Top Reasons to Visit Las Cruces

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

Maybe it’s the friendly people and the endless sunshine. Or maybe it’s the chile-laced food (and drink.) There are plenty of reasons to visit Las Cruces, New Mexico. Here are just eleven:

Chiles in the Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do the Walk of Flame

That is… if you can handle the heat! The Walk of Flame Green Chile Trail is a newly established culinary route that leads hungry (and thirsty) visitors to hot spots where they can sample Las Cruces’ famous green chiles in all their glorious guises. In Las Cruces, green chile crops up in and on everything from ice cream to pot stickers to hot dogs to wine, not just Mexican fare.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can feast on The Game’s corked bats (pecan-encrusted Hatch green chile strips), sip Chile ‘Rita’s at La Posta de Mesilla, or surprise their senses with a Green Chile Sundae from Caliche’s Frozen Custard. Green chile chasers also have the option to get their hands dirty on a tour of the Chile Pepper Institute Garden.

Musical entertainment in downtown Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kick up some dust at the Country Music Festival

Country superstars ride into Las Cruces in October for the Las Cruces Country Music Festival, a three day celebration of country music in downtown Las Cruces. Past performers include Travis Tritt, Tayna Tucker, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Kenny Rogers, the Charlie Daniels Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lee Ann Womack, Aaron Watson, Cam, Dustin Lynch, Cassadee Pope, Little Texas, Darryl Worley, Craig Campbell, Greg Bates, Chase Bryant and others.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Or wander across what seems like an endless desert beach

An hour’s drive northwest of Las Cruces, White Sands National Park comprises 275 square miles of wave-like gypsum sand dunes. During the stroll, visitors will hear the story of the monument and see the critters and vegetation that are able to survive in this arid expanse. By the end of the tour, the sun is setting, lighting the sky with hues of purples and pinks for a picture-perfect moment.

Farmers and Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Encounter local and exotic creations at the award-winning Farmers & Crafts Market

More than 300 vendors gather to sell locally-made wares and fares of all sorts at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, voted one of the top farmers markets in the country. Open every Saturday and Wednesday morning downtown, the market brims with handmade jewelry, pottery and other crafts, local produce, and even prepared food to devour on the spot.

Parrots at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Talk with parrots at La Posta

Diners will find unexpectedly talkative “greeters” at the much-loved restaurant La Posta de Mesilla. Colorful parrots welcome guests in the lobby of the colorful 200-year old adobe. This and numerous other restaurants and shops can be found in the historic village of Mesilla just outside of Las Cruces.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Monumental moments

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument surrounds Las Cruces with 496,000 acres of opportunity for hiking, biking, and exploring petroglyph and archeological sites.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Raise a glass in the oldest wine-producing region in North America

Las Cruces has lots to boast about, being in the fertile Mesilla Valley where grape growing dates back to the late 1500s. At Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery, Sunday afternoons on the patio is particularly alluring. Enjoy live music and taste the wines or house made sangrias as you gaze at the nearby mountains. Lovers of wine can also enjoy New Mexican wines at St. Clair Winery & Bistro, Amaro Winery, and La Viña Winery.

8. Become the Salsa Judge

Downtown Las Cruces heats up for Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall. In addition to salsa sampling and a salsa making competition, the event gets people moving with salsa dancing lessons, live performances, and local wine and beer.

Dining at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dine among “ghosts”

Legend has it that quite a few buildings in Mesilla are haunted. Begin your search for the paranormal with La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant where many have claimed to see chairs moving, heard glasses smashed to the floor, and experienced strange smells.

Double Eagle Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then head to the Double Eagle restaurant in Mesilla, with resident spirits in the building (which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places!) If paranormal activity doesn’t call to you, the World’s Largest Green Chile Cheeseburger just might.

Along Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Exploring Scenic Highway 28

The Don Juan de Onate Trail invites today’s travelers to follow in the hoof prints of the Spanish conquistador and his band of 400 colonizers in 1598 as they journeyed from New Spain (Mexico) north to find the fabled Cities of Gold in what is now northern New Mexico. The drive along the trail (Highway 28) is one of the Las Cruces area’s most scenic routes, crossing and flanking the Rio Grande from El Paso to historic Old Mesilla.

Stahmann Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rural two-lane road then passes fields of corn, chile, and cotton on its way through several small villages, including San Miguel. Further south, slip beneath a canopy of pecan trees that mark the world’s largest, family-owned pecan orchard, Stahmann Farms. 

Further down the trail sits the community of La Mesa, home to a National Register of Historic Places property, Chope’s Café and Bar. 

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

11. An encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the land fill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

With all there is to see and do, you’ll want to make sure that Georgia is on your mind

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Georgia. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Gorgeous Georgia is mostly known for being home to charming historic cities filled with leafy squares and oak-lined streets, sprawling farmlands, towering mountains, and Southern charm. That’s not forgetting the amazing beaches and coastline, sleepy rural settlements, roaring rivers, jaw-dropping parks, and clear sparkling lakes—to say this southeastern state is diverse would be an understatement. It sure is a tough task, but we’ve managed to narrow done to eight of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Georgia…

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles

Along the incredible 100 miles of Georgia’s coastline lies the magical seaside retreat of the Golden Isles. Nestled along stretches of sand dunes and salt marshes, the mainland city of Brunswick and its four beloved barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Islands—offer breathtaking landscapes, a variety of recreational pursuits, and inherent tranquility.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Constantly ranked amongst one of the “friendliest cities in the world”, Savannah’s colorful history attracts millions of visitors every year. Situated along the bubbling Savannah River, this strategic port city is Georgia’s fifth-largest city. With a history of almost 300 years, the cobbled and oak-lined streets, beautiful parks, and archaic buildings, the historic city retains its essence.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the 22 park-like squares in downtown Savannah or get intrigued with the Telfair’s Academy of Arts and Sciences, the South’s first public museum. A pretty and sophisticated city with delicious food, this place exudes natural beauty and beautiful locales.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park near Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lookout Mountain

One of the most beautiful places to visit in Georgia, Lookout Mountain is a wonderful and striking mountain ridge located at the northwest corner of the state. As well as offering truly stunning views and beautiful surroundings it’s also the place where you can view the most states at once. Located 25 miles from three different states, when the skies are clear (and with a good set of binoculars handy) you can see up to seven different states if you try hard enough—visit and see for yourself! 

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon

Located about 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, Macon is the perfect destination for Southern adventure. A pretty city with a rich history, incredible architecture, and music heritage, Macon is “Where Soul Lives”. Hike to the area’s 17,000 years of heritage at Ocmulgee National Monument which includes a reconstructed earthen lodge or stroll the streets and discover the state’s largest collection of African-American art in Tubman Museum. At every landmark, you’ll discover the untold stories of the Civil War. Pay tribute to Macon’s native son, Otis Redding, at his life-size statue.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide a much-needed escape from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, the Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the Blood Mountain. Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters, along with a seasonal swimming beach available.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Also referred to as Appalachian Trail or A.T., this marked hiking trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Extending about 2,200 miles, the trail traverses scenic woods, pastoral, and wild lands of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Established in 1937, today the trail is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and numerous state agencies. Passing through 14 states and 8 national forests, hiking the entire trail takes five to seven months.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

A ferry ride of about 45 minutes from St. Mary’s and you’ll head to Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. The Cumberland Island covers approximately 36,000 acres of land with unspoiled beaches, wide marshes and white sands with a variety of wildlife is a national seashore. With a deep history of the inhabitants and settlements you can have a glimpse of the Ruins of Dungeness and Greyfield Inn. It’s also a great place to visit in Georgia if you’re an animal lover—the island is home to a band of beautiful feral horses living and wandering free. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee

The Okefenokee is an area of swampland in southern Georgia, covering more than 770 square miles. It is a maze of watercourses, cypress swamps, and swamp grassland. Interesting features are the “floating islands” which quake under foot but nevertheless support whole forests and in the past provided protection for Indian settlements. The swamp is home to many endangered species as well as an estimated 10,000 alligators. From the little town of Waycross there are boat trips into the swamp.

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

Laura S. Walker State Park offers a large campground, golf course, and Sportsman’s Cabins as well as kayak rentals, playgrounds, and trails. The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. It surrounds Laura S. Walker Lake and sits just to the north of the Okefenokee Swamp.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours.

Keep Georgia on your mind as you plan your next RV trip.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

There are numerous attractions along Alabama’s Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Whether you are a lover of history, nature, or adrenaline rushes, we’ve got you covered.

The Coastal Connection Scenic Byway runs along the Alabama Gulf Coast and is a unique way to explore the Gulf Shores area. As you drive, you’ll find yourself immersed in history and nature. 

Here are six favorite experiences along this scenic byway.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores Museum

Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geocaching

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure-hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called caches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. There are caches all along the byway. This is a great activity for travel parties of all sizes and a great way to connect with fellow treasure hunters across the globe.

Bon Secor National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area!

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay Ferry

The Mobile Bay Ferry boards near Fort Morgan. This is one of the easiest ways to travel to Dauphin Island which is a continuation of the scenic byway. If you have never driven your car onto a ferry, this is an experience you will want to make time for. If you want to ride the ferry and leave your car in the parking lot, you can do that as well. The hours vary by season, so it’s important to check the website before your trip.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Making the Most of your Byway Experience

Alabama’s Coastal Connection offers something for everyone from the birders to hikers to photographers. There are a few measures you can take to make the most of your experience. Be flexible, since volatile weather can force you to change your plans. When traveling along Alabama’s Coastal Connection, have your rain gear and jackets handy in case you need them. Memories can just as easily be made in rain boots and under an umbrella!

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is home to miles of beauty that you can only find along Alabama’s Coastal Connection. Don’t be afraid to slow down when you see something that piques your curiosity. After all, this is why you’re taking a scenic byway instead of flying down the interstate at 75 miles per hour.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Thanksgiving Road Trip: See the Best of Arizona in these 8 Places

There’s a lot more to Arizona than the Grand Canyon which is why these eight places are the perfect excuse to take a Thanksgiving road trip

This Thanksgiving, be grateful not just for the four-day weekend, but how it allows plenty of time to see Arizona at its best—winter to the north, t-shirt weather to the south.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state’s scenic variety shines through as fall edges toward winter. Even as snow blankets the high country, the desert sun continues to warm snowbirds who bask in it on desert hikes.

The long Thanksgiving weekend provides the perfect opportunity to spend a day or two on the road, seeing areas that have perhaps escaped your view. Here are some suggestions to get you on your way.

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox

This up-and-coming town in southeastern Arizona is attracting visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, but you’re here to hike in Chiricahua National Monument and see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area, and Willcox is the perfect hub. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown, when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac and Tumacacori

Head south on Interstate 19 to Tumacacori National Historical Park, where a stately though incomplete mission stands as a reminder of the Spanish Franciscans who settled in the area two centuries ago. After soaking in the history, head 3½ miles back north for lunch in Tubac, a charming arts colony. Stroll among dozens of galleries and studios where you’ll find pottery, jewelry, paintings, and works in all sorts of media.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

You’ve lost count how many times you’ve whipped past the off ramp for Montezuma Castle as you head north on Interstate 17. But go ahead, angle right at Exit 289 and be rewarded with a look at a work of ingenuity and architectural design, circa 1200. The ancient dwellers carved a 40- to 50-room pueblo into the cliff and lived there for 400 years. Visitors in the early 20th century scaled ladders and explored the rooms, but ruins are off limits today. No matter, because the view from below is stunning.

Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona

Among the dozens of Instagram-worthy sites around Sedona, this is one of the best. Its official name is Crescent Moon Picnic Site but it’s commonly called Red Rock Crossing. Cathedral Rock soars in the distance, its two towers book-ending a slender spire offering the perfect backdrop to Oak Creek, which flows along rocks worn smooth by water and wind. It’s also said to be home to a powerful spiritual vortex. For something more palpable, pack a lunch and dine in one of Arizona’s prettiest places.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

For a few years, Bisbee was the “it” destination, named Arizona’s prettiest small town by a number of travel sites. That level of attention may have dwindled, but the former mining town is as beautiful as ever. A stroll down Main Street reveals buildings that look much as they did a hundred years ago, now occupied by restaurants and boutiques rather than miners and speculators. If you head 3 miles south to Lowell, you’ll find a strip of former service stations and garages repurposed as stores and restaurants.

Courthouse Plaza, Pewscott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey Row, Prescott

Park the car and enjoy the kind of afternoon once experienced by cowboys, miners, and ranchers looking to blow off some steam around the turn of the 20th century. While the bars aren’t nearly as numerous as they once were, you can still duck inside one of Whiskey Row’s three saloons (Bird Cage, the Palace Saloon, or Matt’s) and revel in the history. Special treat: Just across the street, Courthouse Plaza will be decked out for the holidays one of the reasons Prescott is the Arizona’s Christmas City.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. RV camping is available.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Feel the Burn

How hot is hot?

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Red chile pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

More chile-infused products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas. Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

Though often categorized as a vegetable, chiles are really a fruit as evidenced by their seeds.

Chile peppers originated in South America and then spread to Central and North America.

The Indians of the American tropics cultivated the chile pepper for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On his first voyage to the Western hemisphere, Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the fiery chile pod “pepper” an unrelated spice native to the subcontinent.

All chile peppers are edible even ornamentals. Ornamentals, however, have been bred for their appearance and usually have little to no flavor or can be very hot.

Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants which all belong to the nightshade family.

The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.

There are 26 known species of chile pepper five of which are domesticated.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

The Mind-Blowing Enchantment of New Mexico: San Antonio & Bosque del Apache

Most enchanting places in New Mexico for your bucket list

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We begin in New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque. Albuquerque and its suburbs have a vibrant, growing population just shy of one million residents. It is a sprawling, picturesque city, with the stunning Sandia Mountains constraining it on the east, Petroglyph National Monument to the west and the Rio Grande River meandering through its center. 

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual event held in early October. This nine day celebration hosts over 500 balloons each year and is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.

Plaza de Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey 50 miles north and you arrive in Santa Fe, a world renowned city with shops, historic churches, art galleries, restaurants, and inns. Well known for its artists, cowboys, and Native American influence, Santa Fe is a melting pot of culture and ideas.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The commuter rail system, the Rail Runner Express offers a convenient, comfortable, and affordable excursion from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.
Today’s journey takes us in the opposite direction. We’ll drive our motorhome about 100 miles south via I-25 to our first stop in the quaint little town of San Antonio, New Mexico. 

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Christmas day in 1887, this little hamlet in southern New Mexico was the birth place of its most noteworthy resident, the legendary hotelier, Conrad Hilton. Along with his brothers and sisters, Conrad grew up helping his father in the five-room hotel where rates were $1 per day. Their first Hilton Hotel burned to the ground with only the grand mahogany bar spared from the devastation.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, this original mahogany antique can be seen in the Owl Bar and Café in San Antonio. This historic café vies with its neighbor, the Buckhorn Bar, for the “best green chili cheeseburger in the world.”

The Owl is an interesting place to stop for lunch. Walk in the door and you’ll step back into time. Your eyes are first drawn to Hilton’s original bar and then to the walls packed with memorabilia and collectable décor distinctly southwestern.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can’t help but note the dollar bills covering the restaurant’s walls. This is an Owl tradition which encourages visitors to write messages, or their names on dollar bills, then find an available space and tack them up. The cash is gathered annually and given to charity. Over the years, patrons have donated over $20,000.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio is gateway to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a ten minute drive south on SR-1S. Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor center is staffed with friendly, knowledgeable volunteers who provide maps and firsthand information on what’s happening at the refuge. Displays introduce you to much of the wildlife that call the refuge home. The gift and nature store offers field guides and gifts to make your visit enlightened and memorable.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to reserve time for the twelve-mile auto loop through the refuge. This loop is divided into north and south halves. Time spent will depend on how often and how long you stop at the many viewing areas. The south loop has more deep water ponds, which draw an abundance of diving birds. Both loops afford you opportunity to spot a wide array of wildlife.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The enchantment of New Mexico and many critters of the Bosque can be enjoyed any time of year. However, if your visit is from October through March, be sure to take warm clothes as the temperatures can blend with the New Mexico winds to drive a chill straight to the bone.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better time or way to appreciate all that the 57,000-acre refuge has to offer than attending the annual Festival of the Cranes, a virtual event in 2020 (November 19-21). Registration required. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Note: Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park closed for several years but has reopened under the same management.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Historically, winter RV trips are not the norm—but this year has been anything but normal

At a time when many industries are experiencing record lows and astronomical budget cuts, recreational vehicle sales are up—and not just by a little bit. Year-end totals for 2020 are predicted to hover around 425,000 units—nearly a 5 percent gain from 2019. And, 2021 predictions are looking even brighter with most estimates creeping near a 20 percent increase over 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pandemic has introduced a new audience to the world of RVs, once the province of the baby boomer generation. Younger folks are driving the trend, gravitating toward smaller camper vans and vehicles under 30 feet in length. The new buyers don’t often have experience, either.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the first time we’re seeing people buy the products sight unseen. They’re paying for the vehicle online, getting it delivered to their home, and getting out there for the first time in their lives.

But there is another significant difference, too: Buyers are interested in extending the travel season. According to a 2020 impact survey conducted by Thor Industries, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they were still planning trips in October and November, a clear indication that consumers are eager to make up for lost time.

Blanco State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter road trips are possible, as long as travelers take the necessary precautions. Plan ahead when looking for places to camp since many designated campgrounds close for the winter. This means many travelers will boondock or camp off-the-grid without connections to power or water sources. If you’ll be adventuring in extremely cold conditions, consider adding additional insulation to holding tank areas and running your thermostat higher to keep the vehicle warmer and avoid frozen water lines. It’s a good idea to take a cold-weather practice run to understand the capabilities of your new RV.

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get you started in planning a winter journey, check out the five winter RV road trip destinations listed below. Each highlights natural beauty and ample opportunities to get outside for some fresh—and potentially brisk—air.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Five, Southern Utah

Named as such by the state of Utah, the Big Five are the five national parks spread throughout the southern half of the state: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each park boasts a unique look at the state’s famed geologic formations and scenery ranging from Angel’s Landing (a popular hike in Zion) to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface in Capitol Reef. For RVers, this stretch of canyon country is a perfect winter journey thanks to the smaller crowds and ephemeral views of dazzling snow on red sandstone.

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico tends to be a drive-through state for many RV travelers, and that is a shame. RVers should spend a week in Santa Fe before directing their rig toward Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks. Continue south to White Sands National Park, the newest addition to the National Park Service’s lineup after its re-designation from a national monument in late 2019. Tucked away toward the southern border of the state shared with Texas, it is easy to see why White Sands is dubbed “like no place else on Earth.” Stark-white gypsum sand dunes fill a 275-square-mile region that amounts to a veritable (and socially distant) playground for those willing to explore.

Verde Valley near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the quirkiness of an old mining town (Jerome), and the mysteries of stone (Montezuma Castle) left by those who once thrived here but have now vanished. Down the hill from Jerome is Clarkdale, an old copper mining company town now best known for the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train that takes you on a four hour tour of the stunning Verde River Canyon. You’ll find all this and more in the Verde Valley, 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Chattahoochee National Forest along Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide an escape away from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite, Texas-sized ranches, and refreshing swimming holes, the Hill Country is an outdoor retreat like no other. Get inspired to relax, explore, and enjoy the great outdoors. Settled by Germans and Eastern Europeans, the Texas Hill Country has a culture all its own. Storybook farms and ranches dot the countryside, and you may even still hear folks speaking German in Fredericksburg, Boerne, and New Braunfels. You’ll also find some of the best barbecue in Texas, antique shops on old-fashioned main streets and celebrations with roots in the Old World.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

―T.S. Eliot

The Ultimate Guide for Your Next RV Road Trip

A complete roadmap to explore the American Southwest

When John Steinbeck first loaded up his camper back in 1960 and set off on a cross-country trip with his black French poodle, Charley, recreational vehicles were an unusual sight. As he traversed America engaging the bemused people he encountered along the way, Steinbeck found a kinship. “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here,” he later wrote in Travels with Charley.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That deep yearning would ultimately make RVs nearly as common as 18-wheelers on US highways. In recent years, however, these rolling embodiments of American wanderlust had developed a reputation as a bit passé. Who can forget the image of Cousin Eddie in his dilapidated RV to get Clark Griswold the perfect present in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?

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

That may not have been the look everybody was going for at the start of 2020. But cabin fever–stricken folks across the country having spent months in public-health quarantine became desperate for ways to get out of the house while staying safe from COVID-19—and they found an outlet in recreational vehicles. The trend has continued as we have all struggled to find ways to handle life—and vacations—in the midst of a pandemic. And it makes sense.

That’s right: the RV is back with families piling into camper vans, trailers, and motor coaches “to look for America,” as Paul Simon has aptly described it.

And, one of the best place in the country to do just that is the American Southwest with its vast expanses of canyons, mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers that are unrivaled in their majesty and variety. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re itching to get on board yourself we offer this RV guide to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the Southwest. In it we’ve got you covered with all the places to go and the attractions that you simply must see along the way. The most beautiful places in America include some little-known yet bucket-list-worthy natural wonders that include lush forests and towering mountains—and are sure to inspire your travels.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You don’t need to go very far to find stunning natural beauty in the United States but some places are just magical. The country is approximately 3.8 million square miles in size, so it should come as no surprise that its home to some spectacular scenery but sights like the Grand Canyon, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and the soaring peaks of Zion and Capitol Reef never fail to meet even the highest expectations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few landscapes warp the mind quite like Joshua Tree National Park, a lumpy, Seussian dreamscape that beguiles the imagination. There are a couple of ways to best explore the park and both take place on foot: hiking to points of interest and climbing.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is full of chasms, canyons, waterfalls, and red cliffs. What better way to cool off after a long day of hiking than dipping your feet at the base of a three-tier waterfall?

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors to Sedona and Red Rock Country. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around this 286-acre park.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Gypsum is rarely seen as sand since it dissolves in water but New Mexico’s dry climate has preserved the dunes. The pure white sand mounds stretch for 275 square miles near Alamogordo.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create an outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, photographers, and rock climbers.

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

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves—for wildlife and human visitors alike—providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks.

Natural Bridge National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Meandering streams cut through pinyon and juniper covered mesas forming three large multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three natural bridges.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. From the mesa east of Chinle, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Providing a dramatic craggy backdrop for many a cinematic Western movie, Monument Valley runs along the border of Utah and Arizona within the 26,000-square miles of the Navajo Tribal Park. U.S. Highway 163 scenic byway barrels through red rock buttes and spires.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains 30 miles southeast of Tucson. A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Eroded by wind and water over millions of years, the thousand-foot limestone and sandstone columns at Bryce Canyon are striped with orange, pink, red, and white layers. Rather than being an actual canyon, the odd-shaped spires are a geologic formation called hoodoos.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this preserve comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transformed into colorful slabs of stone. A broad region of rocky badlands, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A word to the wise, though: Pandemic safety precautions shift as the virus numbers go up and down in specific regions; check the frequently changing schedules and policies at parks, restaurants, and campgrounds before setting out. From there, just remember, once you’re on the open road, where it leads is entirely up to you. Yes, there will be surprises once you set out, but, as 2020 has continually reminded us, that’s life—so get out and enjoy it.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

Why I Love Blue Bell Ice Cream

Blue Bell ice cream seriously is the best ice cream

I grew up in the good old days when you milked the cows and separated the wonderful fresh cream from the delicious whole milk. You bought your salt and ice and sat out in the shed all afternoon cranking away on the arm of the ice cream keg. It was usually a family affair that required many hours of hard labor but the end result was well worth all the effort. Perfectly crafted handmade ice cream with just the right texture and flavor! In fact, if you wanted wholesome ice cream back then it was about the only way you got it.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the early 70’s that old past time came to an abrupt end for many as word got around that the little creamery in Brenham, Texas had started expanding and would soon begin selling to new markets. There was some skepticism, at first, followed by years of unbridled gluttony as many discovered the joy and convenience of being able to shop at a local grocer for a whole half gallon of incredible ice cream, something that took hours of hard labor before then.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, other brands have come along and Blue Bell has continued to increase its markets across the South. I’ve given the competitors a try including the big names and have come to the simple conclusion that, just as their ads proclaim, Blue Bell really is the best ice cream in the country. The main reasons? Fresh ingredients and tasty rich flavors! To quote Blue Bell, “The milk we use is so fresh it was grass only yesterday.” That commitment to quality is why Blue Bell has been slow to expand in spite of strong demand. 

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps it’s the country music inspired commercials or the many cherished flavors but one thing is for sure: I love Blue Bell ice cream! Below the Mason-Dixon line, the brand is known as the go-to ice cream company simply because it “tastes just like the good ole’ days.”

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It all started back in 1907 when a group of local farmers in Brenham, Texas, decided to work together and founded the Brenham Creamery Company. They pooled their resources and the output of their Jersey cows and started making butter from the excess cream that the area farmers dropped off. A few years later, the creamery realized what else they could do with all that excess cream. Soon they started churning out the best ice cream around—albeit just two gallons of ice cream at a time—selling it under the Brenham Creamery Company name and delivering it to neighbors by horse and wagon.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About twenty years later, the company switched its name to Blue Bell Creameries with the charming Texas bluebell wildflower in mind. The rest is history! Blue Bell ice cream flavors are often the exciting grand finale to any celebration. The products are now sold in 22 states according to its website.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s quite a change for a company that still promotes itself as a small town business selling a locally produced product. “We eat all we can and sell the rest,” one of the company’s favorite marketing slogans says. So, if you’re searching for where to buy Blue Bell ice cream, you should know that the tasty treat is a bit of a delicacy ‘round these parts.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My favorites change from time to time but they’re all good even the stranger ones (remember Blueberry Cheesecake?)  Currently I am hooked on both the moo-llenium crunch and the pecan pralines ‘n cream but as new flavors arise and seasonal reappear I never know what I’ll come home with next. Their original homemade vanilla and Dutch chocolate are classic favorites and if you can’t make up your mind then the ultimate Neapolitan (vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry evenly divided under one lid) is an easy choice.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pour a little light cream over a big bowl full of the original homemade vanilla and think back to all those days on the farm spent cranking away at that bucket out in the shed. The old days are never really that far away, after all. They just got better when Blue Bell came to town.  

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream is like a good friend. Sweet, nostalgic, ready on the freezer shelf whenever you need it! And it will never abandon you and when it’s the only dessert that will satisfy a cool, creamy craving, the frozen aisle is pretty close to paradise.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The century-old, Brenham-born brand offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like rocky roads, strawberries & homemade vanilla, and cookies ’n cream. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all!

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My love for ice cream emerged at an early age – and has never left!

—Ginger Rogers

A Utah Road Trip: Natural Bridges, Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods & More

This route provides breathtaking views of some of Utah’s most beautiful sites

It’s nearly impossible to drive any kind of distance in Utah without going through some spectacular countryside, no matter what route you choose. However, there is one drive a bit off the beaten path that is not nearly as well known as other scenic drives and designated scenic byways and yet is truly worthy of a day trip.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting this 130-mile journey from our home base at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, we drove our toad north on US-191 to Blanding, then took a left turn to head west on SR-95.

With every bend in the road, we found ourselves craning our necks to take in the stunning views. Enormous, patterned red rock walls lined the sides of the road, and mystical red rock formations rose up from the horizon and changed shape as we passed them by. The landscape was vast, open and colorful, and completely devoid of the human touch. Everywhere we looked, we felt inspired by the wondrous creations of a divine hand.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road was first constructed in 1935 as a gateway from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument and remained unpaved through the 1960s. It wasn’t until the ’70s that portions of the road began to be paved. Yet, because it doesn’t link any major towns or cities, we found that as we passed by one glorious red rock vista after another on our way to Natural Bridges, there was rarely another vehicle on the road.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several miles before reaching the national park gate we left SR-95, heading west on SR-275 to the park gate. Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area. It is rather remote and not close to other parks and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge.

Continuing our road trip, we retraced our route on SR-275 and SR-95, traveling south on SR-261 to Muley Point, Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before descending Moki Dugway, you may wish to stop at the fantastic vista at Muley Point. To reach Muley Point, take the first road to your right (west) at the top of the dugway. The Muley Point Overlook provides viewers with a panorama of the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and the vast, sweeping valleys of the desert valley below. 

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also spelled Mokee, the term “moki” is derived from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Moki Dugway was constructed in the 1950s to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods lies below the Moki Dugway overlook. You enter another environment as you descend from scrub forest to desert.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley near many of the formations. Short hikes are necessary to reach some, but most can be seen from the road. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Days can be spent by anyone with a camera and time. As is usual in this stark landscape, morning and evening are the best times to take photos. The Valley of the Gods is full of long and mysterious shadows in the evening. The morning sun shines directly on the valley and its towers.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road exits onto US-163 about 7.5 miles north of Mexican Hat. Pointing our toad east for 17 miles and we’ve back at our home base in Bluff.

Worth Pondering…

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!

—Emily Dickinson