A Small Town with a Big Back Yard

This is the place where the “Summer Spends the Winter”

“A Small Town With A Big Back Yard”, the tiny Arizona burg of Ajo (ahh-ho) is situated deep in the Sonoran Desert, 42 miles south of Gila Bend and 37 miles north of the Mexican border.

The Ajo Central Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A discovery worthy of Lewis and Clark, Ajo just might be the “best kept secret in Arizona.” This is the place where the “Summer spends the Winter”, according to the local Chamber of Commerce.

For many snowbirds, as it was for us, Ajo is merely a stopping-off point on the way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. For others, especially Spring Breakers, it’s a town to pass through on their way to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point).

The Old Train Depot northeast of the plaza dates from 1915 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The town of Ajo reflects its one time wealth to this day. Glistening white churches and a well-designed plaza are so inviting.

Ajo today is a retirement community and snowbird haven along with an increasing number of artists. Ajo’s gorgeous mountain views and charming Old World architecture are enchanting and we soon fell in love with this friendly community in southwestern Arizona.

Across the street from the Central Plaza through a high arch of the train depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ajo got its name from a poor Spanish translation of an Indian word. To make body paint, the local O’odham Indians used copper. Their word for paint was aau’auho, which sounded to the Spanish like the familiar word ajo, meaning garlic in their language. Later, the wild lily plants in the area were named ajo for the flavorful bulb at its roots.

The birthplace of copper mining in Arizona, copper has provided the sinew for this desert town for about 300 years. Ajo was the oldest-known mine site in the state, and until the 1980s Phelps Dodge ran a sizable copper mining operation out of here.

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church follows the ornate architectural style of the plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The town of Ajo is worth a good walkabout. Most of the town, and in particular the central plaza, was created by John Campbell Greenway to be a good place for his New Cornelia miners to raise their families. Visitors can pick up a walking tour map/brochure at the Visitor Center located at the old train depot.

Greenway, formerly a Rough Rider with Theodore Roosevelt, was the highly successful general manager and an owner of the Calumet & Arizona Mining Company that included the Lavender Pit Mine at Bisbee and the New Cornelia Mine at Ajo. He was the second husband of Isabella who, following John’s death in 1926, founded the Arizona Inn in Tucson and became Arizona’s first U.S. Congresswoman.

The Ajo Federated Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For Ajo’s architecture, Greenway chose Spanish Colonial Revival, a Mediterranean style with Moorish influences: high arches, white stucco surfaces, tile roofs, and considerable decoration.

Across the street from the plaza, the most prominent features are two white churches. The Federated Church, while visually interesting, has almost no ornamentation. The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church follows the more ornate architectural style of the central plaza. Both are eminently photogenic.

Organ pipe cactus and saguaro along the Ajo Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A number of the buildings from the 1920s and before are still standing. Just beyond the churches,  the historic Curley School was constructed in 1919. The Train Depot directly northeast of the plaza dates from 1915. New Cornelia Hotel just east of Curley School was constructed in 1916.

A few miles further, past loads of cacti, long hills of white sediment and stretches of crushed stones in multi-colors line the highway, left by the New Cornelia Copper Mine.

Several boondockers along the Ajo Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

An easy scenic drive, the Ajo Ten-Mile Loop skirts the backside of the open pit New Cornelia Mine. Along the way you can stop at the overlook and little museum about the mine. Also, in the St. Catherine’s Indian Mission, the Ajo Historical Society has a small museum out here. To no surprise, it too is mostly about Ajo’s glory days sporting one of the world’s largest copper mines.

The New Cornelia Copper Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A large wildlife refuge, Cabeza Prieta spans Sonoran Desert wilderness. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is home to 275 species of animals, including endangered big horn sheep and Sonoran pronghorn. Capable of 60 mph, pronghorns are the fastest land animals in North America.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located 35 miles south of Ajo on Highway 85, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the monument is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonoran Desert.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulating creativity.

—Anon

13 Icons That Describe Arizona

Come along and discover the 13 Arizona icons that describe the state

Try and describe Arizona—its history, geography, and cultures—and a few iconic names and places likely come to mind.

At some point, you’ll get around to explaining how people living in Arizona’s deserts survive the scorch of summer. But you probably won’t be able to hide your bliss about what keeps you and other snowbirds returning winter after winter.

Here are 13 Arizona icons:

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Let’s start with the state’s crown jewel, the Grand Canyon—an iconic attraction that’s on every RVer’s bucket list. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. This massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

When filmmaker John Ford cast his lens on Monument Valley, he couldn’t look away. The stunning red buttes that rise from the dusty ground are iconic Arizona, and Ford made Monument Valley a backdrop for 10 films, including “Stagecoach” in 1939. Situated on the Navajo Reservation in a remote part of northern Arizona near the Utah line, its glorious skyline draws thousands of tourists to U.S. 163, the only road through Monument Valley.

Diverse topography

Sprawled across the state’s 15 counties is a topography as varied as the people who live here. Deserts cover 30 percent of the land, grassland and steppes spread over 53 percent, and highlands make up 17 percent.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arizona once had petrified wood as far as the eye could see. Visitors arriving on the railroad around the turn of the 20th century took care of that, pocketing what they could and leaving behind enough to justify creation of a national forest.

Route 66

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

One of the original U.S. highways, this eclectic drive was established on Nov. 11, 1926, and became one of the most famous roads in America. It started in Chicago and ended in Los Angeles, covering 2,448 miles. Route 66 was immortalized in pop culture by a hit song and 1960s television show before being removed from the national highway system in 1985.

Sky Islands

On the Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Few geographic formations in the world illustrate such stark contrast as Sky Islands. 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.

Sedona

Cathedral Rock, Sedona

Sedona is famous for its scenery, art, and history. Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Pink Jeeps are ubiquitous in Sedona, shuttling visitors past the sights year-round.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There’s a reason Oak Creek Canyon is the second-most visited canyon in Arizona. In just 15 miles, the drive takes you past countless outstanding vistas. Just make sure the driver’s eyes are on the road — it’s narrow and twisty. Don’t miss Oak Creek Canyon Vista at the top. It has a terrific overview of the canyon.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This national historic landmark was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction on the White Dove of the Desert, south of downtown Tucson, began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.

Colorado River

Colorado River at Bullhead City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The river not only is a major source of water for the state, it is also a prime spot for fishing, rafting, and other recreational activities.

Kartchner Caverns

The limestone caves in southeastern Arizona were discovered in 1974 by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts as they explored the hills near the Whetstone Mountains.

Scorching heat

The highest temperature ever recorded in Phoenix — 122 degrees — was enough to temporarily shut down Sky Harbor International Airport on June 26, 1990.

Hiking trails

Hiking at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Short or long, straight or steep, hundreds of trails make Arizona an outdoor wonderland for those willing to lace up their boots and explore the outdoors.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

13 Weird and Wonderful Reasons to RV to Tucson

The bright stars of Arizona’s second largest city

When Fodor’s Travel released its annual Go List in November, a favorite of ours was on it. Tucson was one of the 52 places around the world that inspire travel in 2019.

Hey, Fodor’s, tell us something we don’t already know.

The landscape in Tucson can only be described as otherworldly. From the sweeping expanses of arid desert to the mountain ranges surrounding the city and sprinkles of vibrant colors dotting the desert, it’s truly unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Looking toward the Old Pueblo. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In their list, the editors of Fodor’s barely scratch the surface of what makes the Old Pueblo such a fun getaway. So we’ll just have to pick up the slack. Here are our favorite weird and wonderful reasons to RV to Tucson.

One of the most popular attractions in Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and for good reason. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn about the Sonoran Desert and the diversity of what can be found here, whether that’s the animals, plants, birds, or fish. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mission San Xavier del Bac is noted for its elegant Spanish colonial architecture and colorful art adorning the interior. Shimmering in the sun 10 miles south of Tucson, the “White Dove of the Desert” remains an active parish.

Birders will enjoy camping at Catalina State Park as much as hikers and mountain bikers do. The park spreads across the foothills of the craggy Santa Catalina Mountains north of town. Trails like Canyon Loop ramble through desert meadows dotted with cactus, mesquite and ocotillo. Watch for desert bighorn sheep on the mountain slopes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The giant saguaro cacti grow nowhere else. Growing very slowly, it may take 50 years or more for branching to begin. These symbols of the Southwest have lent their name to Saguaro National Park, its two units bracketing Tucson on the east and the west.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Carved into the Santa Catalina Mountains by its namesake stream, Sabino Canyon is a desert oasis supporting riparian habitat including willow, ash, oak, and Arizona sycamore. A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends that starred in some of the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since 1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 16 miles east of town, has a long and storied history.

Hohokam Indians once used the caverns for food storage and outlaws hid out here between train robberies in the 1880s. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built much of the infrastructure still used by visitors today.

It’s no surprise that authentic Mexican fare is easy to come by with the border just an hour’s drive away, but there’s a favorite haunt in which to indulge in the freshest, spiciest specimens in town. A long-time local mainstay, El Charro has been run by the same family for nearly 100 years. Its margaritas are strong and tart and its founder, Monica Flin, is credited with inventing the chimichanga.

Hawk demonstration at the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Displaying more than 250 aircraft of all sizes, shapes and eras, Pima Air & Space Museum covers 150 acres. Many of the docents are people who actually flew these planes, and the stories they tell are fascinating.

If you think flowers can’t bloom in the desert, think again. The sandy landscape is awash with multi-hued blooms, especially in the spring. Even the thorny cacti blossom into bouquets of color, the prickly pear sprouting hats of rich fuchsia flowers, the barrel cactus donning clusters of vibrant yellow and red and the mighty saguaro budding impressive halos of white posies.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Embrace the authentic beauty of the Sonoran Desert year-round at Tohono Chul, Tucson’s charming crossroads of nature, art, and culture. Deemed “One of the World’s Ten Best Botanical Gardens” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Tohono Chul has been celebrated by Tucson as one of its “best kept secrets” for over a quarter of a century.

Having visited Tucson on numerous occasions, we have set up camp at a variety of area RV parks and campgrounds that include Tucson/Lazydays KOA, Valley of the Sun RV Resort, Desert Trails RV Park, Mission View RV Resort, and Catalina State Park.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

The Absolute Best Places to RV This March

It is almost spring and you can just feel it…kind of

If winter weather has officially got you down for the third consecutive month in a row, that means it’s time to get out of town.

March is when the cold starts to let up and much of the country finally gets signs of warm weather. But if you start planning a trip for the summer months, you’ll hit high season for most destinations. Traveling during the spring certainly has its perks. If you can brave mediocre temperatures and weather, you’ll likely be rewarded with fewer crowds in many popular destinations, ranging from outdoor hot spots to cities big and small.

We’ve scoped out the best opportunities to ditch the purgatory that is March and eat, drink, and soak up some sun—or some culture—which should have you in better spirits in no time. No matter where your RV travels take you—and whether you want to avoid spring Break destinations or embrace them—there are plenty of places to go that are warm.

Here are our five favorite places to travel to put on your radar for March. What are you waiting for?

Looking to make plans for RV travel in April, May, June, or the rest of the year? We’ve got you covered with those recommendations, too. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in January and February. Also check out our recommendations from March 2018.

Lexington, Kentucky

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This time of year, the only thing people know about Lexington is that there seem to be a disproportionate amount of die-hard college basketball fans who claim to have been there.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Of course, there are also the scenic tours of nearby horse country—Keeneland is Lexington’s cozier, comfier answer to Louisville’s Churchill Downs. Stop by some of the city’s eight craft breweries and you, too, will swear you can see the glint of blue in the grass that makes the rolling countrysides here some of most gorgeous in America.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers will be coming into bloom in Texas Hill Country this month, which is home to the nation’s largest working wildflower farm. With the season extending from March all the way through April, it’s a great opportunity to spend a weekend exploring country roads and hiking.

For a well-deserved picnic break, stop in at the Wedding Oak Winery at Wildseed, where you can sample Texas-made wine while overlooking fields of cosmos and zinnia.

Wildseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers will be coming into bloom in Texas Hill Country this month, which is home to the nation’s largest working wildflower farm. With the season extending from March all the way through April, it’s a great opportunity to spend a weekend exploring country roads and hiking.

St. George, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Affectionately known as “The Palm Springs of Utah,” this desert town a couple of hours from Las Vegas, offers year-round golf, and serves as a gateway city to Zion National Park.

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It’s also only about 20 minutes from Snow Canyon State Park, an underrated destination unto itself that rocks a red-orange blend of Navajo sandstone cliffs, petrified sand dunes, and lava fields (seriously, you gotta go). If you want a natural resort town with not a lot of people, St. George is your play.

Charleston, South Carolina

Historic Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This seaport city on South Carolina’s coast oozes Southern charm. Its palmetto-lined streets, waterfront promenades, historic mansions, and cobblestone streets will draw you in, but it’s exciting art and culinary scene and its Southern hospitality will make it one hell of a break.

Why you should go in March: Mild temps make Chuck Town pleasant this time of year. And it’s the start for springtime blooms with colorful camellias, pink tulip trees, and wisteria vines blossoming throughout downtown and inside city parks. Plus, the Charleston Wine+Food Festival takes place in March (6-10, in 2019).

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

With a whopping 97 properties listed on the National Register for Historic Places, history is ingrained in every aspect of Downtown Charleston—right down to the horse-drawn carriages. From the historic mansions that line the Battery promenade near the waterside, Fort Sumter-facing White Point Garden to the cobblestone streets and gas-lit alleys of the French Quarter (yes, Charleston has its own French Quarter), you can’t escape all the history that’s packed into the heart of this city. And when history is this beautiful, why the hell would you want to?

Scottsdale, Arizona 

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Scottsdale, known for its blissful desert sunshine and high-end resorts, is also home to the annual Major League Baseball spring training. Nearly two million fans show up at the end of February to watch 15 Major League Baseball teams prepare for the upcoming season under the warm Arizona sun.

Games taking place in 10 different stadiums in Scottsdale, Mesa, and other cities in the Valley of the Sun. Consider making the most of your surroundings with an exhilarating hot air balloon ride, or a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Desert Botanical Garden

Scottsdale also has wonderful hikes and a booming art scene, so there’s no lack of entertainment even if you’re not a baseball buff. Case in point: the Celebration of Fine Art, which runs until March 24.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is like a butterfly—the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

—Henry David Thoreau

Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded

Chief Slacabamorinico would have been proud.

The Chickasaw leader was “reincarnated” by Mobile resident Joe Cain in 1866 as a rebellion against occupying Union forces.

The Civil War had brought a halt to Mardi Gras celebrations, and in April 1865, Union troops took control of the city.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities resumed unexpectedly the following year when Joseph Stillwell Cain, a local clerk and former member of the Tea Drinkers Mystic Society, led a parade through the occupied city dressed as a fictional Indian named Chief Slackabamarinico.

Cain exuberantly declared an end to Mobile’s suffering and signaled the return of the city’s parading activities, to the delight of local residents. He also succeeded in moving Mobile’s celebration from New Year’s Eve to the traditional Fat Tuesday. 

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During and after Reconstruction, Mardi Gras became the premier event of the city’s social elite and a way of celebrating the “Lost Cause.” New societies representing different portions of the city’s diverse population began to appear. The Order of Myths (OOM), established in 1867, chose as its emblem Folly chasing Death around a broken column, imagery that was seen by many as a symbol of the “Lost Cause.” At the end of the traditional OOM parade, Death is defeated, and Folly wins the day.

In 1870, a group of young men between the ages of 18 and 21 formed the Infant Mystics, probably because they were too young to join other societies. The Knights of Revelry, formed in 1874. Their emblem of Folly dancing in a champagne glass between two crescent moons remains a familiar site during Mardi Gras parades.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile has been doing it ever since and they mark the annual occasion with majestic parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies.

When people think of Mardi Gras, they think of New Orleans. But long before there even was a New Orleans, Mobile was celebrating Mardi Gras in the run-up to Ash Wednesday.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded. The raucous annual celebration originated in the Port City, not in the Crescent City.

Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday and Mobile comes to life. Elaborate themed floats manned by masked mystic societies, mounted police and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Many of the mystic societies hold annual formal balls. Some of the balls are private, open only to members and their families; others sell tickets to guests. Membership rules vary. Members need to be born into some societies; other groups invite residents to join, and still others accept anyone who pays the dues.

A specific decorum regarding gown design for royalty still prevails, according to the late Gordon Tatum Jr., former curator of the Mobile Carnival Museum.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“Cover the ankles,” he said. “It may be split to San Francisco, but cover the ankles.”

The cost for robes, gowns, and scepters, as well as full-out partying, is only governed by how deep Daddy’s pockets are. The museum’s least expensive outfit is estimated at $40,00.

Mobile has decreed that moon pies are the official throwing treat from Mardi Gras floats (too many people were being conked on the head by hard candy).

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry.

Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

The party has started in Downtown Mobile and will end with Fat Tuesday on February 13.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass -wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

Best Things to See and Do in Arizona in 2019

For fun and adventure consider this your road map of the best things and see and do in Arizona in 2019

From cactus-studded deserts to snow-covered peaks, from vibrant cities to charming towns, Arizona defies description.

To the unfamiliar, its name invokes visions of cowboys and rattlesnakes, a land not for the faint of heart. The stereotype ignores the lush pine forests that carpet Arizona’s mountains, and the rivers and streams so plentiful that they have nurtured residents from ancient civilizations to today’s suburbanites.

Consider this guide your treasure map of the best things to do and see in Arizona in 2019.

Hop aboard Verde Canyon Railroad

You’re part of history aboard this excursion train on century-old tracks. But it’s the scenery and wildlife that truly capture the imagination.

The train departs from Clarkdale on a 40-mile round trip through a remote wilderness. Loads of ore from Jerome mines were once hauled on this line.

Today visitors enjoy towering canyon walls and the cottonwood-draped Verde River. Stand outside on open-air viewing platforms watching bald and golden eagles circle overhead, and remind yourself you’re still in Arizona.

Browse for treasures at Hubbell Trading Post

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. The National Historic Site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Wooden floors creak at every step. The store is crowded with goods and spicy with old aromas. Adjacent to the shop, a trader sits in the jewelry room, which also contains carvings, paintings, and clay work. In a third room, gorgeous hand-woven rugs are stacked in casual piles.

Details: Near mile marker 446 on State Route 264 in Ganado on the Navajo Reservation.

Look for spring wildflowers

Good years for spring wildflowers are sporadic. Super bloom years are rare indeed. Yet it doesn’t matter. There is no better reminder why we love Arizona than to spend a balmy February or March day in shorts hiking in fields of poppies, brittlebush, lupine, and their showy friends.

While the rest of the country is lashed by blizzards, nor’easters and ice storms, we revel in 70 degrees. Wildflowers are a Technicolor welcome mat the Sonoran Desert extends. It would be downright foolish not to accept the invitation.

Every year is different, of course, but reliable locations include Maricopa County Parks and Picacho Peak and Lost Dutchman state parks.

Walk the streets of Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

In between, impervious to the hail of bullets and river of whiskey that once defined the town the world’s largest rose tree grows. It was planted in 1885 and blooms every spring. There has to be a moral there somewhere.

Climb 7,000 feet in 24 miles

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Overtourism and Undertourism in 2019

Celebrating the “Undertouristed” places for RV travel in 2019

If there was a competition for the Word of the Year in tourism, a serious contender would be “overtourism”.

From Barcelona to Bali, the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic, 2018 was the year that people in the world’s most coveted, visited, and Instagrammed places said enough was enough.

There were protests in Barcelona and Mallorca. And the New Year began with Venice vowing to charge tourists for entry.

Let’s celebrate the alternatives in 2019—the undertouristed places that deserve more visitors and where the locals won’t take to the streets and forums to protest.

Let’s hear it for undertourism in America. From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, the RV traveler has it all.

Overtouristed: Charleston, South Carolina and Ashville, North Carolina and Zion National Park, Utah

Undertouristed: A sampling follows

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef received its name from the great white rock formations resembling the U.S. Capitol building and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers.

However, it is the park’s multi-colored sandstone that earned it the nickname, “land of the sleeping rainbow”. The park runs along a huge buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. This noteworthy geologic feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Layer upon layer of rock folded over each other.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

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

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

New River Gorge, West Virginia

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.

Hiking along the many park trails or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery. There are opportunities for extreme sports as well as a more relaxing experience.

Holmes County, Ohio

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. 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.

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. Wetlands provide a critical habitat for abundant wildlife and migratory birds. Take a walk on the 4,000-foot boardwalk and view the prairie from the observation tower. Visitor center offers displays and film. TAKE THE GUIDED BOAT TOUR. From the open, wet “prairies” of the east side to the forested cypress swamps on the west, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Where Are America’s Best Kept Secrets? Think the Southwest Deserts!

As the most popular national parks get more crowded, where do you go to escape?

In this post, we’ll explore two such parks in Arizona.

The attraction: Joshua Tree National Park, California (2.9 million visits)
The alternative: Saguaro National Park, Arizona (960,000 visits)

Location: 15 miles from Tucson, Arizona
Best places to stay: Lazy Days KOA, Rincon County East RV Resort, or Desert Trails RV Park
Best hike: From the El Camino del Cerro trailhead to the top of Wasson Peak via the Sweetwater trail—best done in cooler weather

Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro National Park can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek. Both districts of Saguaro National Park offer a variety of hiking trails.

Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunrise or sunset.

Saguaro National Park has two districts separated by the city of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District on the west, and the Rincon Mountain District to the east, are approximately 30 miles (45-60 minutes) apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, the intricate details make both areas praiseworthy.

Although Saguaro National Park is open every day of the year except Christmas, the busiest time is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the mid-70s. Starting in late February and March, the park begins to get a variety of cactus and wildflower blooms. In late April, the iconic Saguaro begins to bloom. Come June, the fruits are beginning to ripen. In August, the lush Sonoran desert starts its Monsoon season, so watch out for those flash floods.

Another alternative: Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona (224,548 visits)

Location: 60 miles south of Gila Bend, Arizona on SR-85

Best place to stay: Twin Peaks Campground, the main campground at Organ Pipe National Monument

Best hike: Estes Canyon (3 miles round trip)Estes Canyon is a moderate trail and is great for birding. Trail crosses several washes and is relatively flat until the switchback climb to the Bull Pasture trail.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northern-most natural habitat of the Organ Pipe Cactus, as well as amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology, and human history. Be ready to enjoy the trails and scenic drives, the star-lit nights, and the sun-filled days. Keep yourself safe by knowing what to expect from a desert wilderness.

The easiest way to see the splendor of this park is to take a scenic drive. Many hiking trails are accessed using these scenic drives.

Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car. RVs over 24 feet are prohibited, due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road. The Ajo Mountain Road Guidebook is available in the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. January through March a free three hour ranger guided van tour is available. Space is limited and interested visitors may sign up at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center for a seat on the van.

Puerto Blanco Drive is the other popular road in the park. The 37 mile drive provides access to the Pinkley Peak Picnic Area, Red Tanks trail head, Senita Basin, and Quitobaquito Springs. The Puerto Blanco Drive was completely reopened in 2014. Be advised that many travel books and websites do not reflect this change. High clearance vehicles are recommended beyond Pinkley Peak.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is open every day of the year. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving and Christmas the visitor center is closed but the park remains open.

The state of Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time. It does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor

The Most Instagrammable Travel Destinations for 2019

The RV lifestyle makes it easy to explore these Instagram-worthy travel destinations

For fun and adventure, consider our top Instagram-worthy travel destinations for 2019.

This compelling list of photogenic destinations captures some of nature’s most beautiful spots.

The RV lifestyle makes it easy to truly immerse yourself in the culture of a destination while checking off those bucket list destinations.

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah

Driving through Monument Valley makes you feel as though you’ve just traveled back in time. It combines old country western feels with road trip vibes, and offers some of the most perfectly framed photo ops that are totally ‘Instaworthy.’

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Nearly 800,000 acres of desert east of the Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree National Park rewards visitors with a full range of peculiar treasures: spiky yuccas, spiny cacti, spindly ocotillos, gangly Joshua trees, and geological formations, including Jumbo Rocks.

The lower Colorado Desert merges into the higher Mojave Desert, and cholla cactus and ocotillos give way to Joshua trees. An even bigger wow (think Instagram-worthy) can be had at Keys View. To the west, distant San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak—both topping 10,000 feet—scrape the sky. Looking south, you can spy the Salton Sea.

Canadian Rockies, Alberta

The Canadian Rockies stretch 900 miles northwest from the Montana border. The lakes and peaks combined create gob-smacking scenery at any time of the year. But since an RV/car is indispensable for visiting the Rockies, accessing their beauty is easiest in the warmer months, when the highways are clear of ice and snow. Banff and Jasper are the two most popular destinations for visitors to the Rockies. They are connected by the Icefields Parkway, a 140-mile highway that offers unobstructed mountain views.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina/Virginia 

One of the most scenic roads in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that winds along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains providing a unique view of picturesque landscape and history. The Parkway connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park at the north end with North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the south end.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Step out of your car and into a natural wonderland. The vibrant colors of the Petrified Forest will keep your eyes engaged, while these fascinating ancient fossils will engross your mind. Check out the Rainbow Forest Museum first, so you can orient yourself and determine your trail route.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Take a break from being a road warrior and go caving instead. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Experience the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails at your own pace. Ranger-guided tours include King’s Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, Hall of the White Giant, Lower, Spider, and Slaughter Canyon cave. If you visit from May to October, be prepared to witness the spectacular flight of bats at twilight.

Sequoia National Park, California

I love being close to nature, especially feeling the fresh clean air passing through my lungs and hearing birds sing as a river passes by. Sequoia National Park is a truly special place that is definitely Instagram-worthy. Those huge trees hold an amazing energy and knowledge. At over 3,000 years old, some even pre-date the birth of Christ.

Moki Dugway, Utah

Driving the Moki Dugway in southeastern Utah is not for the faint of heart. A three-mile section of gravel switchbacks chiseled into a nearly vertical cliff side, Moki Dugway descends 1,200 feet down to the western end of the Valley of Gods (known for its buttes and towering pinnacles). The few guardrails don’t hide the wreckage of the occasional vehicle that went over the edge. 

Worth Pondering…

Every picture I take is like a diary entry.

—Gilles Peress

7 of the Most Scenic Places for Snowbirds to Camp

Scenic locations for snowbirds to camp this winter in prime Sunbelt states

One of the best things about the RV snowbird life style is that there are so many scenic places to roost. Not only can you park your RV in picturesque locations, you can also enjoy numerous hiking trails, fishing, and other activities while wintering in the US Sunbelt.

Take a look at some of the amazing campsites, and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your camera.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Goldfield Mountains and Tonto National Forest, Usery Mountain Regional Park spans 3,648 acres of metro Phoenix’s east Valley, and offers 73 individual camping sites. All are developed sites with water and electrical hook-ups, plus a dump station, picnic table, and barbecue fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Restrooms offer flush toilets and showers, and group camping is also available.

Anza-Borrego State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is a great place for camping. Don’t let the vast 122 available campsites fool you, this campground books up fast. The campground amenities include drinkable water, restrooms and hot, coin-operated showers. Some sites offer full hook-ups.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls, and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full-hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. 

Organ Pipe National Park, Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northern-most natural habitat of the Organ Pipe Cactus, as well as amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology, and human history. Enjoy the trails and scenic drives, the star-lit nights, and the sun-filled days.

Twin Peaks Campgroundhas 174 sites for RVs. Some sites can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a few have solar showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available. A dump station is located past the last row of campsites.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

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!

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Things to do at Galveston Island State Park include camping (56 sites with 50/30 amp electricity and water), swimming, fishing, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and relaxing.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (adjacent to Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands and the Gulf of Mexico.

Numerous changes within the campground have taken place since the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Today, the park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These sites were redesigned after the storm for easier parking and convenience for the visitor. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. 

This scenic desert offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury