Discovering a Hidden Gem: Parker Canyon Lake

Stopped by to hike and take photos and found a hidden gem

We’re always on the lookout for new adventures and hidden gems, places that are interesting but few people know about, even locals.

On the road to Parker Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was somewhat by chance that we discovered Parker Canyon Lake. While touring Coronado National Memorial on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona, we drove a winding mountain road that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) close to the western edge of the memorial. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado Pass looking southeast to the San Pedro Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Arizona’s most breathtaking overlooks, the pass offers sweeping views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast (see above) and the San Raphael Valley to the west (see below) . Interpretive signs highlight the major landscape features looking east and west. On clear days, Baboquivari Peak, at an elevation of 7,720 feet, on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, can be seen 80 miles to the west beyond the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains.

Coronado Pass looking west to the San Raphael Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass we continued west along the unpaved and often rough forestry road that leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles).

Traveling west from Coronado National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This medium-sized 132 acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. Locals say the temperature in the area, which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level, generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species, including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake, as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle and worms, or rent a boat.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake has a number of side canyons, inlets, and coves that stretch back from the main body of the lake, creating a surprising amount of shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Shoreline Trail is a fairly level dirt pathway that, for the most part, stays within a few yards of the water. There are a couple of places, however, where the route climbs rather steeply over high rocky bluffs and the trail becomes a slightly exposed, narrow passage 50 or 60 feet above the lake’s surface.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Lakeshore Trail offers excellent vantage points from which to enjoy the ducks and other waterfowl that are invariably bobbing on the lake’s clear waters. Some of those points even have benches and interpretive signs. Bald eagles, herons, and osprey are regularly sighted in this area, as are spring warblers and hummingbirds in season.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the terrestrial side, Coues whitetail deer can be seen browsing among the oaks and grasses that surround the lake and in the two campgrounds near its shores. Coatimundi, javelina, and roadrunners, three animals that are about as southwestern as you can get, make occasional appearances as well.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The easiest place to start this hike is from the parking area near the store and boat launch on the southeast shore of the lake; go counterclockwise. (However, if you just want to go to the dam and back, it’s shorter to go clockwise.) The first 300 yards is a paved, shoreline sidewalk that passes a couple of rest benches—fine places to sit and enjoy the serenity of the area.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the trail bends west, then north, around the Lakeview Campground area, you’re almost directly across from the dam. Allow more than 2 hours for the fairly easy 4.5-mile loop around the lake. 

Leaving Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Parker Canyon Lake the road continues on to Sonoita (30 miles) or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Worth Pondering…

Exploring the roads less traveled…America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

Las Cruces: Rugged Beauty, Endless Sunshine, History & More

Outdoor adventure. Unique culinary experiences. Vibrant culture. Rich history.

Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality.

La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Centuries ago, Spanish explorers brought their faith, culture, language, and way of life to this land. Today, over four hundred years later, the past is a great treasure that can be found in everything from traditional architecture to the spicy cuisine and unique art.

Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals. There is national park and two national monuments less than an hour’s drive: White Sands National Park, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. All three offer outdoor recreation opportunities from a simple hike to sand dune surfing and backcountry camping.

White Sands Missile Range Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Military buffs will enjoy touring the White Sands Missile Range Museum, located about 25 miles northeast of Las Cruces. Featuring more than 50 different missiles and rockets tested at the top secret facility over the years, the museum is open Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).

Main Street Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can experience the city’s culture, heritage, and hospitality through events such as the annual Las Cruces Country Music Festival which is a multi-day celebration of country music, or Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall.

Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Branigan Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area is also home to the Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Art Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. All are part of the City of Las Cruces museum system and are free to the public.

Museum of Nature & Science © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other area museums include the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum which offers a glimpse into the 3,000-year-old agricultural history, heritage, and science of New Mexico. The New Mexico State University Museum is home to the largest collection of Mexican retablos in the United States.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most authentic Mexican food north of the border can be found in Las Cruces. Visitors can explore the Salsa Trail or the Green Chile Walk of Flame and sample authentic as well as unique cuisine only found here. The Salsa Trail included 26 restaurants whose salsa was recommend by locals and the Walk of Flame features 28 stops where explorers can try everything from a green chile sundae, to green chile wontons, to green chile sushi and margaritas. The Walk even includes a stop at the Double Eagle restaurant for a bite of the world’s largest green chile cheeseburger.

Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the land fill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest area along Interstate 10, just west of the city.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Signs around the sculpture warn of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t just take our word for how great Las Cruces is. Las Cruces has received several awards including rankings by Money Magazine, Forbes, AARP, Sunset, and many others, as one of the best places to visit.

Haucienda RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find numerous RV parks and campgrounds in the area including a nearby state park and a BLM campground. We have stayed at Hacienda RV Resort and Sunny Acres RV Park, both excellent parks.

Sunny Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located off I-10 near Mesilla, Hacienda offers first-class accommodations including fast high-speed Internet and paved interior roads. Situated near downtown Las Cruces, Sunny Acres caters to adults although children are also welcome as visitors.

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Mobile Bay is an incredible gateway to the Delta, a bird sanctuary, and boating, fishing, and kayaking

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. Fishermen and sailboat enthusiasts relish the bay itself. On the south shore, where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, white sand beaches lure swimmers, shell hunters, and sunset photographers.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the wetlands of Mobile Bay near Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is a scenic 1,327-acre park offering facilities for both camping and day-use.

The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish, which makes Meaher State Park an fisherman’s dream.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 300-foot fishing pier with a 200 foot “T” and boat ramp make Meaher State Park an excellent location for fishing with Mobile Bay providing a productive estuary offering numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required; most common freshwater fish are abundant in the area. The boat ramp is located on the Blakeley River on the east end of the park. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Enjoy watching the abundant aquatic bird life as well as alligators.

The day-use area features a picnic area and comfort station for visitors. 

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly Meaher State Park offers 56 modern campsites with 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections. Semi-circle pull-through sites exceed 100 feet in length. Most back-in sites are in the 60-65 foot range. The campground also features a bathhouse with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. A tower is located on top of the bathhouse. There are also 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electric service. Current RV camping rate is $35/night; tent sites $22/night. Weekly rates for RV sites are $182. Monthly rates for RV sites from November through March only are $623. Reservations are available by contacting the state park.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also located near Meaher State Park, just north of Interstate 10, is the Five Rivers- Alabama’s Delta Resource Center which features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, and canoe rentals.

The 80-acre nature complex is the gateway to the Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland playground designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the more than 300 bird species, 126 fish species, and 500 plant species found there, the delta is the exclusive home of Alabama’s state reptile, the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin at the Shellbank Visitors Center, where movies preview this free facility’s recreational opportunities. A stroll across an observation deck brings you to a museum filled with artifacts and displays depicting the delta’s rich cultural, historical, and ecological heritage. Picnic facilities, nature trails, and a gift shop occupy the site, too.

For up-close explorations, you can rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own. Canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat tours are offered.

Mobile Bay at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While camping at Meaher State Park, take advantage of the abundant shopping and dining options in the Mobile metro area. The white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast are only an hour away. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum are also located nearby.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay a week or a month, the area’s welcoming hospitality, sun-drenched climate, sparkling waterways, and wide range of activities will have you describing Mobile Bay as “the place where fun floats”.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41 electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. 

Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations are available.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4 weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.

At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

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

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

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

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

The Surfing Sands of Monohans

Amid an expanse of creosote bushes, the Monahans sand dunes are something you have to see to believe

A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of sand dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of these dunes are stabilized by vegetation, but the park is one area where many dunes are still active. Active dunes grow and change shape in response to seasonal, prevailing winds. At Monahans Sandhills State Park, the visitor will experience a dynamic landscape.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh water occurs at shallow depths within the dune field and sometimes stands in shallow ponds in low areas between dunes. A quiet vigil near such ponds at dusk or dawn is the best way to observe wildlife such as mule deer, gray fox, coyote, bobcat, opossum, wild hog, porcupine, skunk, ground squirrel, jackrabbit, and cottontail.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the state park, rent a sand saucer and head to the back of the park (1.8 miles from the visitor center) where you’ll find huge 30-foot-tall sand dunes reminiscent of the Sahara Desert. Your youngsters will have a blast surfing the big dunes and climbing the sand hills.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high, in West Texas, 38 miles southwest of Odessa on Interstate 20.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 400 years ago, Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to report the vast hills of sand. These sand hills once presented an enormous problem for pioneers and their wagon trains as they moved through the state.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native Americans were present in this area as far back as 12,000 years ago. Various Indian tribes used the area for temporary campgrounds and a meeting place, finding game, abundant fresh water beneath the sands, acorns, and mesquite beans for grinding into paste with their stone tools.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area remained a favorable environment for Indians until the 1880s, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad selected Monahans as a water stop between the Pecos River and the town of Big Spring. In the late 1920s, oil production began in the area, now commonly known as the Permian Basin, and today Monahans is a marketing center for more than 800 square miles of oil and cattle country.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This water has also been the source of nourishment for one of the largest oak forests in the country. However, the Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height, even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the silica dunes that gave Monohans Sandhills State Park its name.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name honors American botanist Valery Havard (1846-1927). The tallest Havard oaks makes it to only four feet, but even though short, it can live up to 300 years.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though most visitors come to the park to play on the Sahara-like dunes, the Harvard oak forest is readily accessible from the two-mile, paved roadway winding through the park. Though too small for climbing, swings, or a tree house, these little-known trees play a vital part in the park’s ecosystem, adding stability to the sand dunes that attract thousands of visitors annually.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dunagan Visitor Center features hands-on exhibits of the cultural and natural history of the Sandhills, including Dune Dynamics, Permian Basin Heritage, and Wildlife Habitat. Scenic windows offer spectacular viewing of birds and other wildlife as they come for food and water. Park orientation is available. Sand toboggans and disks, for “surfing” on the sand dunes, can be rented at park headquarters.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, what really makes this park special and sets it apart is the fun you can have on sand.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Padre Island National Seashore: World’s Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island

Come explore the 70 miles of uninterrupted national seashore taking in the gulf’s breeze, sandy beaches, and marine wildlife

Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline (meaning saltier than the ocean) ecosystem unique to only six known lagoons in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life.  It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species.  It also has a rich history, including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing 130,434 acres, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier islands in the world. Visitors will find a variety of outdoor things to do including surf fishing, RV and tent camping, world class flat water windsurfing, wade fishing, surfing, birding, kayaking, and of course relaxing the beautiful white sand beaches of Malaquite Beach. The undeveloped, preserved beaches, coastal grasslands, and wetlands of the Padre Island National Seashore are one of the most scenic coastal areas of the sub-tropical Texas coast.

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

Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions to Padre Island long before its designation as a national seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach, in the Laguna Madre, and at Yarborough Pass and Bird Island Basin. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp, which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.

Grassland Nature Trail at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon arrival to the Padre Island National Seashore be sure to take notice of current warnings, precautions, or bans at the Park Ranger check-in station. Visitors go through this station when entering the National Seashore. Additionally, more information may be obtained at the Visitors Center.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Malaquite Visitors Center houses a gift shop, small museum, educational auditorium, covered deck, two viewing platforms, and a small snack shop. Year round events, talks, and guided walks are held at the Malaquite Beach Pavilion.  Evening talks about the stars and constellations are held periodically along with Friday night viewings of the moon. Rangers are on hand at the Malaquite Pavilion to explain various aspects of the wildlife and dynamic beach system of North Padre Island.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Visitor Center is the entrance to Malaquite Beach, one of only a few beaches on North Padre Island that is closed to vehicles. A paved parking lot is available for visitors. A short walk down the Malaquite Visitors Center boardwalk or one of two paved walkways (north and south of the Visitor Center) puts you right on the white sand beach at Malaquite Beach.

Kemp Ridley’s turtle display, Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Malaquite Beach is 4-5 miles of unspoiled Padre Island beach. It is a great location to spend the entire day. Come prepared with chairs (or rent them on the beach in the summer), coolers, and sunscreen.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather conditions are constantly changing in the winter months as cold fronts move into the area. During summer months the heat of South Texas is ever present and visitors can be sure to have plenty of sun most of the time.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive down the beach until civilization fades away and camp along the shore. Padre Island National Seashore is one of the last undeveloped shorelines in the world and is one of the only beaches of its kind that is open to driving on 60 of the 70 miles that it protects.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue to the end of the paved road (Park Road 22) and you will be driving on the beach in no time. Remember that in Texas all beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply including seat belt regulations. All vehicles traveling on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed. Please note that, with rare exception, Texas will not license all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) for use on highways (The National Seashore has one of the few exceptions because it uses ATVs to patrol for nesting sea turtles.).

Driving on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The driving conditions at the beach are constantly changing due to the currents, winds, and tides. To best prepare for your trip down island check with the Malaquite Visitor Center for current driving and weather conditions. Changing conditions and marine debris washed ashore by the currents can sometimes make for hazardous driving.

Camping at Malaquite Campground, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Nature, it seems, has a way of returning things to how they should be.

— Fennel Hudson

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

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

Edisto Island, a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, lies only about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies. But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida. is a world apart.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a rustic world of majestic live oaks that are thickly draped with light-as-air beards of Spanish moss, salt marshes, meandering creeks, and historic plantations.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVers and other visitors to Edisto Island choose to come here—they don’t come by accident. And so it was with us.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using New Green Acres RV Park in Walterboro as our home base, we spent an enjoyable week exploring the Lowcountry. Known as The Front Porch of the Low Country, Walterboro, county seat of Colleton County, is situated just off of I-95 and is a popular stop for RVers.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was pleasant 75-degree day in early December that we toured Edisto Island: Edisto Island State Park, the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto River, named for the Edisto Indians (original inhabitants of the area), is the longest and largest river system completely within the state. It rises from springs 260 miles north, splits into North and South branches to flow around diamond-shaped Edisto Island (which is actually made up of numerous islands) and into the Atlantic.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

ACE Basin, an acronym for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and South Edisto rivers that arc through it, spans 350,000 acres, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. These many acres of diverse habitat include protected uplands and wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands and beaches, and a host of wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North and South Edisto branches flow into the ocean a little more than a dozen miles apart and roughly half way between the two is Botany Bay and Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, a near-wilderness that makes up nearly a fourth of Edisto Island.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto River is one of the most unique waterways in the world. It is the longest undammed or free flowing “black water” river, and takes up twelve counties in the state. It is the longest and the largest river completely within the borders of South Carolina.  The most interesting part of the Edisto River comes to fruition near Edisto Island. The consistent yet peaceful current makes it perfect for wildlife and for paddling enthusiasts. Floating the Edisto River will show you banks filled with ancient live oaks, Spanish moss, and many forms of wildlife.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop, Edisto Island State Park, includes an interpretive center and two campgrounds that offer 112 standard sites with water and electric hookups—ocean-side and near the salt marsh. 49 of the standard campsites offer 20/30/50 amp electrical service. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers. Reservations are recommended.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following our island drive with stops at several locations along the extensive beach, we toured Botany Bay Plantation, a South Carolina state historic site and wildlife management area, located off SC Highway 174 about 8.5 miles south of the McKinley Washington Bridge. You’ll follow the dirt road about 2 miles to near where the road dead-ends and turn left at the gate and into the property. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pure bliss. That’s the only way to describe Botany Bay Plantation. 
The 4,630-acre plantation on Edisto Island was a gift from the Margaret Pepper family. It was given to the state in 1977 by Mr. Pepper, but was only able to be used after his wife passed away so she would have the opportunity to continue her years on the land she loved. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land itself is full of nature’s rich beauty—from the sunflower fields to the salt marsh and fresh water ponds to the Spanish moss draped oaks to the miles of private beach; it is emblematic of Lowcountry’s unique environment and appeal. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The clearly marked driving tour showcases the features of the plantation including the archaeological structures of historical significance. Take a walk down any of the trails and absorb the unique beauty of this unspoiled land.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation provided us with a chance to step back in time and fall in love with the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. 

Worth Pondering…

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown. A pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
—Edith Durham

6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

Your guide to the best RV parks and campgrounds in Louisiana

Few states can match the charm, culture, and soul of the Pelican State. This zest for life makes Louisiana an excellent state to bring the RV. To help you on the journey to the bayou, here are six of the top RV parks and campgrounds in Louisiana.

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2009 with paved streets, Cajun Palms offers long pull-through sites that range in length from 55 to 75 feet. Not to be ignored are the back-ins to the lake in the 55-60 foot range. Pull through and back-in sites have 20 feet of space between each concrete pad.

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A full service resort, Cajun Palms features numerous traditional as well as high tech amenities. Accommodations consist of over 300 deluxe RV sites and 25 cabins. RV sites have full hookups, 30- and 50-amp, 70+ channels of digital cable, and on-site water and sewer. Easy-on, easy off Interstate 10 (Exit 115) at Henderson (near Breaux Bridge).

Frog City RV Park, Duson

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frog City RV Park opened in 2006. The park is located just off I-10 in Duson, a small town 10 miles west of Lafayette and deep in the beautiful Cajun countryside. With 62 spacious RV sites, Frog City offers Wi-Fi, cable TV, pull-through sites, swimming pool, coin-operated laundry, and private hot showers that are sparkling clean.

Frog City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paved interior roads for EZ-in and EZ-out and dog walk areas. The park offers convenient adjacent facilities including Roady’s Truck Stop with excellent fuel prices and great Cajun food (be sure to try their boudin).

Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge 

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The appeal is all in the name, fish and camp in the heart of Louisiana. Poche’s RV Park has highly rated facilities, 88 Pull-through sites equipped with 30/50-amp electric service, sewer, and water. The park also features a clubhouse, showers, laundry, dog walk, playground and more.

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’re guaranteed to reel the big one at Poche’s, the park boasts fifty acres of well-maintained ponds stocked with largemouth bass, bream, and catfish. No license is required and you can keep the fish you catch for a delicious fish fry. Try heading to Poche’s in early May when Breaux Bridge hosts their annual crawfish festival. 

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston

Riverside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy-on, easy-off, Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with 127 sites. Back-in sites are in the 55-60 foot range and spacious pull-through sites in the 65-70 foot range; 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer are centrally located.

Riverside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No cable TV (Baton Rouge and New Orleans channels available on antenna). Wi-Fi (Tengo) works well; no problem locating satellite. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit.

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with swim-up pool, poolside cabanas, a lazy river, giant hot tub, fitness center, and family pool.

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig. With the utilities located toward rear of site one must unhook the toad and locate the motorhome at the rear of the site to access the sewer.

A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur

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

This park is named as it gets an A-plus in our book. A+ Motel and RV Park have everything an RV wants and needs. There are plenty of bathhouses, showers, and laundry facilities to take care of all things dirty along with picnic tables, BBQ pits, a dog run and more, all under 24-hour security. 

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

We stayed at A+ Motel and RV Park in 2013 and again 2019. Sites have been added since our initial stay and now offer 118 pull-through and back-in sites. Big rig friendly our pull-through site has ample length to accommodate large RVs. Since utilities are located near the rear of the site one must unhook the toad and locate the motorhome at the rear of the site to access the sewer.

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

Throw your line out at their private fishing pond, take the boat out or relax in the adults-only heated pool. Just choose which body of water you want to relax or get around on, Lake Charles, Prien Lake, and the Calcasieu River are nearby. You’re also right next to the great flora and fauna of the Creole Nature Trail

We selected this list of Louisiana RV parks and resorts from parks personally visited.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Hank Williams, Sr.

What Makes an RV Park A Five-Star Resort?

A key factor in planning an RV road trip is selecting RV parks and resorts

Choosing an RV park sight unseen can be like playing the lottery. Many parks and resorts feature a variety of amenities, entertainment, and fun activities for the entire family and cultivate an atmosphere that’s welcoming for all ages enabling families to enjoy quality time together.

Gila Bend KOA, Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choices for RV parks include luxurious RV resorts, activity-filled family destinations, 55+ parks, secluded natural settings, and basic parks conveniently located for an overnight stay. The quality varies from budget to high end resorts. And prices also run the gamut.

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

If you’re looking for a five-star RV resort with all the amenities including 50-amp electric, water, sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi, there are several things to consider before making your decision.

When it comes to choosing an RV park, you deserve the best. Here’s how you can tell which RV parks are truly five-star resorts.

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

Quality Customer Service

Front desk staff should greet guests with a smile. Quality RV resorts hire staff that are good at customer interaction and have a great attitude. Staff should be well-trained and knowledgeable about RVing, the park, and local area.

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

Adequate Space Between Sites

A five-star RV resort should provide adequate space between sites with attractive landscaping that provide guests a sense of privacy and some breathing room.

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pull-through Sites Are Spacious and Well Maintained

You know you’re pulling into a quality RV resort when the pull-through sites are long and spacious. A huge, defined site makes parking so much easier, no matter the type of recreational vehicle.

7 Feathers RV Resort, Canyonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utilities Are Centrally Located & Up-to-date

Dumping waste is not something most of us really want to have to deal with. But, we have no choice. When an RV park offers up-to-date connections that are conveniently located, it makes the job that much easier. One should not have to unhook the toad in order to line up the rig to the sewer utility. The better resorts offer the choice of two sewer connections.

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Seviereville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wi-Fi

No longer a nice-to-have amenity, Wi-Fi is now an essential utility. A five-star RV resort should have quality Internet available at all RV sites. You should not have to lug your laptop and everything else you need to the clubhouse or Internet “hot spot” to get online. The internet is a daily tool after all and Wi-Fi is like the new electricity. And don’t nickel-and-dime me for this essential utility.

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

Convenient Way to Dispose of Trash

Trash stinks, so of course, you’ll want to be able to easily dispose of it. It’s always a plus if the bin is within easy walking distance from your site or—even better—if your trash is picked up.

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

Laundry Facilities Are Clean and Well Maintained

A five-star RV park provides a clean laundry room with an ample number of easy-to-use washers and dryers. The laundry room is conveniently located and all appliances are well maintained and in good working condition at all times.

Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona

Picnic Tables

Picnic tables are a must when it comes to camping. A quality RV park will provide one in good condition. You don’t need to eat at the table—you can just sit and relax or work, read, play games, or enjoy a conversation while soaking in the surroundings.

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

Pet Area

An estimated 60 percent of RVers travel with their pets. A quality RV resort provides a dog park where Fido can frolic after being cooped up in an RV for an extended period of time. A fenced-in dog run and exercise area enables canines to run around leash free. A pet agility area with tunnels, hoops to jump through, teter-toters, ramps, a dog wash, and drinking fountain is an added bonus for your four-legged companion.

Jackson Ranchiera RV Resort, Jackson California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is part of an on-going series on 5 Star RV Resorts

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin