Where are the Best Spots to Live the RV Life and Why?

These 16 RV getaway spots are ranked based on cost, amenities, internet speed, pet polices, air quality, and more. It’s time to plan your road trip.

If it seemed like the pandemic produced a lot more RVs around your neighborhood, you’re probably right. One of them may even be yours.

Van life was already trending before COVID and has been buoyed by the need for social distancing and the work-from-anywhere possibilities. As travel-hungry adventurers continue to look for ways to escape and see the great outdoors, RV sales are on the rise.

The RV Industry Association (RVIA) forecasts RV wholesale shipments at around 591,100 units by the end of 2022 which is close to the 600,240 shipped in 2021, the industry’s best year on record. Total RV shipments in March 2022 were 64,454, up 18.7 percent over March 2021 and a 69 percent increase over the 38,015 shipped in March 2019.

Although there’s no available data on how many people are traveling in their RVs, Mercedes-Benz U.S. van sales shot up 22.5 percent in 2020, according to USA Today.

So, yes, if it seems like there’s more RVs on the highway it is likely there is: 11.2 million U.S. households own an RV, according to RVIA. And contrary to popular belief, they’re not just retired folks: More than half are under 54 years old. Those in the 18- to 34-year-old age range now make up 22 percent of the market.

So if you’re going to jump on the camper bandwagon to head out on the open road where are the best places to live the RV life? To determine the best RV destinations in the U.S., number crunchers at StorageCafe, an online platform that provides storage unit listings, analyzed data from camping directory CampgroundViews about numbers of campsites, their costs, and amenities such as water, sewer, and electricity hookups, swimming pools, Wi-Fi, cable TV, ‘pull-thru’-type sites (for convenience when parking), and pet policies. They also used a variety of sources to find local air quality, internet speeds, grocery prices, storage options, and the number of nearby retail outlets.

Here are 16 of the best places in the U.S. for RV campers.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Median air quality index: 43=good

Average internet speed: 92 mbps

Grocery cost: 98.2 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 22.9 (the most on this list)

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

Pigeon Forge is located near Gatlinburg and Sevierville and is about five miles from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A popular year-round family-friendly vacation destination, Pigeon Forge is filled with fun activities. There’s plenty of shopping here and a Dolly Parton theme park.

Plan your trip: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Applegate Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grants Pass, Oregon

Median air quality index: 23=good

Average internet speed: 113 mbps

Grocery cost: 100.3 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 4

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grants Pass sits on Oregon’s Rogue River in the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest. It’s a good spot for rafting and enjoying the lush outdoors. It’s central to places like the historic Gold Rush town of Jacksonville, Applegate Valley Wine Tour near Medford, Crater Lake National Park, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Median air quality index: 44=good

Average internet speed: 99 mbps

Grocery cost: 98.4 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2.7

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.

Plan your trip: Discover Why Rockport is the Charm of the Texas Coast

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Median air quality index: 37=good

Average internet speed: 222 mbps

Grocery cost: 100.0 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 6.1

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re looking for fun and adventure or lazy days on the beach, you can do it all in Gulf Shores and nearby Orange Beach. Dolphin watching, ocean fishing, and golf are popular activities. Discover history and travel back in time when cannons protected the waterways and explore the nearly 200-year-old Fort Morgan. Adjacent to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is Gulf State Park with 6,000 acres spanning the sugar-white sands of the Gulf Coast and is home to nine unique ecosystems. The Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 full hook-up RV campsites.

Plan your trip: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Houston, Texas

Median air quality index: 52=moderate

Average internet speed: 459 mbps

Grocery cost: 98.1 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 3

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t pass up the big city on your road trip. 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 and Galveston.

Plan your trip: I Still Dream of Galveston

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson, Arizona

Median air quality index: 56=moderate

Average internet speed: 482 mbps

Grocery cost: 95.5 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 3.1

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is an Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. The West is full of beautiful national parks but one of the most iconic symbols of the Old West is the saguaro cactus—and Saguaro National Park and Catalina State Park are full of them.

Plan your trip: Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma, Arizona

Median air quality index: 46=good

Average internet speed: 298 mbps

Grocery cost: 94.6 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2.8

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the far west of the state on the Colorado River near the California and Mexico borders, Yuma has one of the nation’s largest mass of inland sand dunes enjoyed by ATVers. Immerse yourself in rich culture and heritage rooted in centuries of history. Popular with snowbirds, Yuma is known as the Winter Lettuce Capital and it holds a Guinness World Record as the “Sunniest City in the World.” Just over the border in Mexico is Los Algodones, a popular spot for medical tourism. Check out the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, a Wild West–era prison (Yuma High’s unusual mascot is the Criminals).

Plan your trip: Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

Median air quality index: 48=good

Average internet speed: 382 mbps

Grocery cost: 91.4 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2.7

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? This is where you go to see it. From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. With a mix of cultures, Mexican and Tex-Mex food is more authentic than found almost anywhere else in the country. There is a lot to do in San Antonio from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour. There is no lack of diversions to explore in this city and beyond.

Plan your trip: Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

Foley, Alabama

Median air quality index: 37=good

Average internet speed: 22 mbps

Grocery cost: 96.2 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 7.1

Just inland from Gulf Shores, Foley offers great value and plenty of shopping, outdoor activities, and RV resorts nearby.

Plan your trip: Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission, Texas

Median air quality index: 44=good

Average internet speed: 590 mbps

Grocery cost: 90.6 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2 (the fewest of this list)

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies.

Plan your trip: Rio Grande Valley: Birds, Birds, and More Birds

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding, California

Median air quality index: 46=good

Average internet speed: 97 mbps

Grocery cost: 99.9 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 4

Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With mountains all around, miles of hiking and biking trails, a river running through it and national parks nearby, Redding is an outdoor paradise for all ages. Cradled by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Redding has 300+ sunny days per year. Redding is also home to the famous Sundial Bridge, world-class fishing, and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails for all abilities. Head out on a day-trip to see the bubbling mud pots and boiling lakes in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The area’s wealth of outdoor activities include Turtle Bay Exploration Park with the renown Sundial Bridge, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Shasta Lake, and Lake Shasta Caverns.

Plan your trip: Redding For an Outdoor Adventure

Lady Bird Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin, Texas

Median air quality index: 43=good

Average internet speed: 459 mbps

Grocery cost: 96.7 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 3.3

Lady Bird Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin was recently voted the No. 1 place to live in America for the third year in a row— based on affordability, job prospects, and quality of life. It was named the fastest growing large city in the U.S. It was chosen among the top 15 cities in the United States to visit. Austin features centrally located Lady Bird Lake, named after Texan and former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Lady Bird Lake is part of the Colorado River and is a popular place to canoe, kayak, and use stand-up paddleboards. Next to the lake are the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

Plan your trip: Grab Some Fresh Air and Commune with Nature at McKinney Falls State Park

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benson, Arizona

Median air quality index: 47=good

Average internet speed: 41 mbps

Grocery cost: 94.4 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 3.1

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The areas surrounding Benson offer numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Coronado National Forest and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area provide areas for hiking, camping, and picnicking. Kartchner Caverns State Park provides an unforgettable way to get in touch with the earth—literally. Located on State Route 90 in the Whetstone Mountains these unique caverns are the most pristine in the U. S. Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps

Plan your trip: All Aboard & Bound For Benson

North Mountain Park, Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande, Arizona

Median air quality index: 64=moderate

Average internet speed: 71 mbps

Grocery cost: 95.7 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2.5

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a change of pace, Casa Grande offers a relaxing respite from the hustle-and-bustle, halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. Casa Grande draws golfers year-round with excellent play at a variety of area courses. Stroll through historic downtown Casa Grande, one of Arizona’s Main Street communities with more than 40 buildings in national and local historic registers. Hike, bike, and even take a farm or dairy tour. At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you’ll find the Ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community including the preserved “Great House,” or “Casa Grande.”

Plan your trip: The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa, Arizona

Median air quality index: 97=moderate

Average internet speed: 481 mbps

Grocery cost: 97.2 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 2.5

Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soak up the sun in Arizona’s third-largest city. The neighboring farms and Agritourism attractions in and around Mesa provide a bounty of seasonal goods for visitors to enjoy. Mesa is neighbors to the Tonto National Forest and visitors to this desert oasis take advantage of being close to one of the nation’s largest playgrounds. Tonto is the fifth largest forest in the United States and one of the most-visited forests in the country. There are three lakes and two rivers in Mesa that allow for desert boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, and water skiing. There are treasures to be found all over Mesa. What treasures you find just depends on where you look.

Plan your trip: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Lake Okeechobee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okeechobee, Florida

Median air quality index: 38=good

Average internet speed: 319 mbps

Grocery cost: 102.0 percent of U.S. average

Retail outlets per 1,000 residents: 3.3

Lake Okeechobee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located along the northern rim of Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s “inland sea,” the city of Okeechobee offers visitors a relaxing time. Choose from a variety of RV parks and campgrounds just minutes from the beauty of Lake Okeechobee, varied attractions, and annual events. Known as the “Speckled Perch Capital of the World,” Okeechobee holds an annual event in honor of this title—the Speckled Perch Festival held in March. The town provides a convenient access point to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. And the lake and its shores, of course, offer boating, freshwater fishing, hiking, and biking.

Plan your trip: Myakka River State Park: Place of Abundance Offering Varied Experiences

Worth Pondering…

For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in July

The ultimate luxury in life remains nature.

—Robert Rabensteiner

After spending two decades at L’Uomo Vogue—the menswear counterpart to Vogue Italia—Robert Rabensteiner is now the fashion editor-at-large for Condé Nast’s Italian division. Part of his job is appraising runway collections in New York, Paris, London, and Milan, his primary residence. Yet some of his most cherished trips to a remote chalet near his hometown in the Austrian Alps are far less elaborate. Hidden deep in the forest, the chalet is only accessible by riding a chairlift and then taking a half-hour trek. When his mother died, Rabensteiner sought refuge in the house and, more so, it’s calm setting. With this quote, he speaks to a feeling shared by so many of us: that the connection to nature offers an unparalleled source of wonder, healing, and joy. 

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also, check out my recommendations from July 2021 and August 2021.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its unforgettable vista.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and new-school Hollywood iconography serving as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Place in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

For a minute there, it seemed like society’s obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ’50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena last year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.

All this time, a few towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians (or, did they?). In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. One of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial is Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

The country was whipped up into a frenzy and soon after the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. But, I’m still withholding judgment!

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.”

2022 is the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. It all comes down July 1-3. And it’s going to be the biggest, best UFO Festival yet!

Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For colors—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic highways. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is home to one of the world’s most unique geological wonders: the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Formed millions of years ago when a fault line shifted and exposed thousands of acres of rust-tinted sandstone and slate-gray shale, the resulting rugged cliffs and arch formations are the red rocks Utah is known for.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grab a cinnamon bun or freshly baked mini-pie in the historic village of Fruita located within the park’s borders then stroll through verdant orchards and hunt for petroglyphs near the visitor center. Hikers won’t want to miss the 1-mile jaunt up to Hickman Bridge nor the chance to squeeze through a narrow slot canyon in Cottonwood Wash. Stay in nearby Torrey for the best BBQ and wild-west themed hotels and RV parks.

Some roads in Capitol Reef National Park remain closed due to flash flooding that occurred last Thursday (June 23, 2022). Check with the Park Service as to the current status before visiting the park.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Newport Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is absolutely worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell

Visiting Hollywood South: Louisiana’s Film Trail

Locations tied to Louisiana-filmed movies and TV shows are numerous

Louisiana’s official state nickname is Sportsman’s Paradise thanks to rich and abundant natural resources and the fish and wild game that call it home. Related nicknames for the state include The Pelican State, about the state bird, and Bayou State, thanks to the slow-moving streams.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s another nickname for Louisiana that is not all about the flora and fauna—Hollywood South. Thanks to its diverse settings for movies (Louisiana has everything including bustling cities, antebellum mansions, and lush wilderness areas), generous state tax incentives for film producers, and numerous production support businesses, Louisiana is a global player in a movie and TV filming location. And, like other visitors to the state, movie and TV stars rave about enjoying the food, music, and joie de vivre away from the sets.

A comprehensive list of major movies and TV shows made in Louisiana in recent years would be too long to list here but here are a few ideas for mixing some of Louisiana’s more notable filming sites with your travels throughout the state.

Gator at Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Scene: Filmed in Natchitoches, a good part of the film takes place in M’Lynn Eatenton’s (Sally Field) fictional 1830s home in the fictionally named Chinquapin Parish. It’s the site of memorable quotes such as one during the annual Christmas party when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacClain) turns to M’Lynn and quips, “M’Lynn, what’s wrong with you these days? You got a reindeer up your butt?”

Crawley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Laugh through tears (Truvy’s [Dolly Parton] “favorite emotion”) as you enjoy a weekend staying in the actual 1830s, six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath Steel Magnolia House. The bed and breakfast is where much of the movie was filmed.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Scene: Louis (Brad Pitt), an unwilling vampire, decides he’s had enough of his so-called life and takes a torch to his sprawling manor setting the curtains ablaze which ticks off the aristocratic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) who was rather fond of the place.

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Louis’ homeplace was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Take a tour and see the restored antebellum Greek Revival mansion—sans flames—plus spots where the graveyard scenes were filmed. Decide for yourself if it’s a fitting estate for a vampire.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Scene: On a break from their iconic, cross-country road trip, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) along with a couple of bleary-eyed prostitutes, drop acid in an ancient cemetery prompting them to get dazed, philosophical, and naked.  

Above-ground cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Don’t drop acid or get naked but do get philosophical while wandering around the famous, above-ground St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans where the scene took place. Specifically, seek out the massive, queen-like sculpture set into the “Italia” gravesite where, like Wyatt, you can imagine yourself talking to dead relatives. Several tour companies offer cemetery tours.

Louisiana sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Scene: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) wakes up his father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), drives him out to a lake, and then carries him on his shoulders to the pier where he sets him on a chair and they watch the sunrise. During the three-minute scene, a beautiful song, Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain, is playing in the background.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Start early and park yourself on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans where the song takes its name. Watch a real sunrise while listening to the music and chances are you’ll end up teary-eyed at the beauty of both. Afterward, take a ride by the Nolan House at 2707 Coliseum Street, a spectacular Garden District mansion where the bulk of the film took place.

Related: ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Along the Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Duck Dynasty (2012-2017)

Scene: The Robertson boys deck themselves out with camo gear, shotguns, and their famous, handmade duck calls, then cruise on an airboat through the North Louisiana marsh, gather ’round the duck blind, and proceed to gleefully blast down one quacker after another.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: If that sounds like your idea of happiness then order a few of the Robertsons’ custom duck calls from the Duck Commander company website and head to one of the prime duck hunting areas in North America: Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. On the Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish, it’s where you can fire away at gadwalls, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks, and white-fronted geese. 

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tremé (2010-2013)

Scene: This Emmy Award-winning HBO drama (2010-2013) is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Co-created by David Simon—best known for blockbuster television drama The Wire—Wendell Pierce (a native New Orleanian) and a cast of costars work on rebuilding their lives in the wake of one of the nation’s most significant natural disasters. The series name refers to a New Orleans neighborhood that is the historical heart of the city’s African American community through Tremé was filmed throughout the Crescent City.

Experience: All over New Orleans including numerous bars and restaurants (Vaughn’s Lounge, Liuzza’s By the Track), the French Quarter, and historical shotgun-style homes central to New Orleans’ architectural distinctiveness.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swamp People (2010–present)

Scene: This reality show based in south Louisiana focuses on the lives of alligator hunters in the Atchafalaya Basin swamps and depicts life (and wildlife) in the bayous. At times intense—alligator hunting is not for the squeamish, after all—Swamp People is a testimony to the resilience of the men and women who call the region home. 

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Throughout rural central and south Louisiana. Pierre Part, a village a few miles due south of Baton Rouge, is among the primary filming locations. Others include Houma, Hammond, Bayou Sorrel, Thibodaux, and Zwolle. An airboat swamp tour with RJ Molinere, star of Swamp People, is about as close as you can get to the real thing you see on the show.

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

NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021)

Scene: A spinoff of the enormously successful CBS network show, NCIS. NCIS: New Orleans stars Scott Bakula as Special Agent Dwayne Pride whose investigations into crimes involving military personnel have made for captivating, edge-of-your-seat viewing since it premiered in 2014. While NCIS: New Orleans shows off the talent of Golden Globe winner Bakula and an extensive roster of actors, the real star may be New Orleans itself with each episode showcasing the city’s unique architecture and unconventional characters.

Experience: Iconic locations throughout New Orleans. Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong Park, Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, Plaza Tower, and New Orleans Motorsports Park (in Avondale) make appearances.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More stops along the Louisiana Film Trail

Louisiana’s antebellum plantations on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge remain a magnet for blockbuster films. In recent years, 12 Years a Slave was filmed at Felicity Plantation. For the classics enthusiast, the tours at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens explain the mansion’s role in making Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Plantations along the Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Baton Rouge, visit Louisiana’s State Capitol to see where All the King’s Men, a story based on Huey P. Long, was filmed. Just a few blocks away sits the USS KIDD, a WWII-era battleship where Tom Hanks’ Greyhound was filmed.

Read Next: 6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes

It’s going to be out of this world!

Was it an alien encounter, a weather balloon, or a flying saucer? The event known as the Roswell Incident quickly swept through the nation in 1947. The “UFO Capital of the World” is known internationally by UFO enthusiasts and deniers alike!

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beware, Earthlings, soon you will be abducted and dropped into a land full of alien fun. If you love UFOs, Sci-Fi, and all things extraterrestrial, the Roswell UFO Festival this summer is the place to be. This is the only RV road trip that will take you to outer space!

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roswell UFO Festival is a 3-day event happening on July 1-3, 2022. This fest will be filled with tons of music, photo ops, and activities (most of them free) for everyone. This destination Festival will include plenty of immersive experiences, live music, local food, out-of-this-world photo ops as well as other family-friendly events happening all over the city.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a great place to visit if you plan to go on a road trip with family or friends this July. If you plan to stay for the three days, make camping reservations early since the fest is quite popular.

The festival will have guest speakers, space-loving authors, live entertainment, a costume contest, a light parade, a reenactment tour, and even the cutest pet costume contest (Saturday, 10 am), and parade. Family-friendly activities will also be part of the schedule. You will be learning how to create your very own alien hat and other fun crafts.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the adorable ET to the vast alien universe of Star Wars, American Culture loves all things alien. But the city of Roswell plays an essential part in our fascination with UFO appearances beyond movies. 

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Roswell has been at the heart of the UFO scene since July 1947 when the military announced it had found the remains of a crashed UFO in the desert nearby.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seventy-five years ago, a rancher named W.W. Mack Brazel checked his sheep after a thunderstorm and found debris made of a strange metal scattered in many directions. He noticed a shallow trench cut into the desert floor. As the story goes, Mac Brazel drove his rusty pickup to the county seat of Roswell to inform authorities that something had crashed and scattered metallic debris across his ranch land.

Figuring it must have come from the nearby Army airfield, officers accompanied him back to the ranch and what they witnessed in the desert has, in the decades since, mushroomed to become the most widely publicized event in UFO lore.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Days after something shiny crashed in the New Mexico desert, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release that said the military had recovered the remains of a “flying disc.” Although quickly discounted as erroneous, the announcement laid the groundwork for one of the most enduring UFO stories of all time. There had been 16 reported unidentified flying object sightings reported that year during the several months preceding what would be known as the Roswell Incident.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So—what is the truth? Well, plan to attend the Roswell UFO Festival and judge for yourself. Roswell has become the epitome of everything alien and is even called the “UFO Capital of the World.” The city is home to a UFO Museum and a planetarium that you can visit during the festival.

Related: What Really Happened at Roswell?

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Will Rogers, Roswell was the prettiest little town in the west. Money magazine has called it one of the 10 most peaceful places to retire. Hugh Bayless, in his book, The Best Towns in America, listed Roswell as one of the 50 most desirable communities in which to live.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The festival is a loved tradition in the city of Roswell, so you’ll see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the festivities. Many will be wearing costumes, hats, makeup, matching outfits with their pets, or creating their own UFO vehicles for the parades. 

Both UFO enthusiasts and skeptics alike are welcome to join the fun. 

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the activities, parades, movie screenings, panels, and contests, you will also be able to shop alien and UFO unique souvenirs and presents and even have some awesome thematic food and drinks. 

During the UFO Festival you will love the entire festivity in Roswell. But what to do if you arrive a week before or stay a few days after the festival?

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to visit the world-famous UFO Museum and Research Center, Bottomless Lakes State Park, Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (free admission), Roswell Museum and Art Center (free admission), Walker Aviation Museum (free admission), Spring River Zoo (free admission), all of which are located in Roswell.

Related: Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for more fun near Roswell? You can plan a day trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park or enjoy gaming at the Casinos and Ruidoso Downs race track in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Visit Lincoln and see where Billy the Kid made his last escape. There are countless sightseeing places you can explore in a day.

If you are ready to experience tons of alien fun, let this UFO festival “abduct” you this summer. You won’t regret it.  

Worth Pondering…

Well, at least my mom knows what species I am.

Discover the National Forests during Great Outdoors Month

America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered

During this Great Outdoors Month, try to imagine you inherited millions of acres of forest and grasslands teeming with wild animals, brilliant wildflowers, deep blue lakes, rushing rivers, unspoiled beaches, and majestic mountains and all within a few hours’ drive. You would suddenly feel like the luckiest person on Earth.

Lassen National Forest, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You are. With nearly 200 million acres of forest and grasslands, the USDA Forest Service lands are available for all to use. And these forest lands are open for all to recreate 365 days of the year—unless a natural disaster or maintenance issues force a closure. So, get outdoors and enjoy those natural landscapes this summer—or anytime, for that matter.

Sequoia National Forest, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting for you to discover. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve. And remember, it’s all yours to discover.

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

Coronado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The available activities are as big as your imagination and the national forests. Camping, hiking, biking, birding, boating, fishing, rock climbing, and swimming are good starting points. For instance, in California, just outside of the massive metropolis of Los Angeles County, lies the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest. For the 10 million-plus people who live in the LA area, this forest is a treasure trove of fun, challenging, and exciting outdoor activities, and, yes, it’s big enough for all to share.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you think the national forests are only for trees, think again. Just north of Tucson in the southern portion of Arizona’s ponderosa pine-dotted Coronado National Forest, you’ll find an easy-to-access recreation area called Sabino Canyon. In this vibrant desert landscape, you’ll see towering saguaro cacti—some as impressive as the great conifers of the forests. Visitors walk, jog, hike, do wildlife viewing, photography, and so much more.

The Coronado National Forest spans sixteen scattered mountain ranges or “sky islands” rising dramatically from the desert floor supporting plant communities as biologically diverse as those encountered on a trip from Mexico to Canada.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a popular destination for wildlife watchers and nature lovers who come to see the more than 240 species of birds (including more than a dozen species of hummingbirds) that live in its nurturing environment.

Related: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Forests in America

Fishlake National Forest, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling northeast are the great Colorado Rocky Mountains where 14,000-foot high peaks are not uncommon. Seriously, there are 53 of them! Just outside the city of Colorado Springs is Pikes Peaks. It is one of the most well-known of the great 14,000-footers. Keep in mind that the most experienced hikers consider climbing Pikes Peak a challenge so just walking around the foothills isn’t a bad idea for the less seasoned hikers among us.

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After you cross the Continental Divide, the mountains begin to melt away—a process that has taken millions of years—as you enter the Great Plains. Here sweeping grasslands like those on Colorado’s nearby Comanche National Grasslands and South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grasslands near Badlands National Park invite visitors to hike pleasant trails and see the wildflowers and tall grasses that once stretched from Colorado to the Mississippi River.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming consist of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black.” Seen from a distance, these pine-covered hills rising several thousand feet above the surrounding prairie appear black.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid the splendid scenery of the Black Hills, National Forest is 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, 32 picnic areas, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, over 13,426 acres of wilderness, and 353 miles of trails, and much more. Every location in the Black Hills is a special place but there are hidden gems around every corner.  

Related: On Camping and Spending Time in Nature

Once you cross the Mississippi River, the mountains begin to rise again but these mountains, far older than the Rockies, are literally part of the oldest lands on earth. In fact, the Appalachian Mountains were once right up there in height with Mount Everest.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now the tallest mountains in the eastern United States rarely break 6,000 feet but the views they offer are spectacular. Check out the George Washington and Jefferson Forest straddling Virginia and West Virginia overlooking the serene Shenandoah Valley, the bare granite summits of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, or the breathtaking mountain views of North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of just two national forests in New England, the White Mountain National Forest is a year-round adventure destination. Crowned by the highest peaks in the region—the Presidential Range—the national forest includes the largest alpine zone in the Eastern U.S. For hikers, more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails wind through hardwood and conifer forests offering access to secluded waterfalls, glassy ponds, and granite peaks.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Nantahala National Forest lies in the mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina. The largest of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Nantahala encompasses 531,148 acres with elevations ranging from 5,800 feet at Lone Bald to 1,200 feet along the Hiwassee River. The Forest is divided into three Districts, Cheoah in Robbinsville, Tusquitee in Murphy, and the Nantahala in Franklin. All district names come from the Cherokee language. “Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noonday sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge where the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday.

Read Next: The Reason for Which You Wake up in the Morning

With so much public land available from coast to coast, no matter where you are you can find opportunities to recreate in the Great Outdoors!  

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

The annual party takes place from June 18 to June 25

Imagine being able to see billions of stars in the Milky Way just with your naked eye from your own backyard. It was once a common reality until artificial lights from our growing cities started encroaching upon the night sky. Today to see the Milky Way and most constellations other than, say, the Big Dipper you have to trek far, far away from humanity. The darker the sky, the better!

The ultimate stargazing spots are fittingly called Dark Sky Places: designated pockets where light pollution is at a minimum and the stars are out in all their glory. And the keepers of those Dark Sky Places are the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What began in 1988 as a grassroots movement among astronomers in Tucson is now international with 170 certified Dark Sky Places in 21 countries. Its mission is to protect natural landscapes, educate, and counteract the harmful effects of excessive light pollution linked to everything from insomnia to obesity to cancer. “It messes with our circadian rhythms,” says Ryan Parker, Chair of the Colorado chapter of the IDA. “Our body naturally needs to sleep and rest and rebuild. And when we don’t allow that to happen, it interferes with our natural homeostasis.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016. Many of the best protected night skies in the country are found within national park boundaries.

Grand Canyon joined eleven other national park sites certified by IDA. Including Grand Canyon, eight of the national park sites with IDA Dark Sky Park status are located on the Colorado Plateau. The NPS especially focuses on sustainable outdoor lighting because it combines technology, design, and practice in a way that allows parks to increase energy efficiency and enhance visitor experiences.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between its Dark Sky status and its ease of accessibility, the Grand Canyon attracts the astronomically inclined. There’s an annual Grand Canyon Star Party held in June and the Desert View Watchtower is a popular spot for capturing the Milky Way with astrophotography.

For over 30 years, the Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Conservancy have hosted a week-long June stargazing party with free entrance to the park and a multi-day program. And while during the COVID-19 pandemic the annual event went viral, the in-real-life celebration runs between June 18 and June 25 this year. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the event kicks off Saturday after sunset. So, 9 p.m. is reportedly the best time for viewing and visitors are encouraged to bring a red flashlight rather than a white one as that can interfere with the viewing.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night,” the NPS wrote on its website. “It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the South Rim, the seven-day event kicks off with a Mars Perseverance presentation on June 18 where visitors can learn about the Red Planet rover from the person who built it followed by presentations throughout the week on everything from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to learning how astronauts trained in northern Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s.

Each evening, the NPS will also host a telescope viewing behind the Grand Canyon Visitor Center while park rangers will offer constellation tours. Night sky photography workshops will also be available.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the North Rim, an astronomy-related evening program will be offered at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of the Grand Canyon Lodge and constellation talks will also be given throughout the night. During the day, solar telescopes will also be set up at the lodge.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to Know about the 2022 Star Party

  • Attend this free, open-to-the-general public, event. The park entrance fee ($35/vehicle) is valid on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.
  • The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 p.m. and many telescopes come down after 11 p.m.; however, on nights with clear and calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.
  • Campground or lodging reservations are recommended.
  • Dress warmly. Temperatures drop quickly after sunset—even during summer months.
  • View an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies by night and perhaps the Sun or Venus by day.
  • Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Rim Star Party 2022

  • Events include an outdoor evening program nightly just outside Grand Canyon Visitor Center at 8 p.m. followed by telescope viewing in the large lot behind the Visitor Center. To attend the evening programs arrive before 8 p.m. to be sure of getting a good view of the screen or arrive after dark and head straight to the telescope lot.
  • Park rangers offer constellation tours at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. The slide show, constellation tours, and at least one telescope are wheelchair accessible. The closest accessible parking is in lot 4. Lots 1 through 3 offer additional parking. During the Star Party, the Village Route (blue) shuttle bus runs every half-hour until 11 p.m. sharp.
  • The South Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association. Amateur astronomers from across the country volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Rim Star Party 2022

  • Telescopes are set up on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge every evening. An astronomy-related evening program will be presented at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Grand Canyon Lodge. Check park bulletin boards for the evening program schedule. Constellation talks are also given, throughout the evening.
  • By day, solar telescopes are set up at the lodge, the Visitor Center, and the general store (by the campground.)
  • The North Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona.

Park Alerts in Effect

  • Alert 1, Severity danger, Inner Canyon High Temp of 100 °F (38 °C) Excessive Heat Warning – Saturday, June 18, 2022; hiking into Grand Canyon is not advised this week. If you do, don’t hike between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Bring water and electrolytes, food and salty snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, a water spray bottle, loose/protective Clothing, wide-brimmed hat.
  • Alert 2, Severity danger, Grand Canyon National Park is in STAGE 2 FIRE RESTRICTIONS. Campfires are prohibited. Wood burning and charcoal fires including campfires and warming fires are prohibited.

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene

4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination

California, Oregon, and Washington State are well-known for their variety of wines and wineries. Now follow the vine north and you’ll find a new world of wine just across the border in British Columbia’s wine country.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is believed that the very first vineyard planted in the southern Okanagan region of British Columbia was the Oblate Mission in Kelowna in 1859 but its only purpose was for preparing sacramental wine for the Catholic Church. Other vineyards began popping up but many were uprooted during prohibition.

It wasn’t until 1932 that Calona Wines became the first commercial winery in British Columbia. It took much longer for the idea of producing quality wine in the Okanagan to catch on.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After dabbling for decades in easy-to-grow hybrids and labrusca (native American varieties), the Okanagan wine industry got its real launch in 1988. In a move designed to counter the North American Free Trade Agreement’s negative effect on the Canadian wine industry, the government began paying growers to pull out labrusca and hybrid vines and replant them with the more desirable European (Vitis vinifera) grape varieties.

Today, over 180 wineries are operating in the Valley. From large estate wineries to small mom-and-pop shops, wine is available everywhere you turn. For wine lovers, the Okanagan should most definitely make your vino bucket list.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit the Okanagan is up for debate. The summer is by far the most popular as everything is in full swing and the vineyards are green and lush. But it is also the busiest, so planning is important. Oh, and it’s hot! (The Okanagan is Canada’s only desert area, after all.) The crowds are much smaller during the spring and fall, but tasting room hours are more limited. However, you’ll have a better chance of meeting a winemaker during these times, as well.

Related Article: The Okanagan Valley: A Special Place

Everyone has their favorite winery for various reasons but I have detailed four that offer my favorite experiences. Visit each of the wineries’ websites for the most up-to-date information and reserve your tasting experience online. Some will waive the tasting fees with the purchase of wine.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills Estate Winery

Location: 4318 Black Sage Road, Oliver

Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, Malbec

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: 2019 Tempranillo, 2020 Chardonnay, 2020 Roussanne, 2020 Alibi (blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), 2021 Rosé, 2019 Ipso Facto (blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon), 2020 Viognier, 2019 Per Se (base of Cabernet Franc,), 2018 Syrah, 2018 Addendum, 2020 Bona Fide, 2020 Nota Bene (signature wine; available at Release Party, June 18, 2022, 5-9 pm)

Master of Wine: Ross Wise

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Black Hills Estate Winery vineyards have some of the most favorable grape growing conditions in the country resulting in exceptional terroir. Located on Black Sage Bench, Black Hills’ Wine Experience Centre offers wine tastings year-round. The modern facility offers tastings on the dining balcony around their water feature and under a few covered gazebos.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: The Portfolio Wine Flight ($20) offers an array of the winery’s current releases. It is a combination of red and white wines. The Red Wine Flight ($30) showcases Black Hills’ most popular red wines including the rare Carmenere wine as well as new releases.

Related Article: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

During the summer months the tastings get better as the Tapas Kitchen is open providing bites that pair nicely with the 2 oz. samples.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nk’Mip Cellars

Location: 1400 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos

Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: Nk’Mip wines available in 3 tiers: Winemaker Tier: 2020 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Blanc, 2021 Dreamcatcher, 2020 Rosé, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Talon; Qwam Qwmt (Premium Tier): 2019 Chardonnay, 2020 Riesling, 2020 Riesling Ice Wine, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 Syrah, 2019 Pinot Noir; Mer’r’iym (Premium Blends): 2020 White Mer’r’iym, 2019 Mer’r’iym

Estate Winemaker: Justin Hall

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Overlooking the town of Osoyoos and its lake, Nk’Mip Cellars is the first Indigenous-owned and operated winery in North America. The culture and history is a part of everything they do and produce. Inside, the building is modern with a tasting bar and retail center. Outside, the patio offers spectacular views of the surrounding hills.

Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: Sample a flight of four Nk’Mip Cellars’ wines at the Main Tasting Bar. Choose from the two available wine flights: Winemaker’s Series Flight ($5) and Premium Series Flight ($15). For an enhanced wine tasting experience choose a pre-set flight of 5 wines paired with Chef’s inspired small food bites. Reservations highly recommended. The Four Food Chiefs food and wine experience is available during March and April ($50). The Patio Restaurant offers contemporary North American cuisine in a picturesque location with fresh Farm-to-Table innovations. Lunch and afternoon lounge service Fridays-Mondays, weather permitting.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Location: 537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver

Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: Tinhorn Creek wines are available under four groupings: White Wines: 2019 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Gris, 2021 Gewürztraminer; Red Wines: 2020 Pinot Noir, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Cabernet Franc; Reserve Wines: 2021 Reserve Rosé, 2019 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2018 Oldfield Reserve Merlot; Library Wines: 2008 Merlot, 2009 Merlot Merlot, 2010 Merlot, 2006 Oldfield Series Merlot, 2014 Oldfield Reserve Merlot

Related Article: The Okanagan has What it Takes to Rival Napa

Head Winemaker: Leandro Nosal

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Established in 1993, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is located just south of Oliver in the famed Golden Mile Bench wine-growing district with 150 acres between two vineyards on the Black Sage and Golden Mile benches. Tinhorn Creek is a beautiful estate vineyard that offers a great visitor experience. It provides tastings and tours seven days a week. You might want to begin your day with a walk along the Golden Mile hiking trail before taking in one of the tours, tastings, or lunch at the Miradoro Restaurant.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: Bar Tasting ($8).

The Tinhorn Creek Tasting Flight ($20) is enjoyed on the outdoor patio overlooking the South Okanagan vistas. Four wines are sampled and selected by the wine ambassador.

Black Glass Tasting ($25) is led by a wine ambassador who will serve you four wine samples served in black glasses. With the help of your senses, you’ll guess what each wine varietal is. If you guess two of the four correctly, the tasting fee is waived.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stemware Tasting ($30) is a private experience where you’ll learn about the importance of varietal-specific stemware while relaxing in the Crush Club Lounge.

The Guided Tour Experience ($35) will take you on a walk through the estate property, be welcomed into the barrel cellar and then return to the tasting room for a bar tasting.

The Private Lounge Experience ($40) offers a one-hour session with one of Tinhorn’s wine ambassadors who will explain the history, what it takes to make a great wine, and the importance of the right glass to enjoy one’s wine.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Library Lounge Experience ($50) allows you to sit and be surrounded by Tinhorn’s collection of vintage library bottles while enjoying a flight of wines focusing on a particular vintage or particular wine varietal.

The Miradoro Restaurant has been named Vancouver Magazine: Gold Best Winery Restaurant six years in a row. The setting is elegant with a casual feel to it with treehouse-like spectacular views. Led by executive chef, Jeff Van Geest, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients are used with an emphasis on culinary creativity. Open for lunch and dinner.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Vineyards

Location: 877 Road 8, Oliver

Varietals: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: 2021 Pinot Gris, 2021 Pinot Blanc, 2021 Character White, 2020 Chardonnay, 2019 Old Vine Late Harvest Pinot Blanc, 2021 Ti Amo (sparkling wine), 2018 Old Vine Brut, 2020 Rosé Franc, 2021 Select Vineyards Merlot, 2020 Select Vineyards Cabernet Merlot, 2020 Character Red, 2019 Syrah, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2019 Old Vine Merlot, 2019 Old Vine Cabernet Franc, 2018 The Judge, 2018 Garland

Related Article: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

Winemaker: Mark Hopley

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Hester Creek Vineyards date back to 1968, making them among the oldest vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Hester Creek is located just south of Oliver on the Golden Mile, a sun-drenched bench that slopes down toward the valley floor. Located on the west side of the valley, it gets morning rather than afternoon sun making it one of the cooler regions in the Okanagan Valley. The soils here are fast draining alluvial soils of stony, gravelly, sandy loams.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mediterranean influenced setting offers customized tastings, scenic patios, summer barbeques, live music, farm-to-table cooking classes, six Tuscany styled villa suites, and Italian inspired dining at Terrafina at Hester Creek.

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

10 Iconic Road Trip Movies

What is it about the road trip that lends itself so well to cinema?

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet, and the asphalt is calling: road trip season is here.

It’s a mood captured countless times on the big screen over the years with road trips used as a powerful device for narrative progression. Families confined within a space for hours on end, surprise encounters, and the inherent jeopardy of traveling at speed in a metal box have all played a role in some of the most memorable movies of all time.

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is something uniquely American about the idea of hitting the open road and driving endlessly through changing landscapes, either toward the promise of something better or as an escape from real or imagined oppression. While running the gamut from liberating to terrifying, American road trip films share a common thread: through the act of driving there is the opportunity for discovery. Characters often find something new about themselves, others, or some greater principle or purpose.

I researched the history of road trip cinema and chose 10 of the most iconic films in which people drive across the U.S.

On a road trip to Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some road films reveal that running away is futile or even cowardly while others crystalize the fact that we cannot outrun the consequences of our actions even if we drive forever. At the same time, the genre reminds us that there is great potential in removing ourselves from the monotony or comfort of everyday life—that the act of leaving can be a powerful assertion of agency.

The history and diversity of American road trip films span decades and generations and encompass countless genres. From the lawlessness and violence of “Natural Born Killers” to the horror of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and even the bittersweet optimism of “Little Miss Sunshine,” road trip films reflect the politics and sense of national identity of their time and place.

Mural at Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Starring: Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide custom motorbikes

Easy Rider stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as bikers who smuggle drugs from Mexico into California, sell them and head eastward to New Orleans trying to make it in time for Mardi Gras. They stash their money near the gas tank of the “Captain America”—a custom-made motorcycle with a signature long front end—ridden by Fonda’s character. Along the way, they stop at a commune in Arizona and find trouble in New Mexico where they encounter a drunken lawyer played by Jack Nicholson who they convince to join them.

Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Produced on a mere $360,000 budget, Easy Rider is remembered as a film that captures the feeling of late-’60s counterculture complete with hallucinogenic trips, a free-love commune, and a soundtrack studded with The Band, The Byrds, and Jimi Hendrix. Its legacy is also one of subverting the mainstream Hollywood studio system. Its unprecedented commercial success—grossing $60 million globally on a small budget—as well as its indie status, stunned Hollywood executives.

Related: 11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Did you know? Only one bike from Easy Rider—the “Captain America”—is known to have survived. The other choppers were stolen before filming ended and haven’t been seen since.

Depicting life as it was in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Starring: 1953 Chevrolet 3100 and 1972 Ford Club Wagon

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre changed the horror film genre and American filmmaking more generally in profound ways. Aside from inspiring nine films in the franchise, it pioneered the slasher genre while showing surprisingly little blood and gore, relying instead on clever camera work and misdirection to suggest horrific images. Filmmakers including Ridley Scott, Wes Craven, and Guillermo del Toro count the film amongst their favorites. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” takes aspects of the traditional road trip film beginning with the group of idealistic young people piled into a car and quickly turning the viewer’s expectations into a nightmare.

Fuel stop from the past in Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The film follows a group of friends who take a road trip through rural Texas to visit a family member’s gravesite but are forced to stop when their car runs out of gas. Early signs of danger include a violent encounter with a hitchhiker and when they stop at a quiet gas station only to find out the pumps are empty. Terror builds when they come across Leatherface, the now-legendary chainsaw-wielding villain who wears a mask made of human skin.

Did you know? The film is an allegory for the Vietnam War.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Starring: Wagon Queen Family Truckster (based on a 1979 Ford Country Squire)

Road comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation follows the Griswold family led by patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) as they embark on a road trip from Chicago to a southern California amusement park. The trip, a bid to spend more time together as a family and enjoy a picturesque vacation quickly goes awry. Driving a large, ugly station wagon, the family experiences countless misadventures along the way.

An amusement park somewhere in America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The station wagon used in the film, known as the Wagon Queen Family Truckster was specifically designed as a parody of 1970s station wagons complete with faux-wood paneling and a “metallic pea”-colored paint job. Five identical cars were produced for the film due to the extent of the mishaps experienced by the family.

Related: The Best Road Trip Songs

Did you know? The film’s fictional Family Truckster was designed by the American custom car builder George Harris who’s perhaps best known for making the Batmobile used in the Batman live-action TV series.

Traveling the roads of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paris, Texas (1984)

Starring: 1958 Ford Ranchero

After emerging from the Texas desert unable to speak or explain where he came from, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is rescued by a German doctor. The doctor contacts Travis’ estranged brother (Dean Stockwell) who then drives from L.A. to pick him up. When they return to California, Travis meets his young son who has been adopted by his brother and they decide to embark on a journey to find his son’s mother.

A West Texas sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling from southern California to Houston in a classic blue and white ’58 Ford Ranchero, the two reconcile. Passing through desert landscapes, past old road motels and neon signs, the aesthetics of “Paris, Texas” are part-Western, part Edward Hopper Americana.

Did you know? The moving character study was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard,

A scenic byway in Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Man (1988)

Starring: 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible

Rain Man tells the story of Charlie (Tom Cruise), a young hustler who discovers he has a brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) after his father dies and leaves Raymond his lucrative estate. Charlie travels to Ohio and finds that Raymond is an autistic savant who has been institutionalized. In an attempt to gain control of the money from their father’s estate, Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the institution. The two embark on a road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles where Charlie plans to fight for custody of his brother in their father’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible.

The film’s enduring legacy is complicated: While it was groundbreaking for its representation of a character with autism some have called its portrayal of autism spectrum disorder reductive or stereotypical.

Did you know? The owner of the Buick Roadmaster used in Rain Man is the film’s director, Barry Levinson.

Wigwam Motel, Halbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Starring: 1966 Ford Thunderbird

Thelma & Louise stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as two best friends who depart their unsatisfying home lives in Arkansas for a weekend away only to become fugitives on the run from the law. The two head in the direction of Mexico in Louise’s 1966 blue Ford Thunderbird convertible hoping to cross the border and evade capture by the FBI. Louise insists they avoid driving through Texas so they take a meandering route west traveling through New Mexico and the Grand Canyon.

Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thelma & Louise remains a landmark film in the feminist cinema for its politics, exploration of gendered violence, centering on a best-friend relationship, and for subverting several genres: the Western, the road film, the buddy film, and the crime drama. Davis and Sarandon both received Best Actress Oscar nominations for their co-starring roles.

Did you know? Thelma and Louise isn’t the only famous film to feature a fourth-generation Ford Thunderbird convertible: a yellow example also appeared in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Shoot-out in Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Starring: 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible

Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as a murderous married couple, Natural Born Killers grapples with the way mass violence and its perpetrators are given celebrity status by the media.

The film follows the couple as they go on a multi-state killing spree traveling from New Mexico to Arizona and Nevada, all the while attracting media attention that turns them into macabre cult heroes. Featuring a red 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible, the film subverts the often family-friendly conventions of the road trip movie while incorporating images of Western landscapes to remind viewers it is a particularly American story. The film sparked controversy over its gratuitous violence and director Oliver Stone was sued when the film allegedly inspired copycat crimes (the suit was later dismissed).

Did you know? According to Tom Sizemore, he got the part of Detective Jack Scagnetti after writing a monologue for the character which he made Oliver Stone listen to in the parking lot of a bar. 

The Straight Story (1999)

Starring: 1964 John Deere 110 lawnmower

Based on a true story, The Straight Story follows Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly Iowa man who decides to visit his estranged brother after he has a stroke. Unable to drive, Alvin hitches a trailer to his lawnmower and embarks on a journey to Wisconsin. Only able to travel at five miles per hour, the journey takes several weeks and involves a series of mishaps and connections made with other long-term travelers and passersby.

The Straight Story was filmed along the actual route that the real Alvin Straight took on his original journey. Farnsworth who died by suicide one year after the film’s release had been suffering from cancer that left his legs partially paralyzed during the filming of The Straight Story. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role.

Related: Ultimate Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way Across America

Did you know? As crazy as it sounds, The Straight Story is based on a true story. In 1996, the real-life Alvin Straight really did drive his ride-on mower for 240-mile trip to visit his unwell brother.

Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sideways (2004)

Starring: 1987 Saab Turbo convertible

Sideways stars Paul Giamatti as Miles, an unsuccessful writer who brings his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip to California wine country as a final adventure before Jack gets married. Traveling up the coast of California in a bright red ’87 Saab Turbo convertible, the two men experience a range of mishaps leading up to Jack’s wedding ceremony.

Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The film which centers largely around Miles’ obsession with wine (particularly pinot noir) has been credited with influencing the California wine industry. As of 2017, production of California pinot noir wine had increased by 170 percent since the film’s release—a trend that winemakers labeled “the Sideways Effect.”

Did you know? The reason for the film’s title is never explained in the film itself but it is made quite clear in the novel on which the film is based as the two main characters use the term “sideways” to mean “intoxicated.”

Wigwam Motel, Halbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Starring: 1978 Volkswagen Type 2 camper van

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin as members of a dysfunctional family, Little Miss Sunshine tells the story of Olive (Abigail Breslin), a young girl and aspiring beauty queen trying to get to a beauty pageant to compete.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Based in New Mexico, her large family—including her parents, grandfather, uncle, and half-brother—travels 800 miles in a yellow VW bus to reach southern California for the competition that is just two days away. Along the way, issues with the bus as well as personal trials and misadventures, bring the family together in unexpected ways. Breslin earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at just age 10.

Related: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Did you know? Little Miss Sunshine’s screenplay writer Michael Arndt based the issues affecting the Volkswagen on the unreliability of a camper van from a real-life childhood road trip of his own.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase, Tamed

Ghost Wright: On the Future of AI

The Ghost in the machine

Meet Ghost Wright, my new writer. His first article appears below. But before I go on, let me be honest with you (as I always am). Even though Ghost Wright is a fairly capable writer (more on this later), I detest him. I loathe him. Okay, I mean it: I detest and loath Ghost Writer.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s why: Ghost Writer wants to make me and all my writer friends, go the way of the dinosaur. He wants to put us out of business. And he is no friend of yours, either, which you may figure out as you read on.

Ghost Wright is, indeed, a writer (of sorts). He (or “she” or “it”—pick one) writes articles on any subject a writer or publisher requests for a dollar or two (I used the free version) each using artificial intelligence (AI)—10 times faster than a human, maybe 20 times faster. For example, for a story about how to back up an RV, I can write it myself, or “Ghost Wright” can do it in a few minutes for a fraction of the time required to research the topic and write the first draft followed by several revisions.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright only exists in cyberspace. At this very moment, I bet he is writing thousands of articles for publishers, bloggers, advertising agencies, and “content creators”—anyone who needs editorial or advertising copy. I call him Ghost Wright because he/she/it is a ghostwriter on steroids. And, I’ll tell you a little secret. When starting down this AI road, the first task I assigned to my still unnamed “ghost writer” was best name for an AI writing tool using a “friendly tone”. The Blog Post Wizard generated close to a dozen friendly names including Publisho, Scribbly, Write Out Loud, Ghost Write, and Blog Fast. As I kept coming back to Ghost Write the bells chimed and the angels sang sounds of praise. Returning to Earth, Ghost Write seemed the perfect name for my phantom writer. But he doesn’t really have a name because he does not exist in real life.

A ghost-like setting? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright at work

To give you an idea of Ghost Wright’s skills, I asked him to write an article with this headline: “Learn how America’s national parks got their names”. Below is Ghost Wright’s lead paragraph exactly as he “wrote” it in minute or two.

“National parks in the United States were created by acts of Congress and named by local people. These names usually reflect the natural characteristics of an area such as a river, mountain range, or gorge. For example, Zion National Park was named after the nearby Zion Canyon in Utah.”

Following this lead paragraph, Ghost Write selected a number of national parks and spit out the origins of each.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The park’s namesake, Ebenezer Bryce, was an early settler in southern Utah who had a large influence on the area’s development. He and his many descendants helped found natural landmarks like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park (which was also named for one of Bryce’s grandchildren). Since its inception in 1923, this park has been visited by millions of tourists every year; it’s still a popular tourist destination today!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

”Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona and established in 1919, is the fifth-largest national park in the United States. Stretching 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, it contains some of the most iconic landscapes on Earth. The Grand Canyon has been around for 4 billion years but only received its official name after being officially recognized as a national park in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson.

The name “Grand Canyon” was given by John Wesley Powell during his second expedition down the Colorado River through what is now known as Marble Canyon on August 27th, 1869 (and yes, he named it before he even knew how big it was). He described it as being “one mile deep”

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

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The name of the national park comes from the mist that hangs over the mountains. The mist is caused by cold air moving over warm air, a phenomenon known as adiabatic cooling. In this case, it happens when humid air from the Gulf of Mexico moves northward into a region where temperatures are colder than average. The warm and cool air mix together to form clouds which produce fog or mist when they reach ground level.

This happens often in Great Smoky Mountains National Park because there’s plenty of cold weather surrounding it: In wintertime, temperatures can drop below freezing even on sunny days; whereas during summertime they may hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This park is named for the petrified wood that can be found there. Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, it’s a great place to go hiking or camping. The park also offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, including bighorn sheep and black bears.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is located in California, a state that’s known for having some of the biggest trees in the country.

The park was named after the Sequoia tree and the Kings River. In fact, it was established only two years after Yellowstone National Park (which you may have heard of before), making it one of America’s first national parks!

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot has changed since the park was established in 1890: now there are over 400 units across America! But these two remain special because they’re home to some truly massive trees like General Sherman—which is more than 1,000 years old!”

The facts and specifics produced by the current generation of AI models including Ghost Write are not checked or verified. While it may be okay sometimes, at other times it can be absolutely wrong or so wishy-washy you can’t figure out what he’s saying.

Future generations may integrate fact checking but it will be awhile for commercial AI to incorporate this. So every AI-produced piece of writing has to have every fact and statement checked for accuracy, relevance, and context.

Ghost Write is a writing assistant and not a fact-checker. I still need to go through and correct the truthfulness of Ghost Write produced content.

Fact checking of the above article generated by Ghost Write uncovered numerous inconsistencies, incomplete information, and errors.

Several examples follow:

There is no evidence that Zion National Park was named by one of Ebenezer Bryce’s grandchildren. Zion was named by Mormon pioneer, Isaac Behunin in 1863. He thought it so peaceful that he named it Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Since its inception in 1923” is a misleading statement and only partially correct. In fact, Bryce Canyon became a national monument on June 8, 1923 and on February 25, 1928 Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

Grand Canyon is NOT the fifth-largest national park; it is the eleventh-largest at 3,021 square miles.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many species of wildlife can be viewed in Petrified Forest National Park but don’t expect to see either big horn sheep or black bears. Some of the many species of animals found in the park include 16 varieties of lizards and snakes, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit, bobcat, mule deer, and 258 bird species.

General Sherman tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base, Sherman Tree is considerably older than 1,000 years. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated to be around 2,200 to 2,700 years old.

NOTE: This article was NOT written by a real live person. It was 100 percent written using artificial intelligence by a fictional writer I call Ghost Write. A human “content creator” with minimum writing skills and virtually no knowledge of the subject could turn out articles like this all day long, good enough for search engines to interpret as real. Alas, these “content creators” are doing it 24/7 with one purpose: to attract visitors to a website or blog to earn money. I decided from the get-go not to monetize rvingwithrex.com.

RVs on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may have seen their work. In articles about RVing, you may notice that something seems wrong. The “writer” uses an RVing term improperly or offers advice that you know is wrong or at least written awkwardly, not like a knowledgeable RVer would write it.

And, to a website publisher’s or blogger’s joy, the articles written using such artificial intelligence are done in a way that pleases Google, so they stand a good chance of ranking high in search results.

An RV traveling on Newfound Gap Road, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My articles at rvingwithrex.com, on the other hand, are thoroughly researched and written for RVers. They may be rated lower because I do not play the game “SEO first, quality of content second.” SEO = Search Engine Optimization, i.e., more traffic to a website or web page from search engines.

I have posted it here to illustrate how easy it is to populate a website or blog with relevant content that attracts readers but generally offers only mediocre advice and information.

Ghost Writers? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So guess what you get when you search a particular subject written by artificial intelligence? You get low quality and often incorrect information.

Again, the above article was written in three minutes using artificial intelligence, not by a human. Would you have known if you read it elsewhere without any notice that it was the product of an algorithm? To read a real article on how national parks got their names, click here.

Okay, now the good news: Ghost Write will NOT write for rvingwithrex.com! Ghost Write will NOT run me outta Dodge! Be assured that all content on this site is researched for accuracy and written by the author.

Worth Pondering…

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Okanagan has What it Takes to Rival Napa

Wine lover? Consider visiting the Okanagan in Western Canada instead of California’s Napa Valley.

Napa Valley conjures up images of grand hillside chateaus, opulent tasting rooms, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, and perhaps a little celebrity spotting, all factors that have contributed to its anointing as America’s most celebrated wine region.

The Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plucky Napa pinned its place on the global wine map by beating French wines in blind tastings at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. To say this was unexpected is an understatement and it proved to be a turning point in California’s wine industry.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The number of wineries in the Napa Valley increased from a few dozen in the 1970s to approximately 475 today—good news not just for the wine industry but also for the state’s tourism industry. Napa became a major attraction, creating a market that supports some of the country’s poshest restaurants and hotels—the French Laundry and Auberge du Soleil to name two—and, in turn, crowds, particularly evident in late summer and fall. There are still workarounds: You can avoid weekends or head for wineries off the jam-packed main road. Or you could go north to Canada instead.

Related Article: Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

Okanagan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is a roughly 155-mile-long valley that stretches from Osoyoos on the Canadian border with Washington State to roughly Vernon, British Columbia.

It’s located approximately 240-miles east of Vancouver, BC, between the 49th and 50th parallel. That puts it on the same latitude as Champagne in France and the Rheingau in Germany.

Skaha Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region has a continental climate, but its extremes are moderated by the presence of a series of deep, interconnected lakes—Okanagan Lake, Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake, and Osoyoos Lake.

This is a largely desert region that averages less than 12 inches of rainfall a year. The valley gets progressively drier from north to south with roughly 16 inches of rain at its northern end around Kelowna to less than 10 inches a year around Osoyoos.

Vaseaux Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Canada’s sunniest areas, the fertile basin has long been known as the country’s fruit basket. If you visit in summer, you can stop at roadside stands to fill up on just-picked apples, cherries, apricots, and peaches. Cycling or hiking the Kettle Valley Rail Trail which is part of the province’s longest trail network is a popular pursuit as is skiing the deep powder at Big White Ski Resort and boating on Okanagan Lake. But today, the Okanagan is better known for its wine.

Osoyoos Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its northern latitude also means that the region’s vineyards experience more daylight during the summer growing period—roughly 14 hours of direct sunlight. Compared to Napa Valley, for example, the Okanagan receives about two hours more sunlight a day and has markedly hotter temperatures.

Related Article: Planning a Wine Country Road Trip

The northern latitude, however, also means that the onset of cool autumn weather can often come quickly reducing the amount of hang time that grapes can receive.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The steeply-sided slopes and surface geography create a range of aspects and produce varied microclimates across the valley. The resulting wines vary from Mosel-style Rieslings to concentrated Bordeaux-inspired red blends.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The result is powerful, concentrated wines that have high alcohol levels but also offer remarkable fruit concentration and a smooth velvety texture while avoiding the jammy character typical of warm climate Pinot Noir. Many wines also have faint vegetal notes reminiscent of Burgundian Pinot Noir, a characteristic that is usually lacking in Pinot Noir wines from the Northwest.

Unlike Napa, few of the Okanagan’s 186 wineries export their wines: Around 90 percent of British Columbian wine is sold within the province. So if you want to drink Okanagan wine, you’ll probably have to go there and the experience the personal touch that makes it worth the trip.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a younger wine destination, the Okanagan also still offers a wallet-friendly experience. Tasting fees are typically less than $10 (compared with $58 in Napa) and are often, though not always, waived with a purchase of a bottle. It’s easy to hit up multiple wineries in a day by following a wine trail or downloading the Wines of BC Explorer app.

Although it’s about 155 miles long, the Okanagan is surprisingly diverse, climate-wise. In the Lake Country subregion the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyards, was established in 1932. Wineries here are known for such varietals as Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir. At one of the best, Quails’ Gate, you can visit the lakeside tasting room, have a wine-paired meal at Old Vines Restaurant, and sleep it all off at the adjoining guesthouse.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the valley’s southernmost tip which is surrounded by a shrub-steppe semidesert and is one of Canada’s hottest spots, conditions are ideal for reds such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Nk’Mip Cellars near Osoyoos Lake is North America’s first Indigenous-owned and operated winery. Next door, in the Spirit Ridge Resort, the Bear, the Fish, the Root & the Berry serves Indigenous-inspired cuisine, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre describes the history of the Osoyoos people.

Nk’Mip RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, Nk’Mip RV Park and Campground offer more lakefront, beach access, and view sites than any other park in the Okanagan. Big rigs welcome.

Related Article: Exploring Canada’s Breathtaking Wine Country

Below are tasting notes on a selection of Okanagan Valley wines from some of the region’s leading wine producers.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quails’ Gate, 2020, Okanagan Valley Dry Riesling, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, 12% ABV, 750 ml

Quails’ Gate sits below the extinct volcano of Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna on the west shore of Okanagan Lake. The area is characterized by deeply decomposed, ancient, mineral-rich volcanic soils that date back roughly 60 million years. This Riesling is produced from 30-year-old vines that reflect the region’s signature minerality as well as its characteristic intensity.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fruit is whole-cluster pressed and then subjected to long, cool temperature fermentation in a steel tank. The result is a very fruit-forward wine with pronounced aromatics.

On the nose, there are notes of green, stone, and tropical fruit including, in particular, apple and apricot, along with some lemon zest, a hint of grapefruit, and melon with just a touch of pineapple. On the palate, the wine is dry with notable acidity.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The finish is long, with lingering green apple and crisp lemon-lime notes. Stylistically, this seems a little less dry than your typical Alsatian Riesling but lacks even the hint of sweetness that is typical of German-style Rieslings. It’s a great food wine that will pair well with a variety of foods, especially seafood, cured meats, and soft cheeses.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills, 2019 Nota Bene, VQA, Okanagan Valley, Black Sage Bench, 14.5% ABV, 750 ml

Black Hills’ vineyard sites have been recognized as having some of the best terroirs in Canada. Located on Black Sage Road, their microclimate provides one of the hottest, driest, and sunniest sites in Canada. The southwest-facing aspect and moderate slope combined with deep desert sand yield intensely flavorful and complex grapes.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their twenty-first vintage of Nota Bene brought a rare opportunity to return to the wine’s origins. For just the third time since the very first vintage (1999), the blend is headlined by Merlot, rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. The moderately cool 2019 vintage produced outstanding Merlot from their Sharp Rock and Double Black vineyards and it was impossible to ignore these barrels in the final blend. The beauty of Nota Bene is that it always represents the best of its Estate vineyards in a given year and quality drives the final blend, rather than a recipe.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2019 Nota Bene opens with intense and ripe black cherry, strawberry, and plum on the nose. On the palate, the ripeness and richness of this fruit are beautifully balanced by crunchy red currant flavors while a subtle yet warming layer of cinnamon and clove spice weaves effortlessly into the wine. There is also a savory element to the wine showing through as dried herbs, sage, and cigar box. The tannins are elegant and velvety and the wine finishes strongly with refreshing acidity and a fine silky texture

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek, 2019 Cabernet Franc, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, Golden Mile Bench, 14% ABV, 750 ml

Established in 1993, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is located just south of Oliver in the famed Golden Mile Bench wine-growing district with 150 acres between two vineyards on the Black Sage and Golden Mile benches.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2019 vintage provided a vibrant, natural acidity with fresh, elegant, and ripe flavors from their South Okanagan vineyards. The grapes are harvested, destemmed, and gently crushed to release the juice and color from the skins. The grape juice or must is pumped over twice a day until fermentation using natural yeast begins to take place. A steady fermentation helps preserve the fruit flavors.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once fermentation is complete, the juice is drained off the skins or called ‘free run’ juice. The wine is placed into a variety of French, Hungarian, and American Oak barrels where it will age for 12 months. The barrels are stored in our temperature and humidity-controlled barrel cellar until bottling. On the nose, there is lots of ripe red fruit mingled with a hint of black pepper. 

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek, 2019 Old Vine Merlot, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, Golden Mile Bench, 14.4% ABV, 750 ml

Hester Creek Vineyards date back to 1968, making them among the oldest vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Hester Creek is located just south of Oliver, on the Golden Mile, a sun-drenched bench that slopes down toward the valley floor. Located on the west side of the valley, it gets morning rather than afternoon sun making it one of the cooler regions in the Okanagan Valley. The soils here are fast draining alluvial soils of stony, gravelly, sandy loams.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the nose, the wine offers up fruity aromas of ripe plum with hints of prune, black cherry, milk chocolate, vanilla, and some dry, brushy herbaceous notes.

Related Article: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

On the palate, there is more plum and black cherry, along with notes of cinnamon, a hint of clove, and a bit of well-seasoned oak.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a robust wine, with a notable palate weight and mouth coating character that offers up ripe, well-integrated tannins and good acidity.

The finish is very long with lingering notes of black cherry and plum.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan produces the northernmost Pinot Noir in North America. Although located some 300 miles north of Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley, this region is much hotter and receives more sunlight over the summer.

If you are not familiar with the wines of the Okanagan, they are certainly worth exploring and often represent exceptional values.

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine