Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wyman Meinzer

A Lovely Name for a Lovely River: Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River carves a winding, four-mile path through the state park

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park owes its name and existence to one of the most scenic and popular recreational rivers in Texas. When Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon encountered the clear-flowing stream in 1689, he named it Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico). The Guadalupe: a lovely name for a lovely river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River might be just another typical Hill Country state park were it not for the exceptional public access it provides to a river whose banks are mostly private property. The park is also unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 98 percent of the park guests go straight to the river and never step foot on the trails. The river is what attracts people, and that’s why the park was established.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If some 98 percent of Guadalupe River State Park’s visitors flock to the swimming hole on the Guadalupe, we’re happy to be a “two-percenter” and explore the rest of the park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nationally recognized for birding, the state park harbors some 160 bird species. Depending on the season, expect to see—or hear—bluebirds, cardinals, canyon and Carolina wrens, white-eyed vireos, yellow-crested woodpeckers, kingfishers, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and red-shouldered hawks.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a combination of good birdwatching and gorgeous scenery, try hiking along the river through riparian galleries of bald cypress, sycamore, elm, and pecan.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. Some of these arboreal monarchs are several centuries old and have weathered countless flash floods. The bald cypress is aptly named because it’s a deciduous conifer (most are evergreen), turning rust brown, dropping its feathery leaves, and “going bald” each fall.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $20-$24 plus the $7 per person park entrance fee. In the Cedar Sage Camping Area, 37 campsites offer 30-amp electric service and water for $20 nightly; in the Turkey Sink multiuse area 48 campsites offer 50-amp electric service and water for $24. Weekly rates are also available.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Texas State Park Pass will allow you and your guests to enjoy unlimited visits for 1-year to more than 90 State Parks, without paying the daily entrance fee, in addition to other benefits. A Texas State Parks Pass is valid for one year and costs $70.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park is located 30 miles north of downtown San Antonio. From US 281, travel 8 miles west on Texas 46 and then 3 miles north on Park Road 31.

The parkland along the Guadalupe River is indeed good country.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See it, believe it, for yourself.

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

Consider Your Needs When Choosing RV Parks and Campgrounds

Prioritize your wants and needs

Nothing can make or break your RV trip like choosing a campground not suited to your family’s needs and interests. When selecting a park, think about your camping style and ask yourself the following questions:

Palm Creek Golf and RV Park, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you camping with a young family, are you an active couple looking for outdoor adventures, or are you a snowbird who enjoys on-site activities and the opportunity to meet new friends?

Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How large is your RV and what amenities do you require? Full hook-ups? 30- or 50-amp electric service? Are you looking for a rural or urban setting and do you travel with pets?

Creekfire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When researching campgrounds we normally contact the campground office and ask specific questions about their policies and their park. Questions to ask include:

  • Rental rates (nightly, weekly, monthly per your needs) including taxes? Any discounts available?
  • Availability of Wi-Fi and cable TV?
  • What is included in the above rate—full hook-ups, 20/30-50-amp electric service, Wi-Fi, cable TV?
  • Is the park big-rig friendly? Length and width of sites? Are sites relatively level? Do the sites have concrete pads, grass, gravel, or dirt?
  • Will I have difficulty obtaining a satellite TV signal?
  • What are the park’s amenities—club house/activity room, pool, spa, rest room and shower facilities, laundry?
  • What is your pet policy? Restrictions on certain dogs breeds?
  • What is your reservation policy? Is a credit card required to hold a site? If so, is it processed immediately? What is your cancellation policy?

Make note of the name of the person you talked to.

Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The “perfect” campsite is likely to vary from person to person. Think about what you want to do as well as what those in your group want to do and choose accordingly. Although there may be some variations of what you are looking for, you may want to take some of the factors mentioned below into consideration, when choosing the “perfect campsite”.

Terre Haute RV Park, Terre Haute, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do I have a preference for a pull-through or back-in site?

What are your electric requirements? 20, 30, or 50-amp service?

Is the breaker box in reasonable condition and does the polarity check out?

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you require a sewer site?

Is the site long enough?

Is the site wide enough?

Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is the site relatively level?

Is the site in a high-traffic area? Near a dumpster? Dump station?

Are there low-hanging branches?

Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will I be able to extend all slides?

Will I be able to extend the awning?

Will I be able to open all bins?

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

Will I be able to obtain a TV satellite signal?

Do I want the afternoon or morning sun?

Where are the utilities located?

Where is the closest Wi-Fi tower?

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimer, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay one night, a weekend, a week, or longer, there are campgrounds that meet your needs. All are unique. No two parks are the same. Each campground will provide something a little different.

Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

But do not ask me where I am heading,

As I travel in this limitless world

Where every step I take is my home.

—Eihei Dogen

Laura S. Walker State Park: A Place to Reconnect With Nature

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman

Situated deep in South Georgia just outside of Waycross and a short drive from the Okefenokee Swamp, this grass-filled blackwater lake sprawls for roughly 120 acres inside of the beautiful Laura S. Walker State Park.

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

Laura S. Walker State Park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. The park is an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven.

Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating.

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

The Lakes, a championship 18-hole golf course, features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Greens are undulating rather than tiered. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three large lakes.

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

The park’s namesake was a Georgia writer, teacher, civic leader, and naturalist who loved trees and worked for their preservation. Laura Singleton Walker was born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1861. She was both an author and a conservationist. Her friends included military and community leaders as well as presidents and governors. Her civic works and commitment to helping the environment led her to outline a forestry activity program that made many local conservation and beautification projects possible.

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

She worked to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and maintaining forestry programs. She also had the distinction of being the only living person with a state park named in her honor. Ms. Walker worked tirelessly throughout Ware County and the surrounding areas until her death in 1955 at the age of 94.

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

The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. For those who want to see wildlife, they won’t be disappointed. The park is home to owls, great blue herons, gopher tortoises, alligators, and many other animals. It also hosts a variety of activities each year with the Friends of Laura S. Walker State Park volunteering their time to maintain the area and perform fundraisers.

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

For years, the lake has remained popular with boaters, skiers, and jet skiers, but during the last couple of years the area has become popular with bass and crappie anglers. 

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

The 44-site campground offers numerous sites suitable for big rigs. All sites include electric service. Site-specific information is available on the park’s website. Other facilities available for rent include six Sportsman’s Cabins (sleeps 6), seven picnic shelters, four group shelters (seats 75-165), one group camp (sleeps 142), and one gazebo. Other related amenities include a playground, a dog park, boat ramp, kayak and bike rentals, four miles of hiking trails, wildlife observation platform, and Wi-Fi.

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

Ranger Dave Jordan has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 25 years. He was appointed as the Ranger of Laura S. Walker State Park several years ago. He says, “One of the greatest opportunities we have at this park is to continue our public outreach to the folks in the community.”

Ranger Jordan relies on the Friends of the Laura S. Walker State Park to volunteer their time and help raise money that is needed to cover the extras. They meet on the first Monday night of the month. The Friends group raises money, purchases needed items, and donates them to the park.

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

In 2017, the park received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is well-known throughout the area for its amenities and friendly staff.

The park is located at 5653 Laura Walker Road in Waycross, Georgia.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Eleonora Duse

2020 Quartzsite Show Dates

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February

Quartzsite is located in western Arizona, 17 miles east of the Colorado River at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Highway 95. Quartzsite has been a rock hound’s paradise since the 1960s. Thousands of acres of dispersed BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping draws upwards to two million visitors a year.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, settler Charles Tyson built a fort at the present site of Quartzsite for protection against Indian raids and to protect his water supply. Fort Tyson soon became a stopover on the Ehrenburg-to-Prescott stagecoach route. It had become known as Tyson’s Wells by the time the stage stopped running and the town was abandoned.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite was established in 1867 and incorporated in 1989. A rock hunter’s paradise surrounds Quartzsite with agates, limonite cubes, gold, and quartz being just a few. Named Quartzite because quartz was occasionally found in the area, the name evolved to Quartzsite through an error in spelling.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Quartzsite is also attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1900 people in a wave of RVs during the months of January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In town, the Hi Jolly Monument honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. To the south rise the Kofa Mountains. Historic and scenic areas include the Spanish Wall, Crystal Hill, Tyson Tanks, and Tyson Wells Museum. South in the Kofa Mountains is Palm Canyon, a tight gorge and home of Arizona’s only native palms, reached by a steep but rewarding climb. Farther south is Castle Dome Peak.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tyson Wells Show History

Tyson Wells began with an open lot where an RV Park was developed; the Sell-A-Rama Show started in 1978. Soon Tyson Wells became known as a leading Rock & Gem Show in the United States. Later, additional land was acquired for more parking, and two more shows—Rock & Gem Show and Art & Craft Fair—were added. Tyson Wells has something for everyone with the three shows in January and February, seasonal vendors, self-storage units, and an RV Park.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Quartzsite Shows

Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

The Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show attracts rock, gem, and mineral vendors from around the world and runs for 10 days in early January. Dates for the Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show are January 3-12, 2020.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

The Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama show occurs in late January and also runs for 10 days. The Sell-A-Rama has over 850 vendor spaces which equals roughly 2.2 miles of aisle frontage. You can find just about anything at this 25-acre show. Dates for the 42nd Annual Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama are January 17–26, 2020.

Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair

The indoor Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair takes place early February each year. One can find arts, crafts, hobbies supplies, jewelry, and lapidary supplies. Dates for the Tyson Wells Arts & Crafts Fair are January 31-February 9, 2020

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2020 Quartzsite Show Dates

You won’t want to miss the 2020 Quartzsite Shows!

January 1-February 28, 2020: Desert Gardens Gem & Mineral Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 3-January 12, 2020: Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

January 1-February 29, 2020: Prospectors’ Panorama

January 10-January 11, 2020: Quartzsite Art Guild Art Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 17-January 19, 2020: Blythe Bluegrass Festival

January 17-January 26, 2020: Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

January 18-January 26, 2020: Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 15-January 19, 2020: QIA Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show

January 31-February 9, 2020: Tyson Wells Arts & Craft Fair

February 7-February 9, 2020: QIA Gold, Treasure & Craft Show

February 7-February 8, 2020: Quartzsite Quilt Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

Greenville: Upcountry South Carolina Delight

Greenville will surprise you, engage you, charm you, and delight you

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. For starters, it’s home to the highest waterfall east of the Rockies—411-foot Whitewater Falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, its modern downtown, and its job market. With a metro­­politan population pushing half a million, this is one of America’s fastest growing cities.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills, making it the “Textile Center of the South.”

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far more than a nature lover’s paradise, Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End, is one of Greenville’s greatest treasures. The park serves as an oasis within the city—a place where people gather to work, play, and celebrate life. The multi-use facility lends itself to a wide variety of activities for people of all ages and interests.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It took 40 years of cleaning after the mills closed to make Falls Park into a regional jewel, crowned by the award-winning Liberty Bridge for pedestrians that was designed by architect Miguel Rosales with a distinctive curve as it pitches toward the falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Liberty Bridge serves as Greenville’s signature postcard setting, and downtown’s extensive collection of public artwork adds beauty and energy to its public spaces.  

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 345 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 inches thick, the concrete reinforced deck is supported by a single suspension cable. The deck’s distinctive curve has a radius of 214 feet and it is cantilevered toward the waterfall from supporting cables on the outside. The bridge deck also inclines 12 feet or 3 percent from east to west over the river.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below the bridge the Reedy River Falls is the site where Greenville’s first European settler, Richard Pearis, established his trading post in 1768. Later he built grist and saw mills at this same location which was the hub of early industry in Greenville until the 1920s. 

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vibrant Greenville downtown scene is anchored by the $42 million Peace Center for the Performing Arts, which includes a concert hall for the symphony orchestra, a performance theater, and an amphitheater. Among the city’s several historic districts, the West End has developed into one of the Palmetto State’s most eclectic art districts, with buildings adapted for studio space and galleries.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other attractions within Greenville include a zoo with more than 200 animals and the Roper Mountain Science Center, which features an observatory, Sealife Room, living history farm, Discovery Room, chemistry/physic shows and a planetarium. 

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, at Bob Jones University is the Gallery of Sacred Art and Bible Lands Museum Planetarium. This unique attraction brings science and religion together with its extraordinary collection of religious art and biblical antiquities.

Fluor Field in the West End is home of minor league baseball’s Greenville Drive, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The park features a 30-foot replica of the “Green Monster” the mythic left-field wall found in the parent club’s Fenway Park. Across the street is a museum devoted to slugging hometown diamond hero Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Drive nickname is a nod to BMW Manufacturing’s Greenville-area plant, the German automaker’s only production facility in the United States. The BMW Performance Center offers drivers a one-of-a-kind challenge in sliding and cornering on a wet/dry course, off-road course, and performance drive courses.

Table Rock, Jones Gap, Paris Mountain, and Caesars Head state parks all deliver Blue Ridge Mountain adventure in Greenville’s backyard as the Appalachians tumble into the flatlands of the Piedmont region. South Carolina Highway 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, traces this dramatic break of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with its abundance of waterfalls. Along the route, Lake Keowee, created as a power utility project, serves up over 300 miles of shoreline for boaters and fishermen.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a visit? Stay at Ivy Acres RV Park, amid beautiful countryside 10 miles from downtown Greenville.

Ivy Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We spent a delightful week at Ivy Acres RV Park, an adult only (45+) park with full-hook-ups including 50/30/20-amp electric service and Wi-Fi available at site. Located on 80 acres of beautiful rolling countryside on the Saluda River, Ivy Acres is like a state park. We would return in a heartbeat.

Worth Pondering…

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

A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country is noted for its hilly landscape and also the great number of oases, rivers, and diversity of wildlife

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

Buckhorn Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

Wildseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out. We explored Fredericksburg and the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Wildseed Farms, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and further afield including a detour or two.

Lady Bird Johnson Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous detour of all is Luckenbach, population 25, reached by driving six miles east of town on U.S. 290, then turning south (right) on Ranch Road 1376; continue on this little road about four miles till you see signs. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far—maybe it’s time to stop and ask directions, as signs to Luckenbach just don’t last long, thanks to souvenir hunters.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These days Luckenbach, Texas is, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, a “State of Mind”—A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.

LBJ National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, a general store opened in Luckenbach, a town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1973 classic country hit, “Luckenbach Texas-Back to the Basics”. The store is still there with a bar, a dance hall for special events, and “prit near always” a jam session playing. Sometimes country stars make impromptu appearances, or there may be an armadillo race or horseshoe tournament going on.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also nearby, east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park. The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

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

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Arizona is home to some amazing state parks

A certain large national park may come to mind when most people think of outdoor spaces in the Grand Canyon State. But Arizona boasts 29 state parks, too, and new data show a slight uptick in visits to those lands over the past year.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birders, campers, boaters, hikers, and others made 3.2 million visits to Arizona state parks during the Fiscal Year (FY) that ended in June, an increase of about 1 percent over the previous 12 months, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That’s up from nearly 2.7 million visits about three years ago. But 1 percent suggests the growth in visitors is leveling off after years of 8 and 9 percent increases.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wet, cool, and windy winter weather likely affected the crowds at Lake Havasu, the state’s most popular state park where the number of visits declined about 10 percent to around 500,000 over the previous year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park saw visitation drop, also, by around 19 percent following the closure of a pedestrian walkway. The state plans to rebuild it next year. The number of visitors also decreased at historic sites including Tubac Presidio, Fort Verde, McFarland Historic Park (original Pinal County Courthouse in Florence.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert wildflowers that followed the damp and cool winter resulted in a boost for parks in the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande saw a 46 percent increase in visitors during the last fiscal year, tallying 121,000 visits. And yes, we were there. Oracle and Catalina state parks in Southern Arizona also saw increases in visitors. The increase in visitation at these parks raises concerns about how best to balance the park’s popularity with the rustic feel of the site.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park with the biggest increase in visitors in proportion to the previous year was Lyman Lake State Park, where attendance nearly doubled reaching 31,100. That’s still not many people compared to other locations. Situated on the Little Colorado River east of Show Low, the park is secluded. The water is higher than it has been in years and has no size restrictions on boats.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1) Lake Havasu

Visitors during FY 2019: 504,000 (down 10.6%)

It should be no surprise that the most popular state parks in Arizona are situated on water. This park is an oasis on the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, boasting beaches, boat ramps and campsites.

Sonaota Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Slide Rock State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 434,400 (down 5.5%)

This 43-acre historic homestead near Sedona used to be an apple farm. But visitors don’t just come for the agricultural history, as they flock to the park in Oak Creek Canyon for its namesake slide.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Catalina State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 251,100 (up 18.2%)

Catalina includes 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams outside Tucson. Oh, and it has nearly 5,000 saguaros and awesome sunsets.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s least-visited state parks

1) McFarland State Historic Park

Visitors during FY2019: 6,800 (down 13.9%)

The original Pinal County courthouse in downtown Florence offers a glimpse into the past. Built in 1878, it’s an architectural showcase, demonstrating the incorporation of Spanish design into the style of Anglo settlers.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Tubac Presidio

Visitors during FY2019: 7,900 (down 11.2%)

This park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752. The presidio was outpost of the Spanish empire, a base for troops and a station for further exploration of what would become the American Southwest.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Fort Verde

Visitors during FY2019: 10,700 (down 17.1%)

When troops left this Apache Wars-era fort, the premises was divided up and sold at auction. This small state park attempts to preserve some of the structures and give the public a look at life at mid-19th century Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers