Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Big, Diverse & Extreme

With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

The Colorado River is dammed on both sides of the Grand Canyon, forming two huge artificial lakes: Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures can be harsh, from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

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

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River. The main attraction here are the two large lakes: Mead and Mohave.

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

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

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

Sixty-seven-mile-long Lake Mohave, formed by Davis Dam near Bullhead City, still retains in its upper reaches some of the character of the old Colorado River. Literally millions of people use Lake Mead National Recreation Area each year with many of these visitors returning again and again to find that special cove, or campground, or just to sit on the shore and enjoy solitude of a quality that only nature can supply.

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

Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore, close to Las Vegas.

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

Named after Dr. Elwood Mead, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner from 1924 to 1936, Lake Mead began filling in 1935 following the completion of Boulder Dam, later designated the Hoover Dam after the 31st president, across the river at Black Canyon, 25 miles from Las Vegas.

Indeed, it was the construction of the dam and the arrival of thousands of workers which prompted the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the consequent growth of the city.

The scenery is impressive enough—clear blue water beneath gaunt rocky cliffs, but much can only be appreciated using a boat as the majority of the innumerable sheltered coves and flooded canyons, often with clean, empty beaches for camping, are quite inaccessible by road.

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are very few maintained trails though hiking opportunities are numerous. Most are cross-country, off-trail routes—destinations include narrow canyons, rock art sites, springs, and rock formations.

There are numerous access points to the shoreline especially the section northwest of Hoover Dam in Nevada which has numerous beaches, camping areas, and marinas.

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

The Northshore Road (NV-16) parallels the water for 40 miles passing through a colorful and  empty desert environment with numerous side roads leading towards the water of which three are to developed marinas: Callville Bay, Echo Bay, and Overton Beach, though this latter is currently closed due to low water levels.

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

The surrounding desert is characterized by barren mountain ranges with occasional bright red or orange sandstone outcrops; nearby Valley of Fire State Park is spectacular. Aptly named, Valley of Fire features vivid sandstone cliffs and eroded rock formations in fiery hues.

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

But the most visited section of Lake Mead is that closest to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay, plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach is a full-service campground that provides cable TV. Daily rates range from $34 to $50 plus 12 percent Clark County tax. Back-in, pull-through, and lakeview sites are available.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west side of Lake Mead has a number of free primitive campsites along tracks forking off Northshore Road, for example at Stewarts Point, near Overton Beach at the north end of the lake. Here, camping is allowed on a large area of the shoreline, which is flat, sandy, and sheltered.

Lake Mead RV Village at Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of camping experiences are also available around Lake Mohave including Cottonwood Cove, Katherine Landing, and Willow Beach.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Totally Texas

We rounded up as many “totally Texas” things to do, places to go, people to know, and sights to see

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse. It’s not so exaggerated to think of Texas as a whole country—800 miles wide and nearly that far from north to south.

There is something for everyone is Texas, from sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, and great cities to small villages and towns.

Texas is big and brawny in every way, a state brimming with natural assets.

Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few national parks can match the scenic variety of Big Bend. A land graced with desert, mountain, and river environments makes for a compelling study in contrasts. The Chihuahuan Desert, with its vastness and stark beauty, is joined by the abrupt canyons of the Rio Grande and the forested peaks of the Chisos Mountains.

San Antonio

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of America’s most beautiful cities, San Antonio has a great deal to offer. Fantastic museums, the wonderful and unbelievably photogenic Riverwalk, HemisFair Park and, of course, The Alamo are but a few of its highlights. And if you like the Alamo, you’ll love the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a string of four 15th- and 16th-century Spanish missions in and around the city. Another impressive aspect of San Antonio is the food.

Hill Country

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Galveston Island

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Shiner

The Little Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week, where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Monahans Sandhills

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, the 425-foot-high dome that is the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest exposed batholiths in the country. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. The trail begins at the Westside parking area, where it descends briefly into an arroyo before ascending quickly.    

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

If you’re tired of hanging out at the Strip, within a few hours, you can be at some of the most amazing landscapes the US has to offer

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you think Las Vegas is just this one lonely spot in the middle of the desert—well, you’re probably right. But here’s the good news. It’s the perfect starting point for taking more than a few good road trips. So if you’re getting bored of the casinos and glitz of Sin City pack up your toad and hit the road for some interesting and fun filled getaways within a few hours’ drive.

Best Quick Escape: Lake Mead, Nevada

Distance from Las Vegas: One hour

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

There is a national park just minutes from Las Vegas that has Joshua trees, slot canyons, and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way. Lake Mead is the closest body of water of any significance to Las Vegas making it the first choice for swimming, boating, and jet skiing. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes.

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

Entry to the Lake Mead National Recreation is $25 per person (or $15 per person walking or bicycling) and good for seven days. A day pass for the Lake Mead Resort & Marina is $10 per vehicle but if you plan on coming back, the yearly pass is a far better deal at $30.

Best Cultural Getaway: Sedona, Arizona 

Distance from Las Vegas: Four hours and 30 minutes

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona and Red Rock Country has more than 300 miles of trails for hiking and biking, surrounded by green pine trees that contrast sharply with the deep red hues of buttes and canyon walls.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some consider Sedona to be in a vortex with the energy of nature especially strong in four locations: Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon. So get in touch with your spirituality or, at the very least, bring a yoga mat and absorb the scenery in a way that works for you. Sedona is also home to more than 80 art shops and galleries, showcasing the best local talent.

Best Riverside Getaway: Laughlin, Nevada

Distance from Las Vegas: One hour and 30 minutes

Laughlan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Colorado River, Laughlin has been transformed from a small mining town into an attractive tourist destination. While its neon lights are no match for Vegas, it does have numerous things to offer such as a scenic river walk, tons of outdoor activities, and the Laughlin River Run, a massive annual motorcycle event. You’ll be in hog heaven.

Laughlan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a river cruise or find a moment of zen at the mystical Laughlin Labyrinths, nine stone mazes that are both intriguing and energizing.

Vista del Sol RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a place to stay? Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort offers 740 spaces with full hook-ups, laundry facilities, showers, and free shuttles to the casino. Or cross the river and go for a spectacular view at the new Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona.

Best Getaway for Hiking: Zion National Park, Utah

Distance from Las Vegas: Two hours and 30 minutes

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the road and travel through Nevada, Arizona, and finally Utah to Zion National Park as the desert suddenly gets a lot more colorful. You’ll find yourself walking among trees, waterfalls, rocks, and a towering canyon. Don’t overlook the winter months—peak solitude season with fewer crowds to go along with the sunsets and stargazing. Just bundle up at night. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not all hiking trails are created equal. The infamous Angels Landing is a 2.5-mile hike with steep and narrow pathways. It even comes with a warning sign with the number of people who have died on the trail.

Best Modern Marvel Getaway: Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: 45 minutes

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoover Dam may be the most intriguing slab of concrete in the world. Highway travelers used to drive right over it but traffic is now diverted to the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which offers a cool view but isn’t quite the same experience. Tours run daily, ready to give a nuts-and-bolts look at how the whole thing operates, producing electricity for California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Mike O’Calhaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boulder City is the closest town to the dam and has a small tourism industry based around the engineering masterpiece, the construction of which pretty much set the stage for modern Las Vegas. It’s one of the few communities in the entire state where gambling is not legal.

Most Awe-Inspiring Getaway: Grand Canyon, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: Four hours (45 minutes by helicopter)

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know the deal. The Grand Canyon is the biggest hole in the ground in the U. S. making it a prime destination. There are more than a few tours that originate from Las Vegas including some by helicopter.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The South Rim is heavily visited and is run by the National Park Service. The Hualapai Tribe runs the West Rim and operates the famous skywalk. The remote North Rim is stunning but a pain to reach. No matter where you end up, please don’t fall down the canyon while trying to take a photo. It happens.

Worth Pondering…

Las Vegas is a 24-hour city. It never stops.

—Eli Roth

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros

Driving to the historic town of Oatman is a favorite Arizona road trip

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Here is our plan: We’ll drive to a town that shouldn’t exist. We’ll travel a twisted ribbon of pavement along Historic Route 66.

Historic Route 66 to Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman. Rising above town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman has about 40 gift, antique, and craft shops, two Old Time Photo Shops, Judy’s Bar, assorted ghosts, and several places to eat and listen to live music. Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The burg’s most famous residents are its four-legged ambassadors. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping on alfalfa squares sold by the shop owners.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the burros are in the middle of the road (which they frequently are), they have the right of way. Cars have to wait, no matter how long it takes. No honking, revving engines, or doing anything else to encourage them to move along.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter how tame they seem, the burros are wild animals. Use caution and common sense when feeding them. Do not feed junk food to the burros. Also, it’s best to leave Rover at home. Many burros consider the family pooch nothing more than a coyote with connections. The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman owes its place in history to two miners who struck it rich in 1915, uncovering more than $10 million in gold. A tent city soon sprang up as other miners heard of the gold find and flocked to the area; within a year, the town’s population grew to more than 3,500.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1930, it was estimated that 36 million dollars worth of gold had come from the mines. The town boasted two banks, seven hotels, twenty saloons, and ten stores. The town’s name is attributed to Olive Oatman, a young girl kidnapped by Indians and eventually rescued and returned to her family.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More modern events add to the allure of the tiny town, the most famous of which is a visit by Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who spent their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel in 1939. The well-used building, listed on the National Historic Building Registry, continues to attract visitors today. The Oatman Hotel is a great stop for lunch. The restaurant has killer buffalo burgers and the walls (and even parts of the ceiling) are covered with dollar bills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you notice folks clustering in the street without a ravenous burro in sight, it signals an impending gunfight. Gunfighter groups stage shootouts at various times throughout the day.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the mines shuttered, the stream of traffic along Route 66, the main route from the Midwest to California, kept Oatman alive. Then in 1952, Interstate 40 was constructed from Kingman, Arizona to Needles, California, bypassing this stretch of mountains. Oatman barely hung on.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the ’70s, Laughlin, Nevada started up; and in the late ’80s, Route 66 became a popular destination for tourists from around the world. Today, a half-million people visit this historic outpost each year. Not bad for an old ghost town off the beaten path. The town just waited for the world to come back around.

Folks start to roll out of town in late afternoon. Even the burros clock out and mosey back into the hills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. And one of the most scenic drives in the state. Now that’s something to bray about.

Back in the hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.

—Dave MacLennan

Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Pralines, the sweet pecan candy with a buttery, brown-sugar smell

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Cultural influences played a factor in the innovation of the candy in the American South. French settlers introduced their version in Louisiana where sugarcane plantations were a dominant industry and pecan trees were prevalent.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original praline was a 17th-century French dessert described as “almonds coated in boiled sugar.” According to popular accounts, they were originally created by the cook to French diplomat of César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin, a 17th-century sugar industrialist and were called “praslin.”

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some believe the comte had his cook devise an almond-studded candy to woo his various love interests. Or perhaps it was his butler who created the treat to cure Praslin’s painful indigestion or a clumsy young apprentice who knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramelized sugar.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The praline that emerged in the South was markedly different from its contemporary European counterpart. African-American cooks working for French colonists adapted the recipe by using native Louisiana pecans and adding cream. Voilà, the velvety, sugary pecan patty was born.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is believed that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns who came to New Orleans in 1727. They were in charge of the casket girls, young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans colonists. They were called casket girls (les filles a la casette) because each came to the city furnished with a casket-box filled with all their worldly possessions.

The nuns instructed the casket girls to be upstanding women in society as well as good wives to the settlers and in the course of their scholastic and domestic educations the girls were taught the art of praline making. Eventually the casket girls were married off and began to settle throughout southern Louisiana.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In his 1919 book about pecans, the agricultural historian Rodney Howard True called the crop “America’s most important contribution to the world’s stock of edible nuts.” Native peoples consumed pecans before Europeans arrived in America but the pecan’s history as a harvested nut is linked to a formerly enslaved Louisianan named Antoine.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The University of Georgia professor Lenny Wells wrote in his book, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree, that the nut had been harvested and perhaps even sold for centuries but that it was not viewed as capable of being industrialized. That perception shifted in 1846, Wells wrote, “thanks to the skill of a slave.” Antoine’s ability to produce high-quality nuts came through mastering the perfect combination of grafting partners to consistently produce premium nuts.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the mid-1800s, pralinieres were selling the candy in the French Quarter. Today, New Orleans tourists find it hard to leave the city without boxes of pralines.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas history of pralines is no less evocative. According to culinary historian MM Pack, the Texas praline’s ancestry came both from the east (New Orleans) and from the south (Mexico). Both France and Spain brought their sweet tooth to the New World “more or less at the same time,” Pack said. The pecan-candy traditions—pecans because they were plentiful and free—found a welcome home in Texas where industrious Mexican immigrants could make money from candy that was relatively cheap to produce.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack cited the Texas-Mexican history of the border town candyman (men selling sweets from carts and baskets) as a natural link for pecan candy at Tex-Mex restaurants.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the early 1900s, pecans became a source of income for Mexican immigrants who gathered, shelled, and dried them. Pecan candy soon became a tradition. Mexican-American know-how for pecan pralines found its way into Tex-Mex restaurants where Mexican candies—dulces—were sold.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being a thriving port city, people from all over the world came through New Orleans to the rest of the country and the praline spread with them. Nowadays most people are unaware of the candy’s historical origin, and the praline is thought of as a southern confection not necessarily specific to New Orleans. Some believe the pecan praline is a Texan candy, whereas others assume it came from Savannah.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pronunciation of the candy is a point of contention as well. In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where there are many communities settled by the French, the pronunciation is prah-leen with the long aaah sound which is closer to that of the candy’s namesake du Plessis-Praslin. Other regions of the country including parts of Texas and Georgia have anglicized the term and pronounce it pray-leen. However you say it, they taste the same. Other terms for pralines include pecan pralines, pecan candy, plarines, and pecan patties.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson

Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, like many of the small Central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884, and the arrival of a Carnation Milk condensing plant in 1929 put the town on the map. The plant still operates now part of Dairy Farmers of America and employs more than 200 people making dips and salsas.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a lot of locally owned businesses throughout the community that set the town apart. You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. They even had a warm cinnamon variety ready for “grab and go” consumption.

Schulenburg Historical Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Sengelmann Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To put some oompah in your day, walk to the Texas Polka Music Museum which honors the many artists who have brought polka power to Texas. There were old records, instruments, and even some DJ equipment from a local all-polka radio station. Visit the gift shop and purchase a polka CD to enjoy some road-trip tunes on the way home.

Texas Polka Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop: the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, dedicated to the local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise the countryside and follow the steeple on the horizon to St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, one of the area’s famed “Painted Churches.” While the brick facade may seem typical for a country church, inside lies a sanctuary full of ornate sculptures, stained glass, and paintings that rival those in the cathedrals of Europe.

Driving the countryside of Fayette County St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubin

In total there are more than a half-dozen of these painted churches including the three others we visited: Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina (pictured above), St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville (pictured below), known as “The Pink One.”

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Best Places for RV Travel this April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like the previous month, April was a victim of calendar shifting by the Romans. April was supposed to be the second month on the calendar after March, because after all, Aprillis is a derivative of the Latin base word apero- which means second. April was celebrated as the second month of the year, whereas now it’s the fourth month and is seen as the real beginning of spring in the U.S.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Could April be the best of all worlds? Summer comes early to Arizona. It’s also the best time of year to catch some bona fide bucket-list natural wonders from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest. Simply put: there’s an RV destination for you, no matter your jam.

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January, February, and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2019.

South Carolina

Great Swamp Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina begins as a wall of mountains on its western border as the Southern Appalachians rise dramatically from the piedmont below. The terrain mellows into river valleys as it moves east until it hits the coast and becomes wild again with untouched barrier islands, sandy beaches, and rough surf coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Water sports obviously dominate the coastal scene with untold miles of brackish rivers to paddle while the mountains have become a hotbed of cycling and hiking.

Texas

Davis Mountains of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is a lovely time of year in Texas. The weather is not yet too intensely hot, the skies are blue and clear, and things start to move outdoors—festivals, gigs, parties, eating, and drinking. The weather in Marfa, out in the High Texan Desert, is just right for walking the many miles around Donald Judd’s large-scale installations and land art out under the desert sun (at this time of year, not too harsh), and just right too for staying in a vintage van or airstream at El Cosmico.

Florida

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winter-sun state is wonderful in spring and autumn. It’s one of the best places to go on holiday in April for beach breaks or outdoor adventures with long sunny days and warm-but-not-hot weather—just right for tailing alligators through the mangroves or galloping around a cattle ranch, cruising around Miami’s art district or having a classic family beach holiday on the Gulf of Mexico.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is magic! Skagit Valley Farmers invite visitors to take a scenic drive through the valley and experience the art of farming during the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Tulips have been farmed here since the early 1900s and today, over a million bulbs are planted at RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town alone. The Magic Skagit Valley’s natural wonders also include shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River and one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park is America’s most spectacular landscape, a 277-mile long, 5,000 foot deep kaleidoscopic gorge of the Colorado River that cuts through the high desert plains of Arizona like a golden knife. Written into these sheer cliffs is one of the most complete geological records on the planet—nearly two billion years of the earth’s history etched into stone from the Kaibab Limestone laid down at its summit 260 million years ago to the 1.8-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at its base. Studying the rocks, layer by layer, you can almost see desert become swamp, oceans advance and retreat, and mountains rise and fall again. It’s like looking at time itself.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy a number of breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Repeatedly hailed America’s most charming and friendliest city, this Southern Belle offers cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages. And springtime is the perfect moment before steamy summer envelops the Deep South. Try jazz-club-hopping in the French Quarter, slurp fresh oysters on the seafront, and don’t miss the colorful Georgians of Rainbow Row. Better still, April’s annual Festival of Houses and Gardens invites you inside some of the city’s most incredible antebellum homes. Go have a snoop.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

Most Beautiful Towns in Arizona

From former mining town gems, to desert beauties and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in Arizona

Located in the Southwest, Arizona is steeped in history and beautifully diverse landscapes found throughout the state in the form of historical, scenic towns that truly impress. With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful towns in Arizona.

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine, becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.

Globe

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo, along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques, while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Page

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat power boat, or kayak.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian is well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round

Julian is a year-round getaway for the day, a weekend, or longer. Julian is also well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round.

Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall, when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit to Julian, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. They’re all so good I’ve been unable to identify a favorite.

Julian Pie Company

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using apples from their own apple tree farm (which boasts over 17,000 apple trees), Julian Pie Company crafts apple pies with moist centers and flaky or crumb crusts.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company became a reality for Liz Smothers in September of 1986. It all started when she and a neighbor began peeling apples for a local pie shop where she was soon employed to bake and sell pies. Tim, her son worked after school rolling dough.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recognizing her expertise, two other pie shops hired her to bake for them. While Liz enjoyed the activity and baking for the pie shops, she had a desire to be creative on her own and not merely bake someone else’s pie. With the assistance of a friend and emphasis on quality control and clean, neat surroundings, the Julian Pie Company began.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a growing demand for pies in local markets, the need to expand the production resulted in the opening of the Santa Ysabel facility in 1992. They now deliver pies to San Diego and Riverside counties as well as ship pies throughout the U.S.

Julian Pie Company  is located at 2225 Main Street in Julian and 21976 Highway 79 in Santa Ysabel; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Mom’s Pie House

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. All the pies at Mom’s are baked fresh. The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb, which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through the front window, watch Mom’s bakers prepare pies and other baked goods. Steaming soups and sandwiches are served on freshly baked whole-wheat buns.

Mom’s Pie House is located at 2119 Main Street in Julian; open Sunday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Julian Café and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken, followed by a slice of pie. Or, just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery also serves up other variations including apple crumb, apple pastry, and apple boysenberry pies—all available year-round.

Julian Café and Bakery is located at 2112 Main Street in Julian; open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday, 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Apple Alley Bakery is located at 2122 Main Street in Julian; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

A Quirky Gambling Town

How Vegas used to be

Here’s the craziest thing about Laughlin, Nevada: It didn’t even exist 55 years ago. In 1964, pilot Don Laughlin was cashing in as the owner of the 101 Club in North Las Vegas and, while flying his plane over the Colorado River, saw a world of potential in a strip of Nevada land across the river from Arizona’s Bullhead City. At the time, the area was home to less than a thousand people. He took a big risk invested it into an old boarded-up eight-room motel. From there, success took over.

Laughlin with Bullhead City across the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That motel added casino games and eventually evolved into the Riverside Resort with two massive towers. The town itself—about a 90-minute drive from Las Vegas—became official when postal services were established. (You can’t have a post office without having a town name) The postmaster at the time was of Irish heritage and liked the name Laughlin, so all the stars seemed to align.

Laughlin along the Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Don was just getting started. Over the years, his civic projects would include an airport expansion, flood control work, and the opening of a ranch that provided beef to Laughlin’s restaurants. He even financed a bridge that crossed the water between Nevada and Arizona—right next to the Riverside Resort, of course. 

Laughlin and the bridge across the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In case you’re wondering, Don Laughlin is still going strong at 88 years and living in a penthouse at the top of his resort. The town that shares his name is now home to nine casino hotels, 10 if you include the Avi Resort about 15 miles south on Native American land. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laughlin’s population is approximately 10,000 while Bullhead City and its unincorporated area boast a population of about 42,000 permanent residents. An estimated 14,000 Nevada and Arizona residents currently work in Laughlin’s hotels and casinos. Multi-million dollar Laughlin housing developments have rushed into construction to keep pace with the business boom.

Looking across the Colorado River from the Laughlin Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretch your legs while exploring Laughlin on foot at the Riverwalk. Well maintained and offering fantastic views of the city and the Colorado River, the Laughlin Riverwalk is a great way to get from one casino to the other while soaking up sights like Don Laughlin’s Riverside to the boats sailing by.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try walking along the Riverwalk in the evening to enjoy the live bands that play on various sections of the walkway. If you’re not sure about what you want to do taking a stroll along this stretch of pathway is a great way to see what the city has to offer on any given day as well.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The coolest way to get around town is by water taxi. These small boats piloted by certified captains zip around on the river from one property to another. Most casinos have their own dock and if you stand around on one, a water taxi will show up fairly quick. A single ride is $5, although wristband deals are available for unlimited rides.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The kitschy casino hotels might be the best part. Laughlin’s signature casino, Riverside Resort, feels pretty old-school and is almost always going through renovations. A rooftop pool deck has been updated with cabanas and a modern circular bar. The classic car collection in the lobby adds to the 1960s ambiance.  

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those drawn to the spirit of the Old West, New Pioneer has a Tombstone-like facade and a gift shop full of kitsch items like goat’s milk soap and cowboy hats. It also has River Rick—a double of Vegas Vic, the iconic neon smoking cowboy that once stood outside the original Pioneer Club in Vegas.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aquarius is the largest resort with 1,900 rooms and a centralized casino with restaurants around the perimeter.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado Belle looks exactly like a vintage paddlewheel riverboat, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere. The casino floor has a classic old-school style that wouldn’t look out of place in Mississippi or New Orleans. The koi fish in the front moat are a nice touch. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated across the Colorado River and up the hill from Laughlin is the small but historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Famed for being a living ghost town, Oatman was once a bustling community of over 10,000 people but has now dwindled down to a population of just over 100 people.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being just a whisper of what it once was, Oatman is still a fantastic place for history buffs to visit thanks to its many historical buildings. There are also fantastic photo opportunities to be had in Oatman as well as exciting shows to catch, like those of the Ghost Rider Gunfighters, who perform gunfight recreations daily.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase