A Journey of Incredible Beauty: Trail of the Ancients

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence

Far too often we consider the roads that we travel purely as a means to get from point A to point B. Most spend far more hours in their cars commuting and running errands than truly enjoying what lies beyond the edge of the asphalt or concrete. But once you hit the road in your recreational vehicle, why not get off the roads most traveled and take in the breath-taking splendor of America’s system of scenic byways?

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients, a federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep (also in Colorado) national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists. An extension of this route continues into Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence. Attempt this 482-mile drive (366 miles in Utah; 116 miles in Colorado) in a single day or two and you’ll miss the point. This landscape took thousands of years to create; you’ll never appreciate it at 65 miles per hour. Instead, take a week or more, stopping to walk through the numerous parks, preserves, monuments, and unnamed places whose beauty defies categorization. Start at any point along the route.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway enters Utah east of Monticello on U.S. Highway 491 and continues to the junction in Monticello with U.S. Highway 191. Turn south onto U.S. 191 and travel to Blanding where you’ll find Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, a good stop for an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pre-history of the area. Visitors can walk the paths through the ruins and climb into the kiva via a ladder, just as the original residents did. Exceptionally rare and well-preserved artifacts are at the heart of the museum exhibits.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Blanding the route follows U.S. Highway 191 south to the junction with Utah Highway 95 and continues west on Highway 95 to Utah Highway 261 passing Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Butler Wash Ruins, about 10.5 miles west of Blanding, has cliff-type dwellings located under rocky overhangs in a lush green valley along the river. An easy half-mile hike allows closer views. Eight miles further west along Highway 95 brings you to Mule Canyon Indian Ruins at milepost 101. Adjacent to the road, the site contains dwelling units, a reconstructed open kiva, and round tower—all made of stone.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few more miles and you’re at Natural Bridges National Monument about 35 miles west of Blanding. Located atop a 5,500- to 6,500-foot mesa a nine-mile, one-way, paved loop road winds through the park, revealing spectacular views of deep pinyon-filled canyons with scattered ancient cliff dwellings and three of the world’s largest natural stone bridges. Bridges differ from arches in that they are created primarily by stream action; whereas arches are created primarily by rain and wind.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridges in this monument are all easily viewed from overlook areas along Bridge View Drive, or you can hike down into the canyon and walk under them. Interpretive signing is present at each overlook. Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail is mostly level and leads over the mesa to the edge of White Canyon. The small cliff dwelling is unique in that it is still plastered. The doorways to the two granaries are shaped like the horsecollars used in harness equipment. A small campground is limited to RVs less than 26 feet but an overflow area on the edge of the park has plenty of room.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Natural Bridges National Monument, the Trail of the Ancient Scenic Byway turns south at the junction with Highways 95 and 261. Along this route you’ll find access to Grand Gulch Primitive Area and hiking trails on the mesa top. Prior to dropping off the Moki Dugway is County Road 274, a 5-mile remote dirt road leading to Muley Point which has been listed by National Geographic as one of the most outstanding views in America. From its magnificent overlook you’ll peer deep into the San Juan River Canyon and onto Monument Valley 25 miles or so in the distance.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The infamous Moki Dugway is a 3-mile stretch of unpaved road that descends 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks from the edge of Cedar Mesa into the Valley of the Gods. The dugway itself is a historic part of the trail, built during the uranium boom to accommodate ore trucks that traveled from the mines on Cedar Mesa to the mill near the Navajo community of Halchita across the San Juan River from Mexican Hat. Never planned for public use, Moki Dugway is not recommended for RV travel.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the bottom of the Dugway our journey continues past the entrance to the little-known Valley of the Gods and onto the junction with Utah Highway 316 which leads to Goosenecks State Park. Although Valley of the Gods is not listed as a site on the Trail, it is worth visiting. The 17-mile loop drive on a native surface road leads among sandstone monoliths which have been given fanciful names such as Seven Sailors, Southern Lady, Rooster Butte, and Battleship Butte.  The valley allows a close-up look at towers and mesas of multicolored sandstone and other sedimentary rocks in subtle shades of pink, red, gold, orange, and purple. The sandstone monoliths here are reminiscent of Monument Valley. This route puts travelers on Highway 163, between Bluff and Mexican Hat.

Goosenecks State Park is another adventure in geology revealing the skeleton of the earth in the layers formed by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River is one of the most striking examples of an “entrenched river meander” in North America. Like a snake the river twists and turns and coils back on itself for a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west as it flows toward Lake Powell. Over 300 million years of geologic activity is revealed from Goosenecks State Park. Located at the end of Highway 316, Gooseneck is a wilderness park encompassing 10 acres.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Highway 261 continues to the junction with U.S. Highway 163 and the town of Mexican Hat. Founded in the early part of the 20th century during an oil boom, Mexican Hat has a population of less than 100 and functions mostly as a stopover point for visitors on their way to Monument Valley or as a base for river expeditions.

At the junction turn right to enter Mexican Hat and on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in countless Western movies directed by John Ford. An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

After exploring the wonders of Monument Valley retrace your route for 21 miles to Mexican Hat on U.S. Highway 163 and continue east to the pioneer-era town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Snuggled up against the San Juan River, the town was settled by the famous “Hole-In-The-Rock” expedition of Mormon pioneers in the 1880s. Continue past Bluff and travel east on Utah Highway 262 towards the town of Aneth and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers, Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric clusters of Native American ruins. Established in 1923, the villages date from the Pueblo period of the mid 13th century. They are spread over a 20-mile area along the Utah-Colorado state line. Unlike the large ruins at Mesa Verde, these are approachable and the visitor can wander among the fallen walls and consider the people who built them.

From Hovenweep return to Aneth and drive southeast on Utah Highway 162 and Colorado Highway 41 to the Four Corners and northeast on U.S. Highway 160 to Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Part of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park has been set aside to preserve remnants of the Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25 mile stretch of the Mancos River. Within the park are hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs.

Mesa Verde National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Ute Mountain, drive north on U.S. Highway to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. Fourteen centuries of history are displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde offers an excellent opportunity to see and experience the life of the Ancestral Puebloans. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 450 and 1300, when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area. 

The park is split into a series of sub-mesas all bearing different names. There are thousands of archaeological sites across the park and excellent interpretive loops and scenic pullouts. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option, or walks through less rigorous self-guided routes are also available. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this note we end our fascinating discovery of an ancient land of incredible beauty.

Worth Pondering…

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

—Marcel Proust, French novelist

Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

It’s basically Disneyland for the New Age crowd

Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming, in fact, that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona—population 10,322— has always held a certain appeal, reflected in its 3 million annual visitors. Its lush green vegetation, towering red rock formations, and vast blue sky would inspire even the most inactive imagination. Indigenous tribes have long regarded the area as sacred. It’s the home of the Yavapai-Apache who hold a spring ceremony every year at Boynton Canyon where the Great Spirit Mother gave birth to the human race.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the Sedona we know today began to emerge in 1980 after a professional psychic named Page Bryant (1943-2017) referred to four locations of powerful energy centers—Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—as “power vortexes,” or places containing mystic energy, putting a word to a concept first discovered in the 1950s. By meditating in these locations, New Age devotees believe that one will experience both spiritual awakening and physical healing.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these four scenic poles, psychic vibrations trembled more intensely. People noticed their skin tingling when close to the perceived energy source. Escaping to a higher consciousness just came easier in this confluence where thoughts and feelings were amplified (apparently all of Sedona is one big amplifier). Vortex locations can be described as electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic. Some say “female or male,” “positive or negative.”

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to get all scientific about it, there’s no actual magnetism or energy at these vortexes. But that doesn’t mean the spiritualists made up what they felt. After all, studies have found that just being outdoors has immense immune-boosting and mood-altering benefits plus increased clarity and concentration. 

For some it’s about connecting spirituality with the Earth, bringing this stuff out of woo woo and into wow wow. The therapeutic benefits of the vortexes are directly related to the physical attributes of Sedona. The high elevation, deep canyons, low population density, and the immense blue skies all combine to create an optimal environment for relaxation and brain stimulation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colors are also important and Sedona has loads. The green of the vegetation signals growth, renewal, and hope to the subconscious. As for red-orange, the Uluru in Australia, a massive similar-hued rock is thought to hold spiritual significance. The red-orange color can be thought of as caffeine for the higher mind.

And if nothing happens? 

Relax and let the awesome beauty of the area inspire you, as it does me. 

Where to Experience Vortexes in Sedona

Sedona is filled with hundreds of vortexes. Following are the four first identified by Bryant plus some lesser-known ones recommended by “experts”. 

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa

Its proximity to the center of town makes the Airport Mesa one of the most trafficked vortexes which means you probably won’t have it to yourself. The panoramic views are breathtaking especially at sunrise or sunset. You’ll see some of those twisted juniper trees, and some have claimed to see colored orbs. At night the stars seem close enough to touch. 

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock 

One of the most recognizable formations, Bell Rock is shaped like a huge standing bell. (Or, some say, an alien spaceship.) Many have reported a tingling sensation on exposed skin here. It’s easily accessible from the road with the strongest vibrations felt on the north side. 

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock 

This is the only one of the big four with “inflow” energy encouraging you to slow down and be introspective. The vortex is found where Oak Creek runs next to Cathedral Rock, and is called “Red Rock Crossing.” 

Boynton Canyon 

Boynton Canyon is a spiritual home of the Yavapai-Apache and considered the most sacred of the big four. Also known as the Kachina Woman Vortex Site, it’s both an inflow and an upflow site with the canyon as inflow and the ridges and peaks as upflow. It stretches two-and-a-half miles long with energy throughout. 

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross 

Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit. 

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill 

Schnebly Hill is a remote scenic overlook that’s quite literally off-the-beaten-path: An off-road vehicle is required to get to the top but once there you’re in one of the highest plateaus in Sedona. This amazingly scenic road which requires a high-clearance vehicle eventually connects with Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.

Oak Creek, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Nest

Alternative to the busy Airport Mesa is to hike to Eagle’s Nest in Red Rock State Park. It offers the same 360-degree panoramas without the people, noise, and parking problem. 

Worth Pondering…

The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.

—Ezra Pound

Beautifully Bizarre Joshua Tree Has Springtime Written All Over it

Camp, hike, and rock climb your way through California’s High Desert

California’s Mojave Desert has inspired a number of monumental artistic endeavors including the fictional planet Tatooine in Star Wars and the iconic U2 album The Joshua Tree. But Joshua Tree National Park which lies within the boundaries of the Mojave has a landscape and special magnetism all its own. People come to Joshua Tree for their own special reasons. Sometimes it’s wilderness. Other times people come here for the music history, the diversity of raptors, or the epic landscapes. People come to Joshua Tree to find themselves. And find yourself you will—whether you’re hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, stargazing, or daydreaming about selling all your stuff to move to the desert. Here’s how to do it all on your next trip.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree is open (and beautiful!) year round. Come in the spring or fall for the best weather (but keep in mind, the park gets extra busy January through April). If you visit in the hot summer months, plan outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the day when the air is cooler just to be safe. Most people spend four hours in the park according to park rangers. But Joshua Tree’s abundance of jaw-dropping geological and ecological sights mean one could spend days exploring the otherworldly landscape.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fuel up in the funky artist towns nearby

There are over 100 miles of roads within the park and not a gas station in sight so fill up beforehand. The quirky towns surrounding the park—especially Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley—are also your best bet for grabbing a bite and a beer after a long day in the park. Populated by UFOlogists, solitude seekers, antique dealers, and offbeat creatives drawn to the desert, there are plenty of unusual adventures to be had in town. Definitely swing by Pioneertown which served as a film set for Old Westerns in a past life and today houses the area’s most famous bar and music venue, Pappy & Harriet’s.

Joshua Tree National Park Cottonwood entrance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting into Joshua Tree National Park

The park’s larger than Rhode Island which means there’s a lot of ground to cover. Of the three main entrances, the Joshua Tree entrance (known as the West Entrance) is often the busiest. The North and South Entrances near Twentynine Palms and the Cottonwood Visitors Center, respectively, are less crowded. Get there early; parking lots often fill up by mid-morning.

Just drive up to one of the park’s entrances and pay at the booth. A seven-day vehicle permit runs $30. Alternatively, $55 gets you a pass valid for a full year—OR, if you think you’ll visit more than one national park in the next 12 months (and you should!), NPS offers an $80 pass that buys you entry to any park for a year.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit Joshua Tree’s best hiking trails 

Once you’re all geared up with hiking boots and as much water as you can carry (seriously, it’s hot, especially in summer), it’s time to hit the trails. Skull Rock Nature Trail is one of the most popular in the park. From the Jumbo Rocks Campground, it’ll take you winding through about 1.7 miles of desert until you arrive at Skull Rock, an enormous boulder with two eye sockets carved into it by years of water erosion. It’s a pretty mild route and great for beginners. 

The second trail you should hit is the Wonderland of Rocks which lives up to its name. Pebbles, stones, and giant boulders are yours to traverse for 5.5 wonderful miles. Given the terrain, it’s considered a difficult trail so be sure you’re up to the task.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around sunrise or sunset, wander over to Keys View, the highest lookout point in Joshua Tree at 5,187 feet. You can look out across the Coachella Valley and see as far as the Salton Sea and Palm Springs on clear days.

Check out the unparalleled plant and animal life 

I’ll assume you know the park’s tall and spiky namesake: the Yucca brevifolia, more commonly known as the “Joshua Tree.” In Spanish, the tree is known as izote de desierto, or desert dagger, which pretty much sums it up. It’s important to remember that since these trees are native to this 1,235-square mile expanse of desert, they’re strictly protected—aka, no touchy!

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden to walk amongst hundreds of beautiful cholla. This flat loop leads hikers through nearly 10 acres of landscape dominated by the teddybear cholla. Swaying in the desert breeze they almost resemble coral (and, much like coral, should be left alone). A word of advice: do not attempt to pet this teddybear. The stem-joints can easily detach and hitch a ride due to the miniscule barbs on the spines giving it the nickname “jumping cholla.” Once they’ve latched on the spines are very painful to remove.

You’ll also spot the ocotillo (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yoh), one of the most curious and unique plants of the southwestern United States. Ocotillos produce clusters of bright red flowers at their stem tips which explain the plant’s name. Ocotillo means “little torch” in Spanish.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is known more for its flora than fauna but there’s also plenty of wildlife in and around the park. Birding is especially popular with native species like roadrunners, raptors, and migratory flocks as well. Predators like bobcats, coyotes, and snakes also roam these parts, and—lest we forget—keep an eye out for our adorable friend, the desert tortoise!

Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is a rock climber’s paradise

Whether you’re brand new to climbing or navigate cliffs like a baby mountain goat, Joshua Tree’s 9,000+ climbing routes means that everyone’s welcome to give it a go. I also feel the need to note that most of the routes have truly creative names; take, for example, Yabba Dabba Don’t (15-foot climb), Breakfast of Champions (170-foot climb with 2 pitches), Room to Shroom (80-foot climb), Dangling Woo Li Master (100-foot climb), and so on. 

For a route best suited to beginner and moderate climbers, head over to the Quail Springs area, home to the ever-charming Trashcan Rock, one of the most popular climbing spots due to its relative ease and the cool shade that covers it during the afternoon. Intersection Rock also makes a great spot for novices and The Eye ends with a tunnel that opens up onto excellent views across the desert.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look up at the stars

Joshua Tree National Park is a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park which means nighttime can be pretty extraordinary.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to bed down at night

Of the 520 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park about half are first-come, first-serve. The others accept reservations through Recreation.gov.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring and other essential tips

Sunscreen and water are must-haves year-round. The National Park Service stresses that there are no water sources inside the park, so again, pack a lot of water… and then pack even more. Binoculars, sturdy hiking shoes, snacks, a flashlight, a camera, and wide-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley) are also suggested.

To avoid being one of the approximately 60 search-and-rescue operations Joshua Tree sees every year, explore the park with a buddy and always let people know where you’re going. Cell phones don’t work in most of the park so if communication is crucial bring a satellite phone and a printed map to get around.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 80 percent of Joshua Tree is officially designated wilderness—emphasis on wild. Be respectful of wildlife to avoid tangling with an angry critter. And if you remember one thing about your visit to Joshua Tree National Park, it should be “leave no trace.” Be sure to leave the park as pristine as you found it to help preserve its natural beauty for generations to come.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no

name, where the streets have no name …

— Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

10 Amazing Places to RV in May

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are our picks for the best places to RV in May

May is a very nurturing month with mild temperatures that encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. Can’t you almost taste it? Summer’s sparkling citrusy zing in May’s advancing warmth and brightening light. In northern states and Canada, it’s a time to start braving lunch on park benches, light jackets in place of thick coats. Mercifully, the rest of America is emerging into summer proper, everywhere from Utah high desert to Texas and Kentucky. Even Canada’s warming up! So why wait a minute longer? It’s high time you hit the road.

There’s a lot to love about May: sunnier days, more time outside, and farmer’s markets just beginning to shine.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March and April. Also check out our recommendations from May 2020.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina Road Trip

Mountains and beaches, food and art, history and wildlife—South Carolina has it all. With scenic mountains to the north, secluded beaches to the east, and charming towns scattered in between, South Carolina has a variety of landscapes that suit every mood. Embark on a road trip through the Palmetto state starting in the cultural capital of Greenville and traveling south to discover magnificent waterfalls, unique state parks, southern history, equestrian traditions, and fresh seafood. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About half an hour outside Columbia in the lush backcountry is Congaree National Park where you can see the largest intact old-growth bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern US. Spend a day hiking, canoeing, or kayaking along 25 miles of swamps and forests. If you are at Congaree in late May to early June, you can also watch a magical firefly synchronization mating phenomenon that occurs at only a few spots around the world. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California’s Giant Sequoias

When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! The giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base and this differentiates them from coastal redwoods which are typically measured in height.

Giant Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This specific journey will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first sequoia noted by naturalists in the 1850s and should the weather permit give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it. And continue southward to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and explore Grant Grove, Giant Forest, and General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree measured by volume.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

Built between A.D. 1200 and 1300, Hovenweep was once home to over 2,500 people. Explore the variety of unique structures at the six prehistoric villages that make up the Hovenweep National Monument. Hikes from the Visitor Center range from a 300-yard paved walk to the Stronghold House, to a 1.5-mile loop trail that takes visitors past structures in and along Little Ruin Canyon such as Hovenweep Castle, Square Tower, Hovenweep House, and Twin Towers. Ranger-led Dark Sky Astronomy Programs are offered spring through fall, weather permitting. Call ahead for details.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Deep Bayou Drive from NOLA

You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west (in your RV, of course) to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The area is known for its swampland dotted with moss-draped cypress trees teeming with wildlife which makes it the perfect destination for bird watching, paddling, fishing, and numerous other outdoor activities.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best road to drive is Highway 31 which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with garlands of moody Spanish moss that dangle from oaks and cypress trees while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons. Nature watchers and photographers have immediate access to some of the best birding sites in North America including Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge) with its expansive shoreline and bottomland hardwood forest. At last count, birders have spotted 240 species here. In the evenings, snowy, great and cattle egrets, little blue herons, green herons, and yellow-crowed night herons gather to roost. Be sure to tour the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site where you’ll learn about the area’s Creole and Cajun history and culture.

Alamo Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, Arizona

Often touted as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the western United States, Alamo Lake State Park is gearing up for another banner season! Bass will spawn as water temperatures rise this spring which makes them much easier to catch during your trip to this Sonoran Desert outdoor playground! Although bass fishing is on the agenda for many, this park offers so much more than memories hooked in the expansive lake…But, if you’ve thought about taking the dive into a new outdoor hobby, this is the place to do it, and the best time of year is coming up quick!

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fodor’s Travel lists islands to visit

The well-known island getaways across the U.S. get all the glory but there are plenty of hidden gem islands which offer an equally stunning escape but with a little more peace and quiet. If you’re seeking a secluded and intimate getaway, look no further than Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia. This coastal haven recently caught the attention of Fodor’s Travel (Forget Hawaii. Go to These 10 U.S. Islands Instead). This 5,500-acre island is home to 10 miles of shoreline and a variety of events, family-friendly activities, and attractions. From the iconic Driftwood Beach to the island’s historical homes (Jekyll Island Club), the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and more, Jekyll Island has something for everyone.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier and fascinating historic ruins. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-ups, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL

Other islands on Fodor’s list include Sanibel Island in Florida, Michigan’s Mackinac Island, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina which include Roanoke, Hatteras, and Ocracoke islands. To which I also add Georgia’s Cumberland Island.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get wild in America’s newest national park

Last December we welcomed America’s 63rd National Park with West Virginia’s scenic New River Gorge. (If you’re still wondering how a place scores that designation, we’ve got you covered.) And No. 63 is brimming with beauty: There are cliffs and rocks galore along the really cool, actually-really-old river for all your adventuring needs. But the lazier among us can also enjoy eerie ghost towns and the third-highest bridge in the US for some great photo ops. Perusing Instagram shows us she’s especially gorgeous in spring making it a great time to visit right now before the masses catch on.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of the oldest state parks in Georgia, Vogel was established in 1931 and remains one of the most beloved north Georgia attractions. Situated at the base of Blood Mountain in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park has some truly gorgeous hiking trails.

I especially love the Trahlyta Lake Trail which crosses an earthen dam built back in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). You’ll also get a chance to gaze at one of the most alluring waterfalls in Georgia, Trahlyta Falls. You can hike right alongside it via the Bear Hair Gap Trail, which guides you through the lower ridges of Blood Mountain.

For overnight stays the park offers 34 one- and two-bedroom cottages as well as walk-in campsites and RV-accessible campsites that have pull-through or back-in driveways.

From Moki Dugway to the Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway, Colorado and Utah

The Trail of the Ancients which traverses Colorado and Utah is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country including Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde National Park. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one long day but following a six-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway as it descends to the Valley of the Gods offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

True to its name the 130-mile-long Alabama’s Coastal Connection connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. The scenic byway features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. In addition to beach access points to uncrowded sands, there are hiking trails through a maritime forest and coastal dune habitats with views of saltwater lagoons, freshwater lakes, the beach, the bay and the chance to see lots of wildlife. A number of waterfront towns line the coast. The artsy Eastern Shore enclave of Fairhope has a pier jutting a quarter-mile into the bay with an adjacent beach park and shady areas for a quiet picnic.

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

No Matter Where You Are, These Road Trips Are Sure To Inspire

There are many hidden gems within driving distance you might not know about

2020 was the year of the road trip. While 2021 will hopefully be different in many ways—a vaccine and turning the corner on the pandemic—traveling by RV isn’t going away. Local, short-haul trips that don’t require getting on an airplane are still popular. We’ve selected road trips that take you everywhere—from Nappanee, Indiana to a Texas Hill Country road trip, to a drive along South Dakota’s most famous highway. Sometimes it’s about the journey and the destination.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon, Utah

There’s truly gorgeous scenery striking out in all directions from Salt Lake City. This is Utah, after all. Visitors can breathe in the high-perched city’s crisp air and take in the mountain views—so perfect they look like stage backdrops—before motoring south.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road passes peaks and hiking trails. Take the slower, scenic route through Manti-La Sal National Forest and stop to explore aspen groves, sandstone canyons, and mountain lakes. It’s a good way to build up for setting eyes on Bryce Canyon—this jagged sprawl of red and apricot hoodoos towering above stretches of alpine forest is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, South Dakota

Some of the most incredible roads anywhere make up the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. Mix in America’s most patriotic monument along the way and you have a never-to-be-forgotten road trip. This 68-mile byway winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pine-clad mountains. Roughly a figure-eight route, the byway travels through portions of Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, near Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good starting point is the town of Keystone near the foot of Mount Rushmore. Winding southwest on Highway 16A, also known as Iron Mountain Road, the route leads you around impressive wooden “pigtail” bridges. Continuing west into Custer State Park, Highway 16 intersects with Highway 87, also known as the Needles Highway. Here the road climbs around fantastic granite pinnacles. Twisting and turning between the Needles and through a tight tunnel/crack in the rock, this portion of the byway leads to picturesque Sylvan Lake.

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin to San Antonio, Texas

It’s easy to motor between these two Texas Hill Country cities in just over an hour. And, from Austin’s hip vibe, music scene, and beloved BBQ joints to the restaurants and art that flank San Antonio’s Riverwalk there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied. But adding in Fredericksburg really completes the triangle.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The German-settled town of Fredericksburg, surrounded by wineries, combines proud heritage with modern twists on its past, from food to art. Visitors can also take a detour to hike up the huge granite boulders of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (reservations required for weekends and holidays) before looping down to San Antonio where disused brewery Pearl is the place to hang out. The micro-district just off the Riverwalk has boutiques, a food hall, restaurants, and a hotel in buildings once dedicated to brewing beer. And don’t forget to remember The Alamo!

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

The longest of the state’s National Scenic Byways is Alabama’s Coastal Connection at 130 miles. True to its name, it connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes plenty of white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula.

Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the few scenic byways that include a ferry ride, the route features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Madison Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah to Jekyll Island, Georgia

Savannah wears its Southern charm like its majestic oak trees wear soft Spanish moss—with pure, old-fashioned elegance. Georgian mansions line the streets, brewpubs and art galleries take up old cotton warehouses by the waterfront, and cemeteries are filled with sculptures, tall mausoleums, and yet more moss-dripping oaks.

Jekyll Island, an easy, scenic drive along a coastline laced with beaches, marshes, and barrier islands, packs up the same charm and elegance and takes it to the seaside. One of Georgia’s Golden Isles, it’s accessible by car but feels cut off from the rest of the world. Windswept oaks and tangles of driftwood form a backdrop to soft-sand beaches while trails wind into the woods.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Los Angeles to Grand Canyon, California and Arizona

Few road trips are as awe-inspiring as a drive from Southern California to the Grand Canyon if you know how to do it right. From the otherworldliness of Joshua Tree National Park to the mountain biking, hiking, and golfing hub of Prescott to historic Route 66 in Williams and the vastness of the Grand Canyon; a road trip through the deserts, mesas, and forests of California and Arizona is hard to beat.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A haven for artists, rock climbers, and adventurers, Joshua Tree has long been a destination for those seeking enlightenment and adventure. Mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Williams is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and cafes. Carved by the mighty Colorado, the multi-hued rock walls of the Grand Canyon reveal millions of years of geologic history. On your return to LA, stop and become overwhelmed by the vastness of Mojave National Preserve.

Quilt Gardens, Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Heritage Trail, Indiana

Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic back roads. Explore country lanes dotted with Amish-owned shops showcasing handcrafted and homemade.

Many of the towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail date back 150 years or more. Among these are Middlebury, tiny Shipshewana is known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through September and Goshen. There’s also lovely Nappanee, a bustling community of woodworking shops.

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery, Middlebury © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the Amish lifestyle you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. No utility wires lace farmhouses to poles, women in old-fashioned bonnets and long skirts bend to their task of hoeing gardens, men in 19th-century attire trudge behind horse-drawn plows across wide fields, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on country lanes fills the air with staccato rhythms.

Worth Pondering…

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.

—Charles Kuralt

24 Reasons to Stop Dreaming About It and Travel NOW

Stop dreaming about it and just do it. The time is NOW.

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t embark on your right now—but there are even more reasons why you should. You work hard for those vacation days to freely take a few weeks to yourself.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what it takes, traveling should be everything you hoped it would be and more. You’ve only got one life to live, so get in everything you deem worthwhile while it still seems like a good idea. And, taking a dream summer vacation is most certainly a good idea—and the time is NOW.

But back to that one specific vacation, you keep daydreaming about. The Grand Canyon, Historic Route 66, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rushmore! They’re all on our list.

We looked to travelers past and present to share their insight into why you should stop dreaming about it and travel NOW. Ahead, you’ll find 24 reasons why you should start (or finish!) planning that dream summer vacation.

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out There

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.

—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond (1697-1780)

Why We Travel

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

—St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin the Journey

If we wait for the moment when everything is ready, we shall never begin.

—Ivan Turgenec (1818-1883) Russian writer

Learn From History

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician, scientist

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smell the Roses

That delicate forest flower, With scented breath and look so like a smile, Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould, An emanation of the indwelling Life, A visible token of the upholding Love, That are the soul of this great universe.

—William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) American poet

Explore the World

Oh, the places you’ll go.

—Dr. Seuss

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect with Nature

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

—John Burroughs (1837-1921) American naturalist and nature essayist

Explore Wild Outdoor Spaces

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American writer, critic, and naturalist

Roseate spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try Something New

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama (1935-)

Experience More

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Altshuler, American writer, speaker, and leadership trainer

Carriage tour in Historic Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reconnect with Wilderness

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…
—John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist and author

Love Nature

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) essayist, naturalist, and philosopher

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Expand Your Horizons

You lose sight of things…and when you travel, everything balances out.

—Daranna Gidel

Walk Amid Nature

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk in the Woods

To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) American poet

Learn to Go with the Flow

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

—Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936) English writer, poet, and philosopher

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drop the Itinerary

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English author

Learn Something New

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958) American historian

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn from Nature

The world is not to be put in order; the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.

—Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer

Enjoy the Journey

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Essayist, playwright, and poet

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make Memories

Take only memories leave only footprints.

—Chief Seattle (1786-1866) Suquamish chief

Find a Reason to Journal

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

—Moslih Eddin Saadi (1210-1291) Persian poet and writer

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just Enjoy the Journey

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

—Lao Tzu (601 BC-531 BC) ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

California Missions: San Antonio de Pala Asistencia

When visiting, be sure to see the chapel which has been fully restored

Starting in 1769, Spain built a chain of 21 missions across the length of Alta California—from San Diego to Sonoma—as a way of gaining a foothold in the new frontier. California’s mission era ended in 1834 but you can still see the architectural legacy that endures in the state’s red tile roofs, whitewashed walls, arched colonnades, and bell towers.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The missions were built approximately 30 miles apart—about a day’s journey by horseback—covering 650 miles total. All 21 missions are open to visitors and feature a gift shop and museum and most of them hold mass on Sundays (or even daily).

Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the 18th in a chain of 21 California missions. It was established in 1798 by Father Fermin Lausen who was president of missions during that era.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in present-day Oceanside, the mission was named for Louis IX, king of France. The main church was designed and constructed in the shape of a cross. Its impressive architecture combined Spanish, Moorish, and Mexican influence. All the buildings were arranged around a 500 by 500 foot quadrangle, nearly the size of two football fields.

Mission San Luis Rey was one of the largest outposts stretching over 1,000 square miles in what is now San Diego and Riverside counties. This outpost provided support for the mission and also allowed baptized Indians to remain in their native villages and serve the mission by working on the ranchos.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Luis Rey expanded its influence north and east including the Pala Valley. Mission San Luis Rey’s first record of construction at Rancho de Pala was in the annual report of 1810. This construction was a granary and other buildings soon followed. As Mission San Luis Rey began to flourish, Father Peyri felt it was necessity to establish an asistencia near Pala because it was the natural congregating place for a large native population. A chapel was built in 1816.

Within two short years, the quadrangle was complete, two granaries were built, and two apartments were built, one for men and boys and one for women and girls. By 1818, a small town had began. Father Peyri had an aqueduct built to supply water to the mission. By 1821, the mission only lacked a resident priest to make the asistencia a full mission. Mission Pala had reached its peak prosperity by 1827.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three mission asistencias were built in the San Diego district. Mission Pala is still in active service and is the only Mission to have remained in continuous service as was originally established ministering a native population.

The Asistencia was named in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua, nicknamed the “Wonderworker of the world.” Pala continues to be an active Church.

The bell tower is striking in that it is detached from the building, unusual in the mission system. It is modeled on a tower in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The two bells were cast in Mexico. The larger is dedicated to St. Francis, St. Luis the King, St. Clare, and St. Eulalia. The maker of the bell is named as Cervantes. The smaller bell is dedicated to Jesus and Mary.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back from the tower and look carefully at the top of the tower. There you will see a small cactus plant growing by the base of the cross. It is said that upon completion of the Asistencia, Padre Peyri climbed the tower and planted a cactus to symbolize Christ conquering the desert (both in California and the human heart and soul).

There is a courtyard in front of the church entrance.

Across the street from the Asistencia is a park.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the Church you will find the original floor and outstanding Indian art. The chapel here is much smaller than the typical mission chapel and it uses a lot of large wood beams which you do not see as often in the other missions. The chapel can still hold a decent amount of people though and it is working chapel for Mass on the weekends. The altar is relatively plain but beautiful in its simplicity and the walls are covered in a fading pattern.

San Antonio de Pala Asistencia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Behind the bell tower is the cemetery for both Indians and people who lived and worked at the mission. It is the original cemetery for the Asistencia and contains the remains of hundreds of Indian converts and early California settlers. It is still in use as evidenced by some of the current dates on the headstones.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking through the cemetery and out the back to the main church office offers an interesting view on cultural differences. In front of the office you will find a statue of St. Anthony of Padua; but unlike many such statues you see at other churches and missions, this one depicts St. Anthony as a person of color. Around the front, there is a bell post that signifies this spot as a mission on the El Camino Real Trail.

It took about 20 minutes to walk around this mission and see it. I wouldn’t say you should plan a trip just around visiting this mission but if you are in the area then it is worth stopping by as it is interesting and historic.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort is reason enough to be in the area with 100 large full-service sites with grass lawns and picnic tables. Temecula and Temecula Valley wineries are 22 miles to the north. Here you can taste and tour through nearly 50 wineries, stroll the boardwalks of historic Old Town, shop Promenade Temecula or the local farmers’ markets, and play a round of golf.

Worth Pondering…

The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.

—Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

Become Best Friends with a Burro in Oatman

The burros own the town

No trip to Laughlin is complete without a detour to Oatman, a Route 66 ghost town in Arizona that has become a bit more touristy over the years. The new escape room at the local jail is fun. 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

But the real draw is the burros roaming Oatman whose ancestors were brought in to work during the mining days. A few unwritten rules to follow: first—burros and dogs don’t mix. Second—don’t feed the burros carrots which are high in sugar and do a number on the digestive tract. You’re more than welcome to feed them alfalfa squares, sold in bags for a dollar.

Finally—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

They know how to have fun in Oatman where good-humored shops line the street and the burros contribute to the annual fall Burro Biskit Toss.

More than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history as well as the legend of its namesake. Olive Oatman is entrenched in western lore as a woman who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe, then sold to a friendly local tribe before being freed to her family near what became Oatman.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman was sparsely settled starting in 1863 when a small bit of gold was discovered in the surrounding Black Mountains. Not much came of the discovery until two lucky prospectors struck it rich in 1915 with a 10 million dollar claim. The town grew rapidly after that, and in the course of a single year the tiny tent village became a town of 3,500 people. In the 1920s and ’30s, the population grew to around 10,000. In 1921, a fire swept through the town destroying most of Oatman’s buildings.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman certainly prospered during a decade-long gold rush, but when the mines dried up, so did everything else. The town’s biggest mine closed in 1924, and by 1941, the government ordered the closing of Oatman’s remaining mining operations as part of the country’s war efforts.

Because of its location on Route 66, local commerce shifted toward accommodating motorists traveling between Kingman, Arizona and Needles, California. From 1926 to 1952, the Mother Road coursed through the heart of Oatman, sustaining a healthy tourism business. Interstate 40 bypassed Oatman in the early 1950s, however, and by the early 1960s, the whole area was all but abandoned.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A revitalized interest in historic route 66 saved Oatman from demise, and while it may not be thriving, it’s got a lot to offer visitors looking for that kitschy slice of Americana. Oatman is often described as a ghost town, but that is not quite accurate. The current human population is 128. The burro population is close to 2,000.

The town prides itself on maintaining a Wild West feel, down to the wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and kitschy shops. (You can even adopt a wild burro and take it home!)

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard allegedly honeymooned at the 1902 two-story adobe Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. Some say the lovebirds’ spirits as well as other former lodgers still vacation there. The hotel remains open as a museum and restaurant.

Oatman is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management wilderness which is also home to desert bighorn sheep. Outdoor activities include hiking, camping, hunting, photography, and rock climbing.

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.

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

7 Incredible Ancient Ruins to Explore in National Parks

Here are my top 7 picks for the best places in America to see ancient ruins

Originally established to conserve and preserve some of the most beautiful and unusual wilderness places in America, the National Park System (NPS) grew to include archaeological and historic sites. The first park to preserve “the works of men,” as President Theodore Roosevelt put it, was Mesa Verde, established in 1906. Others followed, preserving and showcasing ancient ruins and archaeological sites throughout the country. Most are in the Southwest—and for good reason.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People of the Southwest built their homes and cities in stone, carving them in soft sandstone crevices or building structures up to four stories high from clay and mud bricks. In the bone-dry environment of the desert, these ancient structures baked in the sun but stayed preserved. Visible for miles in the wide-open spaces, they were easy to find, and as settlers moved into the area they started visiting them—without regard to their preservation. Vandalism threatened to destroy structures that stood centuries in the desert sun. To protect and preserve the past the NPS incorporated them to help preserve them.

The following are a few of our favorite national parks preserving ancient ruins in the Southwest.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Hundreds of cliff dwellings pepper the walls of the canyons and more stand-alone structures sit on the rims of Mesa Verde in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. The best-preserved ancient ruins in the country, some of them date from as far back as 600 A.D. They not only started the preservation of ancient monuments in the U.S. but are also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The mesa-top sites are easy to access and visit on your own. Older than the cliff dwellings, these are the sites where the Ancestral Puebloans lived before moving down into the canyon. You’ll find them at the Far View Sites Complex, the Cedar Tree Tower, and the Square Tower House and Sun Temple.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cliff dwellings are even more spectacular though you need to join a ranger-led tour to visit most of them. Cliff Palace is the most spectacular; others include Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, and Long House. Stop at the Visitor Center to learn more about each tour and sign up for the ones you want to join.

You can spend at least two days in the park, especially if you want to take multiple tours. Overnight lodging includes camping at the Morefield Campground and rooms at the Farview Lodge.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. We owe the name to early pioneers who thought this five story pueblo was of Aztec origin. In fact, the superb masons who constructed this cliff dwelling were likely ancestors of the present day Hopi and Zuni. Spanish explorers called them Sinagua (“without water”) because they were dry farmers, coaxing their crops of corn, beans, and squash from the arid desert soil.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room structure about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

If you wonder why an ancient archaeological site in the Southwest is named Aztec, you are not alone. The name is a misnomer; people who built this ancient city had nothing to do with the Aztecs. They were the Ancestral Puebloans, members of the same people group that built Chaco and Mesa Verde. The ancient city is in fact considered an outlier of Chaco and if you visit Aztec Ruins, you’ll see the same features on a smaller scale. However, from a visitor’s perspective, Aztec Ruins National Monument in the town of Aztec is much more accessible. All you have to do is drive to the end of a neighborhood street in town. Clearly marked signs point you in the right direction.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built and inhabited between 1100 and 1300, Aztec Ruins features a “great house” you can walk through and several other structures and kivas. The highlight of the site is the only reconstructed ceremonial kiva in the Southwest. Walking inside this kiva gives you an idea of what the originals would have looked like. Once inside, listen to a recording, adding to the ambiance. Even the Visitor Center is a museum here, set in the original house archaeologist Earl Morris who reconstructed the kiva lived in while he worked at the site.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande National Monument, Arizona

Casa Grande ruins sits in the middle of a surrounding flat desert in Coolidge just a short drive south of Phoenix. Part of a larger archaeological site featuring a few smaller structures and a ball court, this “big house” is part of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The largest known structure built by the Hohokam, the four-story-high “house” is protected from the intense Arizona sun by a metal roof.

Built by the ancestors of the present-day O’odham people the site was an ancient farming community and according to the oral history of their descendants, a ceremonial center. Walk through the indoor museum to learn about the ancient people of the desert who lived here, and their ingenuity in making a life in the Sonoran Desert. Then walk through the site and experience the desert yourself.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado

If you want to visit ancient ruins in the middle of nowhere without driving on dirt roads Hovenweep National Monument fits the bill. The word Hovenweep means deserted valley and that is exactly what you find as you drive to the site on the Colorado-Utah border in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. The site is actually in both states but you wouldn’t be able to tell which one you are in.

Hovenweep features a few tall structures along a small canyon. The largest, called Hovenweep Castle, sits on the rim comprising a few structures. The two-mile round-trip trail leading to the ruins takes you along the rim of the canyon. Besides the castle, it passes several other structures and offers views of the Square Tower inside the canyon. The paved trail from the Visitor Center to the start of this trail is fully accessible and leads to Little Ruins Canyon Overlook. From here, you can see most of the structures.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument preserves a site on top of a hill overlooking the Verde River, cliffs and ridges in the valley, and the Tavasci Marsh, a natural riparian area surrounding an old curve of the Verde River.

The ancient village on the hill, the Citadel, inhabited between 1100 and 1400, comprised 110 rooms by the time its builders and those who lived there abandoned the site. A paved, fully accessible trail leads to and around it, giving you a good idea of what it would have looked like. Though the views from the ruins alone are worth the walk, one room is reconstructed, and if you are there at the right time, you can enter it and see what it would have looked like when inhabited.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) 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. People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Don’t miss the White House Ruins. This is a superb hike. Long ago, hundreds of people lived in the structure built into the cliffs. Now the walls are a reminder of how life once thrived in the canyon.For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”.

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

Things To Keep In Mind When Visiting These Archaeological Sites

The ancient people of the Southwest who built the structures mentioned above, made their home in an inhospitable environment and built civilizations here. For a long time, the view was that they mysteriously “disappeared,” leaving these elaborate structures behind.

In fact, they were all ancestors of the present-day Native tribes of the Southwest. When visiting any of the ruins, please be respectful of this. For some of us, these people’s stories may be an interesting piece of history, but for the descendants of people who built them, they are part of their cultural inheritance. By learning about their history and protecting and respecting these sites, we learn about the Native people of the area, and are richer for the experience.

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

From ancient natural wonders to Native American and Southwestern culture, to scenic vistas and alien lore, New Mexico is one of the most wonderfully unique destinations in America

Road trips have the unique ability to make you feel like you’ve thoroughly explored a region on a Lewis and Clark-esque journey. In reality, even the most extensive road trips leave many stones unturned especially in states with seemingly limitless natural beauty. New Mexico would probably take months on the road to fully explore. That’s okay. You don’t have to see every inch of New Mexico on one tank of fuel but the state’s famous national monuments are a good place to start.

Albuquerque from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, only California and Arizona have more national monuments and that’s not even counting New Mexico’s historic parks. Rather than visit all 11 national monuments we’ve listed our favorites among them which will give you a feel for what makes this state’s geography so unique and memorable. Whether it’s a volcanic field or a white-sand desert, New Mexico’s unusual landscapes are just waiting to be visited. Here’s how to plan the perfect New Mexico road trip through its epic national monuments.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Albuquerque to rock carvings

Road trips might be about the journey rather than the destination but no one wants to wait too long before stopping at their first viewpoint or reaching the first stop on their itinerary. When you set out from Albuquerque you’ll only have to wait mere minutes before seeing your first national monument.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically located within the city limits of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque’s West Mesa. Petroglyphs are rock carvings where drawings are made by chiseling on the outer layer of the stone to expose the paler rock underneath. One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, this area features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers. The symbols give you a window into the life of a centuries-old civilization and serve as a record of cultural expression.

There are also four different hiking trails just a short drive from the information center ranging in length from one to four miles roundtrip. Three of these trails allow for petroglyph viewing. To see the area is less time and then continue on your journey, consider mountain biking. Bikes are permitted on the Boca Negra Canyon multi-use path.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to the headlands

About two hours west of Duke City, El Morro begs the traveler—ancient and modern—to rest awhile. This national monument is an area both of scenic beauty and historic significance. The bluff (el morro means “the headland” in Spanish) has a reliable source of water making it a great base for ancestral Puebloans and a good stopping point for both Spanish and American travelers. Along the path, only a half mile long and perfect for the casual visitor, are ancient petroglyphs as well as inscriptions from Spanish conquistadors as early as 1605 and, more recently, American travelers passing through in the 1850s.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s volcanic landscape

From El Morro, your route continues back toward Albuquerque and it’s worth the detour to head to El Malpais National Monument. The rough lava landscape so scarred by its volcanic history that “malpaís” in fact means “badland.” Like El Morro, the landscape is quite barren though there is evidence of prior volcanic activity including several lava tubes you can explore.  Even though these badlands cover a large area you can see much of it by following the main park road. Numerous hikes and longer treks are available. Malpais is certainly worth a visit.

White Sands National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South to the white desert

Since you’re half way to the border of Arizona at this point, it’s time to turn around and head south. But we’re not stopping at Albuquerque. We’re passing your starting point by about four hours (250 miles) to White Sands National Park taking Interstate 25 south to Las Cruces and US-70 northeast.

At the end of 2019, White Sands was designated a national park—but it was a national monument for 86 years. It’s on the itinerary because you haven’t really seen the New Mexico desert until you’ve seen White Sands, a remarkable place that looks like the Sahara Desert collided with the Alabama Gulf Coast. That’s because its sand is made of gypsum, a mineral salt left by a long-lost lake tens of millions of years ago.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern edge of a 275-square-mile dune field in the Tularosa Basin, the monument is best explored by the eight-mile Dunes Drive from the visitor center into the heart of the rippled gypsum knolls. In addition to driving the alien terrain you can also get out and cycle, take advantage of picnic areas, or even camp under the stars. Indeed, backcountry camping sites among the dunes are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are five hiking trails through the park ranging from the half-mile Playa Trail focusing on outdoor educational exhibits to the more strenuous Alkali Flat Trail, a five-mile round trip hike taking you to the edge of Lake Otero. Despite its name, the trail is not flat taking you over steep dunes and into the heart of the spectacular park.

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

From delicate dunes to craggy peaks

To cap off your New Mexico road trip, travel south to Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. A stark departure from the flat, arid landscape that has defined much of this road trip, this area is home to dramatic ranges with rocky spires and the park is full of open woodlands with towering ponderosa pines.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument includes the Organ Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and the Greater Potrillo Mountains. The Organ Mountains are defined by their angular peaks, narrow canyons, and views of the Chihuahuan Desert habitat. It’s popular among horseback riders, mountain bikers, campers, and hikers. The Doña Ana Mountains have an abundance of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails as well as rock climbing routes. The more remote Potrillo Mountains comprise a volcanic landscape including lava flows and craters.

Before driving back to Albuquerque, consider spending an evening in Las Cruces to explore Historic Mesilla and savor the area’s Hatch Valley chile peppers in one of its tempting green chile burgers—or even in a sweet frozen custard.

La Posta in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe