Celebrating Canada Day during the Pandemic

COVID-19 means it’s time for a road trip

With Canada Day rapidly approaching, this year will be totally different. There will be few, if any, Canada Day parades, festivals, or big July 1st parties.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer is the best time for a road trip and Canada is filled with some of the world’s most scenic drives. After months of staying indoors, Canadians are more than ready for a change of scenery. This will be the summer of the road trip—the kind of vacation many of us recall from childhood. With ultra-low fuel prices, a road trip is an inexpensive and easy way to get away.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you simply hop in a car or hit the open road in a recreational vehicle, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in Canada—or most anywhere else.

This 232-kilometre (144-mile) stretch of road between Jasper and Lake Louise (also known as Highway 93) was built along the backbone of the North American continent.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is dotted with more than 100 glaciers, rugged mountains, waterfalls, stunning blue lakes, and vast sweeping valleys. It has been described as one of the world’s most awe-inspiring road trips by National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, and numerous other publications.

Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive can be done in three hours but you’ll want to budget a full day or more. The Columbia Icefields for which the road is named is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies and a stop at Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre is a must. Here, you’ll travel on a massive Ice Explorer to a place where you can walk on the Athabasca Glacier. Then, take a jaw-dropping walk along the glass-floored Glacial Skywalk at the cliff’s edge. With reduced occupancy these tours fill quickly.

Columbia Icefields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit, Bow Lake, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Parker Ridge, Weeping Wall, and Mistaya Canyon are just a few of the other amazing stops that can be made along the way. You’ll find many more amazing natural wonders on either end of the Icefields Parkway in Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another way to celebrate and have fun with a Canadian theme is to enjoy some tasty Canadian wine. In all, British Columbia now has 370 wineries, most of them in the Okanagan. The statistics are a testament to the strength and rapid growth of the wine industry in the province.

In the South Okanagan, rainfall is scarce and the soils are sandy. The resulting thickly tannic wines favor Syrah, Merlot, and other Bordeaux reds, along with hot-climate whites such as Viognier.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, Black Hills Estate Winery is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first release of their iconic Bordeaux style red, Nota Bene. Normally they celebrate the release with a big party but this year the winery is taking its party online on July 17th.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers who purchase 12 bottles of the 2018 Nota Bene ($59.90 each) will receive access to the online party featuring recording artist Steven Page joined by Jason Priestley, Erin Cebula, Prevail, and 2018 Olympic winner, Kelsey Serwa. Black Hills’ Winemaker and Master of Wine, Ross Wise kicks off the celebration with a guided tasting of his 2018 Nota Bene. Customers also receive a VIP Cabana Tasting at the winery and free shipping.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The South Okanagan Valley icon is located on the famed Black Sage Bench, 13 kilometres (8 miles) north of Osoyoos and 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Oliver. This places Black Hills Estate in the Okanagan Valley appellation centered in the middle of Canada’s only official desert. The resulting microclimate leaves Black Hills with one of the hottest, driest, and sunniest sites in the country. In fact, this northern latitude attracts more sunlight hours than Napa Valley in the key growing months of June through August.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in the Okanagan, nothing quite says summer than a refreshing float down Penticton’s river channel. The man-made waterway, also known as the Okanagan River Channel, was first created in the 1950s to control flooding and water flow from the Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake.

Okanagan River Channel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven-kilometre (4-mile) river float has since changed into a beloved community staple that draws people from across the valley for an up-to three hour river float. Coyote Cruises which offers shuttle and inner-tubes said that due to the current water flow, the float only takes an hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish.

Okanagan River Channel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently a long list of COVID-19 procedures for health and safety were posted on its website and included insights into how social distancing will be maintained. Among the things listed, the shuttle bus will only be 2/3 full. Personal inflation services will not be provided and staff will not be helping guests in and out of the channel.

Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So Happy 153rd Birthday, Canada. And here’s to the delicious wines of the Okanagan! May both continue to grow and prosper!

Worth Pondering…

Think I’ll go out to Alberta

Weather’s good there in the fall

Got some friends there I can go to.

—sung by Ian Tyson

Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”

The fifteen-mile stretch of State Route 179 from Interstate 17 (Exit 298) is the primary route that millions of tourists use to visit Sedona, a premier world tourist destination. Visitors winding their way along this route are treated to one of the more incredible scenic drives in America. 

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a tourist attraction onto itself. Many will claim that the natural beauty along this winding road is unparalleled anywhere else in the nation.

Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Forest/Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center

Your first must-stop is the beautiful Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, located just south of the Village of Oak Creek on SR 179. Get maps and tons of Red Rock Country “fun things to do” information, as well as your Red Rock Pass for trailhead parking. Learn all the stories and history of this amazing area, like how the rocks and mesas were formed and named.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing on Oak Creek

As you leave the Visitors Center driveway, turn north (left) on SR 179 and you’ll see a major intersection with a stoplight. Turn west (left) onto Verde Valley School Road and drive 4.7 miles where the road dead-ends at the Red Rock Crossing parking lot. Do not park anywhere but the parking lot. This road travels through residential areas so be aware of the 30-35 mph speed limit; also, for the last 1.2 miles, the road is unpaved as well as curvy, hilly, and subject to flooding after excessive rains.

Oak Creek near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, it is a very short walk to the pathway that will lead you down to the unique red rock banks of Oak Creek. Don’t forget your camera, because you’re at one of the most photographed sites in the country as well as one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Sedona.

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

If it’s a Saturday, chances are there’s a small wedding taking place at the north end of the crossing. Most days there will be artists painting or photographers setting up their shots or people just soaking up the inspiring view.

If the creek water’s low enough, step across the red rock stepping stones which is the crossing to Crescent Moon Ranch State Park situated on the other side.

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Vista and Pathway Southern Trailhead

Turn east (right) out of the Red Rock Crossing parking lot and take Verde Valley School Road 4.7 miles back to its stoplight intersection with SR 179, where you will turn north (left).

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proceed through the Village of Oak Creek and just past the next stoplight on your right hand side will be the entrance to the Bell Rock Vista and Pathway parking lot. Here’s where you’ll discover the size and power of the red rocks; this is a travelers up close experience with mystical Bell Rock and mammoth Courthouse Butte. Feel the red rock energy and enjoy the views.

There are many pathways to choose from all going to or near Bell Rock that can be done in a half hour or as long as you feel like walking.

Hiking along the Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Horse Trail and Bell Rock Pathway Northern Trailhead

Turn north (or right) out of the parking lot onto SR 179; proceed straight and be on the lookout for signs that say “Little Horse Trail” and “Bell Rock Pathway”; entrance to this stop’s parking lot will come up fairly quickly, on your right.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover a little serenity among the glorious hiking and biking trails that meander to hidden washes and breathtaking red rock panoramas. Little Horse Trail is a local favorite, rated moderate, and 6.5 miles if you do the full round trip. Remember the rules of the trail, and have fun!

Also at this stop, view the “Three Nuns” with the renowned Chapel of the Holy Cross perched below.

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

Officially, the scenic road ends just beyond this point so after your hike, and before resuming your drive, take a moment to look west and gaze upon famous Cathedral Rock, a huge rock formation with multiple red rock spires. Whether it is silhouetted against a glowing sunset or shining in the midday sun, it is considered one of the most beautiful of all the red rock formations in the Sedona area, and surely a fitting way to end your day of Red Rock Splendor.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Experience the Past in the Present along the Amish Country Byway

Traveling the Amish Country Byway is quiet, clean, and refreshes the soul

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of “eyeglasses” shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting, because exploring these four roads are a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadway are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns. In the fall, the vistas become even more awe-inspiring, as nature puts on its finest show—the reds, oranges, yellows, and browns of the trees amid a backdrop of that bluest sky that only fall can produce.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes. Entrepreneurial businesses owned by the Amish add to the friendly atmosphere along the byway while creating a welcome distance from the superstores of commercial America.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Agriculture is the economic heart of Amish Country and visitors to the area are likely to see rows of haystacks or fields being plowed. Holmes County boasts the second largest dairy production in the state, the largest local produce auction during the growing season, and weekly livestock auctions in the communities along the byway. The Swiss and German heritage of the early settlers in the county is evident in the many specialty cheese and meat products and delicious Swiss/Amish restaurants.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apart from the beautiful scenery, these routes have numerous special attractions that shouldn’t be missed along the way. U.S. Rt. 62, for example, winds down into the heart of Holmes County from Wilmot, passing such Amish Country mainstays as the Amish Door Restaurant and Wendell August Forge before leading you into Berlin, the area’s ultimate shopping destination.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you get to Berlin, however, you’ll pass through the cute village of Winesburg. There’s enough here to keep you busy at least an afternoon, with several unique shops, antiques, art, and sculptures for sale, and an old-fashioned corner restaurant.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Winesburg, you can turn off 62 onto State Rt. 515, a hilly, winding road that takes you through Trail, home of the famous Troyer’s Trail Bologna, and past Yoder’s Amish Farm, where you can tour two Amish houses, a barn full of animals, a schoolhouse, and even take a buggy ride. Rt. 515 ends up in Walnut Creek, intersecting with another part of the byway, State Rt. 39.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rt. 39 offers a wealth of things to see and do, especially in the eastern portion of Holmes County. The road passes through Millersburg, Berlin, and Walnut Creek before heading to the village of Sugarcreek.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelling east toward Berlin, Rt. 39 merges with Rt. 62 for a time, and you’ll pass numerous shops and restaurants. In Berlin, go through the light (stay on 39) and immediately turn left, for you’ve found yourself at the Berlin Village Gift Barn, one of the best places around to find just the right accessory for your RV. You’ll also discover Country Gatherings, a new off-shoot of the gift barn, featuring primitives and floral designs.

“Must-stops” in Walnut Creek include the shops at Walnut Creek Cheese and Coblentz Chocolates, both easily accessible from Rt. 39.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll leave the Amish Country Byway feeling much the same as the traveler who said, “Traveling to Amish Country is a great getaway from our day-to-day routines. It’s quiet, clean, and refreshes the soul. When you get away from the telephone ringing, from the traffic on the roads, it’s a gift, a refuge from the everyday noise of your life.”

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Growing up around Amish farmland, I enjoyed the opportunity to witness firsthand their love of family, of the domestic arts—sewing, quilting, cooking, baking—as well as seeing them live out their tradition of faith in such a unique way.

―Beverly Lewis

Visual Marvels: America’s Seven Natural Wonders

The Seven Natural Wonders of America are a list of the most astonishing natural attractions

Ever since the list of the Seven Wonders of the World was first inked by either Antipater of Sidon (second half of the 2nd century BC), Philo of Byzantium (c. 280–220 BC, Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), or Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 305–240 BC)—depending upon which ancient historian you believe—all manner of “Seven Wonders” lists pop up from time to time including the New Seven Wonders of the World, of the Natural World, of the Modern World, of the Architectural World. Well, this could go on for a while.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it is that original collection of wonders, now referred to as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Great Pyramids of Giza (the only one that still exists), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis (at Ephesus near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey), the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in present-day Turkey), the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandra—that sparks the imagination, stirs the soul, and stokes the curiosity. These are the finest creations of the ancient world and at the very least inspire wonder in their sheer archaeological greatness.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That much can be said of any wonder, whether natural or manmade, and then add into the mix the almost obsessive need for the world to categorize and break down everything into parts. That’s how these types of lists came to be in the first place. Often for reasons to promote tourism, numerous countries have tallied their own wonders as have almost all the United States.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

One of the world’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon is a true marvel of nature. John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million years ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. The park is of exceptional natural beauty with scenic vistas of characteristic mist-shrouded (“smoky”) mountains, vast stretches of virgin timber, and clear running streams.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

The horseshoe-shaped, russet rock hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park are a true sight to behold. This is one of the world’s highest concentrations of hoodoos and their colors alternate between shades of purple, red, orange, and white.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration and Bryce viewpoints are the spots to hit for the best views in the shortest amount of time. There are several easy trails located near the rim of Bryce Canyon to hike as well as ranger programs that take you on guided hikes through the park.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee, whose name means “Land of the Trembling Earth” in the Creek language, is now part national wildlife refuge, part privately-owned park (Okefenokee Swamp Park) that is widely known for harboring an incredible cache of biological and ecological wonders. The swamp’s dark, coffee-colored tannic water is the base for a living jumble of pine, cypress, swamp, palmetto, peat bog, marsh, island, and sand ridge.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hodgepodge of animal and bird life, among the hundreds of species are black bear, alligators galore, snakes galore, deer, anhinga, osprey, and sandhill crane call the swamp home.

Arches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches

Arches contains the world’s largest concentration of, yes, sandstone arches. There are more than 2,000, all of which took millions of years to form via erosion. And the arches are just one of an infinite number of absolutely jaw-dropping formations within the 120-square-mile park—Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace, Landscape Rock, The Windows, it goes on.

Arches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches is one of the most distinctive, alien-looking landscapes in America, and you should take advantage of the hiking trails like Devil’s Garden to really get the full experience.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills

Driving through the Black Hills takes you through some of the most rugged, distinctive, and beautiful land in America. It’s hard to stick to the main road in this rugged land of canyons, cliffs, and caves.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills are home to some of the most majestic scenery you can imagine from the winding Spearfish Canyon to the mountain lakes that surround Mount Rushmore—rivers, mountains, caves, and more make it ideal for hikers and climbers and everybody in between.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 limestone caves that are outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.

Worth Pondering…

We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.

—Thomas Browne

What You Need to Know to Have a Perfect Road Trip

Travel essentials to maximize your mobile vacation

Good morning. Trying to think of a single thing that’s bad about the outrageous amount of daylight we have right now, and…drawing a blank. It’s simply magnificent at every level especially in an RV. 

wan•der•lust(n.) a strong desire to travel

Reconnect with nature at Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desire to travel! Desire to escape! Desire to reconnect with nature! The sense of wanderlust is stronger than ever and the idea of hitting the open road to find a change of scenery may be on your mind. At the end of the road, what will you find? Perhaps that is where your journey is just beginning.

Jetting off on vacation by plane has its advantages like efficiency and built-in downtime.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the disadvantages can outweigh the upsides: Air travel means missing out on the freedom and sense of adventure that come with road-tripping. The open road affords unplanned discoveries and cultural oddities taking in the view at a scenic overlook for however long you like and the feeling of satisfaction when you stop and stretch your legs out in the fresh air. A road trip is its own reward, no matter your destination.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GPS and smartphones have made taking a road trip easier than ever before but all you really need are miles of asphalt (which America has in abundance), an RV packed with supplies of your choice, and activities to keep you entertained during down time. Our wanderlust stays alive through the memories of the joy and fulfillment our travels have brought us in the past and the hope of realizing travel dreams again this summer.

Summer is full of life and excitement. It’s as thrilling as it can be calm and serene.

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

According to an annual American Automobile Association survey, more than two-thirds of American families take vacations each year with 53 percent opting for road trips. The global pandemic forced us to quarantine indoors for several months leaving many with cabin fever; RVing is proving to be the perfect solution. With many popular vacation destinations no longer an option due to closures, restrictions, and safety concerns, more and more people are turning to camping and RVing.

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Par, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent Ipsos research examining consumer interest and planned actions on travel choices in light of the COVID-19 crisis suggests that RV travel and camping provide an appealing vacation option for American families. According to the research, 46 million Americans plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months. If you’re one of those families, we hope these suggestions keep you on the right path.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rules of the road

  • Don’t hesitate to make detours. Road trips are all about discovering new places.
  • Stop and stretch often. Your muscles will thank you and your focus will be renewed.
  • Put away your screens. The passing scenery—and chats with your fellow travelers—is your source of entertainment!
  • Avoid dehydration: Drink plenty of water.
  • Play it safe. Get plenty of rest and stay alert on the road. Sleeping for at least eight hours each night is a good start.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music tunes for the Road

  • “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson
  • “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads
  • “Take It Easy” by the Eagles
  • “Route 66” by Chuck Berry
  •  “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Hank Snow
  • “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams
  • “Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane
  • “Everyday Is a Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow
Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More tunes for the Road

  • “King of the Road” by Roger Miller
  • “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles
  • “Carolina In My Mind” by James Taylor
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
  • “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
  • “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
  • “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams
  •  “Wide Open Spaces” by Dixie Chicks
  • “Waltz Across Texas” by Ernest Tubb
  • “Miles and Miles of Texas” by Asleep at the Wheel
Get back to nature at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

JUST DO IT

  • Get back to nature
  • Learn something new at a historical marker
  • Take the scenic route
  • Sing “On the Road Again,” out loud, word for word
Kenedy County Courthouse in Sarita, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photo Op

  • A small-town courthouse
  • Field of wildflowers
  • Winding country road
  • Botanical garden
Truth Barbecue in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

VITTLES

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

Worth Pondering…

The journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing.

Black Hills: Step Back in Time to the Wild West

The Wild West comes alive in the Black Hills

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

An isolated mountain range located in the western edge of South Dakota, the Black Hills is full of scenery, rich history, and tons of family fun. Nestled among the prairies of the upper-Midwest, you’ll find majestic granite spires, pine covered peaks, and unique rock outcroppings.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While discovering off-the-beaten-path treasures, the inherent thread of Wild West history and American Indian culture piques one’s curiosity, fueling the desire to explore even more.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors will find fascinating places to learn about American Indian culture, the Old West, pioneer history, and wildlife. The Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain sculpture in progress as a tribute to all Native Americans, draws crowds, as does Custer State Park, where visitors often spot bison, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wild burros, coyotes, wild turkeys, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

The Needles in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills area is claimed as sacred ancestral land by nearly two-dozen Native American tribes. A variety of museums and historical sites provide insight into local Native American history and heritage.

The region’s name—the “Black” comes from the dark ponderosa-pine-covered slopes—was conferred by the Lakota (Sioux) who named it Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black”.

Bison in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lewis and Clark heard tales about the Black Hills from other traders and trappers, but it wasn’t until 1823 that Jedediah Smith and a group of about 15 traders actually traveled through them. While other adventuresome trappers also explored the Hills, most avoided the area because it was considered sacred by the Lakota.

Pronghorns in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They never welcomed the white man to their hunting grounds and as immigration increased there was a marked decline in American Indian-white relations. The Army established outposts nearby, but they seldom entered the Black Hills. Trouble escalated when bands of Lakota began to raid nearby settlements, then retreating to the Hills. In the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, they were assured that the Hills would be theirs for eternity, but the discovery of gold changed that only six years later. 

Burros in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought the first white settlers and miners to the Dakota Territory in 1874. The hunt for riches gave birth to many of the modern day towns located in the area, including the Wild West towns of Deadwood and Keystone.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When miners moved into the area in 1876, they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold—and Deadwood was born. Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers along with the gold seekers. 

The Needles in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famous and the infamous have called Deadwood and the Black Hills home over the last several centuries. Lewis and Clark, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, George Armstrong Custer, Poker Alice, the Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, and many others have all passed through here in search of fortune and adventure.

Hiking in the Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deadwood survived three major fires and numerous economic hardships, pushing it to the verge of becoming another Old West ghost town. But in 1989 limited-wage gambling was legalized and Deadwood was reborn.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Old West town just a few miles from Mount Rushmore, Keystone is a Black Hills experience like no other. Keystone is one of the few places where you can actually visit an underground gold mine.  Originally named Gold Hill Lode when the mine was first tunneled in 1882, the Big Thunder Gold Mine is a very popular Keystone attraction. The mine offers tours and allows visitors to try their own hand at panning for gold.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn more about the history of this Gold Rush town with a free self-guided walking tour around Keystone. Or, climb on board the 1880s Train for a ride through the Black Hills; the rails take you on a two-hour tour through to Hill City and back.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Keystone Historical Museum to learn more about the past as well as about one of the town’s famous residents. Carrie Ingalls, sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder and featured in the Little House on the Prairie books, lived and died here.

Worth Pondering…

My first years were spent living just as my forefathers had lived—roaming the green, rolling hills of what are now the states of South Dakota and Nebraska.

—Standing Bear

The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

When an ad campaign is too successful

As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, I have to wonder if Utah’s celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is “at capacity”.

The Mighty Five campaign was a smash. The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Memorial Day weekend of 2015, nearly 3,000 cars descended on Arches National Park for their dose of Wow. All 875 parking places were taken with scores more vehicles scattered in a haphazard unplanned way. The line to the entrance booth spilled back half a mile blocking Highway 191. The state highway patrol took the unprecedented step of closing it effectively shutting down the park. Hundreds of rebuffed visitors drove 30 miles to Canyonlands where they waited an hour in a two-mile line of cars. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since then, Arches has been swamped often enough to shut its gate at least nine times including the most recent Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, in Zion, hikers wait 90 minutes to board a shuttle and an additional two to four hours to climb the switchbacks of Angels Landing. There, visitors sometimes find outhouses shuttered with the following sign: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When word trickled back in that the ads had worked too well, the Office of Tourism responded. In 2016, it tweaked the campaign, calling it the Road to Mighty and highlighting lesser-known state parks and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The strategy appeared to work. Visits to the Mighty Five flattened growing only 4 percent in 2017 and a little more than 1 percent in 2018 while the state parks saw double-digit jumps. Just as Road to Mighty hit the airwaves in January 2017 Bears Ears National Monument was created. 

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And in 2018, the Office of Tourism massaged the campaign again, calling it Between the Mighty and adding Bears Ears to its destinations. Many questioned if overcrowding could be addressed by sending tourists elsewhere. Comments like “They ruined the parks, and now they want to ruin the places in between” were not uncommon.

By 8:20 a.m. the Delicate Arch parking lot often reached capacity. This mob scene was nothing like the Mighty Five commercials. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 4.5 million annual visitors, Zion is by far the most packed of the Utah parks (and was the fourth most visited U.S. national park in 2018). The horror stories about and the crowds are all true. 

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

Twenty years ago, the park made the visionary decision to shut Zion Canyon to cars. Everyone leaves their cars at the visitor center, the campgrounds, or the town of Springdale and takes a shuttle to the trailheads for Angels Landing and the Narrows. So there are no traffic jams, no RVs circling for a space.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Better than any front-country park in the entire nation, Zion has realized Ed Abbey’s dream of carlessness: “You’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk,” he pleaded, “better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t want to just be a curmudgeon who mourns the passage of time and fights any change to the way things were. I will never be young again, I get that. But maybe, one way we tap into the eternal is to see how that which is not made by human hand will outlast us all, just as it preceded us. 

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By doing just about nothing here in the wilderness beyond, the tourism folks appear to have done it right. As I looked around and found no trails, no rangers, nowhere to go other than this dirt lot, I wondered if this “park” might more accurately be called a scenic overlook or a campsite. Do humans need to change this landscape to make it more attractive, more fun?

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With talk of “destination development” and “destination management,” civilization forges ahead, until one day this last remaining strip of wilderness will cease to be sacred—and will become a Brand. 

I hope to God it fails.

Worth Pondering…

From Zion God shines forth, perfect in beauty.

—Psalm 50:2

5 of the Most Visited National Parks…and Where to Go Instead

Many national parks are overflowing with visitors. To get away from the crowds, seek an alternate route.

Since it was signed in 1906, the United States Antiquities Act has conserved millions of acres across 61 national parks. These protected areas encompass some of the country’s most extraordinary landscapes which have unsurprisingly prompted growing tourism numbers in the most popular parks. Competing with these throngs of tourists while is far from ideal. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of less crowded, yet equally scenic, alternatives to America’s most popular national parks.

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

If you like Grand Canyon National Park, try Bryce Canyon National Park instead

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list destination for travelers worldwide. This recognition comes at a cost, though, with 6.38 million arrivals to the park in 2018. Consider instead heading due north to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, the park’s terrain has been shaped and eroded by the harsh high-altitude elements. The resulting hoodoos, jagged formations, and massive horseshoe amphitheaters are an astonishing sight to behold. Bryce Canyon’s extensive trail network is sure to satisfy any type of hiker. The park’s elevation ranges between a lofty 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level making for milder summer temperatures compared to the Grand Canyon.

If you like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, try Shenandoah National Park instead

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A whopping 11.4 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2018. Heading six hours north along the Appalachian Mountains, hikers and drivers can find equally scenic roadways, stunning mountain vistas, and epic trails at Shenandoah National Park. Though it’s not exactly an off-the-beaten path destination, Shenandoah’s 1.2 million visitors are a mere trickle compared to its southern neighbor.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spanning 105 miles between the Front Royal and Rockfish Gap entrances, winding Skyline Drive allows visitors to leisurely enjoy the park’s scenery from their car and choose from numerous trailheads for day hikes. Hiking options abound, with over 500 miles of marked trails, including a substantial section of the famed Appalachian Trail.

If you like Zion National Park, try Capitol Reef National Park instead

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion’s famed Narrows and towering cliffs are nothing short of breathtaking. If you’re craving more solitude among southern Utah’s geological wonders, consider heading three hours northeast to Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive takes in some of the most picturesque stretches of the park. Frequent pullouts permit plenty of stops for photos or embarking on a day hike. Turn down Grand Wash Road to hike a quarter-mile to Cassidy Arch where Butch Cassidy was rumored to have camped out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most conspicuous reminder of settlers is at Fruita where orchards and a few restored buildings serve as the last remnants of the Mormon town of 50. Depending on the season visitors can pick their own fruit including cherries, pears, and apricots.

If you like Yellowstone National Park, try Theodore Roosevelt National Park instead

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yellowstone’s wealth of attractions—unique wildlife, spouting geysers, volcanic landscapes, and churning rivers—are unmatched by any single national park. For similar wildlife spotting opportunities away from the crowds head east to the lesser-known Theodore Roosevelt National Park which sees just 749,000 annual visitors compared to Yellowstone’s 4.1 million.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty-nine American bison were reintroduced here in 1956, with herd numbers today totaling several hundred between the park’s north and south units. For the best chance of seeing bison, make your way around the Scenic Loop Drive in the south unit but be sure to maintain a respectable distance from the massive creatures. Fortunately, bison prefer to graze the nutritious grasslands surrounding prairie dog communities, and thus, you may spot both species.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the park’s critters, there is an abundance of scenic views and impressive rock formations to enjoy. Visiting at sunrise or sunset is an ideal time to appreciate the multitude of colors emanating from bands of minerals in the rugged rock face.

If you like Yosemite National Park, try Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park instead

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s natural beauty rival its northerly neighbor, it only received 1.2 million visitors in 2018 compared to Yosemite’s four million. The dramatic landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity—huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees. These two parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You expect giant trees and huge canyons—and you won’t be disappointed. Within these parks, you can experience a spectacular range in elevation from warm foothills to cold alpine peaks. The largest and finest groves of giant sequoias grow at the sometimes snowy mid-elevations, along with extraordinarily diverse plants and animals living in extremely varied conditions.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Road Trip Ahead! What Do I Pack?

You’ve scheduled your next adventure and couldn’t be more excited. And then it hits you—what do I pack?

If you’re hitting the road for several weeks or months, it’s important to pack smart…or suffer the consequences. Prepping for a long trip is truly an art—one that you’ll need to learn if you want to avoid hauling around unnecessary items, or forgetting truly important belongings.

In this post, we’ll cover both what to pack, and how to pack for a long trip. Get ready. Now is the time to start preparing for your next road trip!

Step 1: Plan Your Clothing Options

Walterboro, South Carolina, small-town America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When packing for a long trip, it can be overwhelming to think about the different outfits you’ll need on your adventure. By following a few of these tips you’ll feel better about packing light and packing smart.

Opt for Neutral Colors

Rent an e-bike © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key to packing light is to create a variety of outfits with the clothes you choose to bring. You’d be surprised at how many different combinations a few pairs of pants, several shirts, and a jacket can yield!

Try and stick to more neutral colors. That way, everything should match and you’ll cut down on the amount of clothes you’re hauling along.

Do Some Research

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

The type of trip you’re taking will impact what type of clothing you bring. About a week before you leave, check the weather to see what type of temperatures you can expect. Packing layers is almost always a safe bet, especially if you plan on visiting a variety of climates or the Sunbelt during winter months.

Shoes Should Be Comfortable

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re big believers in packing shoes that are comfortable.

When it comes to shoes, plan for the three W’s: walking, working, and weather. Walking shoes should be supportive, and could include anything from tennis shoes to hiking boots. Work shoes are a tad nicer, and could be worn for special occasions. And finally, weather refers to the type of climate you’ll be visiting—so think snow boots versus rain boots.

Step 2: Remember All Your Accessories

Horseback riding at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you definitely don’t want to pack too many accessories, there’s no doubt that a few key items should make the packing list. Here are a few things you can’t forget.

Sunglasses Are a Must

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When hitting the road in your RV, you’ll a good pair of sunglasses, regardless of whether you’re heading to the beaches or to the mountains. No one wants to stare into the sun for hours on end, not to mention that driving without sunglasses can be dangerous. Do yourself (and your eyes!) a favor and remember your shades.

Bring a Backpack

Hiking to Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning on hiking? Checking out some local shops? Grab your backpack—it will definitely come in handy!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When taking a long trip, you might not have every day planned to a tee. That is why backpacks are great—they can accommodate any last minute excursions. We recommend water resistant, so you can take it anywhere and everywhere.

Step 3: Don’t Forget the Entertainment

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail, Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long trips mean a lot of time spent in your RV. And while conversation and the open road are great, it’s helpful to have some sort of entertainment for when things get a little slow.

Podcast and Audio Books

Canoeing near Orlando, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To pass the time, make sure to pile a few books on your phone or e-reader, along with some podcasts. Audiobooks are great too, especially if you tend to get motion sick reading in a moving vehicle.

Last But Not Least, Know Where You’re Going

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okay, okay. You likely have a destination in mind. But if you’re heading out for months on end, you might want to bring along a few suggestions.

Now hit the road already!

Worth Pondering…

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.

8 Reasons This Summer Is the Best Time to Try RVing

It’s summertime and the RVing is easy

There has never been a better summer than this one to get out into the great outdoors. We’ve all had a challenging few months. Nature is a tonic and we need it now more than ever. Traveling by RV, even if just a few hours from home to a state or national park, forest preserve, or RV park, may be the safest form of travel and the safest type of overnight stay.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Millions of people enjoy RV travel in the summer. The weather can be ideal for being outdoors and the days are longer meaning more time for outdoor activities. Yes, there are mosquitoes and other bugs to contend with but there are also birds to watch, animals to spot, horseback riding, and campfires for cooking and enjoying the evening.

1. RVs Provide the Ultimate Travel Freedom

Traveling along Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling in an RV gives you the ultimate freedom in traveling. You get in and you go. There are no airport security checks or crowds to navigate. Everything you need fits in the RV which is the biggest suitcase you will ever have. It’s all on board: clothes, food, kitchen, recreation gear, lounge, and the all-important restroom.

2. Summer RVing Is Better Than Your Backyard

Camping in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get away from the noise, the city light, and the traffic, and enjoy some wide-open spaces. Campgrounds at national, state, and local parks are designed for outdoor recreation. You can experience nature up close and personal in all its beauty when you open your RV door. Tranquility is abundant.

Fishing at Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take your backyard fun with you. Many people bring their kayaks, bicycles, and other fun toys. Or you can often rent boats and bikes at or near your campground. Hiking and fishing are top activities for RVers in the summer.

3. Enjoy a Community of People

Camping at Eagle Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will make friends and enjoy some great quality time with fellow campers. RVers generally are interested in enjoying their time camping. They open their campfire circle to new friends and enjoy a beverage or picnic with neighbors.

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This summer, many campgrounds are practicing contactless site management (meaning you won’t have to go into the campsite office to check in). Social distancing is being practiced. Know the rules in the destination you choose to visit and honor the campground requests. We all want to and can be safe as we enjoy RV camping.

4. RVing Makes for a Great Getaway

Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing is the ultimate road trip experience. You can go anywhere and stay as long as you like exploring and experiencing new places.  RVing affords a flexible itinerary and you will never be without a place to sleep.

Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs come in all shapes and sizes and how and where you plan to travel is the best determiner of which type of RV to use. The larger motorhomes can tow a car behind giving you the ultimate living experience as well as driving flexibility once you reach your destination. Smaller RVs are nimble and can get you into and out of interesting vistas. Think about your preferred road trip experience to make your RV selection.

5. Everyone Gets To Go On the RV Trip

Camping with the family pet at Hilltop RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best features of RVing is that you can bring your pet. Most parks and campgrounds allow pets. There are restrictions on breeds in some cases, plus leash and pooper scooper rules and sometimes vaccination documentation is required. But RVs enable everyone in your household to vacation together.

6. Enjoying the Outdoors

Enjoying the outdoors along La Sal Mountains Scenic Loop near Moab, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While RVs offer air conditioning, you will spend most of daylight hours outdoors. Be sure to stay hydrated and keep sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley) nearby. Bug repellent is a must. Bring quality outdoor footwear. Socks and shoes as well as long pants are your best protection in the woods from insect bites, poison ivy, scratches from bush and tree branches, and uneven surfaces.

7. Lots of Daylight and Starry Nights

Port Aransas, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The long days of summer offer bonus time for having fun outdoors. You will have ample access to a miraculous view of the night sky. If you are camping in the woods you may see hundreds of fireflies blinking and twinkling. It’s as if the fairies are just beyond your reach as you see their lights flash.

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nighttime also brings night sounds. Coyotes are commonly heard at night. If you are lucky, you’ll hear owls calling to each other. At twilight, you might hear elks bugling. Nighttime is a show all its own when you RV.

8. This Summer’s Bonus Reason

Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exceptionally low fuel prices make this the summer for an extended road trip. RVs obviously get less mileage than the family car and the bigger the RV, the lower the mileage. The big coaches use diesel fuel which is more costly but the lower prices help offset the increased expense.

The open road is calling you this summer. Answer the call in an RV.

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.