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

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: Connecting People with Nature

Connecting with nature at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland. Today, over 250,000 visitors enjoy Bernheim each year.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born in Schmieheim, Germany on November 4, 1848, Bernheim immigrated to the United States in March, 1867 at the age of eighteen with only $4 in his pocket. But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After struggling for several years he moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard. By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition and died in 1945 at the age of 96.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim was a man of vision. Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon, Bernheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the more popular trails, the 1.3-mile Lake Nevin Loop circles the 32-acre manmade Lake Nevin, a feature of the landscape design created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1948. This mostly flat and gravel-paved trail crosses through many of Bernheim’s beautifully landscaped gardens and connects to several other trails. This trail highlights Lake Nevin’s features, including the cypress-tupelo swamp, bluegrass savanna, and its irrigation duties for Bernheim’s arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in to the visitor center, Kentucky’s first LEED platinum building for information to help plan your visit. Take time to relax, explore the gift shop, grab a bite at Isaac’s café, and learn about sustainable design.

Each month Bernheim sponsors special events for visitors. These include nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about wildlife and nature at Bernheim’s Education Center. Stop in to view their art gallery, explore exhibits, and enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Room where you can watch birds, small mammals, and bees interact with their natural environment.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience Bernheim from atop the oldest structure, the historic fire tower. A volunteer naturalist will lead you 961 feet up the flights of stairs for one of the best views in the state. The incredible scenery will leave you amazed as you take in the knobby landscape that surrounds Bernheim.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang out in the tree-tops in our Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located in Clermont (near Jim Beam Distillery), 30 miles south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on KY-245, then turn right into the entrance.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The arboretum is free to all Monday-Friday; weekends and holidays, $5 per vehicle.

Grandma’s RV Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville (I-65 at Exit 116); distance to Bernheim Forest is 7 miles

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Grand Canyon RV Park: Road Trip Heaven

Perfectly placed adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and within walking distance of the Route 66 historic district

Some of the happiest travelers are the ones who never leave home. Why? Because they take their home with them in the form of an RV!

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year hundreds of thousands of these dedicated RV travelers map out their personalized Great American Road Trip and push a pin into one of the world’s great destinations, the Grand Canyon. As they wrap up their driving day, they find a great place to spend the night at the 5-star Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. But it’s not just the park’s many amenities that attract RV travelers. It’s the location, location … and history.

Historic Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 once stretched uninterrupted from Chicago to Los Angeles. Over time, however, it lost ground to the interstate system until, on October 13, 1984, I-40 bypassed the final, stubborn section of Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. Having outlasted every other mile of America’s Mother Road, Williams retained a retro-hip 1950s vibe highlighted by kitsch signage, neon lights, and cool diners—an absolute must-do for road trippers.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfectly placed adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and within walking distance of the Route 66 historic district, the highest rated and only all-paved RV park in the Williams area offers three levels of options, from pull-through sites to buddy spaces to back-ins. Each full-service site is equipped with 50-amp utility services and is large enough to accommodate big rigs.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And while the Tin Can Tourists who once traveled Route 66 would have been astounded to receive a Western Union telegram at their campsite, today’s guests can stay as connected (or as disconnected) as they wish, with free Wi-Fi as well as high definition digital TV. Other amenities include coin-operated laundry machines, updated shower facilities, a community picnic area with gas grills and fire pit, and access to the hotel’s indoor swimming pool and hot tub.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guests of the RV Park and Railway Hotel enjoy an extra perk for their traveling pets, namely the animal equivalent of a luxury vacation. The Grand Canyon Railway’s Pet Resort is one of the area’s most comfortable and modern facilities where dogs and cats, both small and large, enjoy abundant indoor space for lazing about. This is especially useful since they must be leashed at all times at the Grand Canyon South Rim and are not permitted on trails below the rim, on park buses, or in park lodging (service animals are exempt).

Aboard the Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But from their base in 28 clean, cool kennels at the pet resort, dogs will enjoy individual playtime in the outdoor exercise yard and dog run. Kitties, too, can enjoy a dog’s life in 16 sun-filled cat condos overlooking the basketball and volleyball courts. From atop their private sitting ledge, felines savor the setting as they take a catnap.

En route to the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For both people and pets, the location and amenities of the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is about as good as it gets — a welcome adjunct to the railway itself.

Arriving at the Grand Canyon Train Depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon Railway takes passengers on one of America’s most picturesque train journeys. Departing each morning from the station beside the RV Park, the train chugs north out of Williams for a ride up and over the massive Colorado Plateau. At just over two hours, the journey gives RV travelers the chance to take a 65-mile shortcut and leave the driving to the engineer. It’s a perfect way to arrive at Grand Canyon National Park rested and relaxed without worrying about navigating an RV through the twists, turns, and often dense traffic that concentrates at the park’s south entrance.

Departing the train at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And it’s all made easier by a quiet night, modern conveniences, and the perfect location of Grand Canyon RV Park.

Worth Pondering…

The Grand Canyon…

Do nothing to mar its grandeur…

Keep it for our children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

—Theodore Roosevelt

A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries

When visitors come to Moab they usually search out the famous arches of Arches National Park, the world-renowned mountain biking, or the amazing river rafting. Canyonlands National Park seems to be an afterthought to many people. “Oh, there’s another national park here? Cool, let’s drive out there for a couple of hours to check it out.” 

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located to the west of the town of Moab and a short distance from Arches, Canyonlands National Park is wild and wonderful and diverse in its landscapes and travel opportunities. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing, photography, and adventure.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires stretching across 527 square miles. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers. Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West’s most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Canyonlands, opportunities abound for day hiking and backpacking. Mountain bikers can tackle challenging dirt roads that lead through the heart of the park. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts. In addition, this area is, in general, set up and managed for hikers with lots of loop trails and a good selection of easy or moderate hiking options as well as backpacking opportunities. Most trails have sections of slickrock, so get used to following cairns.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands National Park is also a great place to view incredible scenery from the paved roads that lead to awe-inspiring viewpoints. The well-marked turnoff for the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is on the left at Highway 313, 6 miles north of the Arches turnoff on U.S. 191 north of Moab. A few miles along Highway 313, note on the right Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, looking like their namesake Civil War ships.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Eventually you come to a prominent fork: left it is 4 miles to Dead Horse State Park, straight is 4.5 miles to Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Dead Horse Point is, like Island in the Sky, an isolated promontory of stone jutting out over the deep gorge of the Colorado River. The overlook provides some of the most famous views in the region, especially of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. It is well worth a side trip.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park has about 10 miles of paved roads. The longest branch of the paved road leads to Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Along the way are several stops at man-made or geological points of interest. You will drive in on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway; make sure you stop at Newspaper Rock before you get to Canyonlands. It is one of the better roadside rock-art viewing sites in the Southwest. A 50-foot-high sandstone face is covered with a variety of fine petroglyphs from several periods.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For those staying overnight, Canyonlands offers some of the most peaceful campgrounds you will ever find.

Camping in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to enjoy a fun family vacation and share an intimate experience with the landscape. Plus you’ll be out there in the early morning and late evening when the light is amazing, especially for photography enthusiasts.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Squaw Flat Campground is located 3 miles west of the Needles entrance station. The campground here has 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for $15 per night. The campground has electrical hookups, drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, ADA sites, and flush and vault toilets.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The smaller Willow Flat Campground is located about 9 miles southwest of the Island in the Sky entrance station. Willow Flat has no water, so come prepared. There are 12 basic sites (first-come, first-served, $10 per night) with fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, and vault toilets. Junipers and piñon pines decorate this small campground, which is a good place from which to explore the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. A number of trails lead to striking vistas, arches, and other geologic wonders.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is also a campground at Dead Horse Point State Park, reached by turning east of UT 313 before you enter Canyonlands northern entrance. The campground here has electrical hookups and water, and, unlike the first-come-first-served national park campgrounds, you can use your credit card to reserve a site.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Do yourself a favor and don’t hurry through the park. Instead, take your time and let the nature of Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Here are 10 state parks you may not know about—but should

While national parks are touted as the crown jewels of America, it is also time to recognize and celebrate America’s less crowded but just as fulfilling state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Texas, there is Galveston Island State Park with numerous activities on land and water. In Arizona, check out Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve located near Sedona. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina offers a lighthouse, swimming, birding, fishing, and camping.

Make plans now to visit these spectacular state parks.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Come to the island to stroll the beach, splash in the waves, fish, or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax.

Meaher State Park, Alabama

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Alligators, turtles, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers make their homes in this refuge.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with numerous opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hike the canyon rim trails above the Colorado River or mountain bike over 16 miles of high desert terrain on the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. Go geocaching, stop by the visitor center to learn about the Native American history of the region, and linger as the sun sets to enjoy the spectacular star show at this International Dark Sky Park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

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

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour.

Worth Pondering…
To travel is to live.

—Hans Christian Andersen

6 Casino RV Resorts Where You Can Stay and Play

It is rare to go into a casino parking lot and not notice the large number of RVs

Casinos are known to be RV-friendly.

Many casinos are not only RV-friendly, but they have their own RV resort with an extensive list of amenities. These are some of the best places to park and try your luck at the slots or table games, to use as a home base to explore the area, or just relax in a five-star accommodation.

Each of these six resorts has a convenient location, top-quality amenities, and have been rated among the highest RV parks in the U.S. All resorts have been personally visited.

Jackson Rancheria, California

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park with 100 full-hookup sites has earned a perfect 10/10*/10 rating from Good Sam. Amenities include heated pool and spas, free cable TV and Wi-Fi, a clubhouse, rest rooms with showers, a pet park, and laundry room.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a nice park, on a hill with miles of view. If you are looking for pure excellence in a R V Park, this is it. New in 2008, Jackson Rancheria RV Resort is part of a casino complex. Big rig friendly 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Wide, paved interior roads with wide, level concrete sites. Back-in sites over 55 feet with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range. Grass between all the sites.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lots of things to see and do in the area including Jackson and numerous other historic mining towns, wine tasting, and shopping.

Pechanga RV Resort & Casino, California

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pechanga RV Resort is a short drive from Temeculs Valley Wine Country and Old Town where you can find historic 1800s buildings, antique shops, and restaurants. Recently expanded the resort’s 206 full-service sites can accommodate any size RV and include access to their pool and laundry facilities. They also have presidential sites with estate-style fencing and gazebos.

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino has 24/7 gaming, and restaurants like a steakhouse, oyster and sushi bar, and a pub that serves high-quality BBQ. Play their 18-hole golf course or get a massage at their spa to unwind.

Hollywood Casino, Mississippi

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hollywood Casino has a hotel and an RV park with full hookup sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Their RV sites include a free shuttle service to the casino and two free wristbands to the pool area, which has a lazy river, hot tub, and a swim-up bar.

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino has several restaurants on-site, a marina, and an Arnold Palmer designed golf course.  There are also lots of local shops and restaurants only about 5-10 minutes away in Old Town Bay St. Louis.

Seven Feathers Casino RV Resort, Oregon

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park across the Interstate from the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino has 192 full hookup sites, a fitness center, showers and rest rooms, laundry facilities, indoor heated pool and hot tub, and a shuttle to the casino.

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly, 7 Feathers Casino RV Resort is a 5-star resort with a perfect 10/10*/10 Good  Sam rating. 191 pull-through and back-in sites. The park is well laid out and designed. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, two sewer connections (middle and back of site), and cable TV (25 channels).

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior roads are paved, pads are concrete. Landscaping between sites with birch trees and varying sizes of shrubs including flowering rhododendrons. Easy-on, easy off Interstate 5 at Exit 98.

Pala Casino RV Resort, California

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2016 Pala Casino RV Resort offers 17 pull-through sites, 72 feet in length; 47 back-in sites, 55 feet in length; and 6 back-in sites, 60 feet in length. All sites are 30 feet in width with grass lawns and a picnic table. A 5-star resort, the park has wide paved interior roads and concrete sites. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV (48 channels) are located towards the rear of our pull-through site (#80); Wi-Fi works very well.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within a 20 minute drive you can enjoy Old Town Temecula, Temecula Wine Country wineries, several challenging golf courses, and of course trying your luck at the casino. There is no shortage of adventures or you can do nothing, that’s the attraction.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park, Washington

7 Tribes Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A brand new RV park, 12 Tribes Casino opened in 2018 with 21 pull-through full-service sites in the 75-foot range. Interior roads are asphalt and sites are concrete. Amenities include concrete patio with picnic table, individual garbage container, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Guests of the RV Park are welcome to enjoy the pool, hot tub, sauna, and workout facility located in the hotel.

7 Tribes Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino also offers gaming, fine dining, and café. Several miles south of Omak on US-97, 12 Tribes is about 50 miles south of the Canadian border.

Worth Pondering…

Home is where you park it.

Hidden Benefits of Camping

If you regularly camp out, you’ll enjoy dozens of significant health benefits

As long as campers set themselves up for a relaxing getaway, the potential for a stress-reducing trip is very attainable. When we go camping we spend most of our time outside. Mentally focusing on all the things that make you feel great outside can do wonders for your mind, body, and soul. Life pauses and stress levels drop making it a fantastic time for your body to have a break.

Camping in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we go camping we simplify, subtract, and strip back from our normal cluttered and hectic daily lives. This gives us more opportunity to get in touch with nature, find some solitude and time to switch off, and simply to breath.

Camping at Edisto State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This space and clarity allows us to see everything in natures playground, listen to it speak, and be reminded of how amazing it all is. This in turn helps us put everything else into perspective.

Being outside in the fresh air also seems to heighten our senses, which can bring more rewards. Food tastes better, air smells cleaner, and the birds and nature sound clearer.

Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A byproduct of camping is the physical nature of setting up the camp, hiking, and typical environment enjoyment.

Leave your worries behind you. Focus on the simplicity of your current situation without reflecting on work, concerns, or anything else that may negatively affect your experience.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appreciate the small, seemingly insignificant parts of the living world around you: light shining through a dew droplet just before it crashes to the ground, or maybe the simple elegance of a butterfly as it flutters from flower to flower. Notice how the slight breeze affects its flight, yet not its mission.

Camping in Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The feeling of being calm, appreciating the simple things in life, and knowing that things do not have to be complex all the time allows one to have a more positive and clearer outlook or perspective in life. Camping also gives an emotional rest from all the emotional expense from the usual day to day life.

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

Ensure your gear is organized and in working order before your trip. Eliminate all potentially frustrating situations prior to your adventure.

There is nothing worse than having a camping trip ruined by a scraped knee. Bring along a basic first-aid kit outfitted with bandages, gauze, and anti-bacterial cream. Also make sure it has insect repellent and some cream to help relieve the itch of bug bites.

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

Take a walk, ride a bike, or sit on the edge of a lake or river to clear your mind. Simply focus on the “here and now” to get the most out of your experience. 

Camping will not only get you outdoors and enjoy nature, but it also has some awesome impacts on your health.

Camping at Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Modern life as we know it is full of the Internet, social media, work, demands, mobile phones, pressure, and deadlines. This has an impact on our bodies by getting it to produce extra adrenalin to deal with it all. Having this reaction is normal since the body is built to deal with it, however, what isn’t good is not taking time away from it all to give the body time to recover. Camping helps our systems recover ready for the next challenge.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we go camping we have more opportunity to get involved in hiking, biking, fishing, and simply doing what we enjoy. Exercising and moving is simply one of the best ways to combat an overworked body, mind, and soul, in an over committed lifestyle.

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

Many camping activities can be a good form of exercise. Walking and hiking help improve circulation, strengthen and pump up the heart, help in lowering blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart problems.

Camping at Galveston State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back pains, eye strains, muscle aches and headaches, sluggish circulation that increases the risks of heart problems and heart attacks are just some of the results of too much stress. Any form of outdoor activities such as camping has been proven to reduce the level of stress in the body. This allows the body to recuperate and regain the energy lost.

Camping at Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is an effective and cost efficient form of outdoor activity. Camp out and experience the many health benefits of camping and at the same time enjoy the beauty of nature.

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

What to Look For in an RV Campground?

A key factor in planning any RV road trip is the RV parks and campgrounds

Plans for your next RV road trip is mostly complete. You’re excited to hit the open road with your family, but haven’t given much thought to where you’re camping. Obviously, you know your destination. But, you aren’t sure how far you want to drive the first day, and whether you want to make some stops along the way. You’ll just Google the nearest campground when you feel the time is right to set up camp for the night.

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

But before you hit the road, you should be aware that not all RV campgrounds are created equal and no one park is perfect for everyone. Campers can find RV parks in state parks and national parks as well as privately owned campgrounds. And the quality varies from budget to high end resorts.

A key factor in planning any RV road trip is the RV parks and campgrounds.

Meaher State Park near Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re thinking that all campgrounds are the same, think again. Every campground has its own set of rules and regulations, as well as different amenities. If you aren’t looking for full hookups, you can be less picky about what campground you choose for your stay. But if you’re looking for all the amenities including electric, water, sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi, there are several things you should look for before making your decision.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Before leaving home, take the time to check out the best camping parks along your intended route and at your camping destination.

Durango RV Resort, Red Bluff, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choices for RV parks and campgrounds include luxurious RV resorts, activity-filled family destinations, 55+ parks, secluded natural settings, and basic parks conveniently located for an overnight stay. Prices also run the gamut.

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

There is a variety of campgrounds, each offering different amenities and activities. These include private RV parks; casino camping; national, state, and county park campgrounds; Army Corps of Engineers parks; and service club facilities.

Harvest Moon RV Resort, Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the best tips for choosing a campground and campsite that you and your family will love?

Irwins RV Park, Valemount, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing can make or break your RV vacation 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:

  • Are you camping with a young family?
  • Are you an active couple looking for outdoor adventures?
  • Are you snowbirds who enjoy on-site activities and the opportunity to meet new friends?
  • How large is your RV?
  • Consider your needs when choosing an RV park.
  • What amenities do you require? Full hook-ups? 30- or 50-amp electric service?
  • Are you looking for a rural or urban setting?
  • What is your nightly/weekly/monthly camping budget?
  • Do you travel with pets?
Cajun Palms RV Resort, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

You decide. Remember, getting there is half the fun.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware that RV parks and campgrounds have varied rules for check in and check out. Although some parks have 24 hour check in, most have set times that you must check in and check out. Some parks do not permit check ins prior to noon. If you plan to stop after hours call ahead to make the necessary arrangements.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol