Absolutely Best Road Trips from Houston

Texas lends itself well to adventure

America’s fourth-largest city is a cosmopolitan destination filled with world-class dining, arts, entertainment, shopping, and outdoor recreation. Take a stroll through the historic Heights, spend the day exploring the Museum District, or head down to Space Center Houston.

Kemah Boardwalk south of Houston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We love Houston even for its bonkers weather. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like to get away from it all. With that in mind, we’ve put together a little road trip bucket list with mini itineraries for a variety of interest. Best of all, you won’t even need to be on the road that long: we’re talking six-hour drives, tops, which in Texas terms is basically a trip around the corner.

Best Outdoor Getaway: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Distance from Houston: 206 miles

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Big Bend roughly 640 miles and 5 billion worlds away (qualifying it for more than just a short road trip), Guadalupe River State Park is a great spot for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors. Many folks come here to swim but the park is more than a great swimming hole with beautiful scenery and colorful history.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the river, you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and kayak or canoe the Guadalupe River which boasts the 5 mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While on land, you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watch. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the .26-mile Barred Owl Trail, which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. Camping is the way to go, here with 85 campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water, and electricity.

Best Barbecue Getaway: Lockhart, Texas

Distance from Houston: 156 miles

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Don’t forget to pack a cooler, though, because you’ll want to bring some meat home.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your Day One itinerary includes the bulk of your eating, as you tackle at least two of the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You need to consume a lot of meat today, so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please. 

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Black’s, third generation pitmaster Kent Black is slow smoking his barbecue with a simple rub and local Post Oak wood. Choose the behemoth beef rib, packing a 9-inch long bone with around 2 inches of fatty, marbled beef cocooning it; and don’t forget the hand-stuffed and -tied homemade sausage (original, garlic, or jalapeno-cheddar), made from an 80-year-old recipe that has stood the test of time.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign—it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Lockhart State State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in store for you before the drive home: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please, but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad… because you should probably get some greens in.

Best Getaway to Czech Out: La Grange

Distance from Houston: 100 miles

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

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches”—quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the names of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, Czech out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy”, and you’ll certainly feel welcome.

La Grande from Monument Hill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Hill State Park is 40-acres of land on a bluff overlooking La Grange. The state park is home to the site of Monument Hill, the grounds on which the war to keep Texas free was fought. Also housed in the park are the ruins of Kreische Brewery, one of Texas’ first commercial breweries.

Ruins of Kreische Brewery at Monument Hill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Czech immigrants incorporated different aspects of their culture into the town, perhaps the most apparent being the architecture of the buildings standing in the town square. In the center of the Square sits the current Fayette County Courthouse, the fourth structure to house county business since 1838.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! The best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery. Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Best Island Getaway: Galveston Island, Texas

Distance from Houston: 50 miles

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Galveston State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to South America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Love it or hate it, Galveston is the closest beach to Houston (and we do love it). Here’s how you can love it, too: If it’s not a beach day, you’re spending the rest of the day exploring. Hit the historic Strand District, a 70-block jewel where you’ll find gorgeous Victorian buildings housing museums, boutiques, theaters, shops, and La King’s Confectionary, an old-timey sweets shop where you’ll be picking up some ice cream, dipped chocolates, and taffy. 

1877 Tall Ship Elissa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you make the short trip back to H-town, get in some extra island time by hitting the 32-miles of sands, having some old school fun at the Pleasure Pier amusement park, checking out historically and architecturally significant spots like the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa and 1892 Bishop’s Palace, or at the very least, getting a beer at Galveston Island Brewing Company. 

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston 

—lyrics by Lee Hazelwood, recorded by Dean Martin (1965)

Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

A sky island is an isolated mountain range that rises up out of the surrounding desert “sea”

Arizona truly is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary from place to place and even day to night. Few geographic formations in the world illustrate this stark climactic contrast—and its importance to biodiversity—better than Sky Islands.

Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Southern Arizona are often struck by these vast mountain ranges rising suddenly out of the desert and grasslands. Saguaro, prickly pear, and ocotillo rapidly give way to a coniferous  forest, and a much cooler climate. Usually 6,000–8,000 feet in elevation—sometimes exceeding 10,000—these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub and provide an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. These Sky Islands encompass some of the most rugged and remote lands in the Southwest and feature some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Hiking Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Sky Island is defined as a mountain that is separated from other mountains by distance and by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment. The result is a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. As the mountain goes up in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations.

Catalina State Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest protects the twelve Sky Islands of Southwestern Arizona which are the real treasure houses of the region.

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Sky Island ranges include the Chiricahua Mountains, Whetstone Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Galiuro Mountans, Dragoon Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Rincon Mountains, and Santa Rita Mountains. The tallest of these areas are the Pinaleño Mountains, rising to 10,720 feet above the Gila River near the town of Safford.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to their rapid gain in elevation, Sky Island peaks remain temperate even in the fiercest summer heat. When Tucson’s mercury climbs above 100 degrees in summer months, the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains offers respite to overheated fauna (including the human variety) with temperatures that rarely exceed 80 degrees.

Mount Lemmon Ski Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the winter, Mount Lemmon is the southernmost downhill ski area in the country. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the Sky Island Scenic Byway provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the meeting point between desert and forest, Sky Islands provide a variance of climate zones, including tropical and temperate climates, that supports a vast range of wildlife. The lower temperatures of the high elevations allow snow to accumulate, which melt into summer streams that feed to other riparian areas. The diversity of the region exceeds anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America and 104 species of mammals.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the valley floor one is surrounded by typical Sonoran desert—saguaro and cholla cactus, and ocotillo. Traveling toward the peak, one travels through eight distinct zones: desert, arid grassland, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodland, Madrean evergreen oak woodland, Ponderosa pine forest, mixed conifer stands of Douglas fir and white pine, and eventually a true spruce-fir forest with burbling creeks and quaking aspens. 

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Island idea was first published in 1943, in an article in Arizona Highways magazine called “Monument in the Mountain.” In the article, writer Natt N. Dodge referred to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona as a “mountain island in a desert sea.” 

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The term was later made popular by nature writer Weldon Heald, a resident of southeastern Arizona. In his 1967 book, Sky Island, he demonstrated the concept by describing a drive from the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, to a peak in the Chiricahua Mountains, 35 miles away and 5,600 feet higher in elevation. Ascending from the hot, arid desert, the environment transitions to grassland, then to oak-pine woodland, pine forest, and finally to spruce-fir-aspen forest.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the same time, the idea of mountains as islands of habitat took hold with scientists, and the idea was included in the study of island biogeography.  Although the name may have originated in Southern Arizona, Sky Islands are not limited to mountains of the Southwest, but can be applied to any geographic location where mountains are isolated from each other by lowland habitats.

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your next visit to a Sky Island, note how the vegetation changes from cactus to thornscrub to oak forest, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest as you ascend the slope.

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

Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Mobile Bay is an incredible gateway to the Delta, a bird sanctuary, and boating, fishing, and kayaking

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. Fishermen and sailboat enthusiasts relish the bay itself. On the south shore, where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, white sand beaches lure swimmers, shell hunters, and sunset photographers.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the wetlands of Mobile Bay near Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is a scenic 1,327-acre park offering facilities for both camping and day-use.

The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish, which makes Meaher State Park an fisherman’s dream.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 300-foot fishing pier with a 200 foot “T” and boat ramp make Meaher State Park an excellent location for fishing with Mobile Bay providing a productive estuary offering numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required; most common freshwater fish are abundant in the area. The boat ramp is located on the Blakeley River on the east end of the park. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Enjoy watching the abundant aquatic bird life as well as alligators.

The day-use area features a picnic area and comfort station for visitors. 

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly Meaher State Park offers 56 modern campsites with 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections. Semi-circle pull-through sites exceed 100 feet in length. Most back-in sites are in the 60-65 foot range. The campground also features a bathhouse with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. A tower is located on top of the bathhouse. There are also 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electric service. Current RV camping rate is $35/night; tent sites $22/night. Weekly rates for RV sites are $182. Monthly rates for RV sites from November through March only are $623. Reservations are available by contacting the state park.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also located near Meaher State Park, just north of Interstate 10, is the Five Rivers- Alabama’s Delta Resource Center which features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, and canoe rentals.

The 80-acre nature complex is the gateway to the Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland playground designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the more than 300 bird species, 126 fish species, and 500 plant species found there, the delta is the exclusive home of Alabama’s state reptile, the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin at the Shellbank Visitors Center, where movies preview this free facility’s recreational opportunities. A stroll across an observation deck brings you to a museum filled with artifacts and displays depicting the delta’s rich cultural, historical, and ecological heritage. Picnic facilities, nature trails, and a gift shop occupy the site, too.

For up-close explorations, you can rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own. Canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat tours are offered.

Mobile Bay at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While camping at Meaher State Park, take advantage of the abundant shopping and dining options in the Mobile metro area. The white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast are only an hour away. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum are also located nearby.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay a week or a month, the area’s welcoming hospitality, sun-drenched climate, sparkling waterways, and wide range of activities will have you describing Mobile Bay as “the place where fun floats”.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

On the Road to Mount Lemmon

Approximately an hour drive from Tucson’s city center, Mount Lemmon is a favorite day trip and camping spot

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, the Sky Island Scenic Byway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

On the road to Mount leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Each thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often referred to as Mount Lemmon Highway or General Hitchcock Highway, Sky Island Scenic Byway drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the road climbs among the giant saguaro cactus and brittlebush, enjoy hairpin curves as you arrive at the Babad Do’ag Viewpoint which overlooks the desert cacti studded Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains. There are interpretive signs at the lookout and if you’re up for a longer hike—try the moderate 5-mile round trip Babad Do’ag Trail. Incredible desert vistas of saguaro, wildflowers, and mountains await.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing up the road, you’ll enter Molino Canyon. The road hugs the canyon’s cliff until the Molino Canyon Overlook. The overlook offers a short hike to a creek and series of waterfalls. Towards the center of the canyon is the Molino Basin, home to a campground and trailheads for a variety of hikes. Hiking here is especially fascinating due to the transition from desert to a forest dominated by cottonwood, oak, sycamore, and willow trees.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each turn of the road reveals a new perspective. Entering Bear Canyon, the forest transforms once again into a lush, cool environment with cypress, juniper, pine, sycamore, and walnut trees. Granite pinnacles soar into the sky, and with rocky outcroppings and stony hoodoos, some of Arizona’s best rock climbing is found here.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop, Windy Point offers the most amazing views along the entire scenic drive. Wind-sculpted rock formations, views of the Huachuca, Patagonia, and Santa Rita Mountains, and the Tucson Basin await at 6,400 feet elevation.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geology Point Vista, offers another spectacular viewpoint. Sweeping panoramas and precariously perched rocks create a surreal and photogenic landscape.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you climb through forests of ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce. Rose Canyon Lake is stocked with trout and surrounded by absolute beauty; this seven-acre lake is a perfect stop for fishing, picnics, and camping in the Rose Canyon Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly afterwards, you arrive at the San Pedro Vista which overlooks the San Pedro River Valley. From this stop, enjoy the 4-mile hike around Green Mountain to the General Hitchcock Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the viewpoint is the Palisade Visitor Center. Self-guided displays inform about the Coronado National Forest and it’s a great location to get more information about hikes. Two of the most popular are the Butterfly Trail and Crystal Springs Trail with trailheads one mile from the center. Both trails are long, but you need not do the entire trail to enjoy the shaded, dense forests. Butterfly Trail features such a diverse biology, it has been designated a Research Natural Area. If you are up for a challenge, the medium-to-difficult Crystal Springs Trail will bring you to Mount Lemmon’s summit.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the sky up close at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. There are daytime and after-dark programs using their 32-inch Schulman Telescope. Reservations are required. The SkyCenter is at an elevation of 9,157 feet.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive officially ends in a small town mostly filled with summer chalets, appropriately named Summerhaven. A great retreat for people to escape the summer desert heat.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While here, consider a few short side trips. For spectacular views in every season, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the country, can be reached via East Ski Run Road. The ski hill offers an opportunity to ride the ski lift for breathtaking vistas at 9,100 feet. Continue a few miles further and turn onto Summit Road. At the road end is the actual summit of Mount Lemmon, an amazing way to end this scenic drive.

The Forest Service has done a great job with the road and attractions along the route including campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, pullouts, vista points, and interpretive overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

Stay close to nature, it will never fail you.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still

A stroll through Old Mesilla will take you back in time to the 1800s

No visit to Las Cruces is complete without a stroll through Old Mesilla. This little town, just two miles southwest of Las Cruces, is steeped in history. Mesilla (“Little Tableland”) is the best-known and most visited historical community in Southern New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is a small town by today’s standards but 150 years ago it was the largest city between San Antonio and San Diego. By the 1870s, it was the county seat and the Mesilla Valley’s leading center of trade. In addition to El Camino Real, the town’s trade connections were maintained through a variety of stage, freight, and mail routes, including the Butterfield Overland Mail, San Antonio Mail, and Wells Fargo Express. Mesilla hasn’t changed much over the years, allowing visitors to see what a 1800s border town looked like.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the sixteenth century Apaches and other tribes regularly camped in Mesilla, but it wasn’t until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 that the first permanent settlers came to Mesilla to call it their home. By 1850, Mesilla was firmly established as an outpost of Mexico, but with the signing of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, the village officially became part of the U.S. Since its beginning, Mesilla has had a major influence on the economic, cultural, historical, and political life of the Mesilla Valley. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Gadsden Purchase to the Civil War to the El Camino Real and Butterfield Stage Coach route to the trial of Billy the Kid to being a lively social center in the 1880s—Mesilla has been a prominent part of the rich history of the Southwest. Mesilla was the Old West with outlaws frequenting many of the bars and dances. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its origins as a simple dirt lot, the plaza has developed through time with paving, landscaping and a replica 1930s-era bandstand, creating a more modern, but no less inviting, social center. The commercial and residential buildings that border the plaza reflect Mesilla’s maturing as a prime location on El Camino Real and on the southern route to California, where gold was discovered in 1849.

Basilica of San Albino, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north end of the Plaza is the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley. Originally built of adobe in 1855, that church was replaced in 1906 by today’s San Albino church, a yellow-brick building whose facade is dominated by square belfries with pyramid towers and soaring, arched stain-glass windows.

Double Eagle, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the plaza’s primary anchor, San Albino continues to reflect the prominent role of religion in the community’s history. Outside the church is a memorial to parishioners who died in combat. In 2008, the church’s historical importance was recognized as it was designated as one of two basilicas in New Mexico. 

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Mesilla offers a wide range of events as well as shopping and dining on the town’s plaza. Enjoy a meal at the famous La Posta or Double Eagle, where patrons can enjoy authentic local cuisine while they visit one of the most historical locations in New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many cultural and historical activities are held in the plaza, the Cinco de Mayo fiesta, the 16th de Septiembre Fiesta, and the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On Christmas Eve, the Plaza comes alive with hundreds of luminarias lining streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Every Thursday and Sunday the local Farmer’s and Craft’s market is held on the Plaza.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, many of Mesilla’s population of nearly 2,200 residents are direct descendents of Mesilla’s early settlers. Mesilla has a rich and diverse heritage with the integration of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures. The traditional adobe structures and architectural features modified through time still remain as a reminder of the long and significant history of the town.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, come stroll the streets Billy-the-Kid and Pancho Villa once walked, check out the shops and find unique Southwestern gifts to take back home. Step inside one of the most historical cantinas in the area, El Patio. Then stop for lunch or dinner at one of the many cafes and restaurants. But, don’t just concentrate on the plaza, drive or walk around the town taking in all the shops and sights the average visitor misses.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is located south of Las Cruces on Avenida de Mesilla.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Historical Painted Churches of Central Texas

The Painted Churches tour is perfect for anyone interested in art, architecture, and small town Texas history

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas seeking religious freedom and economic prosperity, they established a cluster of small communities that has one thing in common: their painted churches. As they settled into their new surroundings they built and decorated elaborate churches.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. You will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 20 painted churches in Central Texas. Four of these churches in Fayette County near Schulenburg can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

Guided tours can be scheduled through the Schulenburg Visitor Center for $10 a person. Reservations are required at least two weeks in advance to ensure availability.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, like us, you can do a self-guided tour of the churches. If you do choose to do a self-guided tour, keep in mind that all the churches are active places of worship, so be respectful of services and events taking place. The painted churches are open to visitors from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Swiss Alp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our self-guided tour also included other rural communities near Schulenburg having historical sites: United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Swiss Alp and United Methodist Church in Freyburg.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike several other churches in the area, St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill has a brick exterior with a wooden interior. Church leadership encouraged communities to build churches out of brick or stone when so many were destroyed by storms and fires.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary was the first church in the area designed by architect Leo Dielmann. He designed it using Gothic Revival style and relied heavily on decorative painting to create the illusion of Gothic ceilings.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hollow, wooden pillars spaced throughout the interior of the church are in typical Gothic Revival style supporting the vaulted ceilings of the church. They were painted with turkey feathers to give them the appearance of being made of stone. There are statues of many saints mounted on the pillars with the male on the right of the center aisle and the females on the left. This is also the manner in which the congregation divided up when attending services for many years; women sat in the pews on the left and men sat on the right.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in Dubina, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church is probably the most elaborate of the four. Today’s Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church was built in 1911 in a groove of ancient oaks; in fact, Dubina translates to “oak grove”. The original church was built in 1877 and in 1890 the church was expanded to serve over 600 families. Unfortunately, a tropical storm completely destroyed the original church and it had to be rebuilt from the ground up. This is why the plaque on the front of the church reads 1911.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stunning architecture of Saints Cyril and Methodius is paired with beautiful interior paintings, stenciling, stained glass windows and statues.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was dedicated under the name Assumption of the Blessed Mary and is located three miles east of Flatonia in Praha. St Mary’s Church in Praha is one of the oldest painted churches, built in 1895.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plain stone facade does not prepare you for the ornate interior designed in the popular Gothic Revival style of the era. Almost every inch of the interior is adorned with stenciling, drawings, or paintings. The ceiling and walls were painted by fresco artist Gottfried Flurry, beautifully complementing the impressive hand-carved, white altar.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nicknamed the Pink Church, the current St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was built in 1917. This is the third church built on this site—the first two were destroyed by hurricane and fire, respectively. This structure, built with Gothic Revival-style architecture, is much simpler than the first two. Instead of embellishments and columns, a decorative painter was hired to give the interior its liveliness.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Latin inscription on the arch above the alter reads, “deliciae mease esse cum filiis hominum” and translates to “my delight is with the children of men” and comes from Proverbs 8:31. Inside the arch is a grapevine which is to remind attendees that He is the vine and the people are the branches. The altars at the front of the church are white and gold which is a Czech tradition.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to learn more about Central Texas’ rich history, enjoy the painted churches tour and see for yourself some of the most stunning art and architecture of the early 20th century.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41 electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. 

Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations are available.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4 weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.

At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

America’s Most Popular National Parks

The National Park Service has released data on its most visited parks in America in 2019 and the most popular parks are…

Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracted 12.5 million visitors last year topping the 2019 list of most popular national parks, the National Park Service (NPS) recently reported. Straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the most popular national park in the United States covers 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and is home to diverse flora and fauna and a large section of the Appalachian Trail.

Great Smoky National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 327 million people visited NPS sites last year, a 2.9 percent increase from 2018, and the third highest number since record keeping began in 1904.

“The numbers once again affirm that Americans and visitors from around the world love the natural, cultural, and historic experience provided by our nation’s national parks,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in a news release.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among those 419 sites covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories, only 62 are national parks. The park service also released rankings on all the sites it oversees which include monuments, parkways, seashores, lakeshores, battlefields, and memorials.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 15 million visitors in 2019, Golden Gate National Recreation Area took the park service’s overall top spot for the second year in a row, beating out second place Blue Ridge Parkway. The two park sites have been swapping first and second place rankings since 1979, the park service said.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the 62 national parks, first place Great Smoky Mountains National Park was followed by Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, and Yosemite National Park which nudged Yellowstone National Park out of fifth place. Yellowstone dropped to sixth place, followed by Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, and Glacier National Park. Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon have held the top two spots since 1990, the park service said.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the national park sites spent an estimated $20.2 billion in local gateway regions in 2018, according to a May 2019 report by the park service which translated into 329,000 jobs, $13.6 billion in labor income, $23.4 billion in value added, and $40.1 billion in economic output. The lodging sector saw the biggest benefits with $6.8 billion in economic output while restaurants saw $4 billion in economic output.

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

Visitation to the national park sites rebounded from the most recent shutdown, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019. In some previous shutdowns, the park service had closed many of the sites due to lack of funding for staffing. In the most recent shutdown, the gates mostly remained opened but often without sufficient staffing. In several states, a combination of funds from park user fees; state and local governments; non-profits and businesses helped keep some NPS sites open.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service which doesn’t charge an entrance fee at most of its 419 sites already faced $11 billion in deferred maintenance across the national park system.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every fourth-grader around the country can get a free one-year national parks pass for the student and their family under a program started by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.

The “Every Kid in a Park” program which attracted more than 350,000 fourth graders in its first two years of operations was reauthorized last year for seven more years, the park service said.

Most popular National Park Service Sites

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California):15 million visits

2. Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina/Virginia): 14.9 million visits

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee): 12.5 million visits

4. Gateway National Recreation Area (New York/New Jersey): 9.4 million visits

5. Lincoln Memorial (District of Columbia): 7.8 million visits

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7.5 million visits

7. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona/Nevada): 7.5 million visits

8. Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee): 6.3 million visits

9. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 5.97 million visits

10. Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida/Mississippi): 5.6 million visits

Most popular National Parks

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee): 12.5 million visits

2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 5.97 million visits

3. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): 4.7 million visits

4. Zion National Park (Utah) 4.5 million visits

5. Yosemite National Park (California): 4.4 million

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Yellowstone National Park: (Idaho/Montana/Wyoming)

7. Acadia National Park (Maine): 3.4 million visits

8. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming): 3.4 million visits

9. Olympic National Park (Washington): 3.2 million visits

10. Glacier National Park (Montana): 3 million visits

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

Take a Break from Spring Training with these 5 great Road Trips

Your ultimate Spring Training road trip travel guide

The Phoenix area transforms into baseball-fan heaven this month with spring training underway as players prepare for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Visitors can attend more than 200 Cactus League baseball games.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you need to take a break from the stands, consider a side trip out of town. Here are four worthwhile Arizona destinations that can be reached from the Phoenix area in less than three hours and one that’s somewhat further afield.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail, named for Native Americans who used it, served as a stagecoach route through the rugged Superstition Mountains. Day trippers can enjoy the scenery on paved roads if they mosey five miles up Arizona 88 from Apache Junction to Goldfield Ghost Town, a restored 1890s mining town. It re-creates the era through its attractions including a mine tour, narrow-gauge railroad, and a zip-line ride.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you drive 13 miles northeast on Arizona 88, you’ll find Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop that’s now a saloon that uses saddles for its bar-stool seats. Visitors can take a scenic cruise on nearby Canyon Lake aboard the Dolly Steamboat. The captain will point out bighorn sheep grazing on the hillsides and bald eagles soaring above.

Distance from Phoenix: 35 miles

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On paper, Picacho Peak isn’t very impressive. It’s hardly the highest peak in Arizona. In fact, based on a U.S. Geological Survey search, there are at least 2,500 other summits ahead of Picacho. Nevertheless, it’s a peak worth bagging, if for no other reason than to conquer the most recognizable landmark between Phoenix and Tucson.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hunter Trail is one of five routes to the top. With your first step from the trailhead, you’ll start a gradual climb up a rocky slope dotted with saguaros, creosote bushes, and paloverde trees. This time of year, you’ll see wildflowers, too, including Mexican goldpoppies, lupines, globemallows, desert chicory, and brittlebush.

Distance from Phoenix: 75 miles

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you haven’t checked out Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a 392-acre state park near Superior (it’s only about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix near Superior), you should. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you take a hike through Boyce Thompson, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a desert. You can explore tree-lined paths, a man-made lake, and a mountainous desert landscape all without leaving the Main Trail. Along the side trails visitors can also get glimpses of life in the historic Southwest.

Distance from Phoenix: 55 miles

Prescott

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An hour and a half north of Phoenix, Watson Lake sparkles amid Prescott’s Granite Dells, an exotic collection of massive boulders that rise directly from the water and adorn the shoreline. Watson Lake Park is a good starting point for exploration of this North Central Arizona city. The park includes picnic tables, horseshoe pits, playground equipment, and hiking trails.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mile-high city, Prescott is nestled in the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest. Fill your lungs with that amazing pine scent as you enjoy Prescott’s natural surroundings, including more than 400 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails.

Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1800s, Navajo clans sought refuge from U.S. soldiers in the distant reaches of Canyon de Chelly. The canyon, in northeastern Arizona, is deep, remote, and beautiful. Pueblo ruins still stand under red cliffs while modern-day Navajos farm the bottomlands along shallow creeks.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can drive along the canyon rims and stop at overlooks or take a hike to White House Ruin but tours into the canyon led by Navajo guides give a better understanding of its past and present. Tour options include hiking, horseback rides, and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Distance from Phoenix: 310 miles

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

The sheer variety of the Southwest makes it a fascinating and awe-inspiring place to explore

The land in the Southwest is so utterly different and strange to the East Coast of small hills, cities, and humid summers that it can feel like an entirely separate country at times.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the stereotype of the area is that it’s all barren desert—which isn’t entirely inaccurate—there’s a lot more variation and personality in the Southwest than the backdrops of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons would suggest.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful places in the Southwest.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Springdale and Rockville, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two towns are practically in Zion National Park, which is one of the most scenic places to visit in the Southwest. Ever hiked in a river? Now’s your chance in the Narrows, a gorge surrounded by thousand-feet-tall walls. Don’t forget your camera for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, 57 miles of mountainous magnificence. For an unforgettable journey, put it on your list immediately!

Mexican Hat, Utah

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must. Be sure to stay for sunset.

Ajo, Arizona

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Moab, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab is known for its natural beauty and fun escapes for adventure lovers. Moab is a quick drive from two national parks and home to the most popular state park in Utah (hint: you won’t find better views anywhere). Just five miles from Moab is Arches National Park, so named due to its natural sandstone arches and rock formations. “The Island in the Sky” is an elevated piece of Canyonlands, the largest national park in Utah. Dead Horse State Park features a famous point with amazing views.

Cortez, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southwestern Colorado town of Cortez, one of America’s richest archaeological centers, lies between the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and Ute Mountain Tribal Park. After you visit these sites, you’ll leave steeped in the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, from the places they lived to the tools they used in everyday life. The expertly carved cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde—from Cliff Palace to Spruce Tree house—take you back 700 years to the Ancestral Puebloans who shaped them, and have been preserved by rock that was deposited around 78 million years ago.

Twentynine Palms, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twentynine Palms is the home of Joshua Tree National Park headquarters and north entrance and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the world’s largest Marine Corps training base. The city is known for its clear skies, brilliant star-filled nights, desert and mountain vistas, wide open spaces, murals, and gateway to Mojave National Preserve.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson