel experiences. 

These parks are particularly great due to their hidden historical aspects, proximity to cities and towns, and they’re often filled with unexpected flora and fauna, intriguing natural environments, scenic beauty, and campgrounds.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to Latin America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

Meet manatees face-to-face without getting wet at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish that they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife. In a natural setting of wetlands and woods, the park hosts daily educational programs on alligators, snakes and alligators, and more.

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length. A lake for swimming and boating and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from England. Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Planning a trip to Arches or Canyonlands National Park? Dead Horse Point State Park is just up the road, and offers some of the best scenic views you can find anywhere. Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. A great alternative to Saguaro National Park, Catalina is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Worth Pondering…

Happy is the man who can enjoy scenery when he has to take a detour.

5 RV Trips for 2019

A new year and an empty calendar! Does inspiration know any finer muse?

A new year and an empty calendar! Does inspiration know any finer muse?

When it comes to RV travel, the arrival of January fuels daydreams of adventures and far-flung exploration.

Here we explore five new and evolving travel opportunities across America, everything from a cool oasis in the West Texas desert and the centennial of America’s most famous geological marvel to wildlife adventure. And with the exception of two— Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival in July and the Custer Park Buffalo Roundup in September—these ideas aren’t tied to a specific date, making them worthy of a trip any time of year.

Start marking up that calendar now.

Balmorhea’s New Beginnings

Expect big changes at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, which will reopen its swimming pool this winter after major repairs and unveil a revamped motor court and upgraded campground this spring.

Renovations of the lodging facilities had already started when, in May 2018, crews discovered an eroding wall near the high dive in the pool. Officials shut down the swimming hole, dry-docking visitors looking for a respite from the heat.

Pool repairs started in September and should be wrapped up in time for you to take a flying leap into the crisp, fish-filled water by the time temperatures heat up again.

The Grand Canyon

In 2019, the park dedicated to America’s most famous geologic marvel will celebrate its 100-year anniversary with a series of talks, concerts, and special exhibitions throughout the year. And while you can certainly have an awe-inspiring experience without venturing far from the designated lookout points, there’s more to see and experience.

The park becomes extremely crowded when school lets out in June, so plan your visit before then, if possible. To avoid the crowds, plan a trip between May and October to the North Rim: less than 10 percent of the canyon’s 6.2 million annual visitors see this side of the park.

Louisiana

To many, Louisiana is known as the place where jazz music was born, where over-stuffed po’ boys are bountiful, and where the greatest Mardi Gras celebrations take place.

The list of lesser-knowns from this swampy Southern state is deliciously new to the visitor: a steaming hot bowl of gumbo, freshly-made beignets, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling. Thankfully, the uninitiated can head down one of Louisiana’s Culinary Trails to acquaint themselves with the candid Creole/Cajun flavors.

But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Nature experiences are abundant on the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks National Monument looks down into a majestic geologic amphitheater, a three-mile long cirque of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. Like a naturally formed coliseum, the Amphitheater plunges 2,000 feet taking your eyes for a colorful ride through arches, towers, hoodoos, and canyons. The colorful wildflower bloom is generally at its peak during the first two weeks of July, which coincides with the annual Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival, a wonderful reason to visit the park.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park in the Black Hills encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo.

Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, or camping, you’ll find your adventure along the park’s roads and trails.

Worth Pondering…
From wonder into wonder, existence opens.

—Lao Tzu

5 Best Places for Snowbirds This Winter

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

This winter, instead of willing the season away, do as the snowbirds do.

What is a snowbird, you ask?

A snowbird is someone who migrates to a warmer destination to avoid the wrath of winter. If you dread scraping the ice off your car windshield, shoveling snow, falling on black ice, and swear you must be cold-blooded, you just may be a snowbird at heart.

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

Here you’ll find comfort (and warmth!) in our list of the best snowbird destinations, where snow plows and ear muffs have no place.

Yuma, Arizona

Average high in January: 70 F

Many cities seem to shut down during the chilly months, but not Yuma. With the sun still shinning and the mercury resting in a comfortable range, this southwest city keeps its calendar full. Every January, the Yuma Medjool Date Festival (January 26, in 2019) puts on a show, celebrating the sweet fruit grown in the desert area. The wintertime is also ideal for hosting the Yuma Territorial Marathon and Half Marathon (January 26, in 2019) —you just might find yourself trading your mittens for some sweatbands.

Snowbirds love to: Visit a real working farm with Field to Feast farm tours and pick some produce to take home.

Sarasota, Florida

Average high in January: 71 F

Sarasota and her string of eight islands are tucked into the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida. Sarasota County encompasses nearly 40 miles of shoreline and includes Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and Venice. Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

Snowbirds love to: Visit Venice Area Audubon Rookery is a renowned location for bird photography and is free to all visitors daily year-round.

Mission, Texas

Average high in January: 70 F

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Nestled against the Rio Grande River, Mission has long been known as a center for citrus farming, home of the famous Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. But, what many don’t realize is that Mission has a rich history of birdwatching with more than 465 species reported in the Rio Grande Valley alone, and that the area is considered the top destination in the United States for birders.

Snowbirds love to: Hike, bike, observe birds, and ride the tram at Rio Grande Valley State Park, a 2,400-acre nature reserve.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Average high in January: 62 F

Whether you’re looking for a snowbird roost or a vacation escape, RVers will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While Alabama’s shoreline may not be the first place that pops to mind when planning a winter getaway, don’t overlook it. It’s a rare person who does not find the sea and sand tempting, especially during the cold winter months.

Snowbirds love: The fresh seafood. Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes.

Palm Springs, California

Average high in January: 71 F

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

There are two weekly markets that are more than just shopping trips, they are events. On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon Drive turns into Villagefest. Saturday and Sunday mornings, the College of the Desert in Palm Desert hosts another street fair.

Snowbirds love to: Enjoy some of the 30 miles of trails, picnic areas, cool oases, and wildlife and wildflowers at Coachella Valley Preserve. Walk into the past in their rustic Visitors’ Center, the Palm House, a palm log cabin built in the 1930s.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

Beat the Government Shutdown: 4 Alternatives to National Parks

You had planned an RV trip to the Grand Canyon National Park prior to the recent government shut down.

With many of the amenities curtailed and garbage piling up should you cancel your campground reservations and make alternative plans? The answer is no.

And the same applies for numerous other national parks affected by the congressional gridlock. Whether you’re visiting Joshua Tree or Saguaro, it’s fairly easy to find nearby alternative destinations that will be equally enjoyable.

Here’s a rundown of the status of four popular winter parks, along with nearby alternatives:

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

National Park staff is unable to keep up with snow maintenance in this iconic park, possibly limiting access to many popular areas.

Alternative: Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon is a breathtaking stretch of beauty on a winding road that climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona to the top of the Mogollon Rim. A 14 mile drive along Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff, Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive has been recognized as one of the Top 5 Most Scenic Drives in America.

There are many places along the drive to stop and relish the beauty and enchantment Northern Arizona offers. At the top of the canyon, various Native American vendors sell hand-crafted authentic works of art at Oak Creek Canyon Vista Point. It is a great place to stop and enjoy the views into the canyon below.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The park service recently closed a campground and road leading to this popular Southern California location and is relying on volunteers to clean up much of the overflowing litter.

Alternative: Coachella Valley Preserve

Enjoy some of the 30 miles of trails, picnic areas, cool oases, wildlife, and wildflowers at Coachella Valley Preserve. Walk into the past in their rustic visitor center, the Palm House, a palm log cabin built in the 1930s. Although not as sprawling as Joshua Tree this expanse of lush palm trees features trails through fascinating desert habitats. Take a guided hike with an expert naturalist or go for a bird walk.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Park roads and trails are open to visitors, but there are no NPS-provided services, like public information, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities or road maintenance. Both visitor centers are closed.

Alternative: Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Arches National Park, Utah

Heavy snowfall, in combination with the ongoing government shutdown, has closed Arches for the foreseeable future. The road remains open to the visitor center, at which point a closed gate prevents further travel by vehicle. The NPS posted on the Arches website, “It is unknown when the road will open. Access to the park will not occur until conditions improve or the National Park Service receives funding to maintain the roads.”

Alternative: Dead Horse Point State Park

Planning a trip to Arches National Park? Dead Horse Point State Park is just up the road, and offers some of the best scenic views you can find anywhere. Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck.

Worth Pondering…

Happy is the man who can enjoy scenery when he has to take a detour.

The Absolute Best Places to RV this January

Many people are all traveled-out after the festive season, and feeling the pinch of a credit card bill with an extra page. Yet your RV travel opportunities have been conveniently restocked, and the sheer variety of potential getaways never better.

It’s not the shoulder-season gem that is September, but January is still a pretty stellar month to get outta town in your RV, especially if you’re a snowbird en route to a warm weather roost. The weather is near perfect in spots like Palm Springs, Phoenix, South Texas, and Tampa-St. Petersburg, all of which are great options for snowbirds. The mild temperatures are ideal for days spent idly exploring or relaxing by the pool.

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that’s reliably sunny and warm this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card.

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, hiking Tahquitz Canyon (photo above), or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Tampa Bay, Florida

Florida makes for a great getaway any time of the year that isn’t August. Sure, you can relax on one of the best beaches in the world at Siesta Key, hit the undertow in St. Pete Beach, or enjoy a boat trip at Myakka River State Park (photo above)—but those spots aren’t going anywhere.

In January, the place to be is Tampa, when it hosts the annual Gasparilla Festival. The festivities honor José Gaspar, the former Spanish naval officer-turned-pirate who may or may not have terrorized the waters around Tampa Bay. Historical accuracy kinda gets pushed aside, though, to make way for the third-largest parade in America. It’s a daylong bacchanal of folks dressed in pirate attire that spills over into the bars at night. And the calming waters of the gulf are just a short drive away, the perfect anecdote for a pirate festival.

Utah

The obvious draw for a Utah vacation in January is the skiing, and we’re not gonna lie, that’s the No. 1 reason to go. But Utah is a big state, and even if the slopes aren’t calling you, January is the perfect time to check it out.

The big, red desert parks (Arches and Canyonlands) in the southern part of the state aren’t nearly as packed as during the summer and are sometimes covered in a soft blanket of white snow. Further south, there’s St. George and Zion National Park (photo above) in Utah Dixie that’s just a short day trip from Las Vegas. Then there’s the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where for better or worse, Hollywood descends on the beehive state.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for years. Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park (photo above) you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 2,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

Arizona

Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the cultured, the curious, the wild, and untrammeled.

Although mostly a truck stop in the summer, snowbirds descend upon Quartzsite (photo above) with more than 100,000 RVs spread over 70 square miles. The main attraction is the annual rock and gem shows, the flea markets, and the RV show under the Big Tent. Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

With miles of sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand, RVers will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast (photo above). Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes. Gulf Shores is a coastal, resort community known for its white-sand beaches.

Worth Pondering…We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

RVing with Rex: The New Generation of Vogel Talks RVing

I’m back!

RVing with Rex is the new generation of Vogel Talks RVing!

I am confident you will like the new site and the changes I’ve made.

American entrepreneur Henry Ford once said, “Failure is an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Although I am not going to describe my time heading Vogel Talks RVing from August 2010 to December 2018 as a failure; however, I do recognize that changes needed to be made.

And then in mid-December Vogel Talks RVing was hacked resulting in all 4,000+ posts NO MORE—gone FOREVER with only blank pages to show for over eight and one-half years of posting.

This all begs the question, what lessons did I learn—or relearn.

Here, then is the lesson I learned—and you should too:

Back up your photos and then back them up again. I first learned this lesson over 10 years ago and I learned it the hard way when my laptop crashed with no back up.

Lesson learned—or so, I thought.

Since that untimely event, the external drive I used for backing up my photos and Word files crashed. I got lucky this time since my recently retired laptop still had most of the files lost in the crash. Lesson relearned. I now have all files backed up in two separate locations: my 4T Seagate external drive and in the clouds with Carbonite.

If you’re snapping away without a backup plan for your photos, beware: In an instant, you could lose them all, FOREVER.

Also be aware that if you upload an image to Facebook or other social media sites, you are not really backing up that photo since in most instances it will be digitally compressed. Since these sites are not designed to truly store photos, you want to carefully choose a backup solution—online and external hard drive.

Unfortunately, preserving the original photo isn’t the only issue you’ll face when backing up your images. You also need to know that there’s no completely foolproof method. There’s always risk. Store images on an external hard drive, and, as I earlier noted, it can fail.

Upload images to an online backup service and you face a different problem: You might think using a cloud service from an established company—like Apple, Google, or Amazon—would be safe.

The important takeaway here is that you should consider using a combination of services and solutions to safely back up photos. Ideally, store them both online and on two external hard drives—stored in different locations. However, at the very least, use an online backup and external drive.

Yet, consider Kodak, which for decades functioned as a powerful photography company. In 2001, it created an impressive photo-sharing and photo-storage site, called the Kodak Gallery. Yet, despite its heritage the company declared bankruptcy in 2012, shutting down its entire operation, including the Kodak Gallery, where many photographers had images stored.

As the name implies external hard drives which range in price from $40 (one TB) to $390 and up (12 TB), are like the storage that’s built into your computers except they’re connected externally. Most hook up via a USB connection, although there are other methods.

Consciously back up every day until the action becomes an automatic habit and second nature. According to a study at the University College London, it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit—more than six weeks longer than the conventional wisdom of 21 days as postulated in the 1960s by Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon.

O.K., now what?

As indicated previously, my 4,000+ posts are NO MORE—they’re gone FOREVER. With copies of the text and backups of most photos (original and resized), this post is the first of the new generation of RVing with Rex. Following a review of previously posted articles, some will be updated and reposted on the new site. And I will continue to write new material on RVs and Living the RV lifestyle including our snowbird travels.

This time, like Henry Ford said, I’ll do it more intelligently by capitalizing on the knowledge I gained the first time around.

As we plunge into 2019, let me say that it is really good to be back. I’m fired up for the new blog/web site and reinvigorated with a new vision and new mission to serve the RV community.

I really need to give a shout-out to a family friend with experience in the computer sciences and technology industry, for his exceptional, creative, insightful suggestions that helped me to get our website up-to-speed quickly. And to my wife, Dania, whose insight is invaluable and her vision regarding what RVing with Rex can become is second only to mine.

Oh, yes. And, I will continue to back up my files both online and on my external hard drive.

Worth Pondering…

Life happens while you’re making plans—especially when RVing.