Why RV?

Why RV vacations are the best

Do you want to live life on your own schedule in your own way? Do you want to be part of the landscapes you’ve only looked at in photos? Then you will love the RV lifestyle. Millions of folks have opted to live out their dreams and adventures in a recreational vehicle. Here is why you should too.

Spending time outdoors in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 1: Convenient Travel

The RV lifestyle is exploding due to COVID. The uptick in the number of camping trips Americans and Canadians are taking is not exactly a surprise given that it allows people to change their surroundings without greatly increasing the risk of contracting COVID. One thing we’ve been reminded of is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. Medical professionals advise us to socially distance from one another and tell us that when we spend time with others, it’s preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle.

Going for a hike in Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 2: Connect With Nature

A dose of nature does wonders for one’s well being. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in the forest or dipped a toe in a lake or creek likely knows this but nature is a happy-maker. A walk outdoors is more than just a great pick-me-up. It can be a calming and regenerative exercise improving your mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression. Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides! With an RV, the whole world is right outside your front door, ready to be explored.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 3: Common Bond

When you RV, you’re never alone. From families to couples to solo travelers, all RVers have one thing in common: an urge to see the world on their own terms. When you pull into a campground or RV park, you know you’ll be surrounded by likeminded people who make up one of the most tight-knit communities around.

Freightliner Club Rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 4: Join a Community

RV memberships and clubs provide numerous services including a community for RVers. One reason for selecting an RV club is for cost savings and discounts on various RV parks. The discounts can vary from 10 to 50 percent and have restrictions on when they are valid. The choice of RV clubs also depends on the location of the campgrounds where the discounts are available and your current and future travel plans.

Staying active while camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 5: Travel with Comfort

Your home comes with you. A comfortable bed. A full kitchen. A restroom. A shower. An entertainment center. In an RV, it’s all with you. And the open road is yours for the taking. And when you RV, you can tailor your adventures from where you go to how and where you sleep to how you keep everyone active and entertained. RVing lets you make every adventure completely your own. It’s your schedule, your wish list, your road map, and your world to explore. Hike, bike, climb, kayak, ride horses, swim, and make the world your playground.

Everything you need is here © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 6: Everything you Need is with You

A pile of books. Your favorite coffee mug. Board games and video games. A cabinet packed with snacks. RV travel allows you to bring the comforts of home anywhere you go which is a relief for people who struggle to fit the essentials into an airplane carry-on. Just be aware that packing too much stuff into your RV can be a safety hazard. Every RV has a cargo carrying capacity—you can find this number on a label typically inside a cabinet or closet. The cargo carrying capacity is the weight of everything—people and stuff—you can safely carry in your RV. Exceeding capacity is dangerous, as it can strain your brakes, axles and tires, and potentially cause an accident.

Enjoying a sunset at Two Rivers Landing, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 7: Family Togetherness

Nothing bonds families together like being together. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same sunrises and sunsets. Bringing on landscapes and campfire stories, not TV shows. RVing brings you closer to natural beauty. And to those you love.

Zip line adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 8: Retire in Style

Your time. Your way. Make the road your new home. Best estimates indicate 750,000 to one million seniors call their RV home—and the ranks are growing. Go anywhere you want. Stay as long as you like. The possibilities are endless and the choices are all yours. So whether you become a full-time RVer, a snowbird, or simply travel from time to time, RVing is a great way to design your own life and your own adventures. Live your dream.

Traveling Scenic Byway 12, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 9: Simply the Best Way to Travel

Anywhere the road takes you, you can go. Travel by RV allows you to fully appreciate the country around you and the people you meet on the way. If you’re not a fan of meeting people, there’s opportunity to avoid them as well. Never before has a vacation method been so affordable, yet so flexible. If you haven’t looked into RV camping you’re missing out on a great thing. RVs are simply the best way to vacation.

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.

Meet the RVs: Find the Right RV Class for Your Travel Style

Recreational vehicles take many different forms—from small and simple tow trailers to mobile mansions with king-sized beds and granite countertops

Consumer preferences have changed drastically since the start of the pandemic with travel being no exception. Thousands of Americans and Canadians have opted out of airline tickets and hotel reservations in favor of RVs, a safer method of travel that allows for self-contained excursions with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen all on-board.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering if the RV lifestyle is for you. Good news—it most likely is! Because RVs offer so much variety in form, function, and value there’s bound to be an RV that suits your lifestyle and travel needs. Just like families, RVs come in all shapes and sizes. From large class A motorhomes and fifth wheel trailers to compact pop-ups and camper vans, there is an RV that will fit your lifestyle. From weekend getaways to touring the great outdoors to working from the road, there’s an RV for every family and every budget.

When deciding between different types of RVs, it is important to understand the features and amenities associated with each and the pros and cons. The categories are not super difficult to grasp. Motorhomes come in Classes A, B, and C and trailers break down into fifth wheels and travel trailers. I’ll dive right into each category including its pros and cons, model details, features and amenities, and approximate cost. In today’s post we’ll focus on the three classes of motorhomes.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class A Motorhomes

Class A motorhomes are built on specially designed motor vehicle chassis. This type of motorhome often includes multiple slide-out rooms. Class A motorhomes offer as many luxuries as the average house—and in some cases more! It is not uncommon for these coaches to include a king-sized bed, two bathrooms, washer and dryer, a large living area with sofas and reclining chairs, a dining table, a television, a fireplace, and a fully equipped kitchen with a dishwasher, microwave, oven, stovetop, residential refrigerator and freezer.

Class A motorhomes are popular with those who spend considerable time on the road including snowbirds and full timers and anyone with a mobile lifestyle. Due to their size and weight, these coaches are not suitable for all travel routes. The largest class of motorhomes, they can be powered by either gas or diesel engines. Towing a car behind the motorhome is an important consideration since running errands is easier in a smaller vehicle—you will not want to pack up the entire coach simply to go do some local site-seeing or shopping.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 26-45 feet
  • Cost: $150,000-$1,000,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Ample living space and storage
  • Full-sized bathroom
  • Residential kitchen
  • Full entertainment system
  • Can tow another vehicle
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • Contain all living amenities on board
  • Spacious and potentially luxurious
  • Does not require a towing vehicle and can tow another vehicle
  • Lots of storage space

Cons:

  • High cost of purchase, insurance, and service
  • Poor fuel-efficiency
  • Often need to be parked offsite when not in use as many communities do not allow them in driveways or parked on residential streets
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class B Motorhomes

Class B motorhomes also known as camper vans feature the conveniences of a furnished motorhome. They are built using an automotive manufactured van or panel-truck shells. Class Bs are easy to drive, park, and maneuver and include standard home-like amenities including a bathroom, sleeping area, and basic kitchen. What sets them apart from regular vans is that they are equipped for camping. Class Bs are best suited for users who have a smaller budget, need a smaller vehicle, or want a mobile base for their outdoor camping activities.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 16-21 feet
  • Cost: $110,000-$200,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-4

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Bedroom
  • Kitchen
  • Shower and toilet
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • Easy to navigate in traffic and park
  • Fuel efficiency is high relative to other RVs
  • Lower initial cost

Cons:

  • Tight living quarters, limited storage space
  • Limited creature comforts
  • No space for features like laundry, dishwashers, and other larger appliances
Class C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class C Motorhomes

Class C motorhomes are ideal for families and groups of friends who want the adventure and flexibility of spontaneous vacation along with the convenience and amenities of home. Built on an automotive van frame with a wider body section attached to the original cab, Class C motorhomes are easily recognizable by the over-the-cab portion that is often an optional sleeping area. Many models have slide-out rooms.

Class C motorhomes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 25-35 feet
  • Cost: $110,000-$200,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Loft for extra sleeping space
  • Kitchen and bathroom facilities
  • Bedroom
Class C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • More affordable than Class A motorhomes
  • More spacious than Class B motorhomes
  • Reasonable fuel efficiency

Cons:

  • Less spacious than Class A motorhomes
  • Fewer amenities than Class A motorhomes
  • Less affordable than Class B motorhomes

An apology: Why no image of a Class B motorhome? After searching through my vast photo file I came up blank and having made a decision early on to avoid the use of stock photos, and for this I apologize.

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.

Getting Your RV Ready for Summer Travel

It’s finally time to pull the RV out from the garage or bring it home from winter storage

With the snow melted and the campgrounds opening, it’s tempting to jump in and head off right away. But prior to setting out, RV owners need to perform some basic and routine maintenance to ensure that their weekend getaway goes smoothly.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exterior Inspection

The first thing to do is a visual inspection of your RV exterior. Check to see if any damage was sustained over winter, 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.

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.

Ensure your RV and tow vehicle/toad have had all required maintenance.

Wash the exterior in the shade with a mild soap remembering to clean the tires.

Not the way to care for tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tire Check

Check the age of the tires—RV tires usually age out before they wear out.

Check that all tires are properly inflated. Improperly inflated tires means more money for fuel. Under-inflated tires can increase fuel consumption by up to 4 percent, according to International Energy Agency. Proper inflation also reduces the incidence of tire failure and blowouts.

Clean the tires and rims and inspect them for evidence of any splits or cracks in the sidewalls or between the treads. Treat these seriously and get them repaired before you head out for your first camping trip. Don’t forget to check that your lug nuts are tightened.

If you have a travel or fifth wheel trailer you may need to pack wheel bearings.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Battery Check

Check your RVs batteries and top off cells with distilled water. Be sure to replace multiple battery banks together. If your batteries need to be cleaned, make sure they are disconnected and use a hot water and baking soda mixture to clean them. Wear safety glasses and latex gloves.

Connecting to city water © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Propane Tank Check

Check your propane tank, as seals can dry out over the winter. First, make sure you have everything turned off, you aren’t around any smoking flames or sparks, and your propane leak detector is turned on. Open the valves on your tank and smell for leaks. Check the valves and regulators by using a soapy water mix. If you find any leaks, have a professional inspect and repair them.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Generator Test

Test your generator, if you have one. Use the prime feature until your indicator light turns on for the fuel pump, run it for 20 seconds, and the generator should start more quickly. You will have to crank it until it starts otherwise, as there will likely be a lack of fuel in the lines. Let the starter rest to cool after 15 seconds of cranking. Don’t forget to check the oil and air filter.

RV utilities © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flushing Water Lines

Remove the antifreeze from your water lines. Make sure the water heater bypass valve is in the normal position and all of your taps are closed. Turn on the cold water tap that’s closest to the water pump, and run water until it’s clear. Do this for each cold water tap, toilet, and shower.

Then repeat for the hot water taps, toilet, and shower. Open up the bypass to allow water to fill the tanks. Use a city water connection and turn on the cold and hot water faucets and run to let air escape until the water flows steadily. Inspect all faucets and pipes for leaks, as well as the water heater, drain plug, and valves. Switch the fresh water pump on; if it comes on 20 to 30 minutes later, this indicates a pressure drop or leak. If it doesn’t come on, you’re good to go.

RV interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior Inspection

Clean the interior of the RV and do another visual inspection. Vacuum the carpet, and clean the floors and other surfaces as necessary. Be sure to air it out. Check to ensure your appliances are working.

Test smoke alarms and CO and LP gas detectors, and replace the batteries as necessary. Check fire extinguishers, and refill first aid kit and emergency kits as needed.

RV interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, you can repack your RV and stock up on all your necessities.

Worth Pondering…

A bad day cleaning the RVing—is better than a good day—working.

Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time when life was less hectic

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, three hours east of Houston and two hours west of New Orleans, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks, and strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

The origins of this charming town date back to 1771 when Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux bought land in the present-day city of Breaux Bridge and in 1799 built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for family and neighbors. Area residents and visitors soon knew of the bridge and began calling it “Breaux’s bridge”, later adopted as the city’s name.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux drew up a plan called Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux. The Catholic Church parish was created in 1847 and Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated in 1859. Back in 2009 Breaux Bridge celebrated its 150th birthday.

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home of the world famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May, where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is the town’s largest attraction. Taking place each year on the first weekend of May (April 30-May 2, in 2021, this down-home festival is an ode to the humble mudbug, one of the area’s major exports and a favorite for Cajun food lovers.

With three stages featuring the most popular Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the region, dozens of food vendors cooking crawfish (and other Cajun favorites) in every way you can imagine, a midway with rides and games, and more activities like crawfish races and crawfish eating contests, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth a trip.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smaller events take place in town several times a year. The Tour du Teche, a large paddling race that takes place over three days each October and stretches the entire length of the Bayou Teche, passes through town. The annual Breaux Bridge Cajun Christmas Parade takes place the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and rings in the Christmas season with a Louisiana flair.

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plant and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and water birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Cafe des Amis, Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic byways through this part of the state offer visitors a unique experience of the Cajun and Creole lifestyle. They are selected for their recreational, scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, and natural resources. Your senses are inundated with sights, sounds, and tastes that could only come from south Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is part of Bayou Teche Scenic Byway which winds through south Louisiana’s lush swamps and moss-draped bayous.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is a hotbed for Cajun and Zydeco music, and it’s easy to find in town. The famous Cafe des Amis (140 East Bridge Street) features Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning which pairs decadent brunch items with live zydeco music. You’ll also find live acoustic music here several nights a week.
Pont Breauz’s Cajun Restaurant (325 West Mills Avenue), formerly known as Mulate’s, is a legendary Cajun food and music venue that offers live traditional Cajun music every night of the week, alongside a tempting menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joie de Vivre Cafe (107 North Main Street) is a coffee shop and ad hoc community center that features Cajun music jam sessions on weekend mornings, as well as evening concerts, poetry and literature readings, and other cozy cultural events.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

What we admire—and secretly covet—is their love of good food combined with a zest for life that they proudly call joie de vivre.

—Linda Carman

The 10 Best Road Trip Routes in America

America has some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth and there are plenty of scenic drives around the country that show off dramatic landscapes and dreamy sunsets

With spring officially here and warmer, longer days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan a spring road trip. Nothing beats packing up the RV, making some new playlists, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 10 of my favorites from sea to shining sea.

Hit the road!

Galleta Meadows sculptors, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park

As biomes go, deserts often get a bad rap but taking a 225-mile spin from the sandy shores of San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is anything but dry. This Southern California road trip is spiritual, stylish, and outdoorsy. The first stop as you head east over the San Jacinto Range is Julian, a nostalgic town with u-pick apple orchards and the famous Julian Pie Company.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Press on through vista-filled mountain passes to Anza-Borrego Desert, California’s largest state park. Every spring it’s one of the most reliable spots to peep a super bloom. It has great hiking with chances to see 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs or bighorn sheep. Nearby Galleta Meadows contains 130 mammoth steel sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. Borrego Springs, an artist colony, is a good place to stop for lunch and gallery hopping. The Salton Sea has excellent birding as it sits along the Pacific Flyway.

Palm Springs reveres its mid-century modern architecture and Rat Pack roots but embraces its natural environment at the Coachella Valley Preserve and the Living Desert. Spend a day opting outside at Joshua Tree National Park, slightly larger than Rhode Island and full of strange Seussian trees and don’t leave before the stars come out as it’s a certified dark skies park.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway

The Trail of the Ancients which traverses Colorado and Utah is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country including Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde National Park. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one very long day but following a seven-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved, save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway as it descends to the Valley of the Gods offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile drive connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—and it is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. This journey is epic at any time of year but in autumn when the colors begin to change and the trees glow with vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive and road trip destination in North America.

Giant sequoias © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California’s Giant Sequoias

When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! The giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base and this differentiates them from coastal redwoods which are typically measured in height.

This specific journey north from San Francisco spans 900 miles and it will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s and should the weather permit give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it.

Bourbon Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail (with a designated driver)

Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can take three days or three weeks. It is whatever you make of it so stop by the gift shops, take distillery tours, and soak up the history lessons, and the tasty beverages. Having a designated driver each day of your road trip makes all of this possible and safe.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

True to its name the 130-mile-long Alabama’s Coastal Connection connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. The scenic byway features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. In addition to beach access points to uncrowded sands, there are hiking trails through a maritime forest and coastal dune habitats with views of saltwater lagoons, freshwater lakes, the beach, the bay and the chance to see wildlife. A number of waterfront towns line the coast. The artsy Eastern Shore enclave of Fairhope has a pier jutting a quarter-mile into the bay with an adjacent beach park and shady areas for a quiet picnic.

Bayou Teche at Breau Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Deep Bayou Drive from NOLA

You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west (in your RV, of course) to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The area is known for its swampland dotted with moss-draped cypress trees teeming with wildlife which makes it the perfect destination for bird watching, paddling, fishing, and numerous other outdoor activities.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best road to drive is Highway 31 which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with garlands of moody Spanish moss that dangle from oaks and cypress trees while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons. Nature watchers and photographers have immediate access to some of the best birding sites in North America including Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge) with its expansive shoreline and bottomland hardwood forest. At last count, birders have spotted 240 species here. In the evenings, snowy, great and cattle egrets, little blue herons, green herons and yellow-crowed night herons gather to roost. Be sure to tour the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site where you’ll learn about the area’s Creole and Cajun history and culture.

RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstate 90

Not for the faint of heart, I-90 spans from sea to shining sea. From Boston to Seattle, this 3,024-mile highway travels through 13 states and features niche attractions like the Jell-O Gallery Museum in Le Roy, New York, the birthplace of Superman in Cleveland, and the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana. Some larger attractions not far from I-90 include Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, and national parks including Yellowstone and the Badlands.

Chippewa Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Atlantic Coast

America’s longest north-south interstate, I-95 stretches for more than 1,900 miles down the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Miami with plenty to see and do along the way. Road trippers can kick off their journey with a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine followed by a stop in Boston to explore the cobblestone streets and the city’s waterfront neighborhood. Further adventure await in New York City with endless sights to see, things to do, and places to eat before venturing on to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Continue down the coast to the scenic shores of Outer Banks in North Carolina then explore historic downtown Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Daytona Beach before reaching your final destination in Miami.

Mississippi River near Memphis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great River Road

The Great River Road has been dubbed “The Best Drive in America,” covering 3,000 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. While it would take about 36 hours to drive this entire route, travelers can make a spring (or summer) vacation out of this journey that follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. Starting in Minneapolis road trippers can visit the famed Mall of America or one of Minnesota’s 11,842 lakes before heading south to Wisconsin. This historic route also features iconic monuments like Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, and streets like Beale Street—otherwise known as “Home of the Blues” —in Memphis and the French Quarter in New Orleans. Road trippers can rest and recharge at numerous campgrounds and RV parks along the way.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

Discover Over 500 Bird Species in South Texas

There is this place that is for the birds and is all about the birds, where you will find some of the best birding while RVing

Good morning. It’s Saturday and you deserve some good news, so we’re pleased to inform you that a Laysan albatross named Wisdom has successively hatched yet another chick at Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. Discovered by biologists in 1956, Wisdom is at least 70 years old making her the world’s oldest known wild bird. She still flies as many as 1,000 miles in a single foraging expedition.

Black-bellied whistling ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wisdom’s latest chick successfully hatched in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in the Pacific Islands. Wisdom laid her egg sometime during the last few days of November according to the wildlife agency. Soon after, Wisdom returned to sea to forage and her mate Akeakamai took over incubation duties. The pair have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, the wildlife agency said.

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the past decade, Wisdom has been astounding researchers and winning fans with her longevity and devotion to raising her young. She has flown millions of miles in her life but returns to her same nest every year on Midway Atoll, the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. To feed her hatchlings, Wisdom and her mate take turns flying as much as 1,000 miles on a single outing spending days foraging for food along the ocean’s surface.

Ladder-backed wooepecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every year, millions of albatrosses which normally have only one mate in their life, all come home to Midway around October. If all goes well couples reunite and then team up to incubate a single egg and feed their new chick. Midway’s two flat islands act as giant landing strips for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds which rely on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to raise their young. This year’s albatross chicks will make their first flights in early summer.

Altamira oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the past, biologists have said Wisdom possesses a unique set of skills that have let her have a long and productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. When she was first banded, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency.

Her advice to the younger generation? Think before you tweet.

Yellow warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher that travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are. Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, I carry my mid-priced super-zoom camera and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color. That’s what draws me and many other snowbirds to South Texas.

Roseate spoonbills and ibis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured above), roseate spoonbill (pictured above), and the Altamira oriole (pictured above)

Cassin’s kingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers and is located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.

Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.

Rose-breasted grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

Plain chachalaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds. As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca (see above), a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Yellow-crowned night herons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.

Golden-fronted woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A golden-fronted woodpecker (see above) fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.

Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.

Pauraque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.

The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Arizona not only has a warm, dry climate in the winter, it is also home to some of the Southwest’s most dramatic scenery

Every winter, Arizona sees an influx of snowbirds from out of state. They come to enjoy the mild sunny winters and to escape their snowy season back home. Many come from Northern states like Washington and Minnesota and from Canada.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But what brings snowbirds to Arizona specifically? And once they’re here, what’s their economic impact on the state? According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, around 964,000 Canadian visitors were responsible for $1 billion of the $26.5 billion in tourism spending last year. This past September, visitors spent $752 million overall, but that’s down 60 percent from the $1.9 billion expected in a normal year.

Along the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall in Love with Arizona

Whether your relationship with Arizona is exciting and new or has stood the test of time, the new beginnings of spring are filled with endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Appreciation of fresh, new growth and exploring Arizona’s most beautiful places keeps your love of this gorgeous state alive. Come along with me as I fall in love with Arizona all over again by sharing some great places and activities to help you enjoy the outdoors right now or next month during spring break.

Golfing at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Spring Break 

Whether you’re in Arizona for a Cactus League Spring Training baseball game or a spring break getaway, I’m here for you with you great ideas about how to spend your time in the sun! And if you’re a snowbird, and you want to explore more of the state while the weather’s perfect, consider some of these fun road trip ideas.

Camping at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s West Coast

Lake Havasu State Park is well known as a destination for spring breakers but there are three other state parks along the Colorado River that offer the same amazing boating, jet-skiing, fishing, beach-front relaxing, and springtime exploring. Just 25 minutes downriver from Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove has plenty of camping and RV spots, great hiking trails to satisfy your adventuresome side, and beautiful beaches. A bit south you will find Parker, home to Buckskin Mountain and River Island state parks. Nestled along the Colorado River 8 miles north of Parker, La Paz County Park facilities include 114 camping sites with utilities, riverfront ramadas with cabana, dry camping, tennis courts, beachfront walkway, golf course, playground, and softball fields. Jump on your jet-ski, paddleboard, or float tube, and bask under the Arizona sun.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inland a bit, but still generally considered Western Arizona, Alamo Lake State Park sits nestled within the springtime glory of the Sonoran Desert. Here you’ll find the best bass and crappie fishing in the state, beautiful and spacious camping options, and miles upon miles of off-highway vehicle use opportunities. Situated comfortably in a remote location, this lake park offers unbeatable stargazing, and the peace and quiet that makes for a perfect relaxing spring break.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Country

Arizona visitors here to enjoy some spring training baseball or spring break getaway may want to set aside some time to check out Arizona’s Red Rock Country. There are five state parks in the Sedona area and one of them offers campsites and cabins so you can extend your stay and make the park your home.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood. This spacious park has three lagoons, tall cottonwood trees, and the lush Verde River Valley within easy reach. Bring your kayak or canoe, and settle in to your camp spot before exploring the other nearby parks.

Next, hop in the car and head to Fort Verde State Historic Park for a tour of the best-preserved fort in the state from the Indian Wars period. This historic destination showcases Buffalo Soldiers, officer’s quarters, and doctor and surgeon areas. Plus, enjoy sweeping views of Camp Verde.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly experience the famous rusty hues of Sedona take a drive to Red Rock and Slide Rock state parks. Enjoy a stroll through Oak Creek Canyon at Slide Rock and take a dip in the cool mountain stream before venturing south again and hitting the trails at Red Rock State Park.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After your tour of the Sedona area, spend about 40 minutes driving to the quaint little artist town of Jerome. Before heading up the hill to eat, stroll through galleries or shop your way through Jerome’s scenic streets, stop in at Jerome State Historic Park housed in the Douglas Mansion. This museum is a trip back in time to Jerome’s mining-town past with exhibits and examples of life in the early 1900s.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover Montezuma Castle National Monument, a historic five-story Native American dwelling carved out of an ancient limestone cliff with twenty rooms. Begun during the twelfth century, it took about three centuries to complete. Explore the museum and wander the trails through a picturesque sycamore grove at the base of towering limestone cliffs. Afterwards, have lunch in the picnic area along the shore of Beaver Creek.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the legacy of ancient peoples in a desert hilltop pueblo. Starting in A.D. 1000, the Sinagua built the 110-room Tuzigoot pueblo including second and third story structures. The tribe was largely agricultural and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. A self-guided, 1/3-mile loop trail traces through the pueblo. The hilltop view offers expansive scenery of the Verde River and Tavasci Marsh.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Desert Corridor

After decent fall and winter precipitation the southern parks should be awash in amazing wildflower blooms. Even during years without sufficient rainfall these parks still give off gorgeous spring views and laid back desert vibes. Springtime weather is great for hiking and the vibrant spring sights and mild temps just can’t be beat. Stick close to Phoenix at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, your key to exploring the famed Superstition Mountains. Enjoy some desert camping or stay in one of the new cabins. Hike trails like the moderate Treasure Loop or summon up your determination and hike the more difficult Siphon Draw to Flat Iron. 

Cave Creek, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, bird watching, picnicking, and camping. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 12 parks in Maricopa County which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

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

Step into the mysteries of history. At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you’ll find the Ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community including the preserved “Great House,” or “Casa Grande.” An estimation of dating puts the origins of this structure around 1350 and the abandonment thereof about a century later in 1450.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, 90 minutes south of Phoenix and just 30 minutes north of Tucson, is a great place to stop on your Sonoran Desert adventure. Picacho Peak’s campgrounds make a great home base within view of the iconic peak and plenty of hiking opportunities stretching across the vast desert landscapes.

Catalina State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just 30 minutes southeast of Picacho in Tucson you’ll find Catalina State Park, an incredible experience at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Catalina’s trails will lead you to beautiful creeks and waterfalls you never thought you could experience in the arid Sonoran Desert. Or set up your campsite here and call this park home for the week with easy access to new adventures.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make February and March an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The national park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson harbor countless scenic ravines but two of the prettiest are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many cacti and other Sonoran Desert plants, with rocky peaks rising high above.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Arizona

Look no further than Patagonia Lake State Park as a hub for your southern Arizona spring break adventures. This hidden gem boasts a gorgeous lake with boat-in campsites, white sand beach, and awesome fishing. The RV and tent sites provide quick access to the swimming area and opportunities for birding, hiking, and exploring. This fantastic destination is within reach of several southern Arizona parks, like Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, and adjacent Sonoita Creek Natural Area.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilcox, a southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the border with Mexico, the star is obviously the organ pipe cactus. Saguaro and cholla cactus, palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape. The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the monument. Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

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

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

Birds make me happy

Need a new and safe activity that will get you outside and stimulate the mind! How about birding?

Green Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past year, we were often told to listen to or follow the science. Well, I am happy to report that there is more and more scientific evidence to support the idea that everyone would be better off watching birds. You can watch them in your back yard, from your RV, or you can visit a wildlife area to see them.

Altamira Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Studies from a variety of sources indicate that the closer you live to a park and the more contact you have with nature, the better your mood, psychological well-being, mental health, and cognitive functioning. In short, watching birds is good for you and you don’t even need a prescription from your doctor to do it.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Published scientific studies reveal that birding (or wildlife photography or just being in nature) correlates with improved mental health. This observation is not new: it was introduced and popularized by biologist, theorist, and author, Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book, Biophilia, where he defined the Biophilia Hypothesis as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. More recently, Richard Luov breathed new life into this idea by referring to it as “nature deficit disorder”.

Being part of nature in some meaningful way is an essential element in an emotionally healthy life. And bird watching can be your ticket to the outdoors. Even if you aren’t a bird watcher (I didn’t start out a birder, either), you will find yourself becoming more aware of the birds around you—their sounds and behaviors and relationships—and noticing the positive impact that regular bird watching has on your mental health.

White-crowned Night Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding develops mindfulness. Birding is a meditative practice that immediately appeals to all your senses—listening to bird sounds and songs, looking at their plumage colors and patterns, observing their complex and often subtle behaviors, identifying their habits and habitats.

Royal Tern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With coronavirus restrictions dragging on, interest in bird-watching has soared as Americans and Canadians notice a fascinating world just outside their windows wherever their windows might be. Downloads of popular bird identification apps have spiked and sales of bird feeders, nesting boxes, and birdseed have jumped even as demand for other nonessential goods plummets.

Birding is very low-cost. After the initial investment on a pair of binoculars and an ID guide, the only costs are what you spend on travel and entrance fees. You can bird anywhere, anytime. It’s a hobby you can do in your back yard or take on the road as you travel in your RV. It’s rewarding to see something new, to be able to name what you see, and to make new discoveries.

Roseate Spoonbills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 1,100 different species of birds in the U.S., it’s easy for a beginning bird watcher to feel overwhelmed by possibilities. Field guides seem crammed with similar-looking birds arranged in seemingly haphazard order. I can help you figure out where to begin. First off: where not to start. Many ID tips focus on very specific details of plumage called field marks. While these tips are useful, they assume you’ve already narrowed down your search to just a few similar species.

So start by learning to quickly recognize what group a mystery bird belongs to. You can do this in two ways: by becoming familiar with the general shape, color, and behavior of birds, and by keeping a running tally in your head of the kinds of birds most likely to be seen in your location that time of year.

Great Kisadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course you’ll need to look at field marks—a wing-bar here, an eye-ring there—to clinch some IDs. But these four keys will quickly get you to the right group of species, so you’ll know exactly which field marks to look for. Bird watchers can identify many species from just a quick look. They’re using the four keys to visual identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat.

We’re going back to our roots to reconnect with nature. It really touches our souls. National parks, state parks, regional parks, and wildlife refuges are great places to observe a variety of birds. There is a birding trail near you.

Clay-colored Thrush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission, Texas

South Texas is home to one of top bird watching destinations in the country, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center. Birders know Bentsen as a treasure trove of “Valley Specialties” or tropical birds found nowhere else in the US. Birds to look for include green jays (see feature photo), white-tipped doves, clay-colored thrush (see above photo), long-billed thrasher, great kiskadee (see above photo), and Altamira oriole. Bentsen is one of nine unique World Birding Center locations in the Rio Grande Valley.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This desert park bustles with birds and other wildlife. Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Western scrub jay (see above photo) Say’s phoebes, and 42 other bird species call the park home.

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

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache is one of the most spectacular national wildlife refuges in North America. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of Sandhill cranes (see above photo), geese, and ducks who winter here each year.

Great White Egret at Corkscrew Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Florida

Visitors to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years. A 2.25-mile boardwalk meanders through pine flatwood, wet prairie, around a marsh, and into a large old growth Bald Cypress forest. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors can be seen throughout the year. Photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Folkston, Georgia

With more than 350,000 acres, you’ll have no trouble finding birds—or social distancing. It’s famous for a variety of wetland, wading birds. There are a lot of boardwalks and a canoe trail.

Plain Chachalacas at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo, Texas

Step into a rare tropical world at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Spanish moss drips from trees. Noisy Plain chachalacas (see above photo) welcome the morning dawn. Santa Ana is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America.

Lesser Grebe at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, McNeal, Arizona

Many people visit Whitewater Draw each winter to experience the memorable sights and sounds of more than 20,000 Sandhill cranes. Whitewater Draw’s waters also attract many kinds of ducks, geese, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns.

Great White Egret at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Lake Martin is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak. Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year.

Juvenile Glossy Ibis at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Roswell, New Mexico

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located where the Chihuahuan Desert, short grass prairie, Pecos River, and the Roswell artesian basin come together. Attracted to the area by its abundant water supply at least 357 species of birds have been observed on the refuge including thousands of migrating Sandhill cranes.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park is a staggeringly beautiful place. It’s as “Arizona” as it gets.

The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.” My initial reaction was not that different!

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The Southwest began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1961. The park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular features of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain History

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated the same lands.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If Swilling traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell, as he presumably did in the summer of 1867, he came within sight of Usery Mountain Park and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River. The first Swilling canal brought water to fields east of the present Arizona State Hospital near Phoenix and inspired the beginning of other canal building.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 5, 1892, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen and two bars of silver bullion valued at $2,000 were stolen. The driver identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Henry Blevins. Posses took the field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After two years, he was pardoned.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of stealing cattle. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he disappeared.

Usery Mountain Park is on the border of a mountain region. Nearby ranges are the Superstitions on the east, the Goldfields on the north and northeast, the Usery Mountains immediately northwest, and the McDowell Mountains across the Salt River to the northwest. A broad basin lies west and south of the area.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Pass was also known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, presented a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they moved into or out of the Coconino plateau region.​

Hiking at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Hiking Trails

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. If you are looking for a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. Another visitor favorite is the Wind Cave Trail that reaches high onto the mountain side and allows hikers onto the adjacent Tonto National Forest.

Guilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trails within the Usery Mountain Regional Park are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Usery Mountain Picnic Areas

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The Day Use Picnic Area provides a table, barbecue grill, drinking water, and restrooms for each site. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada area. Usery Mountain has two group areas that offer two large ramadas with picnic tables and patio, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, flood lights, and a nearby playground.

Camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Usery Mountain

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. Usery Mountain provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Winter wander lands

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best places to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter. Be sure to check state travel advisories before you set out and please note that some sites may require advance booking.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The curving, dipping dunes of White Sands look snowier than your average ski resort and you can even sled down them. But, with daytime winter temperatures averaging 60 degrees it doesn’t feel that way until the sun dips down and it’s chilly enough for a campfire. There’s no RV camping in the park but there are several spots nearby from basic dry camping at Holloman Lake near the dunes to Alamogordo and Las Cruces where sites have full hook-ups and fenced-in patios.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

What could possibly be more bizarrely beautiful than the teetering, towering hoodoo rock formations that rise like totems throughout Bryce Canyon National Park? Those same hoodoos speckled with bright white snow, that’s what. Misty mornings and pink skies make winter landscapes stunning. Several national park campsites with RV sites stay open and there are ranger-led snowshoe hikes too.

Historic Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma, Arizona

Prefer to give winter the cold shoulder? Make tracks for Yuma. The Sonoran Desert city can be unbearably hot in summer but its balmy winters are ideal. Yuma is the ideal city to visit for the winter season. Known as the Sunniest City on Earth, Yuma offers temperate winter weather, perfect for snowbirds to escape the snow and freezing temperatures up North. With sunny skies 91 percent of the year, Yuma is a premiere winter travel destination for those seeking a small town feel with big city amenities.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Temperatures can reach the high 60s here in winter which is much more pleasant than the often sweltering, throat-tightening summer heat. And the longer nights are a blessing in an area famed for its star-scattered dark skies. Snag a space at one of the designated camping areas like Jumbo Rocks and prepare to gaze upwards for hours. It can be chilly at night though that just means you can huddle around a campfire.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island, Texas

The weather on Padre Island near Corpus Christi stays sunny and warm even in winter and your neighbors are more likely to be chilled-out snowbirds escaping the cold than rowdy spring break crowds looking for thrills. Nab a spot at one of several RV parks then revel in the fact you can still feel warm breezes, comb beaches for shells, and watch spectacular sunsets (without catching a chill) in January or February.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that look awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred world-class golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV living.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The king of canyons is best viewed in peace and solitude—something that’s hard to achieve in peak season. Brave the chill and take your RV here when the mercury drops, the crowds drift away and the undulating rock formations look even more incredible. You can also view elk and deer which are more active on cooler days. Only the South Rim stays open in winter with several RV sites available.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the Palm Canyon, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Prefer snow-white sand to snow-white snow? Alabama’s Gulf Coast stays pretty mild and sunny all year-round making it a favorite spot for those escaping frigid winters and is now reopening after suffering damage during Hurricane Sally. There are those beaches, of course, and the area also has wetlands with trails, kayaking, and birdwatching. After a day of activities, wind down in one of the fun, quirky bars or seafood restaurants which serve the region’s prized Royal Red shrimp.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads. You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!