THOR Buys Tiffin Motorhomes: What Happens Next?

THOR Industries Buys Tiffin Motorhomes

The RV world was rocked just 18 months ago when Winnebago Industries purchased luxury RV manufacturer, Newmar. What seemed unthinkable became a reality. Now, what seemed unfathomable has happened as well. THOR Industries, one of the “Big Three” in the RV industry along with Winnebago and Forest River, has purchased Tiffin Motorhomes for $300 million.

Tiffin Phaeton Motorhome at Jackson Rancheria RV Resort near Jackson, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tiffin Motorhomes, operating in Alabama and Mississippi, manufactures a luxurious lineup of gas and diesel Class A Motorhomes including the Allegro Breeze, Allegro Red 340, Allegro Red, Open Road Allegro, Phaeton, Allegro Bus, and Zephyr models. The company also produces a premium Class C product line—The Wayfarer.

Newmar Factory Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vanleigh RV, operating in Mississippi, produces a line of fifth-wheel towable products, including the Pinecrest, Vilano, and Beacon models.

Additional companies within the acquired Tiffin Group include a window manufacturer (Alabama-based Wynne Enterprises, Inc.), a furniture manufacturer (Alabama-based Roma Enterprises, Inc.), a door manufacturer (Alabama-based Tiffin Door Co., Inc.), a fiberglass supplier (Mississippi-based Water-Way, Inc.), and an RV transport company (Alabama-based Drive-A-Way of Red Bay, Inc.).

Newmar Factory Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

THOR Industries is the sole owner of operating subsidiaries that, combined, represent the world’s largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles.

According to a news release, “Tiffin Group will operate as stand-alone operating company within the THOR family of companies. The Tiffin family and the Tiffin Group’s experienced management team will continue to manage their operations just as they and their family have done for the past 49 years.”

Newmar Factory Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For diehard Tiffin Motorhome fans, it’s a bit like finding out your favorite sports star has just been traded to a rival team (remembering the Gretzky trade). Tiffin, long known for quality coaches with a consistently high customer ranking, a great factory service center experience, and brand loyalty, will now fall under the vast THOR umbrella. Devoted Tiffin owners are now left to wonder what happens next.

Newmar Factory Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will Tiffin Motorhomes Stay in Red Bay, Alabama?

One would assume that Tiffin would remain outside of the Elkhart bubble, at least geographically speaking. How will this acquisition affect pricing, quality control, availability, and delivery times? Will those mecca-like pilgrimages to Red Bay, Alabama for factory service continue?

Much like Newmar customers, Tiffin owners have enjoyed a bit of an elite status. Until their recent roll out of the Wayfarer series of Class C RVs, Tiffin Motorhomes has been known as an upper-end Class A RV manufacturer. Tiffin owners are as devoted to “roughing it smoothly” as they are the brand itself. That confident swagger that comes with driving and owning 40+ feet of quality diesel motorhome carries over into conversation whether sitting around the campfire or in popular RVing forums.

Newmar Factory Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Happens Next?

Will that confident swagger lose a little of its swag, now that Tiffin Motorhomes is just another THOR brand? Will a vast infusion of cash from THOR Industries take Tiffin to the next level or instead water down the overall brand? Will Tiffin Motorhomes be pressured into building more motorhomes faster, causing quality to suffer? Or will THOR allow a successful business to continue to be successful while fine-tuning sensible cost saving measures? Will Tiffin Motorhomes shine even brighter under THOR or lose its luster?

Newmar Dutch Star © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time will tell. The jury is still out on how Winnebago’s acquisition of Newmar has affected the quality and innovation of that brand and we can expect the same with this one. The big three just got bigger and Tiffin Motorhome owners are wondering what happens next?

A personal message to Tiffin owners: As a loyal Newmar customer I feel your pain.

Worth Pondering…

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.

—Earl Gary Stevens

Good for What Ages You: Palm Springs

Whether its golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, shopping, or hiking, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise

Palm Springs is one of those places that looks awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. 

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 camping.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two weekly markets that are more than just shopping trips, they are events. On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon Drive turns into Villagefest, a street fair with fragrant food stands, local and imported crafts, and tantalizing fresh produce. Live music accompanies you as you stroll past the many stalls.

Starting at 7:00 am, Saturday and Sunday mornings, the College of the Desert in Palm Desert hosts another street fair.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mile-long strip, El Paseo features locally owned boutiques; top international retailers such as St. John, Gucci, and Burberry; brilliant fun and fine jewelry; eclectic artworks; sleek and sophisticated home décor; and professional services including day spas, and interior design know-how. With so much to do and see, it’s easy to pass an entire day on El Paseo.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of the desert cities, Joshua Tree National Park protects two unique desert climates. In the eastern part of the park, the low altitude Colorado Desert features natural gardens of creosote bush, cactus, and other plants. The higher, moister, and cooler Mojave Desert is the home of the Joshua tree, a unique desert plant with beautiful white spring blossoms. A third type of environment can be seen at the six palm oases in the park, where water occurs naturally at the surface and creates a whole new ecosystem.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to desert flora and fauna, the western part of Joshua Tree National Park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and owners of high-clearance vehicles can explore these craggy formations on a series of signed dirt roads that penetrate the park.

Nine campgrounds and three visitor centers are available for park visitors, as well as a number of well-marked short walks with informative signage.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo, but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day. Cabot’s pueblo spreads an impressive 5,000 square feet, divided into 35 rooms and adorned with 150 windows and 65 doors. What a sight it is to see!

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the structure’s architecture is a unique sight to behold, there’s more to see here than Cabot’s Hopi-style pueblo. Inside, the house has been turned into a museum with rooms filled with Indian artifacts, artwork, and memorabilia. One not to be missed artifact is Waokiye, a 43-foot sculpture of a Native American head.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from the desert cities. One of the area’s most beautiful attractions especially if you like to hike, the Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete your journey by letting the Palm Springs Aerial Tram do the climbing, 6,000 feet of it. Along the way a wondrous panorama of the desert lands stretches below and beyond. From Mountain Station at the top, there are short nature hikes or longer trails of varying lengths. Be sure to bring a warm jacket as the temperature difference is dramatic at this elevation and snow is not uncommon.

Worth Pondering…

One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.

—Dennis Franz

2021 Vision: On Travel Restrictions, Freedom to Travel, and Staying Healthy

We’ve been through a lot this past year. 2020 has tested our resolve and proven to be a difficult time for many in the face of the COVID pandemic.

It goes without saying that 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us expected. And as we bid farewell to this year, it’s a good time to look back on what we’ve learned, while we also look forward with anticipation to the New Year and all it may bring.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing we’ve been reminded of this year is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. This rang even more true in 2020 as we focused on health and well-being. Medical professionals advised us to socially distance from one another and told us that when we did spend time with others, it was preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle, so much so that some news outlets dubbed it The Year of the RV.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the first coronavirus vaccinations making their way across the United States and Canada as this is written, we look to 2021 with hope. Our 2020 Vision has left us with a new appreciation for the freedom to travel, to explore our continent, and to spend time in the company of friends and family. Cheers to more of that in 2021! And cheers to always expanding our RV knowledge and learning new things.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What can you do to help navigate through what might be another crazy year? My answer is simple…Get outside and start 2021 off on the right foot, right from the trail! Try something new or get back into a familiar, possibly forgotten pastime. Take a breath of fresh air while hiking in our beautiful outdoor places and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Focus on what you can control in 2021. Get outside, stay healthy, and stay connected. Pack your hiking boots and get off the beaten path. Take a look at the following options to help you start 2021 off strong, outdoors, and on a positively healthy note!

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. Choose from 120 RV and tent campsites with electric and water utilities. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking sites are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park is a South Dakota State Park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills. The Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or rock climbing, find your adventure along the roads and trails! Custer State Park’s early pioneers, ranchers, and loggers have left behind miles of hiking trails and backcountry roads to explore.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Side-by-side, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have 800,000 acres and 800 miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are famous for the massive trees that grow in their forests. The Sequoiadendron giganteum that grows in this portion of the Sierra Nevadas is famed for its girth with the world’s largest tree by volume found here. General Sherman is the tree in question, and grows in Sequoia National Park. Nearby Giant Forest hosts several more of the world’s largest trees. Moro Rock provides a stunning vantage of the surrounding foothills and granite formations; pair it with Crescent Meadow, which John Muir called the “Gem of the Sierra,” at the head of the High Sierra Trail.

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.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. RV and tent campers can select from 51 sites at Devils Garden Campground. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Sites range in length from 20 to 40 feet. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

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 (formerly the Great Swamp 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.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles of Georgia

The natural splendor of the Golden Isles (St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the port city of Brunswick) extends past its golden-sand shores to tidal marshlands, live oak forests, and delicate estuaries. These impressive landscapes create a springboard for adventure. Hike or walk along the trails to experience the region’s natural beauty. Historical ruins, exquisite wildlife, and unique vegetation give outdoor enthusiasts an exciting variety of routes. From nature preserves to stretches of beach and miles of trail systems, find routes appropriate for all ages and skill levels as well as routes perfect for families and pets. If you’re looking for a diverse network of trails and a day full of fun, head to Blythe Island Regional Park, a 1,100-acre public park. Comprised of more than 30 nature and urban trails, the Jekyll Island Trail System is the best way to explore the island.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

Best of 2020: Top 10 RVing Articles of 2020

We have our 2020 winners! See the top articles in RVing with Rex!

Time glides with undiscover’d haste

The future but a length behind the past.

—John Dryden

Hello, RVing friends! The year is turning over and another 12 months of RVing, photography, hiking, and birding has flashed by.

I’m trying to squeeze in all of the things I didn’t get to do this year into these last remaining days of 2020. Truth be told, we weren’t able to do a lot of things.

The End is almost here!

Historic Georgetown Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is article # 704 since my first post on January 16, 2019. Okay, the end isn’t near, but the end of the year is almost here, and it’s time to think about wrap-ups as 2020 draws to a close. The end of the year is the traditional time for doing a summary and some reflection.

Looking back there were certain events and articles that kindled reader interests. Thank you for reading and returning frequently to read my latest articles. Thank you for your continuing support!

Historic Adairsville Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We can all agree this was a year like no other, at times feeling like a refugee from reality. As the year mercifully comes to a close, RVing with Rex celebrates the must reads that you loved the most over the past 12 months. I’ll start off by doing a sincere thank you so much for reading this year.

It’s always fascinating to look back and see what stories enjoyed the most readership and interest that year. The results often confound my expectations.

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

Today, I’m delighted to bring you RVing with Rex’s Best of 2020: a collection of articles about RVing and the RV Lifestyle.

RVing with Rex readership in 2020 smashed the prior year numbers with an incredible 168,247 unique visitors and 357,560 page views. So what was the most popular article of the year?

Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We check our readership data for several important reasons. First and foremost, I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what my readers actually want to read. While it’s tempting to assume I know what you want to read—my gut and personal preferences have some definite opinions—but the data is the reality.

This is actually a relief as it gives me a concrete direction on what types of content to focus on going forward. I can’t always provide the content that’s most wanted as I attempt to keep the blog well-rounded and offer something for all RVers—and wanna-bes—but the readership data is a fantastic guide.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing with Rex would like to wish its readers a safe and happy New Years.

Here are the top 10 most read and most popular RVing with Rex posts of the year, listed in the order of their readership numbers.

And the most popular article of 2020 is…

15 Bad Camping Decisions

You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to enjoy a camping trip; there are options for every camping skill level and travel taste

Number Page Views: 63,859

Originally Posted: September 3, 2020

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

Top 7 Tragic Rookie RV Mistakes To Avoid

Make sure to avoid the following rookie mistakes

Number Page Views: 30,473

Originally Posted: August 24, 2020

The Grandest Drive in Arizona

Follow Highway 89A and hold on tight

Number Page Views: 23,353

Originally Posted: September 3, 2020

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Absolutely Best National Parks to Escape the Insanely Crazy Crowds

They rarely make Instagram but vast national monuments offer spectacular beauty and wilderness adventure

Number Page Views: 16,606

Originally Posted: November 3, 2020

The Best RV Parks for Visiting America’s National Parks

A guide to the best RV parks near the most popular national parks

Number Page Views: 13,073

Originally Posted: August 2, 2020

Peachoid, Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

Number Page Views: 12,862

Originally Posted: August 8, 2020

Bucket List Trip for Your Lifetime: America’s Ultimate National Park Road Trip

Are you looking for a special bucket list destination? An inspiration for an once-in-a-lifetime trip?

Number Page Views: 11,512

Originally Posted: August 29, 2020

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island is one of the few surviving unspoiled beach communities in the U.S.

Number Page Views: 6,791

Originally Posted: February 19, 2020

Here’s the Proof that Utah is the Most Beautiful State

Soaring peaks and deep red canyons around every bend

Number Page Views: 4,690

Originally Posted: August 9, 2020

Burr Trail Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Absolutely Best Road Trip from LA to the Grand Canyon

This road trips goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA

Number Page Views: 4,485

Originally Posted: July 26, 2020

A Happy New Year to all my readers. Best wishes for 2021. Find what brings you joy and go there.

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

May the months ahead be filled with great RVing experiences! Remember, the journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing. Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Worth Pondering…

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light,

The year is dying in the night.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow,

The year is going, let him go.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Christmas 2020 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the madness of 2020, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.

It’s been said for months that 2020 is not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers know so firsthand. Canadians have had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend short-sleeve time with friends at resorts and rallies in the South have had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are volatile, uncertain, and complex times but with wide-scale vaccinations we are looking forward to a brighter, more social tomorrow. RVing will continue to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.

But despite 2020’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug in their, er, storage areas can embrace the world outside their door and view a pristine snowfall. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Worth Pondering…

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

End 2020 on a High Note with these Travel Ideas

2020 is almost over. Go out with a bang.

With some communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, we’re bored, listless, afraid, and uncertain. We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Social distancing limits physical contact. Lockdown constricts physical space and movement. Working from home or having lost work entirely both upend routines and habits.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best part of December 2020 will no doubt take place at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st when all of humanity toasts a new year and welcomes 2021 with something resembling hope. 

But until then, here are some ideas for holiday getaways so you can leave 2020 on a high note. Ski slopes are open, holiday lights are twinkling, and road trips are still up for the taking. Trick out the RV and carpe the diem… 2020 is on its way out.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chill out in Vermont

For a place that’s likely covered with a thick layer of powder as you’re reading this, Vermont in the winter sure gives off a lot of cozy vibes: think glittering icicles on historic covered bridges and mom-and-pop general stores. We’re eyeballing friendly Stowe is an ideal place to visit this winter where you can hit the slopes and fall in love with Vermont.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter camping trip offers the opportunity to see another side of Vermont’s beautiful outdoors. Make your home in the snow and bed down for the night amid the silence and serenity of the season. Luckily for winter camping enthusiasts, Vermont State Parks never close and make a great spot to set up camp. The winter months mean the least number of visitors to the parks, which just means more space for you.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or warm way up in Arizona

Arizona is straight-up gorgeous! Winter is a fantastic time to visit Arizona whether you want to take advantage of all-season camping in its vast wildernesses which includes the Grand Canyon and the criminally under-visited Organ Pipe National Monument. Stop off in lively Phoenix or artsy Tucson or outdoor adventure in Sedona and you might find yourself considering a move. Find yourself in the desert

Anza Borrego sculptures © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of deserts, those expanses are looking extra appealing right now. Maybe it’s time to load up the RV and jaunt through West Texas to see the Marfa lights. Cruise Nevada to gawk at psychedelic geysers that look like they were made by aliens. See art both prehistoric and wildly hallucinogenic in New Mexico. And while California is on lockdown right now, the wide-open outdoor gallery that is the Greater Palm Springs area will still be there. Meanwhile, there’s the Anza Borrego Sculptures like something straight out of a movie. While driving near Borrego Springs you’ll gawk at 130 full-sized metal sculptures out in the middle of nowhere. It really is fun to find yourself among creatures that roamed the desert millions of years ago— real and imagined. There are prehistoric mammals, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long serpent/dragon. Great chance for night photography!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get a whole national park to yourself

While some national parks close up for the winter, others are at their absolute best when the season changes. And it’s not just cold places like Mount Rainier, Bryce, and Denali, either. You’ll find crowds way, way down at Arches and Joshua Tree, too. And there’s no better time to visit White Sands and Congaree.

The Wharf on the Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get holly and jolly across the US

The holidays are going to be a slog this year even while the pandemic gives you a solid excuse not to listen to your uncle bloviate over dinner. But there’s still cheer to be had. St. Petersburg, Florida is leaning into the North Pole-with-palm-trees vibe on its new pier and beyond offering up multiple holiday markets, a boat parade, and more. Celebrate the season on the Alabama Gulf Coast with the North Pole Express and Holly Days at the Wharf in Orange Beach. Or head to the festive Bavarian mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington or any number of small towns that go full Clark Griswold with holiday displays.

Natural Bridges National Monument, a certified Dark Sky park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go outside and look up

Unless you’re living in Argentina or Chile you’re unlikely to see the total eclipse of the sun. But the skies this month are filled with cosmic action. The Geminid and Ursid meteor shower will peak. Saturn and Jupiter are having close encounters. To experience them, you don’t need to head to a certified Dark Sky site. But it wouldn’t hurt. Try Utah: There are currently 16 designated Dark Sky sites across the state with plans to reach 20 in the very near future. Between national parks, state parks, and national monuments, that means more than any other state in the country. 

Gulfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, you could just stay home and pretend you’re somewhere else.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

Really, Arizona Has It All

Arizona is a land of endless beauty from desert to mountain peaks

It’s that time of year when we look back and ponder the year we leave behind. In 2020, that feels like a challenge. This has been a year of pandemic and interrupted travel. Lives have been disrupted. Stress levels seem to be at an all-time high. Yet ultimately none of the trials and tribulations of these past months alter one very significant fact.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love wintering in Arizona.

It’s the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. This is a land of endless beauty and staggering diversity. That’s not something to be taken for granted. Here are some of the things I love about living the RV dream in Arizona.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Really, Arizona has it all

Jump in your RV or car in the morning and by afternoon you can…

Peer into the Grand Canyon. Kayak on a lake. Cruise down Historic Route 66. Walk across London Bridge. Tour a cave. Explore a ghost town. Search for wild horses along the Salt River. Hike among the red rocks of Sedona. Feed the burros that wander into Oatman. Watch a gunfight in Tombstone. Picnic in the desert. Ski down a mountainside. Sit on a sandy beach.

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s just a matter of deciding which direction to drive and what clothes you need for that day. How many other states offer such a delicious range of options so easily accessible?

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking trails are practically at your RV site

Here’s a detail I just made up but I’m sure it’s true. Wherever you choose to RV in Arizona you’re within 15 minutes of a trailhead. For snowbirds like us who travel from city to small towns, national parks to state parks, and wildlife refuges to county parks, trails are even closer.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Abundance of open space and moderate winter temperatures pulls us outdoors where the scenery soothes us. This is where we can relax, refresh, and breathe a little deeper. Every minute spent hiking or biking on an Arizona trail is an investment in health and happiness.

Mexican poppies at Picacho State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flowers bloom every month of the year

Such a small thing but such a wonderful thing!

Arizona is loaded with mountains

The Grand Canyon State is rugged and snowy and surprisingly vertical. Arizona has 3,928 mountain summits and peaks poking holes in its azure skies. There are 26 peaks that top out above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of cool hiking opportunities in summer as well as winter.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn brings a luxurious leafy display

Dead Horse Ranch is a beautiful state park for camping and hiking all year long. But something truly special happens starting in late October. The cottonwoods and willows that provide such welcome shade during summer turn golden. When it comes to fall colors, cottonwood trees are not as consistent as aspens, maples, and other showboats of the forest. Yet some years they are absolutely dazzling. It’s as if someone flipped a cosmic switch and the riparian corridor that lines the Verde River bursts into shimmering yellow hues.

As the season winds down in the Verde Valley, nice colors linger on at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, east of Phoenix near Superior.

Shootout in Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona history is full of weird quirkiness

I love all of Arizona’s rich and storied history. But some of my favorite tales are the small and odd ones. For example:

The longest poker game in history took place downstairs at the Birdcage Theatre in Tombstone. It started in 1881 and despite the $1,000 buy-in the action ran continuously for eight years, five months, and three days when the Birdcage closed. Plenty of famous names handled the cards during the marathon session including Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolph Busch, George Randolph Hearst, and Doc Holliday.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Criminals in Wickenburg once were sentenced to sit outside in the shade. From 1868 to 1890, legend says Wickenburg scofflaws were chained to a mesquite tree that served as the town hoosegow.

Arizona has its own Bigfoot. The reclusive creature said to stand over 7 feet tall was first reported in a 1903 edition of the Arizona Republican in which I.W. Stevens said he encountered the hirsute humanoid near the Grand Canyon. He discovered it drinking the blood of two young cougars it had killed. Sightings continue and today it is known as the Mogollon Monster.

Organ Pipe Cactus Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The open road calls to us

It’s hard to imagine a place more perfectly designed for road trips than Arizona. It’s a big state, the sixth largest in the US covering nearly 114,000 square miles. Most of the population centers are clustered in bunches leaving vast tracts of backcountry to explore. Arizona is sprinkled with just the right number of small towns to keep travelers gassed up and well fed.

Peralta Trailhead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 27 officially designated scenic and historic roads rambling across Arizona including five national scenic byways. They include classics like Apache Trail, Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road, Organ Pipe Cactus Parkway, Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, and Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway.

Pillsbury Winery in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dare to be grape

There are more than 100 wineries producing some 22 varietals of wine in Arizona. Cheers!

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter is here

That sounds ominous in a weird way! As those of us who live elsewhere know how bleak and soul-draining those dark and cold months can be. Not so in Arizona where much of winter is spent under a clear sky. During winter the sun is “candy-sweet” and most welcome to locals and snowbirds alike.

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.

Birds, Birds, and More Birds: Estero Llano Grande State Park

Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a can’t-miss birding destination

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 eco-wonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S.

Estero Llano Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower Rio Grande Valley—the ancient delta of the river from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico—contains resacas or oxbow lakes, Tamaulipan thorn woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and forest. Less than 5 percent of the area’s natural habitat remains, however.

Estero Llano Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 1990s, that alarming fact spurred the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, six local communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch the creation of the World Birding Center. Today, the World Birding Center consists of nine individual sites, including three state parks: Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, and Resaca de la Palma.

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Together, the parks safeguard nearly 2,200 acres that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife—places for visitors to experience nature and the landscape of the Valley close to its original state.

Common pauraque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the geographic center of the World Birding Center network, 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 (pictured below), Altamira oriole, green jay (pictured above), 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.

Turtles all in a row © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande State Park, formerly agricultural fields, became a World Birding Center site in 2006. Its 230-plus acres, free of car traffic, take in a shallow lake, woodlands, and thorn forest, along with a wildlife-viewing deck, boardwalks, and five miles of trails.

Green-winged teal © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park gets its name from the original Spanish land grant for the area known as Llano Grande, which means Large Grassland or Plain. An “estero” is a low-lying area of land often flooded by rain or overflow from a nearby river. So, Estero Llano Grande means “the wet place on the big plain.”

Black bellied whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s amazing what adding a little water to a typically sun-parched environment can do to attract birds and other wildlife. You need look no further for proof than the almost 200 rejuvenated acres of Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley.

Great horned owl © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds and other wildlife love water; this park contains the largest wetlands environment in the World Birding Center. Hundreds of waders and shorebirds flock here, especially in late summer when water becomes scarce in these parts. Reported sightings include threatened wood storks, colorful roseate spoonbills, ibis, and migrating waterfowl such as ducks. The park’s woodland and thorn scrub harbor Altamira orioles and, sometimes, tropical red-crowned parrots and green parakeets.

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Visitors Center, follow a trail past Ibis Pond and Dowitcher Pond where turtles sun themselves, onto the Camino de Aves Trail, a 1-mile loop through the brush. At Alligator Lake, spend a few minutes on the observation deck looking for the lake’s namesake reptile (pictured below) before continuing to the top of a levee for a view of the Llano Grande.

Black-necked stilt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next turnoff leads to the Spoonbill Trail, which circles Ibis Pond back to where you started. On the other side of the entrance road, lanes of a former RV park have transitioned into the park’s Tropical Area, which attracts rarities such as the rose-throated becard, white-throated thrush, and crimson-collard grosbeak. The short, narrow Green Jay Nature Trail loops through woods so thick they feel like an enchanted forest.

Rose-breasted grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park shelters more than 300 bird species with a record 115 spotted from the deck in one day. Estero Llano Grande offers the best chance to spot the heavily camouflaged common pauraque. Most of the trails accommodate wheelchairs, and tram tours are offered on certain afternoons by reservation. Park staff also offer regularly scheduled guided bird, butterfly, and dragonfly walks.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

The holiday spirit is in overdrive in this beautiful, bikeable state park

You may be desperate to inject some joy into 2020’s finale. A holiday getaway that’s semi-remote with space to roam while packing some good tidings and staying COVID-safe.

Then consider Jekyll Island. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never heard of Jekyll? Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized island off the coast of Georgia is one of four beautiful barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—collectively known as the Golden Isles. Jekyll was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides partaking in myriad loops of the lights drive each night, take a turn through the mini-golf course—currently adorned with sugar plums, swirly oversized lollipops, and the likeness of Frosty and friends. Honestly, after the year we’ve had, leaning into some old fashioned holiday cheer never felt more necessary.

But this quiet island hideaway is an ideal escape any time of year. Here are some highlights.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the island’s northern end, a spacious campground shaded with enormous oaks is a dreamy spot to park an RV or pitch a tent. It sits within walking distance to Clam Creek and just across from Driftwood Beach, so-named for the ancient trees that fell there due to myriad storms and beach erosion. 179 total campsites with 167 full hook-up sites (back-in and pull-through options) and 12 primitive tent sites are spaciously located within 18 wooded acres.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 20 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. You can rent from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn to explore the island’s coastal trails. At just seven miles long, it’s hard to get lost on Jekyll. 

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources on a Park Ranger Walk. Walk down a historic trail through one of the island’s most diverse habitats viewing Jekyll Island’s active bald eagle nest. On tour with Jekyll Island Conservation staff, learn the trail’s history, identify unique vegetation communities, and see examples of active wildlife research efforts.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Jekyll’s southern tip, the Wanderer Memory Trail is a new educational experience on Jekyll Island that tells the story of America’s last known slave ship, the Wanderer. The trail is located along the banks of the Jekyll River where the ship illegally came ashore 160 years ago with more than 500 enslaved Africans. Made up of individual exhibits, the trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship. Visitors of all ages will follow Umwalla’s journey from capture through freedom told through interactive exhibits along the trail.

Marshes of Glynn, Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

7 Driving Tips You Should Know

Tips for staying safe and alert while driving

Taking a road trip seems like an obvious choice in terms of the safest way to travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But spending hours—or days—driving can be mentally taxing. And accidents on the road are a very real concern. In fact, nearly 2 million people are injured in auto accidents each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 91,000 accidents in 2017 and nodding off while driving can happen more easily than you may think when you’re on the road for long periods of time.

Driving a motorhome south of Page, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s why we need to find strategies to stay alert and safe when driving. Follow these safety tips to arrive safely at your destination. Here’s what you should know.

Driving a motorhome in Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan your itinerary

Mapping out the specifics of your road trip is the best way to eliminate stress and even avoid hazards when driving. Too many people simply plug their destination into a Navigation System without any idea about when and where they want to make pit stops. There’s nothing wrong with using GPS to give you an idea. The best way to prepare is by figuring out how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. Then, look for recreation areas, rest rooms, and fuel stops along the way. Even though planning ahead is a great idea, you shouldn’t feel unnecessarily restricted by your itinerary. It doesn’t mean that you’re deadlocked into that.

Driving a motorhome on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Eat, sleep, and hydrate well

It’s important to be well-rested before you get behind the wheel. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night (research shows that people feel their best after getting that much rest).

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

Eat a good meal before starting your drive. Some prefer a protein-heavy breakfast to help feel more satisfied and alert. Keeping prepared food in a cooler is particularly helpful for people who don’t want to stop and eat at restaurants. Of course, you’ll want to find somewhere safe to enjoy your snacks and meals—like a rest area or truck stop—since eating while driving is a distraction.

Drink plenty of water throughout the trip, which yes, means more bathroom breaks. But stopping more often is better than experiencing headaches or dizziness associated with dehydration which can happen when you skimp on water.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Stop often

You might try to drive to your destination with minimal pit stops. Resist the temptation. It’s important to stop every two to three hours to stretch, use the bathroom, and do a walkabout. I try to stop about every 100-120 miles. Moving and getting my circulation going helps me stay alert during long drives. And of course, stop if you’re tired. Avoid pulling over onto the shoulder and look for a rest area or off ramp instead.

Driving in Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Scan your surroundings

Constantly check your surroundings to know what is ahead. Scanning your surroundings (keeping your eyes moving) includes keeping a safe distance around your vehicle. To avoid last minute moves, scan the road 10–15 seconds ahead of your vehicle so you can see hazards early. When another driver makes a mistake, you need time to react. Give yourself this time by keeping a “space cushion” on all sides of your vehicle. This space cushion will give you room to brake or maneuver if you need the space. While keeping an eye on the road up ahead, look for animals on the side of the road, monitor your gauges, and scan the mirrors.

There are some roads to avoid in a large RV; Mokee Dugway in southern Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get to know road signs

Understanding road signage is one of the best ways to boost your confidence about highway driving. If you train your eye to read the signs and know what the signs mean, then you can drive down the roads confidently. For example, construction signs have an orange background and will always trump other signage. Yellow signs are cautionary. You can check out the U.S. Department of Transportation for more information about road symbols and signs.

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

6. Make your vehicle road-trip-ready

Taking the time for preventative maintenance will pay big dividends down the road. Recreational vehicles require all the standard maintenance of your car plus a whole lot more (if you had your RV for more than a few months then you may have learned this the hard way). After all, an RV is more than just a vehicle. It is a home on wheels with a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom. Inflate tires to recommended specifications and check them often. Inspect for any imperfections before travel.

Driving Mike O’Callighan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Make room for trucks

You may have felt that twinge in your gut when driving near or past large semi trucks and rightfully so, because it can be scary—those trucks are huuuuuge! It’s important to allow plenty of following room when driving behind these massive machines. Give them space. Large trucks need extra room to slow down and come to a complete stop as well as to make a turn. Don’t ride next to semis—they can’t see you. Their blind spots are humongous. You need to leave enough space so that you can see both of the truck’s side mirrors. And while you may be anxious to get in front of a slow-moving vehicle, never cut in front of large trucks. A truck traveling at highway speeds in regular conditions needs a distance of roughly two football fields to stop safely

Welcome to Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot