Padre Island National Seashore: World’s Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island

Come explore the 70 miles of uninterrupted national seashore taking in the gulf’s breeze, sandy beaches, and marine wildlife

Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline (meaning saltier than the ocean) ecosystem unique to only six known lagoons in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life.  It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species.  It also has a rich history, including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing 130,434 acres, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier islands in the world. Visitors will find a variety of outdoor things to do including surf fishing, RV and tent camping, world class flat water windsurfing, wade fishing, surfing, birding, kayaking, and of course relaxing the beautiful white sand beaches of Malaquite Beach. The undeveloped, preserved beaches, coastal grasslands, and wetlands of the Padre Island National Seashore are one of the most scenic coastal areas of the sub-tropical Texas coast.

Bird Island Basin at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions to Padre Island long before its designation as a national seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach, in the Laguna Madre, and at Yarborough Pass and Bird Island Basin. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp, which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.

Grassland Nature Trail at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon arrival to the Padre Island National Seashore be sure to take notice of current warnings, precautions, or bans at the Park Ranger check-in station. Visitors go through this station when entering the National Seashore. Additionally, more information may be obtained at the Visitors Center.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Malaquite Visitors Center houses a gift shop, small museum, educational auditorium, covered deck, two viewing platforms, and a small snack shop. Year round events, talks, and guided walks are held at the Malaquite Beach Pavilion.  Evening talks about the stars and constellations are held periodically along with Friday night viewings of the moon. Rangers are on hand at the Malaquite Pavilion to explain various aspects of the wildlife and dynamic beach system of North Padre Island.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Visitor Center is the entrance to Malaquite Beach, one of only a few beaches on North Padre Island that is closed to vehicles. A paved parking lot is available for visitors. A short walk down the Malaquite Visitors Center boardwalk or one of two paved walkways (north and south of the Visitor Center) puts you right on the white sand beach at Malaquite Beach.

Kemp Ridley’s turtle display, Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Malaquite Beach is 4-5 miles of unspoiled Padre Island beach. It is a great location to spend the entire day. Come prepared with chairs (or rent them on the beach in the summer), coolers, and sunscreen.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather conditions are constantly changing in the winter months as cold fronts move into the area. During summer months the heat of South Texas is ever present and visitors can be sure to have plenty of sun most of the time.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive down the beach until civilization fades away and camp along the shore. Padre Island National Seashore is one of the last undeveloped shorelines in the world and is one of the only beaches of its kind that is open to driving on 60 of the 70 miles that it protects.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue to the end of the paved road (Park Road 22) and you will be driving on the beach in no time. Remember that in Texas all beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply including seat belt regulations. All vehicles traveling on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed. Please note that, with rare exception, Texas will not license all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) for use on highways (The National Seashore has one of the few exceptions because it uses ATVs to patrol for nesting sea turtles.).

Driving on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The driving conditions at the beach are constantly changing due to the currents, winds, and tides. To best prepare for your trip down island check with the Malaquite Visitor Center for current driving and weather conditions. Changing conditions and marine debris washed ashore by the currents can sometimes make for hazardous driving.

Camping at Malaquite Campground, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Nature, it seems, has a way of returning things to how they should be.

— Fennel Hudson

Sedona Is a Must-Stop

The most beautiful place on Earth

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you admire exquisite art, or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona.

If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys, or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona.

Sedona is a must-stop.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although American Indians lived in the region as far back as 1100, European settlers didn’t arrive until 1876. Drawn by the abundance of water and fertile soil, pioneers began farming crops and planting orchards on the banks of Oak Creek. The community continued to grow, and by the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families worked the land. These early settlers of Sedona called their town Upper Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the 20th century, T.C. Schnebly built a large two-story home that served as general store and hotel near Oak Creek. He also organized the first post office. When it came time to name the community, his original suggestions of Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly’s Station were rejected by the Postmaster General as being too long—they would not fit on a postmark.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, T.C.’s brother suggested naming the town after T.C’s wife, Sedona. Postal officials approved the name, and in 1902, T.C. began running the post office from the back of his home. Today Sedona is home to approximately 10,000 people and covers 19 scenic square miles.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s beauty makes it an alluring destination. As early as 1895, anthropologist/archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes predicted that the area would become extremely popular among tourists. Today, 4.5 million travelers come each year to enjoy mild winter weather and gorgeous scenery; to shop amid its famous galleries and varied shops; or for the vortexes.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly appreciate the legacy of Sedona’s early pioneers, spend time outside reveling in the same heart-freeing beauty they experienced. Hike the trails they carved from this wilderness. Over a century later—even as Sedona has grown into a world-class destination filled with art galleries, resorts, spas, and restaurants—you can still walk the same pathways the earliest residents walked. That’s part of the magic of this landscape, how closely connected it is to wild country.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is located at the mouth of a rugged canyon, surrounded by the 1.8-million-acre Coconino National Forest. A 2,000-foot-high escarpment known as the Mogollon Rim towers over town. The cliffs are made of ancient deposits of soft limestone, mudstone, and sandstone, which easily erode. Formations such as “Steamboat” and “Snoopy” can be seen while wandering Sedona’s main street.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re ready to see more, head to Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Gorgeous views include lush greenery along meandering Oak Creek, while the rugged red rocks call adventurers to explore.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nine trails form a network of routes. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s best to leave your RV parked at a campground and take your towed vehicle when you visit Sedona because parking is very limited.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Banking on Nature: Record Numbers Visit National Wildlife Refuges

A record number of more than 53 million people visited America’s national wildlife refuges

53.6 million people visited national wildlife refuges during fiscal year 2017 (2017-2018) which had an economic impact of $3.2 billion on local communities and supported more than 41,000 jobs. The figures come from a new economic report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled Banking on Nature. The report is the sixth in a series of studies since 1997 that measure the economic contributions of national wildlife refuge recreational visits to local economies.

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

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts located in all 50 states and five U.S. territories. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas, and national wildlife refuges provide vital habitats for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, including birding, photography, and environmental education.

The report contains economic case studies of 162 national wildlife refuges and other information. Following is information relating to four of these refuges.

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

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge supports one of the most diverse and unique assemblages of habitat and wildlife within the Southwest. The 57,331-acre refuge is located south of Socorro at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Eleven miles of the Rio Grande bisects the Refuge. The extraordinary diversity and concentration of wildlife in a desert environment draws people from around the world to observe and photograph wildlife. A comprehensive visitor services program provides opportunities for people to connect with nature and enjoy the American great outdoors.

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

The Refuge had about 306,000 recreational visits in 2017 which contributed to the economic effect of the Refuge. During October through May, the Refuge conducts interpretive van tours and interpretive hikes for the general public and also offers over 100 interpretive programs during the annual Festival of the Cranes held annually the week before Thanksgiving (37th annual Festival of the Cranes is November 20-23, 2019).

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

Visitor recreation expenditures were $15.8 million with non-residents accounting for $15.5 million or 98 percent of total expenditures.

Green jay at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is located at the southern tip of Texas next to the Gulf of Mexico. Wildlife finds a haven within the refuge, the largest federally protected habitat remaining in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Subtropical forests, coastal prairies, freshwater wetlands, and a barrier island support a mix of wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Laguna Atascosa has recorded an impressive 410 species of birds drawing birders from around the world. Several tropical species reach their northernmost range in south Texas as the Central and Mississippi Flyways converge here.

Curved bill thrasher at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 485,000 recreational visits in 2017. Interpretation activities include bird tours, bird walks, and habitat tram tours. Visitor recreation expenditures were $30.0 million with non-residents accounting for $23.0 million or 77 percent of total expenditures.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to preserve the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest refuge in the east and includes over 407,000 acres. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has many designations including being a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance, National Water Trail, National Recreation Trail, an Important Bird Area, and is a proposed World Heritage Site.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is considered the largest intact freshwater wetland in North America. The Refuge is made up of a variety of habitats, and includes over 40,000 acres of pine uplands that are managed for longleaf pine around the swamp perimeter and on interior islands. Other habitats include open prairies, forested wetlands, scrub shrub, and open water (lakes). The Refuge has three primary entrances and two secondary entrances for visitor access.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 724,000 recreational visits in 2017. Visitor recreation expenditures were $64.7 million with non-residents accounting for $59.8 million or 93 percent of total expenditures.

Plain chachalaca at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge consists of 2,088 acres along the banks of the Rio Grande, south of Alamo in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where subtropical, Gulf coast, Great Plains, and Chihuahuan desert converge. There are over 400 species of birds, 300 species of butterflies, and 450 types of plants. The refuge was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds and is a great place to visit for birding and draws in people from all to look for birds like the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, and Altamira Orioles.

Great kiskadee at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 12 miles of trails, visitor center, suspension bridge, and 40 foot tower for visitors to explore. Year-round educational programs, seasonal tram, and birding tours, special events, summer programs and more that are offered to the public.

Green heron at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 196,000 recreational visits in 2017 which contributed to the economic effect of the Refuge. Visitor recreation expenditures were $2.2 million with non-residents accounting for $1.3 million or 58 percent of total expenditures.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

Discover Arizona in Uncommon and Unique Ways

From touring ancient dwellings and rafting adventures to Wild West shootouts, here are 10 must-do uncommon and unique experiences in the Grand Canyon State

We previously took a look at facts of Arizona you didn’t know—from burros running Oatman and altitude meeting attitude to hummers and more hummers. Now, we bring you even more ways to discover the state in uncommon and unique ways.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Grand Canyon in Winter

No matter how many photos you’ve seen, nothing compares to actually perching on the rim of the Grand Canyon and taking in the immense view before you. Summer crowds can be formidable but during winter, fewer visitors, snow-covered trees, and a quiet hush that falls over the canyon make the trip downright magical.

Skiing Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Ski above the Saguaros

Skiing in Arizona? Yep, down south and up north. Tucson’s Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains is home to the southernmost ski runs in the U.S. And north of Flagstaff the Arizona Snowbowl offers 700 acres of slopes and runs in the San Francisco Peaks.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Gaze at the Milky Way

Arizona is a premier destination for studying the skies. The International Dark-Sky Association has its worldwide headquarters in Tucson for good reason. Clear air and low light pollution provide out-of-this-world stargazing. See the celestial sights from the state’s certified Dark-Sky Parks including as Kartchner Caverns, Sunset Crater, and Petrified Forest.

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

4. Tour Ancient Ruins with a Tribal Guide

In Canyon De Chelly National Monument, cottonwoods grow tall and horses roam free. One of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America this stunning network of gorges, sandstone cliffs, petroglyphs, and ancient cliff dwellings has been called home to generations of Navajo, Hopi, and others. There are trails in and out of the canyon, but to access the deeper reaches join a tour with a Navajo guide.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Witness a Shootout at the O.K. Corral

A visit to this National Historic Landmark wouldn’t be complete without watching a heart-racing, Wild West shootout at the O.K. Corral. The streets of Tombstone offer daily reenactments of the famous 30-second gunfight. Afterward, take pictures with the gunfighters, visit haunted landmarks, or the historic courthouse.

6. Raft the Colorado River

Raft the Colorado

See the world-famous Grand Canyon from a new perspective as you float along the Colorado River. On a one-day rafting tour or a two-day paddle-rafting trip enjoy a riverside lunch while taking in the scenery, wildlife, and history of the canyon.

7. Historic Destination for the Arts

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Tubac” is the English spelling of the original Tohono O’odham name “Cuwak,” which translates as “rotten.” But the town is anything but. Tubac has a rich history dating back to Spanish colonization of the land in the 18th century. The Tumacácori National Historic Park is home to the ruins of three Spanish mission communities. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards, and sparkling fountains.

8. Meander Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs. A wonderful road built in 1929 it runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon.

9. Explore a Thriving Hilltop Pueblo

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Tuzigoot National Monument and witness the incredible legacy of a people who lived in the Verde Valley 1,000 years ago. The pueblo was built by the Sinagua people who thrived in this arid region for nearly 10 centuries. Built in AD 1125, Tuzigoot was a communal home occupied by Sinagua farmers for close to 300 years.

10. Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. The canyon offers hiking trails that vary from walking paths in the lower canyon, to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson. The creekside trail that begins at Whitehouse Picnic Area is fantastic for spotting birds—more than 250 species have been documented.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island is one of the few surviving unspoiled beach communities in the U.S.

Edisto Island, a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, lies only about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies. But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida. is a world apart.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a rustic world of majestic live oaks that are thickly draped with light-as-air beards of Spanish moss, salt marshes, meandering creeks, and historic plantations.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVers and other visitors to Edisto Island choose to come here—they don’t come by accident. And so it was with us.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using New Green Acres RV Park in Walterboro as our home base, we spent an enjoyable week exploring the Lowcountry. Known as The Front Porch of the Low Country, Walterboro, county seat of Colleton County, is situated just off of I-95 and is a popular stop for RVers.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was pleasant 75-degree day in early December that we toured Edisto Island: Edisto Island State Park, the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto River, named for the Edisto Indians (original inhabitants of the area), is the longest and largest river system completely within the state. It rises from springs 260 miles north, splits into North and South branches to flow around diamond-shaped Edisto Island (which is actually made up of numerous islands) and into the Atlantic.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

ACE Basin, an acronym for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and South Edisto rivers that arc through it, spans 350,000 acres, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. These many acres of diverse habitat include protected uplands and wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands and beaches, and a host of wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North and South Edisto branches flow into the ocean a little more than a dozen miles apart and roughly half way between the two is Botany Bay and Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, a near-wilderness that makes up nearly a fourth of Edisto Island.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto River is one of the most unique waterways in the world. It is the longest undammed or free flowing “black water” river, and takes up twelve counties in the state. It is the longest and the largest river completely within the borders of South Carolina.  The most interesting part of the Edisto River comes to fruition near Edisto Island. The consistent yet peaceful current makes it perfect for wildlife and for paddling enthusiasts. Floating the Edisto River will show you banks filled with ancient live oaks, Spanish moss, and many forms of wildlife.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop, Edisto Island State Park, includes an interpretive center and two campgrounds that offer 112 standard sites with water and electric hookups—ocean-side and near the salt marsh. 49 of the standard campsites offer 20/30/50 amp electrical service. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers. Reservations are recommended.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following our island drive with stops at several locations along the extensive beach, we toured Botany Bay Plantation, a South Carolina state historic site and wildlife management area, located off SC Highway 174 about 8.5 miles south of the McKinley Washington Bridge. You’ll follow the dirt road about 2 miles to near where the road dead-ends and turn left at the gate and into the property. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pure bliss. That’s the only way to describe Botany Bay Plantation. 
The 4,630-acre plantation on Edisto Island was a gift from the Margaret Pepper family. It was given to the state in 1977 by Mr. Pepper, but was only able to be used after his wife passed away so she would have the opportunity to continue her years on the land she loved. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land itself is full of nature’s rich beauty—from the sunflower fields to the salt marsh and fresh water ponds to the Spanish moss draped oaks to the miles of private beach; it is emblematic of Lowcountry’s unique environment and appeal. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The clearly marked driving tour showcases the features of the plantation including the archaeological structures of historical significance. Take a walk down any of the trails and absorb the unique beauty of this unspoiled land.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation provided us with a chance to step back in time and fall in love with the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. 

Worth Pondering…

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown. A pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
—Edith Durham

8 Arizona Spots Every Birder Should Know About

Welcome to paradise. A birder’s paradise, that is.

Arizona offers some of the best birdwatching in America. Thanks to Arizona’s rich riparian habitats that stretch from north to south, the state is a top destination for every serious—and not-so-serious—birdwatcher in the country. Birders can marvel at an array of exotic and rare species, from tiny hummingbirds to giant California condors.

Want to get started? Check out this guide to Arizona’s best birding locations.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

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

The spectacular sight of thousands of wintering sandhill cranes is the main attraction at this 1,500-acre preserve. Between October and March, more than 20,000 cranes arrive, mostly from the Midwest, but some come from as far as Siberia. You can see the birds all day long, but if you get here before sunrise, you’ll spot them leaving their roost to feed—an unforgettable experience.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cool walls of Ramsey Canyon Preserve lure more than a dozen hummingbird species (violet-crowned, broad-billed and blue-throated, to name a few), giving this region the title of “hummingbird capital of the United States.” The delicate birds flock to the ecologically unique spot where plants and wildlife from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts blend with those from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

Gambil’s quail at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro Riparian area contains nearly 57,000 acres of public land stretching some 40 miles in a narrow band south from St. David. Most visitors start at San Pedro House which features interpretive signs of various native plants of the area, riparian, and wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy has designated San Pedro House as a globally important bird area. The cottonwood and willow trees provide essential habitat for a variety of wildlife including over 350 species of birds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Black-necked stilt at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’d be forgiven for thinking you can see exotic bird species only in Arizona’s wild lands. But you’re in for a pleasant surprise: Migratory routes pass through urban areas, too, making for great birdwatching in major Arizona cities. This riparian preserve, a premier bird site in metro Phoenix, was established in 1999 as a wetland habitat. In winter, ducks and water birds make their home here, as well as rarities like roseate spoonbill and little bittern.

Catalina State Park

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

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, 25 miles north of Tucson, the park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Greater Roadrunners, Gambel’s Quail, Say’s Phoebes, Harris’s Hawks, and 42 other bird species call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting, and 10 species of migrating warblers.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Anna’s hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The multiple riparian habitats at this state park bring such sub-species of hummingbirds as the green-and-gray Anna’s or the hunched Costa’s, while the wooded areas, lake and river attract species like wrens, sparrows and orioles.

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cottonwood and willow trees at this 126-acre site not only offer shade for land-loving wildlife like the Mexican vole, but they also provide homes for the water birds and migrant shorebirds that visit during the winter. Other cool-weather birds include the bald eagle, peregrine, and osprey. In summer, you might spot breeding birds such as wood ducks and yellow warblers.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

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

This massive recreation area straddles the border between Arizona and Utah and is notable for one specific bird species—the spectacular California condor. Only several hundred of these birds are still in existence, and many have been introduced into the wild at Glen Canyon. They have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Look for these graceful creatures as they fly free over the Colorado River, dipping and soaring along the air currents.

Greater Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Czech Out La Grange

We headed to Central Texas to Czech out the town of La Grande and discovered a fanciful cache of history and culture

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches” — quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the surnames of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. The town began in 1826 as Moore’s Fort; it became the county seat of Fayette County in the Republic of Texas in 1837.

Fayette County Court House in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state. The Czech immigration to the Lone Star State began in 1853 and was largely over by 1912. The estimate is that there are roughly a million Texans who trace their roots back to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Slovkia.

Texas Heroes Museum at Old Fayette County Jail in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, we Czeched out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center on Fairgrounds Road. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy”, and we certainly felt welcome. The Center serves both as a meeting place for organizations as well as a museum showcasing traditional wedding dresses, passenger lists, genealogies, and immigrants’ belongings. The Center gave us a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As wars were brewing in Europe, men were waging war in Texas — drawing us next to Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The park sits on a high sandstone bluff above the Colorado River. The expansive view from the bluff overlooks the town, dense forests, and the winding waters of the Colorado River. The two sites are connected by a scenic nature trail with each telling their own unique story.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop was Monument Hill, towering memorial saluting the men who died in battles against Mexico in the 1840s. A tomb holds the remains of 52 Texas heroes who died in the Dawson Massacre and the Texan Santa Fe and Mier expeditions.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first of the battles took place in 1842, when Capt. Nicholas Dawson led 53 volunteers from La Grange against 500 Mexican troops in the fight for San Antonio; 36 Texans were killed. Their remains are entombed in a granite crypt with their names etched in stone.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the second incident, a year later, 176 Texans made a valiant escape during a prisoners’ march to Mexico City but were recaptured by Col. Domingo Huerta. As punishment, each drew a bean from an earthen jar; one out of every 10 was a black bean. Those unlucky enough to draw the condemning black frijoles were executed at dusk. Their remains are entombed in today’s monument.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short hike from the tomb led us to the ruins of the Kreische Brewery where German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische founded one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. The Kreische Brewery site consists of the Kreische house, outbuildings, which were built in 1855-1857, and the Kreische Brewery (which looks more like a medieval castle than a brewery), built in the 1860s.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreische came to Texas in 1846 from Saxony, Germany, purchased 172 acres of land on the bluff in 1849 and began a successful career as a stonemason, brew master, and businessman. His was a story of early Texas family life, blue-collar work ethic, enterprising spirit, and business acumen that tells of German immigration into Texas. He built a three-story house and, in 1860, began building a brewery. By 1879, it was the third largest brewing operation in Texas.

Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a tour of the brewery ruins, we saw ample evidence of his ingenuity, including an aqueduct system he designed to channel water downhill from a spring to the brewing room. After the brewery tour, we admired the beautiful three-story stone house that Kreische built for his family—at a time when most settlers were still living in log cabins.

Historic La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Steinbeck

Apache Trail: Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat and Beyond

“a feller could meet hisself comin’ round one of them bends”

An historic road and a National Scenic Byway, the Apache Trail winds through, around, up, and down the Superstition Mountains. The 120-mile scenic route takes travelers through deserts, mountains, canyons, by cliff dwellings, along lake shores, and through old mining towns.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road winds its way from Apache Junction, passing Canyon lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. It goes from Roosevelt Dam to Globe-Miami and then becomes US-60 and heads west to Superior and back to Apache Junction.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The greatest scenery lies within the first 44 miles from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Dam. The road winds through a very wild region showcasing wildlife, volcanic debris, and huge, layered buttes. It’s a trip into outback Arizona and back in time. It’s not a modern road and is paved just past Tortilla Flat. From there it’s a narrow dirt road until near Roosevelt Dam.

Apache Trail near Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail was built as a haul and service road for the construction and maintenance of Roosevelt Dam. For the most part, it is a single-lane road with occasional pull-outs. In 1919, several stations stood along the trail to supply travelers with their needs. There was Government Well, Mormon Flat, Fish Creek Lodge, and Snell’s Station between Mesa and the dam. The completion of the Phoenix-Globe Highway through Superior in May 1922 allowed drivers to circumvent the entire Superstition Wilderness area, an almost roadless region.

Apache Trail and the Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once past Apache Junction, the Superstitions dominate the road.

Apache Trail and Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of these Superstition Mountains and surrounding area. Nature trails crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings that include a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed. 

Apache Trail and Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Goldfield Ghost Town with the Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Mine Museum offers train rides and an Old West atmosphere. Shops and restaurants line the quaint streets. It was once a booming community of 5,000 with three saloons and a hotel. Most of the residents earned a living in 50-odd mines around the area in the 1890s. Goldfield offers an interesting guided tour of a reconstructed section of the Old Mammoth Mine.

Apache Trail and Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next you’ll pass the Lost Dutchman State Park, which is the starting point for several hiking trails and has a great campground with electric and water utilities and several picnic areas.

Apache Trail and Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular stop along the Apache Trail, Canyon Lake, with a surface area of 950 acres, is the third and smallest of four lakes created along the Salt River. Two others, Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake, are upstream. Canyon Lake lies approximately 15 miles up the Apache Trail. 

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short distance further, Tortilla Flat now has a permanent population of six but once boasted a school, hotel, general store, and about 125 residents. The Tortilla Flat Stage Stop became a tourist attraction many years ago. Fire destroyed many of the buildings in 1987. Most have been restored, though not like they originally were.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five miles up from Tortilla Flat, the road turns to dirt, but the scenery gets even more spectacular. The trail is filled with many twists and turns. Old-timers claim “a feller could meet hisself comin’ round one of them bends.” High cliff walls stand watch over both sides of the road as it goes through Fish Creek Canyon.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Creek Hill is an experience in itself. It is steep, narrow, and slow going, but anyone can make it who drives with caution. The canyon narrows and then suddenly opens up to show a spectacular view of Geronimo Head.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next is Apache Lake, surrounded by towering cliffs and majestic saguaros. There’s an excellent view of the Painted Cliffs and Goat Mountain across the water. Apache Lake has an marina, motel, and restaurant all in one spot.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road runs alongside Apache Lake as it nears Roosevelt Dam. There is a good view of the dam from near water level.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail has stopping points to view the lake from above and take a good look at the bridge over Roosevelt Lake. At this spot one can head to Payson or stay on the trail to Roosevelt and Roosevelt Visitors Center operated by the Forest Service. The Tonto National Monument is just a few miles off the highway up in the mountains.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

Most Beautiful Cities in the Southwest

The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty

With an amazing variety of landscapes, the Southwest is a fascinating and awe-inspiring area to explore.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the City Different, Santa Fe embodies a rich history, melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture and art to the food. For 400+ years, Santa Fe has improved with age. In addition to more art galleries than you could imagine, Santa Fe boasts a long list of museums and a full calendar of art exhibits and festivals. In addition to these visual experiences, you will want to experience authentic New Mexican cuisine. Make sure to try green chili in as many forms as possible, as well as a variety of moles.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor recreation in and around Las Cruces is as scenic as it is sporty. Hiking the Dona Ana Mountains provides plenty of places to scan the scenery, and you can tackle both by mountain bike or horseback. One of the area’s most scenic destinations is White Sands National Monument, where sugary dunes stand in contrast to colorful sunsets and varied desert hues. Be sure to wander the streets of historic Mesilla.

Las Vegas, Nevada

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

Las Vegas needs no introduction, but many people don’t know it’s one of the best places to visit in the Southwest for more than the glittery Strip. Outside the city, the scenery unfolds endlessly. Nearby Valley of Fire State Park houses such awe-inspiring spots as the towers at Rainbow Vista to the colorful White Domes. The 13-mile scenic drive in Red Rock Canyon is among the cluster of great Southwest road trip ideas, and hiking, camping, and geological exploration deliver all the wonders of the desert.

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. Saguaro National Park is situated on either side of the city. These tall and ancient cacti stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges which cradle the Tucson valley and are showered with sunshine over 300 days a year. The average winter temperature is 70.

Lake Havasu, Arizona

Colorado River south of Lake Havasu © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 400 miles of shoreline and more than 300 days of sunshine and lots to see and do year-round, Lake Havasu is the boating Mecca of the Southwest and a popular Arizona getaway.Lake Havasu City is the off-roading, ultralight-flying, boating, and rock climbing capitol of the Southwest. One of the most interesting—and surprising—attractions in Lake Havasu is the London Bridge. It’s also one of the must-see places to see in Arizona to relax by a sparkling lake in Arizona’s warm desert.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Near Carlsbad Caverns looking south © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed Carlsbad Caverns are one of the biggest Southwest tourist attractions and lend this region an air of beauty and mystery. Plan to stay late and see the bats as they take flight for the night. Take to the hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park a short distance south of the Caverns to experience the wonders of Chihuahuan Desert backcountry, cool off in the swimming hole at Sitting Bull Falls, or take the whole family to the scenic Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.

Williams, Arizona

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Come to Port Aransas and Mustang Island and discover the island life

Long a favorite with Winter Texans, Port Aransas offers many activities from walking the beach in search of seashells to taking a tour boat, a deep sea fishing charter, or a sunset dinner cruise.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been said, “In a small town there ain’t much to see, but what you hear makes up for it.” Not so with “Port A,” as the locals call it. Sun, sky, sea, and sand best sum up this waterfront town.  A short drive from Corpus Christi, you can visit Port A via the JFK Causeway (South Padre Island Drive) or by traveling through Aransas Pass and taking the 24 hour ferry across to Mustang Island.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original island life destination, Port Aransas and Mustang Island is 18 miles of shoreline and wide, sandy beaches—with everything you need to plan the perfect beach vacation. But this is no ordinary island. Just ask the locals and visitors who’ve ranked it one of the best beaches in Texas.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gulf coast island offers year-round outdoor activities from sport fishing and parasailing to birding, dolphin watching, kayaking—and the only seaside links-style golf course in Texas. Stroll through town on a rented golf cart, explore the shops, galleries, and enjoy an array of restaurants, from “cook your catch” to roadside taco stands to fine dining.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the “Fishing Capital of Texas”, Port Aransas boasts the best in all areas of the sport. Anglers can take an off-shore excursion, fish the bays and channels, and cast a line in the surf or from one of the lighted public piers. Fishing tournaments abound during the summer, with one nearly every weekend, ranging from kids to women only and billfish to redfish tournaments.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find year-round festivals and events, including the annual BeachtoberFest, the Whooping Crane Festival (February 20-23, 20200, and Texas SandFest (April 17-19, 2020).

Watch for low flying birds! Located in the heart of the Central Flyway, Port Aransas and Mustang Island are a birder’s paradise. Hundreds of species of resident birds and thousands of migrants can be found here. Encounters with Coastal Bend species such as the roseate spoonbills, least grebes, reddish egrets, black-bellied whistling ducks, tri-colored herons, and stilts bring birding enthusiasts back to this island sanctuary time and time again.

With six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Port Aransas Nature Preserve, South Jetty, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, UTMSI Wetlands Education Center, and Mustang Island State Park, Port ‘A’ hosts many must-see lookouts for avid birders and wildlife photographers. Boardwalks and observation towers are built over wetlands with vegetation pockets specially designed to attract birds.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Birding Center, Wetlands Park, Paradise Pond, and the Nature Preserve were designed to give birders the “up-close” ability to observe hundreds of species in their natural habitats. From the natural wetlands, inlets, and 18 miles of natural beaches and dunes to the rock jetties, piers, and marinas, the island offers dozens of perfect vantage points to marvel at the magnificent migrating birds that consider Port ‘A’ the perfect rest stop.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best ways to enjoy Port Aransas’ awesome natural beauty is the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. A long, well-maintained boardwalk with benches, free telescopes, and an observation tower makes for excellent up-close views of local wildlife including alligators, crabs, redfish, and a huge variety of birds.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Port Aransas Nature Preserve encompasses 1,217 acres of undeveloped land in an area formerly known as Charlie’s Pasture where early island residents once grazed their cattle. Features at the Nature Preserve include over three miles of hike and bike trails, a pavilion, boardwalks over algal flats, crushed granite trails on the uplands, covered seating sites, and two towers overlooking wetland areas around Salt Island.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover why Port Aransas and Mustang Island is ranked one of the top 10 best family beaches in the U.S. by Family Vacation Critic (TripAdvisor’s family travel site) and celebrated by Fodor’s Travel as one of America’s 25 favorite beach towns.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Elmer Kelto