The Wonderful National Parks of the West

Out west, the landscapes are vast and beautiful. There’s no place better to check them out than at these National Parks.

Magnificent mountains, diverse forests, and unusual geological features are among the significant features found in the National Parks of the West. These extraordinary landscapes are great places to enjoy outdoor recreation, to learn about nature and history, and to savor a scenic driving tour.

These areas give you a chance to get back to nature, explore the wilderness, and gaze up at pristine night skies. The western United States has a plethora of National Parks and each one is distinct and unique. We don’t expect you to visit all 12 straight away, we’ll give you some time…

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It’s iconic. It’s dramatic. It’s historic. One mile deep and 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon is a mesmerizing force of nature. One of the world’s seven natural wonders, it’s almost overwhelming to stand at the South Rim at dusk and watch rose-hued rock faces turn a fiery burnished bronze.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is characterized by its pinnacles, rock fins, and 2,000 gravity-defying arches. The spans of these natural stone wonders range from three feet across to 290 feet in the case of Landscape Arch, but the most famous of all is the 52 foot-tall Delicate Arch—so iconic it appears on Utah license plates.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Arches’ nearby neighbor, Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create a 387-mile outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The park’s namesake tree, the Joshua tree, is an admired inhabitant that resembles something you might find in a Dr. Seuss book. For years, novice and expert climbers have ventured to the park to climb giant, sculpted slabs of rock while hikers explore the vast desert terrain.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

At first glance, you might wonder where the forest went. Stone log fragments litter an otherwise drab section of the high desert. However, this span of desert was once a lush, green, forested oasis with 200-foot conifers and was ruled by dinosaurs. Of the 50,000 acres of designated wilderness, the brilliantly-colored petrified wood, impressive fossils, and the Painted Desert incite the most excitement.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde is the only national park dedicated solely to human endeavor and houses some of the largest and most important cliff dwellings in the world. Built by the Ancestral Puebloans, the known archeological sites number more than 5,000 and include mesa-top pueblos and masonry towers, as well as intricate, multi-storey dwellings wedged beneath overhanging cliffs. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Aside from being home to the world’s largest tree (by volume) and protecting vast areas of towering inland redwoods, a big part of Sequoia’s appeal is that it isn’t all that crowded. Take a stroll under the big trees in the Giant Forest, view wildlife in Crescent Meadows, climb to the top of Moro Rock.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Drive along the Badlands Loop Road to experience magnificent craggy buttes, pinnacles, and spires that seem to surprise the surrounding prairie grasslands. This Mars-like landscape has several accessible trails and overlooks including the Pinnacles Overlook, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, and Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for hikers hoping to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Home of the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is much more than a single sandstone canyon. Here, you’ll find the largest concentration of eroded auburn spires, or hoodoos, on Earth. Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration, and Bryce viewpoints are the spots to hit for the best views in the shortest amount of time.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Just when you thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, Zion comes along and blows your socks off. Carved by the Virgin River, the landscape is a geological masterpiece, defined by its canyons, plateaus, and soaring sandstone cliffs. But it’s the variety, not just the magnitude that gives the park its grandeur.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Life Lessons during the COVID Era

Here are some lessons for life to be learned from the pandemic. Many we probably should have known all along, but the current situation has brought them out again in sharp relief.

We all thought this was a temporary thing. But here we are. People are already calling this the “COVID era” as if they are reading about it in a history book. But we’re still going through it. 

Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For us the social distancing and handwashing aren’t that bad. We got used to that stuff quickly. The tough part about this era is that life has changed permanently for many folks. 

Salton Sea, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rifts are created between people with different beliefs on wearing a mask. Complete industries are swept away and will probably never be the same. The world has truly changed. 

In this article, I’m sharing life lessons I’ve learned from observing these changes. Hopefully, these short reminders will make life during this era easier for you.

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s hard on everybody

I know your life is hard. But so is the life of your neighbor. That puts us all in the same boat. So go easy on yourself and others.

St. Marys, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing is forever

It seems like this will last forever. But everything dies. And so will pandemics.

Harvesting in Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights

Make the best of your time

Accepting circumstances doesn’t mean we give up. Make the best of it. To be clear: Worrying and thinking about stuff that’s outside of your control is NOT a good use of your time. Yes, easier said than done. I know.

Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights

Take a breather

Take a moment for yourself and breeeeath…. Aaaah. Yes, that’s the feeling.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights

Exercise every day

Go for a walk or hike. Stay in shape. If you’re not injured or ill, it’s your duty to take care of your body. Never take this lightly. 

Fraser River at Hope, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights

Get off social media

Social media is a waste of your time. Always! Pretty much so!

Gilroy Garlic Festival, California © Rex Vogel, all rights

Read books

Reading is a better use of your time. We all have reading lists with hundreds of books on them. And we’re not going to live 200 years. That means you need to make some tough choices. Which books will you read before you die?

Boyds Bears, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights

Learn new skills

Technology is improving and changing so fast that we’re not aware what’s going on. We just learn it after the fact. But that may be too late. Stay on top of your game and keep learning new skills you need to do good work.

Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights

Keep a daily journal

The COVID-19 pandemic will probably be one of the weirdest times of our lives. Don’t you want to document this? Even if you never read it again, it’s still worth writing because it makes you a better thinker. 

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights

Inspiration comes from within

“I need to go to Sedona for inspiration.” Or replace Sedona with any city or place. Why do we think inspiration comes from the outside? Look inside!

Truth BBQ, Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights

Good food improves your mood

Looking for something a little out of the ordinary and adventurous? Try a Philly cheesesteak, poutine, crab cake, gumbo, alligator, jambalaya, boudin, étouffée, crawfish, Texas BBQ, green chili cheese burger, tamales, chimichanga, or hushpuppies. On the sweet side, try Key lime pie, kolaches, sweet potato pie, goo goo clusters, apple pie, pecan pralines, Ben & Jerry’s, or Blue Bell ice cream. Take your taste buds for a tour!

Don’s Specialty Meats, Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights

Objects will not make you happy

STOP BUYING CRAP ONLINE! You need to tell yourself that after a few too many useless purchases.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights

More money is not the answer

I’m not going to lie. Having a little bit of money will lighten the load. So start that online business or side-gig you’ve been thinking about. But don’t expect that money will make you happy. It just solves your money problems. Nothing else!

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights

Do work you enjoy

Just because you need to survive, don’t say yes to the first available job you encounter. And also don’t start some kind of soulless online business so you can make a few bucks. Find something you enjoy—and that pays the bills. 

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights

Appreciate what you have

Grass is always greener on… So here’s a reminder: If you’re reading this on your smartphone in the comfort of your home, life isn’t so bad!

Walterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights

Give back

Do something altruistic. It’s fine to give money to charity. But I’m not talking about that. Talk to your elderly neighbors, hold the door for someone, do a small kindness. Small things have a positive impact on people.

Change is good

Life is hard when your job is no longer there. But remember, change is a part of life. And in the long-term, it’s good. We just don’t see the sunshine when we’re going through a storm. 

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights

Stop consuming. Start creating.

The world never changed for the better by doing nothing. Right now, our biggest challenge is paralysis by consumption. We’re over-consuming everything: News, food, clothes, entertainment, you name it. To get through this era, we need more action. So stop sitting there and go create something. Without creation, there’s no progress.

Hopefully we’ll also feel a new sense of appreciation when we get to act normal again. And hopefully that, and the other lessons we pull from this over time, will stick around for a long time. Let’s hope we’ll be smart enough to remember these life lessons over the long-term.

Worth Pondering…

To re-create yourself anew in every moment in the grandest version of the greatest vision ever you had about Who You Really Are. That is the purpose in becoming human, and that is the purpose of all of life.

— Neale Donald Walsch, in Conversations with God

A Perfect Week in Lodi

Visit a Central Valley town that knows its wine

Lodi Wine Country is one of California’s major winegrowing regions, located 100 miles east of San Francisco on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, south of Sacramento, and west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is named after the most populous city within the region. Lodi is characterized by a rural atmosphere where wineries and farms run by 4th – and 5th generation families operate along-side a new group of vintners who have brought creative winemaking and cutting-edge technology to the region.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi has been a major grape growing region since the 1850s when prospectors drawn by the California gold rush began to settle the area. Today, Lodi comprises 18 percent of California’s total wine grape production―more than Napa and Sonoma counties combined.

Twenty years ago there were eight Lodi wineries. Today there are over 80, hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is predominately a red wine-producing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. However, with over 75 varieties in commercial production, Lodi offers a vast portfolio of interesting and unique wines.

Michael David Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, producing over 32 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Many of the region’s most distinctive wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”—some dating back to the 1880s. An estimated 2,000 acres are unique pre-Prohibition own-rooted vines.

Lucas Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabernet Sauvignon is prevalent along the eastern edge of the Lodi appellation. Although a part of the local landscape for over a hundred years, Petite Sirah has seen a recent rise in popularity. A relative newcomer, Lodi Syrah has quickly become more prominent.

Van Ruten Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winemakers have also begun to explore the broad range of emerging varieties originating in similar climatic regions of the Europe, including Spain, Italy, Southern France, and Portugal such as Albariño, Tempranillo, Verdelho, Sangiovese, Viognier, Carignane, and Touriga Nacional.

Flag City RV Resort, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is slow and easy in Lodi. The locals not only make you feel welcome, they appreciate you being here. After settling into Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, we started our seven-day tour by driving to Galt about 8 miles north of Lodi on Highway 99 for their large outdoor market (weekly, Tuesday and Wednesday).

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its roots as a farmer’s market at the old Sacramento County Fairgrounds in the 1950s, the Galt Market of today is an expansive open-air mall with diverse products available. With over 400 vendors offering merchandise for sale, the quantity of items available is staggering. The Galt Market covers ten acres of great deals with all the adjacent parking lots reserved for customer use.

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seafood are displayed along ‘produce row’―an aisle 100 yards long with spaces on both sides of the aisle overflowing with offerings from both local and distant farms.

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to Lodi we oriented ourselves to the area briefly exploring the historic downtown area and stopping at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center situated on the picturesque grounds of the Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant, & Spa, and wine-tasted at the nearby Abundance Winery, a family owned and operated boutique winery.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our following day began with a delightful wine tasting experience at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi where roughly 30,000 cases of wine are produced in eight hours. Despite its capacity, Woodbridge’s intimate Visitor’s Center focuses on its family tradition and pours several small lot, winery exclusive wines.

Abundance Vineyard, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven wines we tasted are available only at the winery. The staff was friendly and informative enhancing the experience. The $5 tasting fee was waved as we purchased a bottle of petit syrah.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We drove to Hutchens Street Square Performing Arts Theater and Conference Center, home to the weekend’s annual Sandhill Crane Festival. The cranes winter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands west of Lodi.

Worth Pondering…

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

―Ernest Hemingway

Anxiety and Depression: The Fall-out from COVID-19

Health impacts of pandemic were felt first; now, effects of lockdown, social isolation are starting to appear

It is official: COVID-19 has left us sick with worry and increasingly despondent and our youngest adults—ages 18 to 29—are feeling it the most.

Along Dike Road, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California provides a snapshot of what much of the nation is experiencing. Weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau from late April through late July offer a grim view of the toll the pandemic has taken on the nation’s mental health. By late July, more than 44 percent of California adult respondents reported levels of anxiety and gloom typically associated with diagnoses of generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder, a stunning figure that rose through the summer months alongside the spread of COVID-19.

Red Rock Canyon, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America at large has followed a similar pattern with about 41 percent of adult respondents reporting symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression during the third week of July. By comparison, just 11 percent of U.S. adults reported those symptoms in a similar survey conducted in early 2019.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The findings reflect a generalized sense of hopelessness as the severity of the global crisis set in. Most adults have been moored at home in a forced stasis, many in relative isolation. The unemployment rate hit its highest rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Thousands of families across California and tens of thousands across the U.S. have lost people to the virus. There is no clear indication when—or even if—life will return to normal.

“The pandemic is the first wave of this tsunami and the second and third waves are really going to be this behavioral health piece,” said Jessica Cruz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness California.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The surveys were part of a partnership between the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau to provide relevant statistics on the impact of coronavirus. In weekly online surveys over three months, the Census Bureau asked questions to about 900,000 Americans to quantify their levels of anxiety or depression. The four survey questions are a modified version of a common screening tool physicians use to diagnose mental illness.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Respondents were asked how often during the previous seven days they had been bothered by feeling hopeless or depressed, had felt little interest or pleasure in doing things, had felt nervous or anxious, or had experienced uncontrolled worry. They were scored based on how often they had experienced those symptoms in the previous week ranging from never to nearly every day.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In both California and the nation, symptoms of depression and anxiety were more pronounced among young adults and generally decreased with age. For example, nearly three in four California respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 reported “not being able to stop or control worrying” for at least several of the previous seven days. And 71 percent reported feeling “down, depressed, or hopeless” during that time.

Lovers Key State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interestingly, respondents 80 and older—an age group far more likely to suffer and die from COVID-19—reported nowhere near the same levels of distress. Just 40 percent reported feeling down or hopeless for at least several days in the previous week, and 42 percent reported uncontrollable worry.

City Market, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruz said that may be because young adults are more comfortable expressing worry and sadness than their parents and grandparents. However, even before the pandemic, suicide rates among teens and young adults had been on a years-long climb nationwide and California emergency rooms had registered a sharp rise in the number of young adults seeking care for mental health crises.

Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some researchers have cited the ubiquitous reach of social media—and with it an increased sense of inferiority and alienation—as factors in the rise in mental health struggles among younger generations. COVID-19 could be exacerbating those feelings of isolation, Cruz said.

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Census surveys also found higher rates of depression and anxiety among those who have lost jobs during the pandemic. Young adults in the service sector have been hit particularly hard by the wide-scale economic shutdowns. In July, the unemployment rate among U.S. workers ages 20 to 24 was 18 percent compared with 9 percent among workers 25 to 54, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Others noted that many other young adults who would normally be immersed in college life are stuck on the couch in their parents’ home staring at a professor online with little social interaction and no paid work after class.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Californians with lower incomes also reported higher levels of anxiety or depression. About 72 percent of California respondents with household incomes below $35,000 reported “little interest or pleasure in doing things” for at least several of the previous seven days, according to an average of survey results from July 2 through July 21. These increasing rates of depression and anxiety could outlast the pandemic itself, particularly if the economy lapses into a prolonged recession.

Worth Pondering…

I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.

—Martha Washington

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Finding joy in the outdoors

The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the US and Canada affecting each aspect of human life and social interaction. As humans we have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation—the great outdoors.

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

Many cities across the country issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. The resulting loneliness often led to higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity, or other negative health impacts.

As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. These ill effects can counter by spending time in the outdoors.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality, and general happiness.

Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.

Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they have participated in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides!

As the weather cools get outside and soak up the beautiful sights and sounds of the autumn season. The yearly spectacle of fall puts changing leaves at the forefront of our imagination but you don’t have to imagine the beauty.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are several great suggestions for fall trips to help you get the most out of this amazing time of year in America’s most beautiful places. So, come along and find out what to do and where to go this fall. Step out of summer and into an autumn adventure. And snap some photos while you do!

Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

This 522,427-acre park straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee comes alive with red, yellow, and orange from mid-September to early November thanks to a collection of 100 tree species, most of them deciduous. The best way to view the likes of flaming cove and northern hardwood, maple, and beech trees is via a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Cades Cove or a hike along area trails such as the Appalachian Trail or Oconaluftee River Trail.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Vermont

Vermont

The state’s loveliest drive might just be its largest highway, Route 100—a 200-mile-plus thoroughfare that vertically dissects the state from Massachusetts to Canada. In fact, nature photographers from all over the country hit the highway for guaranteed peak foliage photography. But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory (for pickup orders only).

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal, Virginia awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountains to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, and river access make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Often described as a ‘miniature’ version of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods is arguably, equally spectacular. What Valley of the Gods may lack when it comes to the size and volume of its free-standing monoliths, spires, and fins, it makes up for with solitude. It would be a rare occurrence to pass through Monument Valley without seeing another visitor but at Valley of the Gods you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself to explore and enjoy. Take in a scenic hike or stop for a picnic in the crisp fall air.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

Best Preparations for an RV Road Trip

When preparing for an RV road trip there are important things to do before hitting the open road

When it comes to planning an affordable vacation or a weekend retreat, there’s nothing that compares to an RV road trip. Whether you’re an experienced camper, simple novice, or admitted first-timer, the basic preparations are similar. This process can be simplified by dividing your trip planning into these three phases:

  • Pre-trip (what is required prior to the trip?)
  • On the Road (what is needed while traveling?)
  • Final Destination (you’ve arrived—now what?)

Regardless of your destination, it all starts with the RV.

Visually check the RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-trip

Prior to setting out, RV owners need to perform some basic and routine maintenance to ensure their RV trip goes smoothly. Regardless if you’re an RV owner or renter, your RV requires a full safety inspection prior to travel.

Check the water and sewer systems for any potential issues © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first thing to do is a visual inspection of your RV exterior. Check to see if any damage was sustained over time, looking especially for evidence of water leaks. In particular, focus on the roof and caulking around windows, vents, air-conditioning unit, and doors. Look for cracks, holes, stains, separations, and leaks. Also, check for nests and evidence of chewing activity.

Check to ensure sewer hose and connection are in good working condition © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roll out the awning and inspect it for tears. Check the fluid levels and top them up as necessary. Inspect hoses for any tears or holes, and valves for leaks.

If you’re renting, your vehicle should be prepared by the rental company beforehand, but still, it never hurts to be aware of what general safety issues to look out for.

Rest areas and roadside attractions make great stops along your route © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once your RV is ready for travel, now comes the fun part: planning your trip! Three important things to consider when organizing an RV trip: Where are we going? How long are we going? What do we do once we get there?

By asking these questions, you’ll need to consider what clothes, gear, and supplies you’ll need to pack for your trip. Maybe it’s taking extra coats and hiking gear for the mountains? Perhaps packing some additional food and water for a lengthy stay? What activities are available where you’re staying and what else might they require?

Wall Drug makes a great stop when traveling across South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s ideal to map out your trip in advance and check for stopping points along the way, in case you need to take breaks for rest, fuel, food, etc. The more you plan ahead, the better you’re prepared for any potential issues or needs that may arise.

Driving Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Road

Now your RV is packed and ready for travel. What concerns are there once you are out on the highway? Hopefully, you’ve tackled most potential concerns with some proper pre-trip logistics, but there are always things you simply can’t prepare for. Be aware of the height restriction of your RV. Watch out for clearance signs when approaching underpasses and tunnels.

Beware of height restrictions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destination

Information on national and state parks, campsites, and weather conditions can go a long way for helping you to make the most of your adventure. By doing a little research in advance, you can prepare for most situations and elements.

Worth Pondering…

Make your choice, adventurous stranger.
Strike the bell and bide the danger.
Or wonder ’til it drives you mad,
What would have followed, if you had.

— C.S. Lewis, The Magicians Nephew

8 Creative Ways to See Some Fall Color

The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

You already know that the countryside is filled with trails and vistas that provide great opportunities to catch a glimpse of fiery fall color while you’re hiking. This year, get your thrills while you’re enjoying the season with these eight activities.

Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin picking

Whether Halloween eve brings trick-or-treaters door to door or not, pumpkin-picking, carving and baking are guaranteed fall fun. It wouldn’t be autumn without a trip to the pumpkin patch. Keeping social distancing in mind, plan an excursion when the crowds are less to take in all that many of the area’s fall attractions have to offer. Vast selections of pumpkins are also available from farm stands and markets.

Apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple picking

Choose from a variety of apple orchards in your area to find the best apple picking near you. Some of the apple orchards only offer apple picking while others have fall festivals with other activities in addition to picking your own apples. Apple picking will look a little bit different this year—timed entries and reduced capacities will be the norm—but luckily, one element that’s not affected are the apples themselves. Most farms will still be open to visitors this fall with many of them offering markets with pie and apple cider (both the doughnuts and beverage kind) along with attractions like petting zoos, hay rides, and corn mazes. So grab your mask, and check out an apple orchard in your area.

Corn maze, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navigate a corn maze

The corn maze is a real challenge that is sure to put your skills to the test as you wind down trails of corn. Some annual corn mazes are canceled due to the pandemic but others are moving forward with the beloved autumn tradition. Assume masks are required and that you should stay home if you feel symptoms or have been exposed to an infected person. Keep social distancing protocols in mind. Check websites for ticketing procedures.

Hay ride coming up! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hayrides

Hayrides are a popular fall tradition that is enjoyed by all ages and are a wonderful way to enjoy the season and the natural beauty that it brings. Some hayrides feature scenic views of endless land while others take you through acres of cornfields. A wonderful way to capture the breath-taking views that autumn offers, hay rides will forever be a part of this favorite season. Some farms have opted to do away with the traditional hay ride, while others are limiting riders and socially distancing.

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

Go hiking

Lace up your boots and be prepared to be wowed with a scenic fall hike. This fall, as the air turns crisp and the rolling hills change from mottled green to a fiery mosaic of yellow, orange, and red, get into the woods, as autumn is prime time for hiking. The worst of the pesky bugs have disappeared with the heat and the forests are ablaze with color.

Canoeing in Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go canoeing

One of the best ways to see fall foliage is to take a boat trip along a wilderness stream. You can see the autumn colors from the river as you kayak or canoe for a day. Plan your perfect scenic kayaking and canoeing adventure!

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

Plan a golf outing

If you’re inclined to spend some time on the links then you’ve probably been taking advantage of the wide open courses this summer. If not, or if you want to try giving it a swing, head to a local golf course to try while you take in the crisp fall air and beautiful foliage.

Driving Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn drives

If you’re feeling an expedition to nature but want to observe from the comfort of your car there’s plenty of great fall drives you can take throughout the countryside. The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning

7 Fall Inspired Road Trips

Whether you’re craving a day trip or a longer getaway this autumn, here are great destinations for a fall road trip in the US

The air is crisp, homemade pies are bubbling, and pumpkin spice lattes are in high demand. What better way to take in the splendor of the fall season than with a selection of scenic road trips. America is ideal for scenic road trips year-round but there is something special about the changing leaves colors that make for an essential experience.

Take in the changing trees, inhale the crisp fall air, and taste local foods on one of these seven road trips across the United States.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

Launched in 1935 as a New Deal project, the Blue Ridge Parkway took 52 years to complete and is now one of the country’s most iconic highways. Come fall, it’s also one of its most vivid. To make the most of the experience, give yourself plenty of time to cruise from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina (the most popular segment of the 469-mile road). You’ll want that time to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, pop into Blue Ridge Music Center for a little bluegrass, and savor both barbecue and fall colors.  

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country, Texas

You can begin your journey into Texas Hill Country from Austin or San Antonio; limestone and granite hills radiate out from both cities. They’re also where the worlds of cowboys and wine collide. For the former, head to Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”); for the latter, check out the wineries that line Wine Road 290 in Fredericksburg. There are more than a dozen other towns to explore including New Braunfels (where two rivers flow through) and Lockhart, the state’s barbecue capital.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina to Tennessee

A skinny highway winds through mountains blanketed only by trees with nothing but more mountains in the distance. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. The route stretches from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee, crossing through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. There are scenic vistas along the way but more adventurous travelers can hike one of 29 trails along the route or fly-fish in Tellico River near the end of the skyway.  

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Whether you tool along by car over the historic 105-mile Skyline Drive or take a hike on one of the Park’s 500+ miles of trails, autumn beauty will surround you in October and early November. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. The 75 overlooks offer unforgettable views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Virginia piedmont to the east. The mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Road to Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. Stowe is a premier four season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

Parks and gardens are ideal destinations for picnics, enjoying the outdoors, and simply taking time to relax and enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

From an ancient forest and coastal wetlands to a botanical garden and desert oasis, here are eight of our favorite parks and gardens for enjoying nature.

Frances Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frances Beider Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina

Feel the beauty and serenity of this ancient forest. Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, this 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary offers a beauty unsurpassed in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Audubon’s Beidler is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem. Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. Paddle the flowing blackwater under towering 1,000-year-old cypress trees. Wildlife is plentiful and varied.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas

Lady Bird Johnson was the First Lady who championed the planting of wildflowers along Texas highways. Her passion was not only for wildflowers but native plants of all kinds. So it’s fitting that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, natural history museum, aquarium, and botanical garden all in one place. Founded in 1952, 85 percent of the Desert Museum is outdoors and primarily a walking experience. Located just west of Tucson, it features 2 miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. The Desert Museum’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, Gila monster, and mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). This highly acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves all the accolades that it receives.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

You’ll never look at cacti the same way again after visiting the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. In this environment, every plant represents stunning beauty. Five marked trails, such as the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, capitalize on views (whether of mountains or flowers) and fragrances. Learn how native ancestors and current ethnic groups survived in the desert climate by traveling along the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail which documents Hispanic, Tohono O’odham, and Western Apache people’s connection to plants. The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park in central Phoenix.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, tucked into the foothills of Picketpost Mountain near Superior is a state park like no other. The Arboretum is home to hundreds of species of desert loving plants from around Arizona and other parts of the world. This venerable “Arizona oasis” has nearly three miles of paths and trails winding through colorful gardens, woodlands, and native riparian habitat. Founded in 1924 by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden and offers over 323 acres to explore.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

10 Best Things to Do this Fall

From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, here are the best ways to get out and safely enjoy the season

As the air cools and the leaves start to fall, America offers countless experiences to seek out with your family and friends. From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, take time to get out and enjoy the seasons best while keeping in mind the guidelines for safe travel.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some seasonal events have been canceled. Disney World’s popular event Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been cut for 2020 as well as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. While certain yearly Halloween traditions may be canceled this year such as visiting a haunted house you could still participate in other outdoor fall activities including pumpkin picking and navigating corn mazes.

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

Go hiking

Hopefully you’ve been taking a chance over the last few months to get outside for a breath of fresh air along a nice hike. But if you’re looking for a reason to finally break out the boots or sneakers, the multi-colored leaves and crisp air of fall provides the perfect backdrop to enjoy a wilderness area. Nature centers, recreation areas, local and state parks all offer a variety of trails and sights for hiking in the outdoors.

Pumpkin patch at Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit a pumpkin patch

Explore a pick-your-own pumpkin patch for the perfect pumpkin! Vine-ripening pumpkins are perfect for Jack-o-Lanterns, decorating your home or RV, or baking Grandma’s famous recipes. Picking out your very own pumpkin, decorating it, and carving it is one of the very best parts of fall. Not only are pumpkins fun and festive, but they’re delicious to eat in so many ways! There’s nothing that signals fall quite like a trip to the pumpkin patch.

Pumpkins to trick out your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin carving

Just because we’re trying to keep our distance doesn’t mean we can’t decorate our homes and RVs. That of course, starts with pumpkin carving. Hopefully you’ve had some experience gouging out these gruesome gourds, but if not, there’s a host of designs online. This is a perfect activity with family and friends of all ages and also yields a good reason to roast some pumpkin seeds.

Picking apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go apple picking

What perfectly pairs with the crisp air of fall? Biting into a delicious, juicy apple! When the crisp fall air and soft light descends, it’s time to break out your best argyle sweater and go apple picking. Enjoy the fresh fall air while you pick your own Cortland, Macintosh, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, and Honey Crisp apples then bring them home to make pies, crisps, and other treats. Check with apple orchard first for picking hours and conditions and COVID-19 rules and regulations.

Apple pies at Moms Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall food

With the end of summer we’re gearing up for shorter days, longer nights, cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, sweatshirts, and football. Not only is the weather changing but also the way we’re cooking, from using fresh fall produce, like squash, sweet potatoes, and apples, to creating warming (and, okay, gluttonous) comfort food dishes, like stews, pot pies, and mac and cheese.

Corn maze at Southgate Crossing, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get lost in a corn maze

Are you ready for some corn-fusing fun? Wind your way through acres of corn. Local corn mazes are now open and each one offers something a little bit different between now and November. Many corn mazes this year will have wider paths and additional passing lanes where maze-goers can distance themselves from others at points where they must decide which way to go; some are reducing the number of those decisions or eliminating dead-end options. Phone ahead as some mazes require pre-registration.

Indian corn for fall decorations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall decorations

Along with pumpkins, there’s several ways you can dress up your RV for the fall. Buy some gourds at the grocery store or make a fall wreath with some of the fallen leaves from your hike in the country. If you’re a Halloween fanatic there’s no better time to spook your home-on-wheels.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a long bike ride

If you’re like most people, you either bought a new bike or rekindled your love of biking during the early months of quarantine. The leaves starting to turn and a nice bite to the air will keep you peddling longer. Most cities and towns have paved trails for bikers that range from short connecting rides to long excursions. It’s time to start planning your next trip.

Quilting is a popular hobby © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hobbies

While fall can bring a lot of fun outdoor activities, it also harkens winter and months spent inside. So if you’ve got down time, now is a good time to start a new hobby? Start knitting scarves and toques for your family. Or maybe get on goodreads.com and join your friends in their mad dash to complete end-of-year book reading challenges.

Quilt Garden Trail in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out your area’s calendar of events

For everything that doesn’t fall into one of these general categories, check out your area’s tourism website for upcoming events. There you may find movies under the moonlight, art installations, walking tours and much more.

Worth Pondering…

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

—George Eliot