Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

The diverse regions and terrain of Texas are nature made for sampling a wide variety of outdoor experiences

Outdoor recreation options in Texas are as big and wide as the state, thanks to a mind-boggling mix of landscapes. There are desert, rugged mountains, and wind-sculpted sand dunes in the far west; beaches, marshes, piney woods, and swamps in the east; and prairies, plains, plateaus, and rolling hills in between. Texas also has at least 3,000 caves and sinkholes, some of which, such as the Caverns of Sonora west of San Antonio, are open for tours.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add abundant sunshine and temperate weather conditions into the equation and Texas is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure. So, whether you want to embrace your inner cowboy at Bandara, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, or try something new like camping in the sand dunes, Texas has you covered. Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite Texas destinations where you can explore and relax outdoors.

Scenic State Parks

The 95 Texas State Parks protect invaluable natural resources and offer an array of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, and no-license fishing. Most parks charge a nominal entrance fee, well worth the price for access to the state’s natural wonders.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life seldom seen almost anywhere else in Texas. This little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Visitors engage in a variety of activities including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Goose Island State Park is also known for the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes.

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad State Park is a chance for a history lesson if you choose. The main attraction here is the Spanish colonial-era mission which dates back to the 1700s. But Goliad is also a hot spot for camping, kayaking, canoes, and river activities.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top but an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to a 40-story building.

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall.

McKinney Falls State Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urban Green Spaces

Nature is woven into the fabric of Texas’ biggest cities. Land conservation, public-private partnerships, and eco-friendly urban planning have created easy-access green spaces inside the city limits of places like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

Lady Johnson Bird Park neat Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has a lake, water gardens, tree-shaded walks, grassy areas, and 100-year-old oak trees. Try out the new jogging trail that surrounds the park or splash around The Model Boat Pond.

In San Antonio, Emilie and Albert Friedrich Wilderness Park feature 600 acres of undeveloped Hill Country terrain with over 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Try the park’s rugged Vista Loop for clear-day vistas of the downtown skyline.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin regularly ranks among the greenest urban areas in the U.S. The city, which manages more than 300 parks, is also home to McKinney Falls State Park, a limestone-and-waterfall wonderland. 284-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the state botanic garden and arboretum of Texas. The center is home to the most diverse collection of native plants in the state with more than 800 species represented from many of the major eco-regions of Texas.

Connecting many of Austin’s green spaces is a network of natural greenways including South Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt. The roughly eight-mile-long greenbelt is a popular jumping-off point for outdoor adventures like bouldering, biking, hiking, rock climbing, and soaking in an old-fashioned Texas swimming hole.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas-style Bike Trails

Biking in Texas is whatever you want it to be. The state’s wildly diverse topography means there are plenty of options for leisurely pedaling, adrenaline-pumping mountain biking, and everything in between. For a uniquely Texan experience, tackle the mountain biking trails at Flat Rock Ranch, a Hill Country cattle ranch-mountain biking venue 5 miles northeast of Comfort (50 miles northwest of San Antonio). Ease into the action on the meandering Green Loop before tackling challenging uphill climbs, steep descents, and big-thrill enduro runs (a type of mountain bike racing where only the downhill is timed).

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks offer an unparalleled world of fun for bicyclists of all stripes. From the massive Franklin Mountains in El Paso to the wildlife-rich Copper Breaks, the scenery and terrain in Texas’ State Parks offer something for everyone —whether you’re a self-proclaimed “mountain bike maniac” or simply looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors. The parks offer many opportunities to choose from—including road rides near some parks, rails-to-trails conversions where you can travel for miles along former railroad beds, and off-road experiences.

Driving Park Road 1C between Bastrop and Buescher state parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling in the Hill Country is a Lone Star treat. This challenging-yet-scenic ride through the shady Lost Pines of Central Texas is featured as part of the MS 150 benefit (first Saturday in May), a fundraising ride sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that runs from Houston to Austin. The 12.5-mile stretch of Park Road 1C between these Bastrop and Buescher state parks offers a taste of what road riding has to offer and serious roadies can be combined with other area rides for longer routes. The road is open to vehicle traffic.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Historic Sites

Hike, pedal, or paddle through Texas history at a state historic site. Rising above the Aransas Bay and surrounded by stately live oaks, Fulton Mansion State Historic Site is located in Rockport-Fulton. The house must have appeared incredible in 1877 as it does today with its mansard roof and ornate trim. Interior gaslighting, flush-toilets and other refinements were progressive and luxurious elements for this period of Texas history.

Ruins of the Kreische brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische purchased 172 acres of land including the Dawson/Mier tomb, now known as Monument Hill. In the 1860s, he utilized the spring water from the ravine below his house and started one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. Walk the ruins of this once bustling brewery and envision how Fayette County citizens would enjoy a pint of Kreische’s Bluff Beer.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The six-acre campus in the heart of Fredericksburg includes exhibits and memorial areas. Artifacts from the war, both large and small, shape the exhibits which feature ships and planes, weapons, helmets, and uniforms of those who served.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

it has inner light, even from a distance.

—signage at Lady Bird Wildflower Center

Exploring Canada’s Breathtaking Wine Country

Just north of the U.S. border is a wine lover’s playground, the Okanagan Valley

If the movie “Sideways”—in which best friends Miles and Jack road-trip through Santa Barbara (California) wine country—ever gets a sequel, screenwriters should consider setting it in a little-known area some 1,200 miles north. Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination.

Moon Curser Vineyards, Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

Osoyoos Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This sun-soaked valley follows a series of pristine lakes and steep bluffs carved out by retreating glaciers. The Okanagan has the most diverse and complex soil system of any wine region in the world. It’s the only region that was formed by volcanic activity and then overrun by not one but two glacial ages.

Along Black Sage Road, Oliver © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of British Columbia’s sun-kissed Okanagan Valley, the scenic Oliver-Osoyoos region is home to Canada’s most outstanding vineyards and wines. Oliver and Osoyoos are neighboring towns in British Columbia’s south Okanagan Valley. Just north of the U.S. border, they’re in the hottest and driest region of Canada. The desert landscape is ideal for vineyards and it’s the only one of its kind across the country. That’s why this region spanning 22 miles is host to more than 40 wineries producing some of Canada’s best bottles. Despite a relatively youthful vintner culture that began in the 1960s with table grapes today’s scene is prolific and world-class.

Harvest season in the Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before it became known as Canada’s wine capital, Oliver was the “home of the cantaloupe”. In 1919, John Oliver, then premier of British Columbia, had an irrigation canal built. The availability of water turned the arid town into a landscape lush with rotund cantaloupes, grain crops, and fruit trees. Grape cultivation followed soon after.

With rare exception, the 1 million cases of wine produced here annually—from pinot gris and chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon and merlot—don’t ever make it to US shelves or restaurants. In fact, they barely make it outside British Columbia due to limited production and locals’ voracious consumption of the stuff.

View from the patio at Tinhorn Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the most picturesque and family-friendly is Tinhorn Creek which hosts all-ages concerts between May and August. Tinhorn Creek is much more than a winery; it’s an experience. The winery offers not only outstanding wines but also lots to do. Tinhorn Creek is the starting point of the Golden Mile Trail which takes you past a 100-year-old historic stamp mill (a haven for hikers) as well as Miradoro Restaurant, an elegant spot with unforgettable views and a natural amphitheater overlooking the landscape that hosts a summer concert series.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What also sets the region apart from Napa or Sonoma is North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and -operated winery, Nk’Mip Cellars. Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) contributes to the local success of the Osoyoos Indian Band while honoring and sharing their heritage. Whether you’re there to dine at Nk’Mip’s farm-to-table restaurant (enjoy dishes made using traditional Indigenous techniques), to stay at the stunning Spirit Ridge Resort or NK’mip RV park and campground, or simply to taste the award-winning wines, you’ll go home with a greater reverence for the history and customs of the Osoyoos Indian Band—and some stellar wine.

Play Winery and Skaha Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also a handful of Indian-run wineries. That’s because, during the 1980s and ’90s, many East Indian immigrants settled in Oliver Osoyoos as farmers; Punjab-born siblings Sukhi and Balwinder Dhaliwal were among them. After cultivating grapes for other wineries they founded a family label, Kismet Estate Winery. Producing 6,000 cases annually, their cellar includes a delicious, award-winning wine called Safed. The name means “white” in Punjabi and it’s a citrusy white wine blend with orange muscat and semillon. The Dhaliwals have added a four-room guesthouse and the delicious Masala Bistro restaurant.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tastings throughout Oliver Osoyoos are a bargain. Stoneboat charges $5 for four samples. Husband and wife Lanny and Julie Martiniuk, a former scientist and pharmacist respectively, started growing grapes in 1979 and produce about 8,000 cases annually including the world’s only pinotage icewine ($36.90). A South African visitor gifted the Martiniuks some pinotage vine clippings and while uncommon in North America, Lanny found they propagated well thanks to western Canada’s dry desert-like climate.

Adega on 45th Estate Winery, Osoyoos

The 9-year-old Platinum Bench draws a big following for its tasty artisanal bread including Double Cream Brie and Pear Preserves Epi (a type of baguette) and Chocolate Strawberry Balsamic Epi. Co-owner Fiona Duncan (husband Murray Jones is the co-owner and vintner) learned breadmaking in San Francisco as a form of stress management and they easily sell 250 to 350 loaves during peak days. Daily tastings at Platinum Bench see its wines expertly paired with Duncan’s fresh loaves. The gorgonzola and fig are accompanied by the Meritage, its complex bouquet of ripe plums, blackcurrants, blackberries, and cherries accentuating the loaf’s light, blue cheese flavor. The sharpness and saltiness of her asiago cheese bread pairs nicely with the Gamay Noir’s notes of raspberry and light pepper.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tasty poolside pizzas and stunning hilly views can accompany tastings—six two-ounce pours for $15—at Black Hills Estate Winery. This flight features four of their current releases, two whites and two reds from their highly acclaimed Black Hills Estate Winery Portfolio. A red wine flight (four red wines) is also available for $20. Black Hills grow four clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, two clones of Cabernet Franc, and four clones of Merlot. Each clone reflects its terroir with a unique flavor profile. They respect each clone’s individuality by crushing, fermenting, and barrel aging them separately. When they are eventually blended together, this Clonal diversity gives multi-faceted depth and complexity to their famed Nota Bene.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a valley resplendent with beautiful wineries, lush vineyards, and sumptuous award-winning wines, Hester Creek Estate Winery in the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile stands out as one of the finest. Hester Creek is situated within some of British Columbia’s oldest vineyards in the bountiful Golden Mile region. Definitely try the Okanagan’s only Trebbiano; its grapes plucked from the estate’s 50-year-old vines. It is velvety smooth and ripe with apple and pear flavors. A classic blend of almost equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, the Judge is a powerful, yet elegant Bordeaux style red that is built to age gracefully.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver; NK’mip RV Park and Campground, Osoyoos; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort, Osoyoos

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

These Arizona lakes boast outdoor activities for the boater, fisherman, hiker, camper, and nature lover

When it’s been this hot for this long, the one thing you need is water. Not the stuff that comes in bottles or out of the tap. Nor the water that’s been slowly heating in concrete enclosures since May. You need an expanse of naturally occurring water, the kind that runs freely or accumulates in quantities so vast it can support all sorts of users.

It’s true that Arizona is best known for its dramatic desert landscapes but these arid regions also have hundreds of miles of lakeshore where you can sun yourself on sandy beaches or water ski past stately saguaros. 

Here are my seven favorite lakes in Arizona for water-related activities.

Granite Dells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granite Dells

For water with a view, it’s hard to beat the rocky sentinels standing guard along Watson Lake. A little over 4 miles north of Historic Prescott, the Dells offer unique granite rock formations, two small lakes, and miles upon miles of trails. From easy mountain bike rides, leisurely hikes, to tough and technical terrain, the Dells offer something truly unique when it comes to outdoor recreation.

Granite Dells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Granite Dells, worn smooth by the elements, provide a scenic backdrop as you kayak or canoe along the placid surface of the lake. And when the light is right and the surface is glassy, photos of the reflection will light up your Instagram and Facebook feeds.

The two main areas to visit are the city parks located in the Granite Dells—Watson Lake Park and Willow Lake Park. Both parks are open year-round allowing visitors to see the changing scenery through the four mild seasons. The summers are cooler than Southern Arizona. And the winters are mild too, offering occasional snow that melts off pretty quickly.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lynx Lake

If you’re looking for a cool, calm, and relaxing day, Lynx Lake offers some of the best fishing in the area. At 55-acres, Lynx Lake is the largest and busiest lake in the Prescott National Forest. Nestled amid ponderosa pines and claiming temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below those in the desert, Lynx Lake holds rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and more. Even better, its waters are limited to electronic- or people-powered watercraft, perfect for fishing or napping. The only thing separating the two is luck.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular lakeside picnic and fishing area, South Shore has ample parking for cars and vehicles towing trailers or boats on all but the busiest days of the year when it fills up. Lynx Lake North Shore’s day-use area provides lake-side recreation, fishing, picnic tables and grills, a wildlife viewing scope, and interpretive signs. Lynx Lake Marina provides restaurant dining, fishing/camping supplies, bait, boat rentals, and firewood. Located atop a bluff on the north shore of Lynx Lake, Lynx Lake Café is a full-service restaurant.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake

Giant cactuses with arms outstretched toward shimmering water might seem to be out of sync but Arizona is all about emerging scenic landscapes. Like the aptly named Saguaro Lake located about 45 miles from Phoenix in Tonto National Forest which emerges from the Sonoran Desert that sprawls across most of the southern half of Arizona. One of the Salt River’s four reservoirs, Saguaro Lake was shaped after the Stewart Mountain Dam was completed in 1930.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Launch your boat from one of the two marinas to water ski the 10-mile-long lake or stake out swimming spots at Captain’s Cove, Sadie Beach, or at Pebble Beach on the Lower Salt River. Tour-boat trips are available on the Desert Belle. Try the upper reaches of the lake (east-end) for more seclusion. An idyllic way to see the stars among the saguaros is to camp overnight at Bagley Flat with grills and tables provided. It’s free for up to 14 days but the site’s 10 spots are only accessible by boat.

Over 2,200 fish-habitat structures were installed to enhance fishing on the lake. According to Bass Master Magazine, the best time for trophy bass is October to December and February to mid-April. There is large bass in the lake; fish census shows that 12+ pound bass and 30-pound Carp exist in the depths. Bluegill comes in a variety of sizes. Occasional species caught include Walleye, Black Crappie, Small-mouth Bass, Bigmouth Buffalo, and Yellow Bass.

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon Lake

The most scenic of the Salt River-fed lakes, Canyon abounds with the steep walls and cliffs its name suggests. Canyon Lake is known for its wonderful shorelines along the red rock cliffs. Tuck into a secluded cove and fish for bass, trout, and many other kinds of fish, or take a leisurely cruise and marvel at the scenery. Boaters wanting scenery and seclusion should try the east end of the lake where it winds through steep canyon walls. There are occasional sightings of Big Horn sheep as well as other wildlife.

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boat-access camping is at The Point. November-March, Arizona Game and Fish stock the lake monthly with rainbow trout. Largemouth Bass are caught in Canyon Lake every year. A 15-pound state record Largemouth Bass was taken from the shoreline of Canyon Lake. A world record 1 pound 11 ounce Yellow Bass was caught in 1985.

Idyllic year-round weather makes Canyon Lake a great destination for all watersports and camping enthusiasts. When ready for a break, pick a spot along the 28 miles of shoreline and enjoy a picnic or stop at the Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina for a casual meal.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River. The pristine waters of the Verde were spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”. The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery with gently sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A fair portion of the west side of the reservoir is devoted to camping and picnicking. Bartlett has been a favorite with anglers since Bartlett Dam was constructed in 1939. Several state-record fish have been caught there. The 1977 Small-mouth Bass state record tipped the scales at seven pounds. The carp state record still stands at 37 pounds 5 ounces. Flathead Catfish lurk in the depths. “Fish City” near Bartlett Flat is a fish-habitat improvement project.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake is one of those high-desert sanctuaries that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Situated 75 miles south of Tucson (and 16 miles northeast of Nogales, the entry point into Mexico), the park is framed by 3,750-foot hills.

With boat ramps, camping sites, and a nearby Lakeside Market, Patagonia State Park is a great base to while away the day waterskiing, picnicking, fishing for bluegill, and watching for wildlife. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. And the train tracks from the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad which served the mines and military forts lie beneath the water. Remnants of the old historic line may be found at the Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Conservancy in Patagonia. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parker Canyon Lake

This medium-sized 132-acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. The temperature in the area which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shorelines.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last-minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle, and worms, or rent a boat.

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Worth Pondering…

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

—John Muir

The 10 Most Breathtaking National Forests in America

Often overshadowed by the National Park Service, the national forests in the U.S. offer some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the country

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Saguaro Lake in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who prefer a somewhat remote setting to camp, the U.S. Forest Service offers a range of choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere. America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. 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, 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.

For starters, here’s a shortlist of some of the country’s most stunning national forests.

Near Bartlett Lake in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine-clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most are rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.

At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful lands in the country. The variety in vegetation and range in elevation—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forests.

San Carlos Indian Reservation in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.

Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.

Castle in the Rocks in White Mountain National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain National Forest, Maine and New Hampshire

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 ragged, granite peaks.

The White Mountain National Forest also harbors more than 160 miles of the Appalachian Trail including the footpath’s longest stretch above the tree line. In the fall, the national forest’s scenic roads including the 34.5-mile Kancamagus Scenic Byway provides some of the best leaf-peeping in New England.

Ramsey Canyon in Coronado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Among the most biodiversity-rich national forests in the country, southeastern Arizona’s 1.78-million-acre Coronado National Forest spreads from saguaro-studded swathes of the desert to pine-oak woodlands to the high peaks of a dozen different sky mountain ranges harboring numerous species including black bears, screech owls, and javelina. The national forest’s craggy canyons are especially rich in birdlife—like Ramsey Canyon, a haven for species like blue-throated hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, and Montezuma quail.

Madera Canyon in Cornado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique overnight experience, the bunkhouses from a former mining camp in the national forest’s Santa Rita range have been transformed into cozy cabins (Kent Springs) in Madera Canyon; camping is available at Bog Springs Campground.

Sequoias in Sierra National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sierra National Forest, California

Spread over the western slopes of the central portion of the Sierra Nevada, the 1.3-million-acre Sierra National Forest preserves some of California’s most iconic natural areas including portions of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness. The Sierra National Forest is the gateway to the Sierras including the intensely visited Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Stretching from the range’s sparsely forested lowlands to the glaciated granite spires of the high Sierras, the 1.3-million-acre protected area tops out at 13,900 feet and features a thousand-mile trail system that includes seven different National Recreation Trails. For backpackers, a 30-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the national forest—but there are plenty of shorter hikes, too, like the Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail which winds through a grove of giant sequoias.

Along Cherohala Skyway in Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

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.

In the Nantahala National Forest, visitors enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities from whitewater rafting to camping. With over 600 miles of trails, opportunities exist for hikers, mountain bikers, horse-back riders, and off-highway vehicle riders. View some of the best mountain scenery from the 43-mile Cherohala Skyway through the and Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. This National Scenic Byway connects Robbinsville to Tellico Plains in southeast Tennessee. 

Custer State Park in Black Hills National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

The Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota consists of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The Black Hills rise from the adjacent grasslands into a ponderosa pine forest. Described as an “Island in the Plains,” the Forest has diverse wildlife and plants reaching from the eastern forests to the western plains. This is a multiple-use Forest with activities ranging from timber production, grazing, to hiking, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mining, and wildlife viewing. 

Amid the splendid scenery of the Black Hills National Forest are 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. Every location in the Black Hills is a special place but there are hidden gems around every corner.

Along Russell Brasstown-Bald Scenic Byway in Chattahoochee-Onocee National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, Georgia

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide some of the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history, and culture.

Brasstown Bald in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cool in the summer, mild in the winter, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and is surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. The drive is ideal for viewing colorful wildflowers or dazzling fall colors. Secluded valley views of Wilderness Areas abound along the way. The 40-mile loop follows State Highways 348, 180, and 17/75. Take in 360-degree views atop the 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s tallest mountain. At an elevation of 2,080 feet, on the banks of the Tallulah River, the Tallulah River Campground is a favorite. If you like hiking, the Coleman River Trail is there for you to enjoy the outdoors and nature.

Red Rock Canyon in Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dixie National Forest, Utah

Dixie National Forest stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. It includes almost two million acres and is the largest national forest in Utah. The forest is adjacent to three national parks and two national monuments. The red sandstone formations in Red Canyon rival those of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hell’s Backbone Bridge and the view into Death Hollow are breathtaking. Boulder Mountain and its many small lakes provide opportunities for hiking, fishing, and viewing outstanding scenery.

Lake Panguich in Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevations in the forest vary from 2,800 feet near St. George to 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. High altitude forests in gently rolling hills characterize the Markagunt, Pansaugunt, and Aquarius plateaus. The vegetation changes from sparse, desert-type plants at the lower elevations to stands of low-growing pinyon pine and juniper dominating the mid-elevations. At the higher elevations, aspen and conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir predominate.

Lassen National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen National Forest, California

Lassen National Forest is a United States national forest of 1,700 square miles in northeastern California. It is named after pioneer Peter Lassen who mined and ranched the area in the 1850s. Lassen National Forest is located about 80 miles east of Red Bluff. It is bounded by the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the south, the Modoc Plateau to the east, and California’s Central Valley to the west. The Forest surrounds Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Forest has two major river systems as well as many lakes, cinder cones, and lava flows.

In a scenic mountain setting, Lake Almanor is one of the largest man-made lakes in California at 75 square miles. It offers fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, camping, and picnicking. The Almanor Recreation Trail winds along the west side of Almanor providing views of the lake, the mountains, wildflowers, and wildlife. Family and group campgrounds, boat launch facilities, and private marinas are available.

Along Fishlake Scenic Byway in Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishlake National Forest, Utah

Rising as a green oasis above the junction of I-15 and I-70 in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus that form Fishlake National Forest offer spectacular and widely varied scenery and cool climatic relief from the hot desert valleys. The namesake for the forest is Fish Lake, the largest freshwater mountain lake in the state.

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

Fishlake National Forest is a recreationalist’s paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic byways, motorized and non-motorized trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and trout fishing. Recreational opportunities include scenic drives, mountain biking, snowmobiling, ATV use, hiking, and camping. The Paiute ATV Trail winds through 250 miles of the forest’s most scenic terrain. For those who prefer the comfort of a car, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway travels along the beautiful Bear River lined by aspen, spruce, and fir trees. It ends at a lovely mountain lake.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Willa Cather

The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Green chile season is heating up in New Mexico where the fiery peppers are an indispensable part of the local cuisine—and daily life

Hatch chiles grown today (in fact all New Mexican chile peppers) owe their genetic base from cultivars (cultivated variety) first developed by horticulturist Fabián Garcia at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as the New Mexico State University (NMSU). Starting in 1894, Fabián Garcia crossed several local pod types with the goal of improving them for the region. He sought larger, smoother peppers that were better for canning.

Following many years of crossing and growing, he released a variety called New Mexico No. 9 in 1913. All New Mexican chile peppers owe their genetic base to these peppers. Today, chile pepper studies continue at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, founded by Paul Bosland in order to study New Mexican peppers and others from around the world.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chile Fever

To pay homage to the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to the river valley’s combination of nutrient-rich soil, intense sunlight, and cool desert nights.

Unlike other peppers, Hatch comes in different seed varieties that cover the full spectrum of heat levels. Typically, the mild to medium-hot varieties are more readily available. Then, there is red vs. green peppers. For those that didn’t know, red peppers are the same but have simply been left on the plant longer to ripen.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In preparing Hatch Valley’s famous peppers, a 40-pound burlap sack of green chiles is dropped into a gas-fired roaster. The flames roar as chiles tumble in the rotating wire cage and the thick, sharp scent permeates throughout the area. First, it’s high heat, then low!

These chiles are the centerpiece of the meal which is itself the pinnacle of New Mexico cuisine, a distinctive craft in which the Land of Enchantment takes such pride. The state has made chiles the “Official State Food” and designated “Red or Green?” the “official state question” referring to which kind of chile diners prefer on their enchiladas.

Chile Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The harvest begins most years in late July and extends into October. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day festival. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.

For first-time visitors, it’s not a stretch to think the hot chiles the farmers grow in these fertile fields are hazardous (a sentiment first-time chile tasters often feel today). But I quickly grew to love the chiles and can’t imagine daily life without the fiery and tasty peppers.

Red chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiles of the World

Those first chiles were what are called landrace varieties, a term referring to crop types that people develop by saving seeds and adapting them to their specific growing area. Chiles and chile seeds were no doubt traded up and down the Rio Grande Valley for centuries among indigenous peoples, then Hispanic settlers. The distinctive chiles so familiar today date back to the early 20th century.

In the world, there are literally thousands of chile types. They originated in Mesoamerica and spread rapidly across the globe after Christopher Columbus brought New World foods back to Europe. In Africa, southern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, backyard growers did their own breeding, just as New Mexico growers did.

Chile Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of those thousands of chile types, the ones that form the backbone of Hatch pepper production are called—surprise—“New Mexican pod” varieties and the original types have been supplemented often with new cultivars developed at New Mexico State.

Chile farming today is vastly different from a century ago. Most of the fields have buried drip irrigation that feeds steady moisture to the plant roots. A six-year rotation schedule fends off soil-borne diseases; when they aren’t growing chiles, Hatch farmers produce alfalfa, onions, and cotton, among other crops.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chiles

The Hatch Chile Association has obtained a federal-type certificate and a trademark for chiles grown there. But there’s more than one kind of “Hatch chile” ranging from modern mild types to older, hotter varieties. Charger (hybrid Anaheim) chiles, a medium-hot favorite grown to be used green, can range from 500 to 3500 on the Scoville scale (which extends past 1 million for ghost peppers and such); Big Jims are milder, Anaheim-like; Sandias are hotter and grown for ripening; Lumbres is hotter still, and the list goes on.

And if the list of thousands of chile varieties, all with different shapes, colors, flavors, and levels of heat, isn’t complex enough, consider that all of those chile types produce fruits that vary from plant to plant—sometimes from pod to pod on the same plant.

Get to know the many varieties of Hatch chile peppers. Following are some of the most popular developed for and grown in the Hatch area.

Red chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Big Jim: This giant chili pepper was introduced by NMSU in the 1970s as a cross between a few different types of local chiles and a Peruvian chile. They measure 10-12 inches and mature to red but are usually harvested and used when green. The peppers have actually been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest chile ever grown. Big Jim chili peppers are about as hot as a milder jalapeno pepper (Scoville Heat Units: 2,500-3,000 SHU), so you’ll get a bit of heat, but not very much, depending on your heat tolerance and preference.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Sandia: Another hybrid chili pepper developed by the NMSU, the Sandia grows to 6-7 inches and is similar to the Anaheim pepper. They start green and ripen to red but are often used while green. Like so many other peppers from this region, the red ones can be dried to make decorative ristras. They are also great for roasting, making chiles Rellenos, or for use in salsas. Slightly hotter than a jalapeno (Scoville Heat Units: 5,000-7,000 SHU), it adds quite a kick to dishes and salsa but not overwhelming heat.

NuMex Joe E. Parker: This New Mexico variety was named after Mr. Joe E. Parker, a graduate of NMSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics who helped to evaluate this selection of chile. It originally came from one plant selected from a field of open-pollinated New Mexico 6-4 peppers. The chiles grow to about 8 inches in length and 1.8 inches in width and can be used either in their green or red stage. Although similar to the New Mexico 6-4 in flavor and heat (Scoville Heat Units: 1,500-3,000 SHU), green color, and size, it is generally preferable to the New Mexico 6-4 because of its higher chile yield, its thicker walls, and its ability to continue to produce red chiles after the initial green fruit harvest. The NuMex Joe E. Parker can be a great chile for canning whole and is excellent for chiles Rellenos or for grilling or roasting due to its thicker walls.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Heritage 6-4: The New Mexico 6-4 Heritage chile pepper was developed around 1998 from a seed bank of the original New Mexico 6-4. The original NM 6-4 which was released in 1957 had “run out” meaning that after so many years of commercial growing, it had lost much of its flavor and aroma and had increased its variability in heat levels, maturity date, and yield. Dr. Paul Bosland along with NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute and Biad Chili used seeds from the original NM 6-4 that had been frozen in a storage lab to create the new line of chile. Dr. Bosland grew the peppers for three years perfecting the line by selecting for more flavor and improved yield. The result was a chile (Scoville Heat Units: 3,000-5,000 SHU) with five times more flavor and aroma than the original and the flavor is even stronger and richer when it’s roasted. They grow to 5-8 inches in length.

Barker Extra Hot: The Barker’s Hot chili pepper is an extra-hot chile (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 15,000-30,000 SHU), the hottest of the Anaheim/New Mexico variety and it has great flavor. They grow to 5-7 inches in length and can be used just as you would use an Anaheim with an extra punch. This variety originally comes from a selection of native New Mexican chiles so it naturally grows well in very hot, dry climates. The peppers ripen from green to red with the red fruits growing hotter than the green ones. The fruits have thin skins making them great for roasting, frying whole, canning, or stuffing. They also make deliciously hot salsa.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot is Hot?

Talk about heat! The 7 Pot Douglah is an extremely hot pepper (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 923,889 – 1,853,986 SHU) from Trinidad. Its skin is notably dark chocolate brown and somewhat pimpled. It starts off green but matures to a rich brown. It is one of the Hottest Peppers in the World. Aside from the color, it looks very much like other superhot chili peppers, roughly habanero shaped, about two inches long. The hottest 7 Pot Douglas is about 232 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno pepper and more than 5 times a very hot habanero pepper.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hooked on the Heat

My introduction to green chile came long ago at a variety of restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla. My palate sizzled with capsaicin. Endorphins fizzed in my veins like butter. It was the start of a lifelong love affair and chiles have been a constant in my diet ever since. Once you get hooked, you can’t get unhooked. It’s an addiction, but it’s a good one.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

10 Amazing Places to RV in September

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

Now that September is here, many RVers are looking to extend their summer fun as long as they can. Summer may officially end on September 23 but your vacation season is far from over. Whatever your September plans—quick trips, long weekends, a staycation, sitting by the pool, or one last big journey—we have gathered some great destinations and road trips to help you enjoy the season. Summer is calling . . . still!

September is the unsung hero of travel months: The busiest vacation season has come and gone and places are less crowded because kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time to pay a visit to locations that are usually swarming with tourists and enjoy some serious natural beauty, luxury RV resorts, outdoor adventures, and a few glasses of wine. So what are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in September, from Vermont to San Antonio.

It’s almost autumn and if you didn’t join the summer rush back to traveling it’s time to think about September when things calm down a bit. Crisp temperatures, fall colors, and fresh mountain air make Stowe, Vermont and the Blue Ridge Parkway perfect destinations where you can enjoy the scenery, hiking, and apple cider.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in June, July, and August. Also, check out my recommendations from September 2020.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

This classic New England village is known for skiing but it’s also one of the best places in the country to see stunning fall foliage. From early September through late October, the weather and colorful backdrop are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and scenic drives.

Zig and zag your way to the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest mountain—along the historic Toll Road where stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains await you. The road up Mount Mansfield is 4.5 miles of awe-inspiring natural beauty. You can park at 3,850 feet, relax and take it all in. RVs are not permitted on the toll road.

Or get on top of autumn splendor the easy way—in the refurbished Stowe Gondola SkyRide. From the top of Mount Mansfield, you can access hiking trails and a sweet treat at The Waffle. The Gondola SkyRide is open through October 17. And plan ahead for the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival in early October (38th annual; October 8-10, 2021).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a Scenic Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway

America’s Favorite Scenic Drive winds its way through North Carolina and Virginia. The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are numerous entry points to the parkway (which is free to access) in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina but if you want to admire some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River you’ll want to traverse the parkway near Asheville.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular stops along the parkway include Craggy Gardens (known for its 360-degree views and abundance of wildflowers), Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), and Linville Falls (a three-tiered waterfall that cascades into the Linville Gorge). When you’re ready to stretch your legs, there are multiple hiking trails easily accessed off of the parkway including the family-friendly Graveyard Fields. This nearly 3-mile-long loop trail takes hikers to two waterfalls. If you’re up for the challenge there’s also the more strenuous 2.6-mile out and back Mount Pisgah Trail which features views of Cold Mountain from its 5,721-foot summit.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Sugar!

Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival: The sweetest time of year! The annual Hi Sugar festival in September in New Iberia is the place to be to satisfy your inner sweet tooth and child-like sugary desires. Offering a rich history of the sugar found in the area, entertainment, and lots of sugar-filled treats, you’ll soak up a sweet time! 

What could be more fitting a cause for celebration than the tall, green, sweet sugar cane? And so it is that the last full weekend of September (79th annual; September 23-26, 2021) as the growth of the succulent sugar cane reaches its pinnacle, New Iberia hosts the twenty-four sugar producing parishes of Louisiana.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the Jesuit Fathers goes the distinction of introducing sugar cane to Louisiana. Because of its rapid growth due to the semi-tropical climate and the ingenuity of a young Frenchman, Etienne De Bore who discovered the secret of granulated sugar, the economy of South Louisiana changed and the era of large plantations came into existence.

At the conclusion of a successful harvest, the planters rejoiced with a celebration called “apres la roulaison”, meaning to grind or to roll as in crushing the cane to extract the juices. In its infancy, the festival took place “after grinding” and although the celebration now comes at the end of September, the spirit of the occasion is the same…one of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of fun-filled, carefree days.

Ripe chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile Capital of the World

It’s been 100 years since horticulturist Fabián García publicly introduced his hybrid chile, “New Mexico No. 9,” the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers today. To pay homage, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to its unique terroir which includes fertile volcanic soil.

As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day celebration. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.

Chile ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scent of roasting chiles permeates the air in late summer and early fall along Hall Street, Hatch’s main thoroughfare where mom-and-pop shops sell chile peppers in all forms. Ristras—decorative dried chile pods that are both edible and a good luck symbol—hang on the patios and in doorways of places like Chile Fanatic and Hatch Chile Sales beckoning visitors to shop for chile powder, salsas, and ristras of their own.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers keep their star status when it comes to dining, as well. For a quarter of a century, the family-owned Pepper Pot has been serving up Mexican American dishes like green chile stew and red chile enchiladas (a favorite of late food personality, Anthony Bourdain, who said that their red enchiladas were the best ever). Then there’s Sparky’s, a roadside eatery and attraction that’s known as much for the fiberglass statues dotting its rooftop and lining the street (including Ronald McDonald, Yogi Bear, a Roswell-inspired green alien, and a towering Uncle Sam) as it is for its cuisine. Sparky’s green chile cheeseburgers are a talked-about phenomenon though this beloved counter-service spot also whips up the wood-fired barbeque, espresso drinks, and a wide array of shakes.

Hatch is just nine miles north of the entrance to Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport on the planet and testing grounds for Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflights. Final Frontier Tours offers private pre-scheduled tours of the facility, including the chance to experience a rapidly accelerating G-shock simulator, comparable to what astronauts feel in flight.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Aransas, Texas

With 18 miles of beaches, Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island on the Gulf Coast, is a haven for anglers and beachgoers. Fishermen can cast a line from the surf, a public fishing pier, or take an off-shore excursion for various fish species. If you visit in the summer, you’re bound to see a fishing tournament or you can try surfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding with a local guide. Visit Farley Boat Works to partake in building a boat or head out on a bird-watching expedition—Port Aransas has six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail with hundreds of bird species frequenting the area. The arts community here is also thriving with numerous studios, galleries, the Port Aransas Art Center, and the Port Aransas Community Theatre. Nightlife is also popular, with numerous bars and restaurants regularly hosting artists.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the Thunder

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them. The bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Marshes of Glynn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons, Georgia

The largest barrier island in the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island lies across the immortalized Marshes of Glynn made famous by poet Sidney Lanier. Moss-draped oaks line the winding island streets creating a picture-perfect image worthy of a Faulkner tale.

St. Simons Island is dotted with exceptional historic sites and attractions from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site where in July 1742, British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve contains middens dating back to 2500 BC. Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—is also located on the island’s north end. History buff or not, you won’t want to miss Christ Church’s picturesque and somewhat haunting grounds.

Hummingbird at Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch hummingbirds in Patagonia

The Paton Center for Hummingbirds was closed due to the pandemic but has since reopened.

This birding hotspot captures the laidback charm of Patagonia. The Patons put out backyard feeders in the 1970s and hummingbirds swarmed the property. The family soon began welcoming strangers who came to enjoy the colorful show. After Marion Paton died in 2009, neighbors kept the feeders stocked until 2014 when the Tucson Audubon Society took over.

Vermillion flycatcher at the Patton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place hasn’t changed much over the years. There are chairs beneath a shade awning and a big board to list recent sightings. Folks have come from all over the world just to sit quietly in a small Arizona yard and watch clouds of hummingbirds. Hummingbird visitors to the Paton Yard are at their highest numbers during spring (March-May) and fall (August-October) migrations. They also have many breeding hummingbird species throughout the summer. In the winter, hummingbird numbers are lower but you may still find rare species such as the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

It’s a lovely carefree way to spend an hour and I hope to get to do it again soon.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville’s River Walk

Greenville’s recent history is defined by a series of game-changing public access initiatives beginning with the formation of Falls Park on the Reedy, a 32-acre park in the heart of downtown. The signature waterfall is best viewed from the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge, a single-cable suspended path that extends 345 feet as it curves around the waterfall below.

Live music, delicious cuisine, and impressive outdoor art installations are just a few of the standout attractions along Greenville’s river walk. Check out Papi’s Tacos (300 River Street) and ask for the “Travelin’ Taco”—shredded chicken, lettuce, Pico De Gallo, Crema in a bag of Fritos corn chips, and a fork. It won’t disappoint and it’s only $4.25 or three for $12.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, stop at the picturesque Art Crossing. The Shoppes at Art Crossing, nestled in the lower level of Riverplace, house over a dozen local artists and offer the public a great variety of art in every medium. Here you will find local award-winning artists at work in their gallery/studio as they create realist and abstract paintings, photographic art, watercolors, illustrations, pottery, batik, and mixed media treasures. Art Crossing at Riverplace is in the heart of downtown Greenville right off South Main along the Reedy River and is open from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Public space extends north and south along the Swamp Rabbit Trail that parallels the Reedy River as it rambles for 22 miles over the converted railway. The path moves south to the freshwater marsh at Lake Conestee Nature Preserve and north to Travelers Rest, a bedroom community where eateries like Upcountry Provisions offer a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Two miles north of downtown, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery marks an appealing waypoint with its park-like outdoor seating, sandwiches on house-baked stecca bread, and homemade pastries. Other fan-favorite eateries include UP on the Roof (250 Riverplace) and The Lazy Goat (170 Riverplace), both of which are perfect to pop in for a delicious meal.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is one of the city’s best-known attractions. Visitors can stroll along the walking path or cruise in a river barge to explore the 15-mile urban waterway. Shop at La Villita, Market Square, or the Shops at Rivercenter. The Alamo is another favorite with tours and exhibits of the complex that was the site of the Texas Revolution battle in 1836. Further south, immerse yourself in history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions along the Mission Reach. Families enjoy the San Antonio Zoo and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

Windseed Farns near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add a scenic road trip to the Texas Hill Country characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite. You’ll pass through small towns, boutique farms, Texas-sizes ranches, and refreshing swimming holes. Many towns also have monthly markets where you can buy everything from earrings to stained glass: Gruene Market Days (Gruene is at the edge of New Braunfels), Trade Days near Fredericksburg, Boerne Market Days, and Wimberley Market Days. Wildseed Farms is a haven for gardening accessories, seeds, and local specialty foods. Explore Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with a hike, picnic, or climb to enjoy the view.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

The Top 5 Considerations when Trading in or Selling Your RV

Tips on how to get maximum value when upgrading to a newer RV

Whether you own a teardrop camper trailer or a diesel-powered motorhome, RVing provides you the freedom to roam where and when you want before planting your stakes at a rustic campground or scenic resort—not some seedy inn or cookie-cutter hotel located miles from the action of the outdoors.

Every year, thousands of RVers trade up to a new recreational vehicle with more room and newer, more advanced amenities. There comes a time when every RV owner, whether they’ve had their coach for two years or 20, decides it’s time to upgrade.

Moving from the old to the new © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to recent innovations, RVs have become much more user-friendly and advanced than they used to be. Residential-quality kitchen appliances, assisted steering, LED TVs, ultra-maneuverable chassis, and automatic generators all represent available technology that might be missing from your current motorhome, trailer, or fifth wheel. These innovations have dramatically improved engine efficiency, energy usage, in-dashboard navigation, and storage capacity. When you see these advances, you may feel enticed to trade in your RV for an upgraded model, or maybe switch to a different class.

New motorhome at a dealership © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Should you find yourself on the cusp of becoming a “full-timer,” you may discover that your weekender RV isn’t up to the task of acting as your primary residence. Features and comforts you never thought about become necessary to living comfortably on a full-time basis. If this sounds like your situation, a larger, more residential arrangement is the answer.

For you, that time may be now. It can be tough to know where to begin—and how to go about—the RV trade-in process.

Side by side, the old and the new © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever your reason for trading up, this guide can assist you in navigating the most important aspects of trading in your current unit. You can save yourself some cash when you apply a generous trade value credit to your new, upgraded purchase. We’ve outlined five things to keep in mind as you prepare your RV for trade-in to ensure you receive the maximum value credit.

A bucket of household cleaning supplies and a little elbow grease can transform your RV’s appearance from “worn down” to “like-new” in less than a day’s time. A coach that sparkles and shines both inside and out can have a significant positive impact on its trade-in or resale value.

Washington the exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exterior Condition

Start by washing your RV’s exterior and addressing any cosmetic damage the best you can. If your paint appears dull, consider waxing it or paying someone to detail it for you. I prefer Meguiar’s product line.

Check the roof for signs of damage, rust, or mold, especially around vents and in and around any awnings or cloth-like materials. The same goes for windows which can collect moisture, mold, and rust from precipitation. Be sure to clean the windows inside and out.

Check the tires, fill them to their recommended pressure and, if necessary, rotate them. Examine them for excessive wear and replace them if necessary. In most cases, RV tires age out before they wear out.

Other items often overlooked? Windshield wipers, side mirrors, and doorsteps are all apt to show signs of wear and tear, mold, or rust.

Prep the interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior Condition

Some simple repairs may be in order for the interior of your RV. You’ll want to check to see if any of the cabinet or door hinges are loose and make sure all of the power outlets are functioning. If you’ve experienced issues with any of your appliances, consider having an electrician check the wiring. In some cases, reupholstering can also increase the trade-in value.

All appliances should be clean and in proper operating condition. Gather any owner’s guides or instruction manuals.

Check all systems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Engine, Batteries & Maintenance

Making sure your travel vehicle is in good working order and sound mechanical condition are the two most important aspects when it comes to receiving maximum value for your trade or sale.

Take the RV in for maintenance and scheduled service and be sure to get an idea of the condition of your engine and battery. Ask the technicians working on your RV to keep an eye out for ways to increase the value of the RV.

Check interior for general impression © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Style and Cleanliness

Ensure your RV interior makes a first great impression: vacuum, wipe down surfaces, dust, clean out cabinets, and shampoo upholstery or carpets if necessary. Consider what future buyers’ impression of the cabin will be. Does it have an odd or stale odor or dated or out-of-place styling?

Everything in working order © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gather All Paperwork

Ensure all important documents and paperwork is available, including the deed, transferable warranty, mileage and year, service and maintenance records, purchase receipts (tires, wiper blades, batteries, aftermarket items, etc.), documented changes that you’ve made to the RV over time, and any other documents you’ve accrued during the ownership of the RV.

Other key documents include your RV owner’s manual; paperwork or instruction booklets associated with appliances, electronics, and aftermarket items; and current registration.

Worth Pondering…

Far too late to understand many of the missed goals in life:

Joy, beauty of nature, health, travel, and culture,

Therefore, man is, time-wise!

High time is it! Travel, travel!

—Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)

Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

The self-ascribed “Bourbon Capital of the World” offers fine spirits and a welcome change of pace

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America.” But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face.

This “Bourbon Capital of the World” is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

The Old Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey connoisseurs and history buffs probably already know Bardstown, a small town about 45 minutes south of Louisville. Europeans crossed the Appalachians and settled in the area in the 1770s. The town’s charming and walkable downtown area incorporates significant historic features of the time. Bardstown is also home to or within a short drive of a ton of distilleries including some of the biggest names in bourbon. The self-ascribed moniker, “The Bourbon Capital of the World” is pretty accurate. Like a lot of small towns, Bardstown is a rewarding destination. If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

The Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your options for lodgings in Bardstown run the gamut from chain hotels to centuries-old establishments and nearby RV parks and campgrounds. Some portions of the original 1779 structure housing The Talbott Inn on Court Square in the heart of downtown are still in use; a larger section dates to 1913. Among other historic figures, the inn and its tavern (now a restaurant and bar called Old Talbott Tavern) hosted Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any road trip. The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? America is full of so many amazing bakeries that it’s impossible to try all of them in a lifetime. Always on the lookout for fresh doughnuts, delicious regional specialties, and amazing cookies and cakes, brings us to Hadorn’s Bakery, a Bardstown institution that comes highly recommended.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hadorn’s is a third-generation family bakery founded in Louisville in 1935 and has been Bardstown’s family bakery since 1977. From yum yums, one of the local favorites, to fresh doughnuts, seasonal cookies and cakes, and a whole host of others, everything at Hadorn’s is mouthwateringly delicious. If you’re going to have just one, make it a Yum Yum—a sort of cinnamon bun that’s braided instead of rolled, then glazed and topped with streaks of gooey icing.

As you might expect, most bars around town have walls lined with shelf upon shelf of bourbon and most barkeeps are adept at showcasing the local spirit.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon, as you might know, has developed a cult following that can be kind of intimidating for the uninitiated. Distillery tours are a good way to get up close and personal with the beloved oak-aged liquor. By staying in Bardstown you’re roughly a half-hour drive from Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Four Roses. You’re practically spoiled for choice right in Bardstown, as well: The Barton 1792 distillery is a stone’s throw from downtown, while Lux Row (which produces Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and more), Willett, and the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center aren’t much farther.

Four Roses Bourbon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these firms have been distilling for decades or longer. The massive operation at Bardstown Bourbon Company, 10 minutes from downtown, was launched in 2016. They offer a one-hour From Distillate to Barrel Tour in which a knowledgeable guide leads you through a tasting that included fresh distillate (aka moonshine) as well as aged whiskeys.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour also takes you through the distilling plant and then out to one of the company’s rickhouses where your guide may thieve (that’s a technical term for dipping with a giant copper straw-like device) some samples from a barrel of BBC’s own bourbon. It’s been aging since 2016 and won’t go to market until next year. (Bardstown Bourbon Company has sold very little whiskey under its own label so far but through its custom distilling program you may have tasted some of their handiwork in what Belle Meade Bourbon and other newer distillers offer while their own whiskey ages.)

Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to being fun and delivering the mildest hint of a buzz, a distillery tour will leave you with some more tools in your kit for deciding what you truly enjoy in a bourbon rather than going on name reputation.

You can easily fill a week with distillery tours in and around Bardstown. But you could also pay a visit to the Old Bardstown Colonial Village featuring a collection of frontier cabins spread over a verdant park. It’s very close to Museum Row which includes the Women’s Museum of the Civil War.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located less than a mile from the Old Historic Courthouse, My Old Kentucky Home State Park embodies the antebellum South and was the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s world-famous composition, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Kentucky’s official state song. Guides in period costume tell the story of the esteemed Rowan family who called the plantation home from the late 18th to 19th centuries. During the summer visitors can enjoy America’s favorite outdoor drama, “The Stephen Foster Story,” which features Stephen Foster’s best-known works brought to life by performers in period costumes among beautiful sets.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no trip to Bardstown that’s complete without a visit to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and there’s no better time to visit than the morning! Comprised of more than 15,600 acres of protected wildlife, forest, and natural landscapes, the Bernheim property is a virtual must-see. Since its founding in 1929, this sustainable woodland ecosystem has existed as a proven habitat for diversified flora and fauna providing refuge for so many local species. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve got the time on the way back to the downtown district, stop by the Jim Beam Distillery, unique in its own right as a location that can effectively rival any distillery in the area.

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more today!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

5 Reasons National Parks are a Great Option for a Budget-friendly Vacation

Visiting national parks is a great way to see the most spectacular landscapes in the country and it can be very affordable

Writer and historian Wallace Stegner famously called national parks America’s “best idea.” Turns out they’re also among the best ideas for an affordable RV vacation thanks to hundreds of drivable destinations throughout the country, free or inexpensive admission, camping, and picnicking opportunities, and tons of cheap activities.

Here are five reasons national parks make a great low-budget getaway.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s probably a national park within easy driving distance

Road trip! When people think of America’s national parks, they tend to imagine sweeping expanses of Western wilderness, like the Grand Canyon. But there are hundreds of national parks, historic sites, preserves, scenic and historic trails, national monuments and memorials, and other places across the country that fall under the National Park Service’s care. That means there’s likely a site within easy driving distance of where you live or plan to spend vacation time.

The National Park Service manages 423 individual units covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states including sites in 40 of the 50 most populous cities in the United States, according to the service’s website.

Visitors can use the National Park Service’s online “Find a Park” tool at NPS.gov/findapark to search for parks by state, activity, or topic of interest, or browse a full list.

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks are inexpensive (or even free) to visit

More than two-thirds of national park sites, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t charge an entrance fee.

Also look for special passes and programs that offer free or discounted admission, such as the annual fee-free entrance days (there are five in 2020) and the Every Kid Outdoors program, which provides free admission for fourth-graders and their families. There’s also the free, lifetime Access Pass which is available to people with a permanent disability, the annual free Military Pass for people currently serving, and the lifetime Senior Pass which costs just $80 for people age 62 and older.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if multiple parks are in your plans, annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is a great bargain. It costs $80 and allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. If visiting several parks with entrance fees within a year, this pass pays for itself very quickly.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a lot of free stuff to do once you’re there

At many vacation spots, admission fees are only the tip of the cost iceberg. Not so at national parks where the talks, walks, films, museums, and other programs are typically either free or included in the admission fee.

Visitors might join a free Keys Ranch Tour at Joshua Tree National Park, hear free geology talks at Capitol Reef National Park, and hike with a ranger at Saguaro National Park. There are also interactive Junior Ranger activities for kids at more than 200 National Park Service areas.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can forgo hotels and restaurants in favor of camping and picnicking

To fully experience the majesty of national parks—starry skies, splendid sunrises, and sunsets—skip the hotel and camp instead. There are campsites in more than 130 national park units, so you can wake up on the beach at Cumberland Island National Seashore, among the ponderosa pines at Grand Canyon National Park, or with a view of otherworldly spires in Bryce Canyon National Park.

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

The parks offer two types of camping experiences. RVers can drive directly to established campgrounds to set up a trailer or motorhome. These campgrounds sometimes have amenities such as water, electricity hookups, bathrooms and showers, fire rings, dump stations, camp stores, and food storage boxes to protect food from wildlife.

To go off-grid, pack a backpack and head out into the wilderness on foot or in a canoe, kayak, or raft to try backcountry camping with only your gear and a sense of adventure.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can make it a volunteer vacation

Another way for budget travelers to visit national parks is to volunteer there. Last year, 300,000-plus volunteers contributed more than 7.2 million hours of service. Some positions are specialized and require particular talents, knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as a background check. Other positions only require a desire and willingness to volunteer. People who rack up 250 volunteer hours can get a free Volunteer Pass, good for a year’s worth of unlimited entrance fees.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, you choose to experience the national parks, be sure to get the latest information before you go.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Are You Ready? The Hurricane Season is Just Starting

The tropics are heating back up

Will Grace top Elsa as the headliner storm of the season, even though Elsa was more than a month ago when the tropics were just beginning to stir?

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred degenerated into a tropical wave and its path swung further west into the Gulf of Mexico this past Saturday (August 14, 2021), Southwest Florida already had its eyes set on a new threat. The overnight formation of Tropical Storm Grace marked the second storm in a week the area has to monitor. The storm could make landfall in Florida by the end of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

August is when the tropics typically fire up. But we aren’t there just yet. Dr. William “Bill” Gray (1929-2016), regarded as a pioneer in the science of hurricane forecasting, would literally ring a bell on August 20 to announce the real start of hurricane season. That’s several days out.

There is definitely something that “clicks” in late August allowing for tropical systems to shift from mostly rainmakers (in some cases, these are still catastrophic) to extreme wind makers. Wind damage and deaths due to storm surge could jump dramatically in the weeks ahead.

Cedar Creek, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s the good news: Fred was not one of those storms (and at the time of writing it’s too early to know about Grace). And that’s actually a little bit surprising considering that storm names beginning with the letter “F” are the second most likely names to be retired, meaning they were particularly deadly or destructive.

Here’s a breakdown of retired hurricane names categorized by the letter:

Letter of the alphabet             Number of retired storm names

A                                 7

Agnes, Alicia, Allen, Allison, Andrew, Anita, Audrey

Crystal River, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

B                                 3

Betsy, Beulah, Bob

C                                 9

Camille, Carla, Carmen, Carol, Celia, Cesar, Charley, Cleo, Connie

D                                 8

David, Dean, Dennis, Diana, Diane, Donna, Dora, Dorian

E                                  5

Edna, Elena, Eloise, Erika, Eta

Daytona Beach, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

F                                  9

Fabian, Felix, Fifi, Flora, Florence, Floyd, Fran, Frances, Frederic

G                                 5

Georges, Gilbert, Gloria, Greta, Gustav

H                                 6

Harvey, Hattie, Hazel, Hilda, Hortense, Hugo

I                                   12

Igor, Ike, Inez, Ingrid, Ione, Iota, Irene, Iris, Irma, Isabel, Isisdore, Ivan

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

J                                  5

Janet, Jeanne, Joan, Joaquin, Juan

K                                 3

Katrina, Keith, Klaus

L                                  4

Laura, Lenny, Lili, Luis

M                                6

Maria, Marilyn, Matthew, Michael, Michelle, Mitch

Rockport-Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

N                                 2

Nate, Noel

O                                 2

Opal, Otto

P                                  1

Paloma

Rockport-Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

R                                 2

Rita, Roxanne

S                                  2

Sandy, Stan

T                                  1

Tomas

W                                1

Wilma

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No, that’s not a typo. Believe it or not, the letter “I” is responsible for the most retired hurricane names. According to the Weather Authority at News 4 JAX, the best guess this year is that we’ll see the “I” storm sometime shortly after Labor Day. That would be near the peak of hurricane season which is September 10.

Ida will be this year’s “I” storm.

But which storm will be this year’s strongest? Possibly, Julian. It doesn’t sound particularly intimidating (none of them does, really), but that’s as good a guess as any. And again, that’s purely a guess.

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park, Texas stood firm during Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017). Your RV would not be this fortunate. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Klotzbach, the lead CSU forecaster, recently updated his seasonal hurricane forecast. He’s now expecting us to see four major hurricanes. In other words, the weeks ahead are likely to be very challenging for many people.

Worth Pondering…

Hurricane season brings a humbling reminder that, despite our technologies, most of nature remains unpredictable.

—Diane Ackerman