Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Finding the unexpected in Bluegrass Country

From our home base at Whispering Hills RV Park, we spent an enjoyable week exploring historic Georgetown and the local area. A generally pleasant campground in a pastoral setting, Whispering Hills RV Park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129 and 7 miles north of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 25.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using our tow-along, we drove several of the scenic back roads including the Buffalo Gals Homemakers Barn Quilt Trail near the small community of Stamping Ground, named for the buffalo herds that waited impatiently to drink from its spring.

Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day, we drove the scenic back roads past immaculate horse farms with manicured fields of bluegrass and miles of white and black plank fencing that are characteristic of central Kentucky. Another distinctive fence is the fieldstone or dry laid stone fencing. Although it’s almost inconceivable, no mortar of any kind was ever used. On this road trip, we ended our scenic drive at Keeneland Race Course, one of the most genteel, beautiful racetracks in the world.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. The first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad, Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture. The railroad running through the middle of the main street with a one-way street on either side of the tracks, creates much of the special charm and appeal of this friendly and quaint town.

Bluegrass Country Thoroughbred Horse Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Historic Midway, we continued onto Versailles, Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum, Wild Turkey Distillery, and Lawrenceburg.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Wild Turkey Distillery began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns, the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad). The tasting room houses the original copper still from the old Wild Turkey distillery. A delightful tour, led by a well-informed and articulate tour guide.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day and another road trip to Woodford Reserve Distillery. Set amid horse farms, Woodford Reserve was a scenic drive via Historic Midway. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn’s Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Re-opened in 1996, Woodford Reserve gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve bourbon is made much as Pepper’s bourbon was in the 1800s.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our final day we toured Frankfort visiting Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, Kentucky State Capitol and Floral Clock, Old State Capitol, Kentucky Historical Museum, and Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.

Kentucky Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons are bottled and sealed by hand.

Downtown Frankfort with Old State Capitol

The Trace Tour offers a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and begins with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found Georgetown to be the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. We  enjoyed our week but have left numerous attractions for another visit—Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, Danville and Shaker Museum, Ark Encounter, and Toyota Auto Plant Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina

Quite simply, South Carolina has it all, y’all—and the state has delivered to visiting RVers with a friendly southern drawl. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State beckons with a wave that signals everyone’s welcome—come on down.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park.

The Peachoid at Gaffney © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern charm makes Gaffney a desirable place to visit especially if your RV is a motorhome built on a Freightliner chassis. The Freightliner Custom Chassis Factory Service Center offers six service bays, 20 RV electric hookup, and factory-trained technicians. Be sure to visit the factory and see how the custom chassis is produced for the RV market. And the Peachoid, a 135-foot structures that functions as one million gallon water tank, is an iconic landmark that draws attention to one of the area’s major agricultural products.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thoroughbred Country was famous as a winter resort for some of America’s wealthiest families with names such as Goodyear, Whitney, Astor, and Vanderbilt had homes in the town of Aiken. The Winter Colony Historic Districts—90 room “cottages,” roads with equestrian stoplights, beautiful gardens, and a restored late 19th-century inn—recall the town’s golden era.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands city of Sumter, the beautiful black waters of Swan Lake form the setting for the spectacular Iris Gardens. The only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is also home to some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris featuring 120 varieties. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colorful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park showcases the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. An International Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area this 24,000-acre park is located in central South Carolina about 20 miles southeast of Columbia along the north side of the Congaree River. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on foot by using the over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe the Lowcountry and Resort Islands. Picturesque Beaufort charms visitors with historic Southern mansions, tree-lined boulevards, and an oceanside location.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest sea island between New Jersey and Florida, Hilton Head covers 42 square miles of broad beaches, nine marinas, over two dozen championship golf courses, and more tennis courts than any other resort of its size.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near historic Beaufort, four-mile-long Hunting Island is home to dense vegetation and wildlife making it the most natural of the Lowcountry Islands.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1670, Charleston has suffered fires, earthquakes, pirates, a civil war, and a hurricane. Charleston boasts 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings—136 from the late 18th century and more than 600 others built prior to the 1840s. RVers will find numerous Charleston things to do: wander cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques, browse the Old City Market where Gullah basket ladies peddle their wares, and peek at private gardens tucked serenely behind iron gates. House museums and monuments to wealthy Colonial merchants are open to visitors, as are the plantations and gardens that line Ashley River.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic beach resorts at Kiawah Island, Seabrook, Wild Dunes, and Edisto Island offer miles of unspoiled beaches and marshlands. The semi-tropical retreat of Kiawah Island offers 10 miles of undisturbed beaches and five world-renowned golf courses.

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing. Continuing for more than 60 miles along the Atlantic Coast, this string of beach resorts includes such ocean-side communities as Myrtle Beach, considered the Strand’s hub, North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Surfside, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, and Georgetown.

Middleton Place near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Myrtle Beach was founded more than 30 years ago when the communities of Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Ocean Drive, and Cherry Grove united. The historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet has earned the title “seafood capital of South Carolina” because of the fresh seafood drawn from its waters and served at the many restaurants lining the waterfront.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year

For many, snowbirding isn’t just about having fun—it’s about avoiding the miseries of a northern winter. With the challenge of icy roads, shoveling snow, the cold, and being stormbound, is it any wonder so many of us like to escape winter?

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More and more snowbirds are now choosing RVing to the Sunbelt over flying to a rented or owned vacation home. RV snowbirding gives you the freedom to travel to different destinations, to leave and return when you want, and to enjoy the comfort of having your own stuff with you all the time. It’s your vacation home on wheels—how great is that?

Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes. A key aspect of this preparation is making sure your home appears occupied.

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re new to the snowbird lifestyle or an experienced RVer, creating your own customized checklist is a great way to keep track of your seasonal preparations.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? (And how will you get there?)

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest flock to TexasMississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

Rio Bend Golf and RV Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Clermont Golf and RV Resort, Clermont, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to visit friends or sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

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

Maybe your plan is to head to a single destination, park there, and treat your RV like a cottage; taking day trips and excursions from one home base. Or maybe your plan is to visit several destinations, spending a few weeks or even a month at each. This is ideal if you’re attending festivals and events, or checking off a bucket list, like your top 10 national parks or roadside attractions.

Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Either way, experienced RVers know that your first step—after you’re comfortable driving the RV, of course—should be to plan your route and research your overnight stops.

Pro Tips:

Arizona Oasis RV Park, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be realistic about how many hours you can drive in a day.

Reserve your RV parks in advance, based on your route. This guarantees you’ll have a spot to stop each night.

New Green Acres RV Park, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure the park can accommodate the size of your rig. Plan to get there while it’s still daylight so you can park and set up and have time to relax.

Take holidays and long weekends into account: this will affect availability of camping sites.

Is Rover Roving with You?

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

Make sure your dog is trained, fit, and healthy for the type of travel you plan. Take into account the type of transportation, activities, and living situation. Ensure your dog responds to recall and “leave it” commands for everyone’s safety.

Hill Top RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when I hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our home in Alberta, something in my genes starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the motorhome with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

A Great Migration: Bosque del Apache

The sound of the sandhill cranes and the scent of roasting green chile herald the arrival of autumn in the Rio Grande valley

It was a frigid November morning at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where we had joined dozens of ardent wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, lined up tripod-to-tripod and scope to scope, ready and waiting for the action to begin.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We were standing on an observation platform called Flight Deck overlooking a network of fields and marshes teeming with thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese that pause here to feed and rest during their annual migration south.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Talk about a great migration! Every year starting in early November, some 10-15,000 sandhill cranes, 20-30,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks, and even a few hawks and bald eagles migrate to the Bosque del Apache. This annual event also attracts birders, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds who also migrate to the Bosque to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Rio Grande just a few miles off Interstate 25 south of Socorro (between Albuquerque and Las Cruces) in the tiny town of San Antonio, the 57,000-acre refuge was established in the 1930s to protect the sandhill crane. The majestic 4-foot-tall crane had nearly vanished along the Intermountain West Corridor, a vital north-south flyway for migratory waterfowl and many other birds.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. As is a “fly in” at sunset when the flocks return to the shallow marshes after a day of feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They could go any minute now,” said the photographer next to us. An amateur wildlife photographer, here as a member of a photo tour group. “They take off all at once…thousands of them,” he adds, “and it’s really unbelievable.”

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we watched and waited, the sun inched over the eastern horizon illuminating a wispy fog rising from the marsh several hundred feet away. Then, without any discernible signal, it happened. In virtual unison thousands of snow geese erupted in a thunder of wings, and in a blur filled the sky as they flew low over head before soaring northward to spend the day feeding in the fields.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sandhill cranes then started to walk. Others lowered their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s unbelievable how they take off all at once, thousands of them. Nothing we’ve ever seen in nature compares to it. It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then in the late afternoon they streak the sky and return to the water to roost for the night. The afternoon fly-in is almost as enjoyable to observe as the morning fly-out.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sunrise had also made us forget for a time the freezing chill as we retreated to the warmth of our toad.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once warmed up, we drove the 15-mile one-way auto loop road and hiked the trails and observed large groups of snow geese and cranes, thousands of ducks of many varieties, hundreds of Canada geese, dozens of hawks, eagles, blackbirds, crows, roadrunners, sparrows, grebes, coots, and other birds along with occasional reptiles, amphibians and mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The one-day entry fee is $5 per vehicle including all occupants; an annual pass is $25. Golden Age and other federal passes are accepted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge hosts a number of special events, including the annual Festival of the Cranes, staged during the height of the fall migration. The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes is set for November 20-23, 2019. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

6 Great Destinations to Visit on Veterans Day

Honor the men and women of the armed forces at these special sites

From Boston, Massachusetts and Saratoga, New York to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Mobile, Alabama, our list of great destinations to visit on Veterans Day offer new perspectives on being a veteran and the opportunity to honor those, current and past, who have served in the US military.

In honor of Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, we’ve found some great destinations that are steeped in military history.

Veterans Day, first celebrated in 1919 under the proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was in honor of the end of hostilities at the end of World War I (which formally ended in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918). The holiday changed to its modern form in 1954.

Boston Freedom Trail

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, Granary Burying Ground, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution (Old Ironside). and Bunker Hill Monument.

Saratoga National Historical Park

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) ranks among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last war to be fought on American soil was the Civil War, and one of its most renowned battles was that of Gettysburg, where around 50,000 casualties were suffered. Now visitors can step back in time and stroll through the battlefields, see where Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, tour the museum and even horseback ride along the trails. For a war that was so long ago, Gettysburg is the place where it becomes real and the sacrifices soldiers made become tangible.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

USS Alabama National Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching longer than two football fields, this World War II battleship today welcomes visitors to explore its deck, guns, machinery and bunks. Home to 2,500 sailors, it won numerous battle commendations, and led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay as the war ended. The park also has the World War II USS Drum submarine.

Alamo

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story is well known, passed down from one generation to the next. For nearly two weeks, 189 Texans stood tall against the assembled army of Mexican General Lopez de Santa Anna at a small mission and fortress compound in San Antonio. On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

Thank you veterans!

Worth Pondering…

While only one day of the year is dedicated solely to honoring our veterans, Americans must never forget the sacrifices that many of our fellow countrymen have made to defend our country and protect our freedoms.

—Randy Neugebaue

Top 12 Veterans Day Destinations

In honor of Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, we’ve found some great destinations that are steeped in military history

Veterans Day, first celebrated in 1919 under the proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was in honor of the end of hostilities at the end of World War I (which formally ended in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918). The holiday changed to its modern form in 1954.

USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the best places to visit for a sense of what a veteran has experienced are museum ships. You can visit the Midway in San Diego, California; the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas; the Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina; the Hornet in Alameda, California; the Intrepid in New York, New York; USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama; and USS Constitution (Old Ironside) in Boston, Massachusetts.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) in Boston, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 17, 1781, the Americans won a decisive battle against the better-trained British Army. The Battle of Cowpens (South Carolina) was over in less than an hour. This battle was the event which started British General Cornwallis on his march north to his eventual surrender at Yorktown just nine months later.

The Battle of Cowpens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was one of those special moments in time when destiny is forever changed. The march to Yorktown had begun.

Cowpens National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga ranks among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Battle of Sarasota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) marked the climax of the Saratoga campaign giving the Americans a decisive victory over the British forces. British General John Burgoyne led a large invasion army up the Champlain Valley from Canada, hoping to meet a similar force marching northward from New York City; the southern force never arrived, and Burgoyne was surrounded by American forces in upstate New York.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though all the survivors from the Civil War are now gone, it’s still a great way to honor veterans and learn some history at the same time. Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, is perhaps the epitome of Civil War battlefields. It was the largest, bloodiest battle of the Civil War with 50,000 casualties. Though the conflict took place more than 150 years ago, it’s still a powerful reminder of the sacrifice and strife that took place and that almost tore apart the nation.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battles of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the “Army of Northern Virginia”, led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appomattox Court House National Historic Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nation’s capital is teeming with monuments dedicated to the brave men and women who fought in wars both present and past. Some honor those who fell and some honor those who fought. Regardless, there are plenty of stunning monuments to see and places to visit. If you can, it’s a wonderful place to spend Veterans Day.

Thank you veterans!

Worth Pondering…

While only one day of the year is dedicated solely to honoring our veterans, Americans must never forget the sacrifices that many of our fellow countrymen have made to defend our country and protect our freedoms.

—Randy Neugebaue

Planning Your North-South Snowbird RV Route

Exploring the popular north-to-south Snowbird RV travel routes

Snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Tennessee Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the American Northwest and Western Canada tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest and Central Canada flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast and Eastern Canada head for Florida.

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is also subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework before you leave. Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you’re at it, be sure to account for the changing weather conditions you’ll encounter on your travels. If you haven’t given yourself enough time to avoid the first winter storm, plan accordingly. Allow yourself sufficient time for cold-weather driving, and bring ample warm-weather clothes to get you through the journey.

Since the Interstate highways in America are generally well-maintained and have priority for snow clearing and sanding, they’re a good bet for safe winter travel.

Kentucky Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With many Interstate highways, the price you pay for fast speed convenience is a lack of variation in the scenery along the route. North-south Interstates are different, partly because they are north-south routes and therefore pass through varying climatic conditions and elevation changes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstates 95 and 75 are the two preferred north-south travel routes from the northeast to Florida because they are direct and provide a wide range of service facilities.

“Along Interstate-95” and “Along Interstate-75” are two popular spiral-bound mile-by-mile guidebooks with practical information on these two major north-south routes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-95 is the longest north-south interstate in the US, traveling through 15 states. It is the main highway on the East Coast of the U. S., paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida and serving some of the best-known cities in the country including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

Every year, I-75 leads millions of snowbirds from Canada and the U.S. Midwest to the warmer South.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-75 is a perfect sample of America. It starts right at the Canadian border in Sault Ste. Marie, then down to Detroit and into the heart of the Midwest through Michigan and Ohio. From there, it makes its way through Kentucky and Tennessee, stopping near and in cities like Lexington, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, before entering Georgia. I-75 is a main route to Atlanta, and from Atlanta, it continues into Florida.

I-75 passes through Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you cruise the route past Tampa, take some time to enjoy the brief East-West stretch through the Everglades that’s known as Alligator Alley before ending just north of Miami. Whether you’re looking for the fastest route from the Midwest to Florida, or you happen to be enjoying the ride between some of America’s coolest cities, I-75 is loaded with plenty to see and do along the way.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along I-75, you can see Civil War, American Indian, and civil rights history. You can sample Southern BBQ and peach cobbler. You pass through crowded cities and shaded valleys, miles of tacky billboards, and pristine horse country.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky is best known for two things: horse-racing and bourbon. I-75 passes near some distilleries, but if you don’t have the time to spend fully exploring the Bourbon Trail, you can get some classic Kentucky vibes at the Kentucky Horse Park. A ticket gets you access to two super thoroughbred museums (including the Smithsonian’s International Museum of the Horse) and admission to their horse shows throughout the day, some of which feature retired racehorses. You can go for a horseback ride, tour the barns, and visit various halls of fame. Or, just stop in to enjoy the atmosphere and check out the statues of Man O’ War and other famous horses and jockeys.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park protects the land that saw some of the bloodiest, hardest-fought battles that turned the tide of the Civil War. In 1863, the Union and the Confederacy were fighting for control of Chattanooga, a railroad center that was known as the Gateway to the South. The Union Army suffered devastating losses at Chickamauga in Georgia, but ultimately defeated the Confederates and seized control of Chattanooga shortly after.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the location of the Chickamauga battlefield (all of the battlefields in the area are operated as various units in one park by the National Park Service). The visitor center is at the north end of the battlefield and contains the bookstore, museum exhibits, films, and visitor info that will guide you during your visit.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

P.S. I Love You

Petite Sirah (aka. Durif, Petite Syrah) I Love You!

Developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Syrah, this grape variety is more commonly known by its slightly anglicized synonym, Petite Sirah—particularly in California. The “petite” refers to the size of its berries and leaves that look like its namesake.

Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Francois Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder at the University of Montpellier in Southern France, released this new variety that he named after himself. The result of a cross between the noble Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Durif was developed to resist mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, the tightly-bunched variety never really caught on because of gray rot or root rot in the humid Rhône region .

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, the grape has adapted well to the more arid climates of California and Australia (Victoria State). Petite Syrah has, in fact, succeeded better abroad than in its south of France birthplace, where it is now almost never grown. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The combination of Peloursin and Syrah results in fruit with saturated color and very dense fruit clusters. Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The grape’s similarity to parent Syrah became confusing for early planters in California. Starting in the 1880s, some of the original Durif vines were confused for a clone of Syrah and subsequently named Petite Sirah. DNA fingerprinting has shown that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Until the push for varietal-labeled wines came to the fore in the 1960s and ’70s, little thought was given to the actual name of this variety in California. It was often added to provide color and body to California’s bulk wine production, or used to add richness to North Coast Zinfandel and Barbera.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is nothing “petite” about this wine. This is one of the few wines that can often be identified by just looking at its beautiful deep black/purple color often described as inky. Petite Sirah is one of the dark grapes that are often referred to as “black grapes.” This is largely due to the dark skin of the grape itself. After you uncorked a bottle you can see exactly how inky and dark the end of the cork is. If you are not careful, you can stain a countertop, your clothes, or your hands. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines are relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel. Vintners will sometimes introduce a small amount of white wine into Petite Sirah to calm the intensity with little effect on color. The bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit especially blueberries, black fruit, plums. Petite Sirah wines that are very tannic have aging ability that can exceed 20 years.

When purchasing a bottle from the winery, ask the tasting room staff for the winemaker’s recommendation on bottle aging.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petite Sirah can sometimes be rather “short,” that is, the flavor does not linger in the mouth; hence, the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth will add length and elegance like a Zinfandel.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acreage for the grape has had its ups and downs over the years, reaching its heyday during the 1970s before plummeting to its lowest point of about 1,750 acres statewide in 1995. These days, almost 10,000 acres are planted to the variety, which is great news for fans of big, rich, hearty wines.

Cooper Vineyard Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Petite Sirah plantings in California date back to 1884 in Alameda County. But we have Concannon Vineyard in Livermore Valley to thank for Petite Sirah’s popularity. The winery was the first in the U.S. to call out Petite Sirah on the label—in 1964. Now it’s Concannon’s rock star grape.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines made from the Petite Sirah are not subtle, and provide a generous mouthful of juicy black fruit and grippy tannins. Some of the producers that are currently creating great Petite Sirah include David Bruce, Girard, and Michael David with their Earthquake series—one of our personal favorites.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pick up a bottle and find out why, despite the label, this wine is anything but “petite.”

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

What to Pack for Extended RV Trips

Here are the essentials for an extended RV trip including snowbird travel

Over the course of 22 years of our snowbird RV lifestyle, we have learned what we really need to pack and what we can do without. Our list of “essentials” has changed over the years based on changing needs and available storage space.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving on our snowbird journey we go through the RV to determine the items needed and those no longer required.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following is a list of the items we currently pack into our RV for our snowbird travels to the U.S. Sunbelt. It should be noted that the majority of these items are never removed from the RV.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopefully, if you are new to the snowbird lifestyle the following list will provide some assistance on the essentials required when planning an extended RV trip.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside Items

  • Laptop computer, printer, camera, lens, and camera bag
  • Manuals for the motorhome and toad
  • Atlases and maps
  • Campground directories (Good Sam and Big Rigs)
  • Office supplies
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kitchen Stuff

  • Place setting for four people
  • Eating utensils
  • Coffee mugs and assorted glassware
  • Placemats
  • Small, medium, and large pots w/lids
  • Electric fry pan
  • Salad spinner
  • Roasting pans
  • Air tight plastic containers of various sizes for food storage
  • Toaster oven
  • Slow cooker
  • Kettle
  • Kitchen knives
  • Mixing bowls
  • Coffee maker
  • Cutting boards
  • Assorted utensils (spatula, ice cream scoop, can opener, measuring spoons, peeler, etc.)
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside Items

  • Camping chairs
  • Folding tables
  • Outside mat
  • Tire covers
  • Tarp
  • Jack pads
  • RV Leveling Blocks (plastic stacking blocks in carrying case)
  • 5 gallon bucket
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utility Hookups

  • Fresh water hoses
  • Water pressure regulators
  • Sewer hoses, connections including clear plastic elbow, and support
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Coaxial TV cable
  • Progressive Industries Electric Management System
  • 30-amp extension cord
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cleaners & Lubricants

  • Windex
  • 303 Aerospace Protectant
  • Meguires RV wash and wax
  • Long adjustable pole with attachments
  • Silicone and white lithium spray lubricants
  • WD-40
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tools & Maintenance Items

  • Basic tool kit (Screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, hammer, tape measure, etc.)
  • Assorted screws, nuts, bolts, and washers
  • Heavy duty tire pressure gauge
  • Folding shovel
  • Duct and Gorilla Tape
  • Spare oil, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid for motorhome
  • Distilled water
  • Funnels
  • Work gloves
  • Portable collapsible ladder
  • Heavy duty clippers with extendable handles
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Safety & Emergency Items

  • 4 fire extinguishers—bedroom, entrance, storage, and toad
  • Emergency road side reflective triangles
  • First aid kit
  • Spare batteries for LED flashlights, CO, smoke, and LP gas detectors
  • Battery jumper cables
At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wow! When I actually sat down and listed our stuff and it sure adds up. It’s hard to believe it all fits in our rig, but it does. Fortunately, our Dutch Star diesel pusher’s ample storage space and a decent amount of extra cargo weight capacity.

At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with the reliability of Newmar motorhomes and the quality service provided by our dealer—Midtown RV in Penticton, British Columbia—the ample cargo carrying capacity was one of the reasons we chose it. Something to think about if you’re buying a rig for extended RV trips.

At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Barn Quilt Trail: Folksy Phenomenon

Barn quilts are America, Mom, and apple pie

Today’s barn decorating revival became popular with a woman named Donna Sue Groves, from Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to honor her mother by hanging a colorful painted quilt square on her barn. 

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the start, the mother of the quilt-barn movement envisioned mile after mile of quilt trails throughout Appalachia, but the folksy phenomenon has exceeded her expectations.

“We’re celebrating quilting as an art form. We’re celebrating our agricultural heritage and supporting entrepreneurial opportunities,” Groves says.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of barn decoration dates back to the mid 1800s. Painting symbols on barns originated from traditional folk art passed along from the German and Swiss immigrants who settled the Pennsylvania Dutch region in southeastern Pennsylvania. Once these groups including Lutherans, Moravians, and Mennonites built their family farms and communities, they would paint small patterns on their barns to celebrate their heritage. Originally these patterns were simple stars, compass roses, or stylized birds from traditional folk art.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2000, when Donna Sue Groves set out to fulfill her promise to paint a quilt square on her mother’s tobacco barn, she decided to expand her folk art idea beyond their farm. As an Ohio Arts Council employee, she had a hunch that quilt squares painted on the sides of barns throughout Adams County would provide work for local artists and encourage visitors to travel through the countryside.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groves organized volunteers for the Adams County Quilt Barn Sampler committee as they established guidelines for the 8-foot-by-8-foot painted wooden squares called “barn quilts.” Her mother Maxine stitched a sampler quilt with 20 traditional patterns chosen by the group and in October 2001, they unveiled their first painted quilt square—an Ohio Star—on a barn during the Lewis Mountain Olde Thyme Herb Fair in Manchester, Ohio.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beginning tourists roamed the back roads of the county in search of the colorful quilt patterns, taking photographs, and visiting with barn owners.

As the folk art spread across the countryside, Donna Sue’s gift to her mother became a gift to rural America.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the start of the first quilt trail in America. Quilt trails have now being organized all across the country. Barn quilts are displayed around communities and then mapped out for tourists to follow these amazing works of art. They promote tourism and help draw visitors into rural communities.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditional stars and various quilt patterns are now being displayed on barns, homes, sheds, and sides of buildings. They are also put on posts and displayed in yards and parks. 

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, more than 4,000 quilt squares adorn barns and other buildings in 34 states, most situated along more than 120 designated barn-quilt trails.

“The trails are very localized. What’s going on is local pride,” says Suzi Parron, author of Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement, published in 2012.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parron, an English teacher from Stone Mountain, Georgia, became smitten with the folk art phenomenon after seeing a Flying Geese quilt square on a barn in Cadiz, Kentucky.

The quilt squares are painted by farm families, professional artists, high school art students, quilt guilds, 4-H groups, and other organizations.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each community organizes its own trail. Many groups seek art and tourism grants and donations to pay for paint, wood, and brochures. Local utility companies, fire departments, and building contractors often provide manpower and trucks with lifts to hang the wooden blocks. Sometimes, barn owners pay a few hundred dollars for their own barn quilts.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Morgan County, Colorado, quilting enthusiast Nancy Lauck has painted nearly 200 barn quilts since 2007 because she treasures the barns built by pioneering farmers.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another barn preservationist, Marcella Epperson in Johnson City, Tennessee, enjoys meeting visitors and sharing stories about her wooden-pegged barn built in 1898 by her grandfather. A combination of two quilt patterns—a LeMoyne Star set inside Swallows in the Window—decorates the barn.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barn quilts remind people of their agricultural roots, as Donna Sue Groves intended, and bring attention to the endangered status of century-old barns.

Worth Pondering…

A day patched with quilting seldom unravels.