Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Visit Central Vermont and enjoy the great outdoors

Quaint to quirky, this state has it all. Vermont is predominately rural with mountains, villages, and a few small cities. From the Green Mountains to the Connecticut River on the east to Lake Champlain to the northwest, Vermont has much to attract the RVer.

Vermont State House in Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The intense green forests are studded with colorful bursts of summer flowers. Central Vermont, from Burlington to the Montpelier area, offers many interesting and delicious attractions to RVers.

Montpelier, the smallest capital in America with a population under 8,000 people, is a charming historic town with the largest urban historic district in Vermont. It is readily accessible from I-89 which runs from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. Guided tours are available free of charge. Next door to the capitol, the Vermont Historical Society Museum is a must for history buffs.

Vermont State House in Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montpelier is a walking city. The heart of the downtown is three blocks from the State House. Downtown Montpelier is a vibrant center of interesting, independently owned shops and restaurants. It is also home to the New England Culinary Institute, which operates three restaurants—NECI on Main, Dewey Cafe, and La Brioche Bakery & Café—with irresistible delights in this eclectic New England town.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s plenty of beautiful countryside to see around Montpelier and a number of interesting tours nearby.

Rock of Ages granite quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 7 miles southeast of the state capital is Barre, known as the Granite Center of the World. Its downtown, with several prominent sculptures and granite faced buildings, reflects that heritage. Its famed quarries at the edge of town are sprawling and spectacular with an estimated 4,500-year supply of Barre Gray granite still to be quarried out of the surrounding hills.

Rock of Ages granite quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite. From behind a wire fence, gaze down at the 600-foot-deep quarry. In the quarry, workers and machines drill, split, explode, and lift massive blocks of granite. Watching steel derricks hoist the blocks from the deep quarry is quite a sight.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the impressive quarry tour, head inside for a self-guided tour of the manufacturing plant where you can watch granite artisans working on everything from large mausoleums to tombstones and small memorial markers. The precision cutting, laser etching, and other sculpting techniques are fascinating to watch.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, is situated on the east side of Lake Champlain and, like Montpelier, is accessible from I-89. Burlington’s waterfront is home to parks, a walking/bike path, fine restaurants, ferry crossings, and cruise boats. The core of this vibrant city’s downtown is the Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall filled with over 100 retail shops, boutiques, cafes, and craft vendors.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sweetest tour in town, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been making fresh, small batch chocolates on Pine Street since 1983. They offer free factory tours Monday to Friday from June to October, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.; tours start on the hour and self-guided tours start at 3:00 p.m. On the weekends, free chocolate tastings are available between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Learn the flavor profiles of four different chocolates with a chance to win a free chocolate gift basket. Lake Champlain Chocolates features caramels, clusters, truffles, almond butter crunch and much more—including lots of factory seconds and free samples.

Lake Champlain Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Shelburne Museum is a unique American treasure, a sprawling complex of three dozen relocated buildings including a covered bridge, round barn, a lighthouse, and huge 220-foot dry docked paddlewheel steam-powered lake boat. Inside, the 39 galleries house an eclectic collection of art, Americana, architecture, and artifacts.

Morris Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ships, lighthouses, whole barns—you name it, it’s here. There’s so much to see that the entry ticket is valid for two days.

Morris Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This amazing collection just south of Burlington was started just over 50 years ago by Electra Havenmeyer Webb, and it just keeps on growing. Today, it covers 45 acres and 37 buildings and contains some of the best collections of Americana in the country. Kids love the big stuff, like the 220-foot steamship. Serious collectors gravitate to the weathervanes, toys, and tools.

Worth Pondering…

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont
—lyrics by John M. Blackburn; music by Karl Suessdorf; recorded by Ella Fitzerald, Jo Stafford, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and others

We Found the South’s Best Fall Color

Fall is the perfect time of year to head to the South on an RV road trip

Our collection of breathtaking views might end the debate on the South’s most beautiful season.

Take a stroll through the golden leaves of autumn as we share the South’s best fall color.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont (about 30 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky) includes 15,625 acres of fields and forests, as well as over 40 miles of hiking trails that weave their way through the forest and a bike route that winds along the fall-color-filled Long Lick Creek.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking advantage of one of the many informative programs, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River in West Virginia is known for its white-water rafting, fishing, and hiking. A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities. Hiking along the many park trails or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the cultural history of the area and visit some of the historic sites within the park. There are many possibilities for extreme sports as well as a more relaxing experience.

Cades Cove Color

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spreading across 800 square miles of southern Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, the nation’s most visited national park offers acres of fall color. One of the most popular places to see the leaves and wildlife (including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and black bears) is Cades Cove, a broad valley at the northwestern corner of the park near Townsend, Tennessee.

Autumn in the Bluegrass

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, the scenery ranges from the Appalachians in the east to the many beautiful lakes in the south and west. However, the area that most symbolizes the state is that of the central Bluegrass region. The gently rolling hills are lined with white and black fences where the thoroughbreds graze, defines this area. 

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its beauty is even more noticeable with the falling yellow and red leaves on a sunny autumn afternoon. It is a unique and special place with more than 400 horse farms dotting the region.

Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, make a stop at Showalter’s Orchard, where visitors can stroll on more than 40 acres of land that overlook the Valley. The u-pick orchard grows more than 20 varieties of apples, some of which are turned into a sweet, fresh apple cider. Taste something stronger and buy a bottle of Old Hill Hard Cider.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles in the Appalachian Highlands. Drive the southern 40 mile section as it winds through Western North Carolina’s Jackson County. Be sure to stop at the parkway’s highest point, the Richland Balsam Overlook at 6,053 feet.

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many thousands of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers from around the nation and beyond follow them here. And there’s no better time or way to appreciate all that the 57,000-acre refuge has to offer than attending the annual Festival of the Cranes, the week before Thanksgiving.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I love the fall season. I love all the reds, gold, and browns, the slight chill in the air, and watching the geese fly south in a V.

Marietta: Ohio’s First City & Historic River Town

The historic riverboat town of Marietta, Ohio is known as the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory—and it’s unbelievably charming

Ever since the 1882 arrival of Marquis de Lafayette, widely considered to be Marietta, Ohio’s first tourist, this charming river town has been rolling out the welcome mat for visitors. With its outstanding museums, river cruises, and historic attractions, it’s easy to understand why it is such a popular destination for travelers.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, it’s not surprising that Marietta has a strong river heritage. It also has a prominent place in Ohio history as both the state’s and the Northwest Territory’s first organized permanent settlement, founded in 1788. It was once considered the “Gateway to the West” for travelers from the East seeking land and new opportunities.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glance at what this lovely river town offers with a narrated 90-minute trolley tour, which meanders past numerous landmarks and heritage sites. Tours depart from the Levee House Cafe on the corner of Ohio and Second streets from July through October. While a great place for lunch or dinner, the structure also has historical significance. Built in 1826 for a dry goods merchant, it later became a hotel, then a tavern, and today is the town’s only remaining riverfront building.

Take a stroll across the Harmar Pedestrian, an old B&O Railroad bridge over the Muskingum River that links the downtown shopping area with Historic Harmar Village. This where Fort Harmar was established in 1785 as a garrison for US soldiers. Today it’s a neighborhood of brick streets (seven miles of original brick street—more than any other Ohio town) and quaint buildings housing crafts and antique shops, and several museums.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by the memory-laden Marietta Soda Museum and view a fun collection of vintage soda-related items including soda machines, coolers, and advertising signs and gimmicks. Sit at a 1950s soda fountain and order a hot dog, a malt, or chocolate-cherry Coke.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete your trip down nostalgia lane with a browse through the Children’s Toy and Doll Museum a few steps away. Located in a restored 1889 Queen Anne style home, the museum hosts an impressive collection of antique dolls and vintage toys from around the world. Highlights include a reproduction carousel horse and Circus Room featuring dioramas and circus-related miniatures including animals, tents, and circus trains.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head back across the river and stroll Front Street. Boutique-style shops are filled with artisan jewelry, collectibles, antiques, quilts and fabrics, confections, furnishings, gifts, fine clothing, and craft brews.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The aroma of craftsmanship permeates a leather goods store that has been in operation since 1867. Yes, you can still haggle over a harness for your buckboard. Schafer Leather Store has progressed from the local harness shop to a unique, diversified store offering a variety of quality merchandise including, jewelry, handbags, wallets, belts, men’s and ladies’ clothing, hats, buckles, bolo ties, and over 3,000 pairs of men’s, ladies’, and children’s boots. 

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fascinating story of the birth and growth of Marietta, Ohio’s first city, is told in two outstanding museums, Campus Martius and the Ohio River Museum. Both will immerse you in the days when America’s rivers were her highways.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Campus Martius Museum preserves the history of America’s migration west, its earliest native inhabitants, and Marietta’s pioneers. The museum named for the fort was built on the site in 1788 by the Ohio Company of Associates was erected over the Rufus Putnam House. The Ohio Company Land Office, the oldest known building in Ohio, was also moved to the museum site.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ohio River Museum consists of three exhibit buildings, the first chronicling the origins and the rich lore of the area’s waterways. The history of the steamboat on the Ohio River system is featured in the second building, along with a video presentation on river steamboats. The last building features displays about boat building and tool and equipment from the steamboat era. Take an escorted tour of the W. P. Snyder Jr., a 1918 steam-powered “pool-type” stern-wheeled towboat.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After your museum visit, enjoy a 90-minute scenic cruise on the Ohio River aboard the Valley Gem, a working sternwheeler docked next door to the Ohio River Museum. What better way to fully appreciate a true river town than to see it from the river?

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.

—William Shakespeare

5 Utah Scenic Byways for Leaf Peeping

Explore the best scenic drives in Utah for fall foliage paired with unexpected adventure

The lure of fall foliage is no secret. Bursts of saturated yellow and fiery red demand your eye and call you to the open road. With forecasting apps and digital foliage maps, terms like peaking and peeping are common language among RVers with a craving for visual fall flavor.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when it comes to Utah’s fall foliage, travelers pursue the leaf peeping road-less-traveled. Often overlooked for New England or the Smoky Mountains, Utah’s wide array of forests and state and national parks—each located at different elevations and receiving varying amounts of rainfall—make for a diverse foliage spectacle.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s geography creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors courtesy of the canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, serviceberries, and more.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good gauge is to assume that the colors begin in the highest elevations in mid-September and wrap in mid-October across most of the state. The season beckons for weekend drives on Utah’s scenic byways and taking in views as you make your way to the trailhead. Find something pumpkin flavored, fill your apple cider canteen, button up your flannels, and hit the open road for some awe inspiring leaf peeping.

Pair with the World’s Heaviest Organism: Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) and Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-153)

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two scenic byways bookend Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis that features three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching from the east on Fish Lake Scenic Byway, you’ll pass the forest’s prize jewel, Fish Lake, which is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazen aspen forests. Seize the opportunity for a scenic drive in Utah to see the leaves change on an aspen clone known as Pando, which is believed to be the heaviest organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Pando is located about 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on State Route 25. If you want to pair your drive with mountain biking, hiking, camping, or fishing for eager-to-bite mackinaw and rainbow trout, make sure to add this spot your autumn itineraries bucket list.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the western side of the forest, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway climbs from the town of Beaver to a high point at Eagle Point Ski Resort. If you’re feeling adventurous and your clearance allows, continue the route on the unpaved Kimberly/Big John Scenic Backway over volcanic remnants that are now the 12,000-foot Tushar Mountains and down into the Sevier River Valley corridor.

Pair with a Miraculously Resilient Landscape: Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (SR-143), Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (SR-14), and Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (SR-148)

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This high-elevation and densely forested area of Southern Utah offers a particularly unique leaf peeping experience this fall. During June and July, a fire consumed 70,000 acres near the area of Brian Head, though the town and resort were fortunately saved. In many ways, the patches of charred backdrop make the contrast of the multitude of spared trees even more dramatic.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, you will see fire damage along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway, but you will also see maples and aspens, golden and fiery red along your journey up to a 10,000-foot plateau. Remarkably, this area connects three scenic byways and features the outstanding Cedar Breaks National Monument—the topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop, begin your loop in Parowan at the start of Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (S.R. 143), weaving through a patchwork of historic towns, geological formations, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. The pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau glitter in the distance as an ancient lava field sprinkled with aspen trees line the road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue as long as you like, but at some point turn (or make your way back to) the junction of S.R. 143 and S.R. 148, which becomes the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway as you head south. Along this journey you will encounter the large, natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks, which creates a supreme backdrop for fall leaves. To finish the loop, turn west back towards Cedar City at the junction of S.R. 14. You’re now on your third scenic byway: the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

The Absolute Best Places to RV This October

October is one of the absolute best months for RV travel

October is here and that means Canadian Thanksgiving and Columbus Day weekend on the States side, trips to the countryside to enjoy the autumn leaves and spooky Halloween decorations, fall activities, and parties. Many campgrounds have amazing Halloween activities planned so if you’re looking for a unique experience, check out one of the parks to get your scare on!

Consider the following destinations where fewer crowds or special events make this the right time to go.

Here are five great places for RV travel in October 2019.

And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in July, August, and September. Also check out our recommendations from October 2018.

Crowley, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

Louisianians can always find a reason to celebrate. Throughout the year, music, food, history, and holidays inspire more than 400 Louisiana festivals and events of all sizes occurring throughout the state and each one is an opportunity to #FeedYourSoul.

Home of Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tamales are toasted in Zwolle each October when the Zwolle Tamale Fiesta celebrates the Spanish and Native Amerian heritage. Still hungry? Head to LaPlace for the Andouille Festival, Crowley for the Rice Festival, and Bridge City for the Gumbo Festival, all held in October.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another hands-down favorite food item makes the festival roster at the NOLA Beignet Festival. Held early October, the Crescent City pays homage to the famous pillowy pastry while raising awareness for autism.

Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another fall festival that celebrates Louisiana’s one-of-a-kind culture is the free, three-day Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in Lafayette’s Girard Park in mid-October. This is really three festivals in one, each celebrating a different aspect of Cajun and Creole culture.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ask anyone to name Utah’s five National Parks, and odds are Capitol Reef is the one they forget among its arched-and-canyoned cousins. You should remember Capitol Reef for the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth and a feature you won’t find elsewhere in the state.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s also been designated as a “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, so camping here will yield some of the prettiest stars you’ve ever seen. At just over a million visitors last year, it offers much of the red rocks and striking geology of other Utah parks, without the crowds.

Texas Hill Country

Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin is obviously great, but it’s also obviously saturated with hipsters. Hill County, on the other hand, is a whole other bag. Head a half-hour out of town and you’ll find yourself in the midst of true Texan quirk. Once you’ve put Austin in the rearview mirror, consider this area your next epic road trip.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in the historic town of Gruene for live music and imbibin’ at Gruene Hall, which is pretty much everything you want from a Texas roadhouse. Fredericksburg is a bizarre little haven of German culture, complete with biergarten; after that, we say you whip out the inner tube and spend hours floating down Guadalupe River.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cowboys, German beer fests, and lazy rivers, check—now it’s on to the 15 wineries along Fredericksburg Wine Road 290. To wrap it all up, head to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to climb an ancient pink granite peak and survey all that you’ve just visited. 

New River Gorge, West Virginia

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For 364 days out of the year, West Virginians occupy their time with backwoods activities that sometimes involve eating squirrels (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). But one day in October—the aptly named Bridge Day—they toss themselves off a big-ass bridge overlooking the New River Gorge. It’s an event that draws about 80,000 extreme-sports enthusiasts and onlookers annually, but it’s only one of the reasons to experience the New River Gorge.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See also the gorgeous views of a river winding around monolithic rock formations like Endless Wall and Junkyard Cliff. In terms of potential things you will ever see, the gorge is pretty spectacular.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even though the town has been named the “Best Town EVER” by Outside Magazine twice, the indoor options here are becoming just as formidable as those out of doors. Plus, it doesn’t really seem that people are getting the message about how great this place is.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is the Tennessee Aquarium home to baby penguins, but the Tennessee Stillhouse literally got laws rewritten so it could become the first legal distillery in Chattanooga in over a century. And, the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel has reopened (after a $20 million renovation) with two restaurants, a live-music venue, and even a comedy club.

Worth Pondering…

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

—Confucius

Farewell My Summer Love

The RV lifestyle allows those of us who travel in our coach or towable to visit wineries in many different locations

As summer comes to a close, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming change in seasons. What better way to end an amazing summer than to dive into a wine country extravaganza? We’ve handpicked 4 unique wine country regions that we think will make the perfect final getaway to end your summer with a bang! So, grab a glass of vino and cheers to another amazing summer getaway.

Michael David, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi, California

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi Wine Region enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes.

With a grape-growing history that dates back to the 1850s, the Lodi Appellation boasts over 750 growers and is home to more than 85 wineries (65 of which boast boutique tasting rooms) specializing in small-lot, handmade wines.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 100 varieties currently being cultivated, Lodi offers a diverse portfolio of wines. While long renowned for its high-quality Zinfandel production, including an estimated 2,000 acres of pre-Prohibition vines, the area also produces award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay.

Van Ruiten Vineyards, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine enthusiasts will enjoy a warm welcome and a friendly face as they travel Lodi Wine Country and enjoy a diverse range of wines, delicious foods, and great hospitality. 

Helwig Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador County, California

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is the heart of Amador Wine Country. The valley offers country roads with breathtaking views, charming postcard-perfect farms, unique tasting rooms, and relaxing environments. This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines.

Cooper Vineyards, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Moon Crusher Vineyards, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts 131 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Hester Creek Winery, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From world-class operations to family-run boutique vineyards, Okanagan wineries are rich with character and consistently ranked among the world’s best at International competitions. 

Tinhorn Vineyards, Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable wineries are Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek, and Nk’Mip Cellars, Quails Gate Estate, and Tinhorn Creek. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Murphys, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Calaveras County, California

At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with numerous tasting rooms and many excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Murphys was one of the Gold Country’s richest diggins. The picturesque village is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns, a charming Main Street, unique shops including art galleries, and spectacular wineries. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.

Four Winds Cellar, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Keeneland: A Special Place

Located in the Horse Capital of the World, Keeneland is an internationally renowned racecourse and the Thoroughbred industry’s leading auction house

Kentucky is the undisputed mecca of the Thoroughbred industry in the U.S., both for breeding and racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year since 1875 this truth has been reaffirmed on the first Saturday in May, when sport’s brightest spotlight turns toward Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Its reputation as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” is well-deserved. The same goes for the race’s record attendance numbers which eclipse both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But those who follow the sport beyond the Julep-fueled weekend know that much of the prestigious race’s success is owed to another place a mere 80 miles east.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region, Keeneland plays an important role in both Thoroughbred racing and breeding. A fundamentally different kind of race track, Keeneland was purposefully conceived to serve as a lasting monument to the sport’s heritage and tradition.

From its inception in 1936, Keeneland’s founders, led by respected horsemen Hal Price Headley and Major Louis Beard, intended it to be a special place—one that symbolizes the best in Thoroughbred racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the story goes, after the closing of the Kentucky Association Track in 1933 during the thick of the Great Depression, Lexington was suddenly trackless for the first time in a century. While much of the country wandered adrift in search of food, shelter, and work, a committee of 10 local industry veterans hatched a plan to create America’s first not-for-profit track, one that would serve the community and reinvest proceeds into improving the grounds and fattening race purses.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decision to act during such a period of economic chaos proved fruitful for the group. Jack Keene, a colorful character and world-renowned Thoroughbred breeder and trainer who had kicked off his goal to build a private racing and training facility during the high of the roaring 20s before things went sour, was willing to part with his dream for a bargain. He had already constructed a foundation with potential in the form of a mile-and-a-furlong track and a stone castle and barn built from limestone mined in Kentucky, but work was still required to get the track up and running in 1936.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland’s role as a beacon for the sport soon expanded in 1939, thanks to the donation of over 2,300 volumes on the sport of horse racing by Lexington businessman William Arnold Hangar, who sowed the seed for the Keeneland library, which today contains nearly 200,000 books and approximately 250,000 photographs and stands as one of the world’s largest research and reference repositories on Thoroughbreds.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the track has received its fair share of updates and improvements over the decades, little has changed aesthetically. Keeneland was officially designated a national historic landmark in 1986, and if you’ve ever seen the 2003 movie, Seabiscuit, you’ve seen the pristine setting firsthand, as most of the racing scenes were filmed there.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2009 the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system of all of the country’s 65 Thoroughbred tracks, and ranked Keeneland at the very top.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Keeneland continues to be guided by that original mission, taking a leadership role in the industry and preserve racing’s storied history.

Each April and October (October 4-26, in 2019), the nation’s best Thoroughbred owners, trainers, and jockeys converge at Keeneland to compete for some of North America’s richest purse money. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the world’s leading Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other sales company, including 95 horses that won 103 races during the Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners and 21 Kentucky Derby winners.

Keeneland’s beautiful, park-like grounds are open to the public every day. Fans also are welcome to visit the famed Keeneland Library.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans and horsemen alike are welcome to enjoy its spectacular racing, attend one of its annual horse sales, or simply visit the grounds and celebrate Keeneland’s timeless beauty.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For guests interested in learning about the history of Keeneland and wanting an insider view of operations, guided walking tours are available. This outside walking tour takes guests through the Keeneland Paddock and Grandstand, grounds, and when available, to the Sales Pavilion. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour lasts for one hour and largely takes place outside—rain or shine. During the race meets in April and October, tours are available Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Worth Pondering…

To be born in Kentucky is a heritage; to brag about it is a habit; to appreciate it is a virtue.

―Irvin Cobb

The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Arizona is home to some amazing state parks

A certain large national park may come to mind when most people think of outdoor spaces in the Grand Canyon State. But Arizona boasts 29 state parks, too, and new data show a slight uptick in visits to those lands over the past year.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birders, campers, boaters, hikers, and others made 3.2 million visits to Arizona state parks during the Fiscal Year (FY) that ended in June, an increase of about 1 percent over the previous 12 months, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That’s up from nearly 2.7 million visits about three years ago. But 1 percent suggests the growth in visitors is leveling off after years of 8 and 9 percent increases.

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

The wet, cool, and windy winter weather likely affected the crowds at Lake Havasu, the state’s most popular state park where the number of visits declined about 10 percent to around 500,000 over the previous year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park saw visitation drop, also, by around 19 percent following the closure of a pedestrian walkway. The state plans to rebuild it next year. The number of visitors also decreased at historic sites including Tubac Presidio, Fort Verde, McFarland Historic Park (original Pinal County Courthouse in Florence.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert wildflowers that followed the damp and cool winter resulted in a boost for parks in the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande saw a 46 percent increase in visitors during the last fiscal year, tallying 121,000 visits. And yes, we were there. Oracle and Catalina state parks in Southern Arizona also saw increases in visitors. The increase in visitation at these parks raises concerns about how best to balance the park’s popularity with the rustic feel of the site.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park with the biggest increase in visitors in proportion to the previous year was Lyman Lake State Park, where attendance nearly doubled reaching 31,100. That’s still not many people compared to other locations. Situated on the Little Colorado River east of Show Low, the park is secluded. The water is higher than it has been in years and has no size restrictions on boats.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1) Lake Havasu

Visitors during FY 2019: 504,000 (down 10.6%)

It should be no surprise that the most popular state parks in Arizona are situated on water. This park is an oasis on the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, boasting beaches, boat ramps and campsites.

Sonaota Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Slide Rock State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 434,400 (down 5.5%)

This 43-acre historic homestead near Sedona used to be an apple farm. But visitors don’t just come for the agricultural history, as they flock to the park in Oak Creek Canyon for its namesake slide.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Catalina State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 251,100 (up 18.2%)

Catalina includes 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams outside Tucson. Oh, and it has nearly 5,000 saguaros and awesome sunsets.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s least-visited state parks

1) McFarland State Historic Park

Visitors during FY2019: 6,800 (down 13.9%)

The original Pinal County courthouse in downtown Florence offers a glimpse into the past. Built in 1878, it’s an architectural showcase, demonstrating the incorporation of Spanish design into the style of Anglo settlers.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Tubac Presidio

Visitors during FY2019: 7,900 (down 11.2%)

This park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752. The presidio was outpost of the Spanish empire, a base for troops and a station for further exploration of what would become the American Southwest.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Fort Verde

Visitors during FY2019: 10,700 (down 17.1%)

When troops left this Apache Wars-era fort, the premises was divided up and sold at auction. This small state park attempts to preserve some of the structures and give the public a look at life at mid-19th century Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Top 6 Insta-Worthy Fall Destinations

Don’t mourn the end of summer. Make a date with Mother Nature to ponder the stunning colors of fall foliage.

Fall is officially upon us, and if the copious amounts of pumpkin spice didn’t give you a hint, the cooler temperatures and shorter days just might.

But what most everyone looks forward to about fall is the beautiful window of color as the trees transition for winter. Warm hues of red, orange, and yellow become commonplace for a few weeks, creating a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with a country as massive as the United States, it can be hard to pinpoint the best spots to visit, especially when the color clock is ticking fast. So here is a list of the top six Insta-worthy fall destinations in the US, going from west to east.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But before you scroll down and view the list, here is a quick tip to game plan and see these beautiful fall destinations at the best times. Locations that are more northern and/or are in higher elevations tend to transition into color first and fastest.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway, beginning south of the Great Smoky Mountains and located in the beautiful state of North Carolina, offers one of the most beautiful drives in the country. The road is not only beautiful in fall, but is a true engineering marvel. Stretches like the Blue Ridge “Aqueduct” were built to wind and tower above the trees, and offer a bird’s eye view to some of the most magical fall colors in the country.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sourwoods, poplars, and maples offer every kind of red and crimson hue and are striking beautiful, especially in the morning, when the fog routinely covers the mountains, and swirls around these colorful trees. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a perfect southern Appalachian getaway and a world class fall destination for photographers and nature lovers alike.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall in Utah and the Southwest is one of the most unique you will ever experience. Most do not think about southern Utah as a fall foliage destination due to its desert landscape, but Zion is unique in that it has a thriving desert environment, fed by the powerful Virgin River, which creates a thriving oasis on its massive canyon floor.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the fall, the thousands of cottonwoods that call the canyon floor home turn bright yellow and offer an incredible contrast to the massive orange, pink, and red sandstone walls and cliffs of Zion Canyon. It almost doesn’t seem real, but that colorful contrast at photo destinations like The Narrows and The Watchman are a marvel to photograph and will be at the top of your fall portfolio.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They don’t call New Mexico the “Land of Enchantment” for nothing. Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves—for wildlife and human visitors alike—providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many thousands of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers from around the US and beyond follow them here. And there’s no better time or way to appreciate all that the 57,000-acre refuge has to offer than attending the annual Festival of the Cranes, always held the week before Thanksgiving.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a reason why this region is home to one of the busiest national parks in the US. In fall, the Smoky Mountains truly shine, with some of the most vibrant fall colors you will see. A southern subsection of the Appalachian Range, the Smokies are home to some of the largest mountains in the eastern United States.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summit destinations like Clingmans Dome, one of the park’s highest spots, is a perfect spot for sunrise and a purely fall experience you have to see to believe.

The Adirondacks, New York

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Adirondacks offer a fall escape with an outdoor playground that is the largest natural wilderness region in the eastern United States. In the fall, this area explodes with color, with bright reds, oranges, and yellows from the oak, maple, birch, and beech trees that grow in this region.

The Green Mountains, Vermont

Near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont is known for its tasty maple syrup and beautiful Green Mountains that attract winter sport enthusiasts from around the world. But that combination of beautiful mountains and maple trees creates a mecca for fall color.

Morris Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The deep reds and oranges in this area are truly remarkable, and if you take the Green Mountain Byway, from Waterbury to Stowe, you have the perfect opportunity to experience this state in its fall splendor, surrounded by charming farms and towns.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Enjoy Arizona’s Beauty Year-Round!

It’s always postcard perfect somewhere in Arizona, no matter what time of year it is

In the high plains and elevation of Arizona, the changing of the seasons is always a wonder to experience. It’s often hard for visitors to imagine how different things can be one season to the next.

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway at the Grand Canyon depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This round trip departs from Williams around 65 miles south of the Grand Canyon. At first, it’s hard to marry the dense pine forests that surround the train with the desert colors of the landscape that waits. Eyes peeled for elk, coyotes, condors, and bald eagles, you’ll reach the popular South Rim a little over two hours later. If you choose to return the same day, you’ll have about four hours to marvel at its beauty; it’s understandably tempting to spend at least a night to more fully appreciate this wondrous natural phenomenon.

Canyon de Chelly National Park

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is a 14 mile drive along Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon is a breathtaking stretch of beauty on a winding road that climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona to the top of the Mogollon Rim. The scenic drive can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff. Either route is equally breathtaking as you slowly descend or ascend through picturesque forests.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the place to discover the intricate beauty and seasonal faces of Arizona. Encompassing 323 acres, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panorama vistas, natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, and specialty gardens.

Catalina Highway

Along Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catalina Highway, also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, climbs Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains. You won’t get all the way to the 9,100-foot summit on this drive, but don’t be surprised if the temperature at the end is 30 degrees lower than when you started your drive. And enjoy the cooler weather. Even in September, you might need a sweater.

Prescott

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet above sea level amongst ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees with four beautiful and distinct seasons. Once the territorial capital, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks. Enjoy breathtaking landscapes complete with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows filled with wildlife.

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the best scenery in central Arizona can be seen along the Apache Trail. A route for the adventurous traveler, the trail is partly paved with a section of the route graded dirt. Along a loop drive of 80 miles, you will find spectacular scenery to rival any in the state. The unpaved section of the trail provides magnificent views of the mountains with forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes along the way.

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