What Happens to ‘Stay Home’ When the Home Is on Wheels?

Not only do RVs provide a sense of distance from other campers, they also provide a sense of containment

First of all, the good news is that most RVers are prepared for national emergencies such as the the COVID-19 (coronavirus). That said we know the wave after wave of news updates, stricter camping and travel guidelines rolling out across the U.S. and Canada, and the associated stress are not things we often encounter as RVers.

The Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort in Jackson, California is closed and that includes its RV park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When national, state (and in Canada, provincial), and local governments issued stay-at-home orders shutting down many private and public campgrounds and public lands an estimated one million to two million full-time RVers were potentially left homeless. Across Facebook full-time RVer groups the sense of fear and panic was obvious. 

The 12 Tribal Casino Resort in Omak, Washington is closed and that includes its RV park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Full-time RVers consist of thousands of construction, energy, and medical workers, living mobile out of necessity for their jobs, as well as seniors and folks who sold their “sticks-and-bricks” homes to live a nomadic lifestyle.

The 7 Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, Oregon is closed but its RV park remains open. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A week after inviting RVs to camp in Winton Woods, Great Parks of Hamilton County (Ohio) ordered them gone by Thursday (April 2). No exceptions. Great Parks made this call Sunday afternoon to match moves the state made last week: closing all campgrounds to slow the spread of coronavirus. Great Parks had shut down campground cabins and bathrooms more than a week earlier but allowed self-contained RVs to stay. Until they didn’t! That put people in RVs in limbo again, some for the second or third time. Private RV parks like nearby Lebanon KOA are limiting space while wondering how long before the governor shuts them down, too.

The Gila Bend KOA in Gila Bend, Arizona is open and accepting reservations for one night only. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the challenges full-timers face in securing a camping site is the lack of clear and uniform directives between states and within localities. For example, some campgrounds can accept long-term visitors while others, depending on the municipality, cannot. 

Hacienda RV Resort in La Cruces, New Mexico is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virtual communities also have taken up the cause in connecting full-timers with open campgrounds.

Ambassador RV Resort in Caldwell, Idaho is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And many Canadian snowbirds are finding they have no place to land. The early return because of coronavirus fears has left thousands of RVers stranded. The snowbirds were heeding the federal government’s call for Canadians to return home from the U.S. and self-isolate themselves for 14 days in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency.

Nk’Mip RV Park in Osoyoos, British Columbia is open but is not accepting any new registrations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as they neared the border one problem became increasingly clear: They had nowhere to go. Thousands of stranded RVers many who have no brick-and-mortar residences have been calling RV parks and campgrounds all around the country looking for vacancies. Either they’re not open or they’re open and they’re already full or not accepting new RVers due to the fear of further spreading the virus.

Waltons Beach RV Resort in Osoyoos, British Columbia has delayed opening and is not accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of the problem is that the vast majority of Ontario’s 420 or so private campgrounds are prohibited by municipal statute from opening the season until May. And the few that do operate year round have not been listed as essential services by the province so it’s unclear whether they’d be allowed to take in new RVers.

Hilltop RV Park in Fort Stockton, Texas is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National and provincial parks—another potential refuge for returning snowbirds—are closed until April 30 at the earliest. The mandatory isolation order and the parks not being open are terrifying for many. 

Whispering Oaks RV Resort in Weimar, Texas is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found ourselves in a similar situation when the RV Park at which we had made reservations informed us that they had cancelled our reservation. We were left scrambling as we contacted dozens of parks. Finally due to a recent cancellation an RV park was willing to accept us.

Frog City RV Park in Duson, Louisiana is open and accepting new reservations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While tenting is still the primary form of camping for most people, the data reveals that 24 percent (or 1.8 million individuals) camp in an RV. They come into outdoor settings bringing their own living quarters with them which are fully self-contained units that house everything they need to sustain life including their living rooms, kitchen, bedrooms, and their own bathroom, and hopefully in present days…their own toilet paper.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie

Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Pralines, the sweet pecan candy with a buttery, brown-sugar smell

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Cultural influences played a factor in the innovation of the candy in the American South. French settlers introduced their version in Louisiana where sugarcane plantations were a dominant industry and pecan trees were prevalent.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original praline was a 17th-century French dessert described as “almonds coated in boiled sugar.” According to popular accounts, they were originally created by the cook to French diplomat of César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin, a 17th-century sugar industrialist and were called “praslin.”

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some believe the comte had his cook devise an almond-studded candy to woo his various love interests. Or perhaps it was his butler who created the treat to cure Praslin’s painful indigestion or a clumsy young apprentice who knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramelized sugar.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The praline that emerged in the South was markedly different from its contemporary European counterpart. African-American cooks working for French colonists adapted the recipe by using native Louisiana pecans and adding cream. Voilà, the velvety, sugary pecan patty was born.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is believed that pralines were brought over from France by the Ursuline nuns who came to New Orleans in 1727. They were in charge of the casket girls, young women sent over from France at the request of Bienville to marry New Orleans colonists. They were called casket girls (les filles a la casette) because each came to the city furnished with a casket-box filled with all their worldly possessions.

The nuns instructed the casket girls to be upstanding women in society as well as good wives to the settlers and in the course of their scholastic and domestic educations the girls were taught the art of praline making. Eventually the casket girls were married off and began to settle throughout southern Louisiana.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In his 1919 book about pecans, the agricultural historian Rodney Howard True called the crop “America’s most important contribution to the world’s stock of edible nuts.” Native peoples consumed pecans before Europeans arrived in America but the pecan’s history as a harvested nut is linked to a formerly enslaved Louisianan named Antoine.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The University of Georgia professor Lenny Wells wrote in his book, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree, that the nut had been harvested and perhaps even sold for centuries but that it was not viewed as capable of being industrialized. That perception shifted in 1846, Wells wrote, “thanks to the skill of a slave.” Antoine’s ability to produce high-quality nuts came through mastering the perfect combination of grafting partners to consistently produce premium nuts.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the mid-1800s, pralinieres were selling the candy in the French Quarter. Today, New Orleans tourists find it hard to leave the city without boxes of pralines.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas history of pralines is no less evocative. According to culinary historian MM Pack, the Texas praline’s ancestry came both from the east (New Orleans) and from the south (Mexico). Both France and Spain brought their sweet tooth to the New World “more or less at the same time,” Pack said. The pecan-candy traditions—pecans because they were plentiful and free—found a welcome home in Texas where industrious Mexican immigrants could make money from candy that was relatively cheap to produce.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack cited the Texas-Mexican history of the border town candyman (men selling sweets from carts and baskets) as a natural link for pecan candy at Tex-Mex restaurants.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the early 1900s, pecans became a source of income for Mexican immigrants who gathered, shelled, and dried them. Pecan candy soon became a tradition. Mexican-American know-how for pecan pralines found its way into Tex-Mex restaurants where Mexican candies—dulces—were sold.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being a thriving port city, people from all over the world came through New Orleans to the rest of the country and the praline spread with them. Nowadays most people are unaware of the candy’s historical origin, and the praline is thought of as a southern confection not necessarily specific to New Orleans. Some believe the pecan praline is a Texan candy, whereas others assume it came from Savannah.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pronunciation of the candy is a point of contention as well. In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where there are many communities settled by the French, the pronunciation is prah-leen with the long aaah sound which is closer to that of the candy’s namesake du Plessis-Praslin. Other regions of the country including parts of Texas and Georgia have anglicized the term and pronounce it pray-leen. However you say it, they taste the same. Other terms for pralines include pecan pralines, pecan candy, plarines, and pecan patties.

KatySweet pralines, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson

Best Places for RV Travel this April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like the previous month, April was a victim of calendar shifting by the Romans. April was supposed to be the second month on the calendar after March, because after all, Aprillis is a derivative of the Latin base word apero- which means second. April was celebrated as the second month of the year, whereas now it’s the fourth month and is seen as the real beginning of spring in the U.S.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Could April be the best of all worlds? Summer comes early to Arizona. It’s also the best time of year to catch some bona fide bucket-list natural wonders from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest. Simply put: there’s an RV destination for you, no matter your jam.

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January, February, and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2019.

South Carolina

Great Swamp Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina begins as a wall of mountains on its western border as the Southern Appalachians rise dramatically from the piedmont below. The terrain mellows into river valleys as it moves east until it hits the coast and becomes wild again with untouched barrier islands, sandy beaches, and rough surf coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Water sports obviously dominate the coastal scene with untold miles of brackish rivers to paddle while the mountains have become a hotbed of cycling and hiking.

Texas

Davis Mountains of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is a lovely time of year in Texas. The weather is not yet too intensely hot, the skies are blue and clear, and things start to move outdoors—festivals, gigs, parties, eating, and drinking. The weather in Marfa, out in the High Texan Desert, is just right for walking the many miles around Donald Judd’s large-scale installations and land art out under the desert sun (at this time of year, not too harsh), and just right too for staying in a vintage van or airstream at El Cosmico.

Florida

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winter-sun state is wonderful in spring and autumn. It’s one of the best places to go on holiday in April for beach breaks or outdoor adventures with long sunny days and warm-but-not-hot weather—just right for tailing alligators through the mangroves or galloping around a cattle ranch, cruising around Miami’s art district or having a classic family beach holiday on the Gulf of Mexico.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is magic! Skagit Valley Farmers invite visitors to take a scenic drive through the valley and experience the art of farming during the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Tulips have been farmed here since the early 1900s and today, over a million bulbs are planted at RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town alone. The Magic Skagit Valley’s natural wonders also include shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River and one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park is America’s most spectacular landscape, a 277-mile long, 5,000 foot deep kaleidoscopic gorge of the Colorado River that cuts through the high desert plains of Arizona like a golden knife. Written into these sheer cliffs is one of the most complete geological records on the planet—nearly two billion years of the earth’s history etched into stone from the Kaibab Limestone laid down at its summit 260 million years ago to the 1.8-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at its base. Studying the rocks, layer by layer, you can almost see desert become swamp, oceans advance and retreat, and mountains rise and fall again. It’s like looking at time itself.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy a number of breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Repeatedly hailed America’s most charming and friendliest city, this Southern Belle offers cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages. And springtime is the perfect moment before steamy summer envelops the Deep South. Try jazz-club-hopping in the French Quarter, slurp fresh oysters on the seafront, and don’t miss the colorful Georgians of Rainbow Row. Better still, April’s annual Festival of Houses and Gardens invites you inside some of the city’s most incredible antebellum homes. Go have a snoop.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

Bakersfield Sound

In the 1950’s and 60’s Bakersfield became an unlikely birthplace for a new sound—The Bakersfield Sound

The city gained fame in the late 1950s and early ’60s for the Bakersfield Sound. The sub genre of country music—described as a mix of twangy guitars, drums, fiddle, and steel guitar—was a defiant reaction to the string orchestras and the polished sound of albums being recorded in Nashville during this time.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oil is what drew people here at the turn of the century. It’s what kept the Okies here fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. And when they came—nearly doubling Kern County’s population—they brought their hillbilly music with them.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Displaced and impoverished, they sang around campfires in work camps. They held dances in Farm Security Administration settlements. They opened cheap beer joints—later called honky-tonks—whose house bands bean to play a different kind of country music: electric, danceable, swinging.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music became the region’s second natural resource. Performers such as Lefty Fizzell, Wynn Stewart, and Ferlin Husky ignited a national buzz around Bakersfield.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many musicians and entertainers were involved in making the Bakersfield Sound a global phenomenon, however none were more well-known than Country Music Hall of Fame members Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Both artists cut their teeth at the bars and honkytonks around Bakersfield before gaining international prominence.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owens would go on to have a extremely successful entertainment career, charting 21 number one hits including “Act Naturally” and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail.” Owens also spent nearly 17 years co-hosting the popular country-themed variety TV show Hee-Haw.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haggard, in trouble with the law in his early days, rose to fame with songs like “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin Side of Me” among his 38 number one songs. Both artists have local streets named in their honor.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most popular artist aside from Owens to be influenced by the Bakersfield Sound is Dwight Yoakam. In 1988 Owens and Yoakam collaborated on “The Streets of Bakersfield,” a duet which became Yoakam’s first number one singles hit. Yoakam’s album, Dwight Sings Buck, is a tribute honoring the legacy of Owens and his lasting impact on country music.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opened in 1996, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace is a must see for visitors to Bakersfield. The all-in-one restaurant, museum, and music venue spotlights the rich history of the Bakersfield Sound and the career of Buck Owens. The Palace is home to countless items of memorabilia from Owens’ early days to his time as co-host of Hee-Haw and his final years as a living legend. Until his passing in 2006 Owens would perform each weekend to fans that came from across the globe to pay homage to the star. 

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of today’s biggest country stars interrupt world tours to play the intimate 550-seat venue. Visitors can experience live entertainment  and dancing every Tuesday through Saturday night. The world famous Buckaroos entertain guests most Friday and Saturday evenings and occasionally are fronted by Buck’s son, Buddy Owens.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Palace is regularly nominated for Nightclub of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.  In 2005 country superstar Garth Brooks proposed to then country singer girlfriend Trisha Yearwood on the Palace stage.  

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a comprehensive history of the Bakersfield Sound, a visit to the Kern County Museum is essential for visitors. The permanent exhibit is located inside the main museum building and features costumes, instruments, and memorabilia related to country music in Bakersfield. 

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Bakersfield River Run RV Park, Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield RV Resort

Worth Pondering…

Streets Of Bakersfield

I came here looking for something
I couldn’t find anywhere else
Hey, I’m not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself
I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’
Yes, I’ve worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield

—lyrics by Dwight Yoakam; vocals by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam

How to Deal with the Fear of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

In the worlds of Franklin D. Roosevelt during his First Inaugural Address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Fear is an emotion that can help us or hurt us. Many of us live with unnecessary fear and worry about the future or past. But fear is also useful. I will not climb giant Sequoias or BASE jump off 876-foot high New River Gorge Bridge. Fortunately, I am ALREADY old and I didn’t get here by being Stupid!

Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Should you fear or worry about the coronavirus? If that’s not clear by now, the answer is yes. People who say they are not concerned are either lying or lack self-awareness. It is now clear that this virus is not like a harmless cold or seasonal flu. Most people who write about it do it from a medical or political point of view. I’m not an expert. But just like you, I’m impacted by the coronavirus.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What I know is that it’s a threat. If it wasn’t, President Donald Trump would not have declared a National Emergency. Italy locked down the whole country, the US banned European travelers, the NBA and NHL are suspended, and so forth. Daily life is essentially coming to a halt. No one wants that. And yet, it happened. Why? Because experts don’t know the real threat of the coronavirus! The future will tell, but it seems like the leaders are making the right decisions.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your immune system might handle the coronavirus, but millions of people with weak immune systems might not survive. 

The fear that this coronavirus causes is in our best interest. Fear makes us alert. The whole world is alert. That’s a good sign. We need to be worried right now.  And that’s exactly why I’m NOT worried long-term.

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

When something bad happens to us, our first response is always fear. That’s the tool the creator gave us to survive. Without fear, we would all be dead. When we’re afraid, we start working on solutions. We have the urge to survive. We become alert, we think about ways to make things better.

Kingston, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Michael Warner, Medical Director of Critical Care at Michael Garron
Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, speaks out about her grave concern s about COVID-19:

“We have lessons to learn from the experience of Italy. Hospitals in the wealthy, industrialized area around Milan cannot offer life support to patients over 65 as they don’t have enough ventilators. Without radical changes to our community behavior, we may be in the same situation.

Botany Bay Plantation, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“COVID-19 is an impending North American healthcare CRISIS which has the very real potential to strain our healthcare systems well beyond capacity. Some people continue to downplay the risk of the current situation. Regardless of what you are reading or politicians are saying, I simply want you to know that the COVID-19 situation is dire and may soon be completely out of control.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Healthcare resources are finite and thus we will not be able to provide care for all who become ill. In addition to COVID-19-related deaths, there will be collateral damage among patients who need care for other, treatable ailments, and will be unable to receive it.

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

“Fortunately, you can do something to help. The only hope to slow the virus is based on community behavior—that’s you, your neighbor, your family—everyone. Begin social distancing NOW—do not wait for a politician to tell you it is necessary. This only works if started early and taken very seriously. This means avoid ALL close contact with people unless necessary.

  • Never shake hands and wash your hands frequently
  • Cancel/avoid all travel
  • Close schools, universities, daycares, and businesses that aggregate people in close proximity
  • Avoid contact with those 65+ especially those who are frail and those with chronic diseases
  • Don’t attend any large gatherings, sporting events, religious services
  • Work from home whenever possible
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Only by everyone’s working collectively can we hope to change the trajectory of this pandemic. The current risk to the individual remains low, but the risk to society is immeasurable.”

You may find comfort in these words from Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky:

  • Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place
  • Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern
  • Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise
Ridgeview National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie

Historical Painted Churches of Central Texas

The Painted Churches tour is perfect for anyone interested in art, architecture, and small town Texas history

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas seeking religious freedom and economic prosperity, they established a cluster of small communities that has one thing in common: their painted churches. As they settled into their new surroundings they built and decorated elaborate churches.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. You will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 20 painted churches in Central Texas. Four of these churches in Fayette County near Schulenburg can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

Guided tours can be scheduled through the Schulenburg Visitor Center for $10 a person. Reservations are required at least two weeks in advance to ensure availability.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, like us, you can do a self-guided tour of the churches. If you do choose to do a self-guided tour, keep in mind that all the churches are active places of worship, so be respectful of services and events taking place. The painted churches are open to visitors from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Swiss Alp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our self-guided tour also included other rural communities near Schulenburg having historical sites: United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Swiss Alp and United Methodist Church in Freyburg.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike several other churches in the area, St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill has a brick exterior with a wooden interior. Church leadership encouraged communities to build churches out of brick or stone when so many were destroyed by storms and fires.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary was the first church in the area designed by architect Leo Dielmann. He designed it using Gothic Revival style and relied heavily on decorative painting to create the illusion of Gothic ceilings.

St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hollow, wooden pillars spaced throughout the interior of the church are in typical Gothic Revival style supporting the vaulted ceilings of the church. They were painted with turkey feathers to give them the appearance of being made of stone. There are statues of many saints mounted on the pillars with the male on the right of the center aisle and the females on the left. This is also the manner in which the congregation divided up when attending services for many years; women sat in the pews on the left and men sat on the right.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in Dubina, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church is probably the most elaborate of the four. Today’s Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church was built in 1911 in a groove of ancient oaks; in fact, Dubina translates to “oak grove”. The original church was built in 1877 and in 1890 the church was expanded to serve over 600 families. Unfortunately, a tropical storm completely destroyed the original church and it had to be rebuilt from the ground up. This is why the plaque on the front of the church reads 1911.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stunning architecture of Saints Cyril and Methodius is paired with beautiful interior paintings, stenciling, stained glass windows and statues.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was dedicated under the name Assumption of the Blessed Mary and is located three miles east of Flatonia in Praha. St Mary’s Church in Praha is one of the oldest painted churches, built in 1895.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plain stone facade does not prepare you for the ornate interior designed in the popular Gothic Revival style of the era. Almost every inch of the interior is adorned with stenciling, drawings, or paintings. The ceiling and walls were painted by fresco artist Gottfried Flurry, beautifully complementing the impressive hand-carved, white altar.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nicknamed the Pink Church, the current St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was built in 1917. This is the third church built on this site—the first two were destroyed by hurricane and fire, respectively. This structure, built with Gothic Revival-style architecture, is much simpler than the first two. Instead of embellishments and columns, a decorative painter was hired to give the interior its liveliness.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Latin inscription on the arch above the alter reads, “deliciae mease esse cum filiis hominum” and translates to “my delight is with the children of men” and comes from Proverbs 8:31. Inside the arch is a grapevine which is to remind attendees that He is the vine and the people are the branches. The altars at the front of the church are white and gold which is a Czech tradition.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to learn more about Central Texas’ rich history, enjoy the painted churches tour and see for yourself some of the most stunning art and architecture of the early 20th century.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

The sheer variety of the Southwest makes it a fascinating and awe-inspiring place to explore

The land in the Southwest is so utterly different and strange to the East Coast of small hills, cities, and humid summers that it can feel like an entirely separate country at times.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the stereotype of the area is that it’s all barren desert—which isn’t entirely inaccurate—there’s a lot more variation and personality in the Southwest than the backdrops of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons would suggest.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful places in the Southwest.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Springdale and Rockville, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two towns are practically in Zion National Park, which is one of the most scenic places to visit in the Southwest. Ever hiked in a river? Now’s your chance in the Narrows, a gorge surrounded by thousand-feet-tall walls. Don’t forget your camera for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, 57 miles of mountainous magnificence. For an unforgettable journey, put it on your list immediately!

Mexican Hat, Utah

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must. Be sure to stay for sunset.

Ajo, Arizona

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Moab, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab is known for its natural beauty and fun escapes for adventure lovers. Moab is a quick drive from two national parks and home to the most popular state park in Utah (hint: you won’t find better views anywhere). Just five miles from Moab is Arches National Park, so named due to its natural sandstone arches and rock formations. “The Island in the Sky” is an elevated piece of Canyonlands, the largest national park in Utah. Dead Horse State Park features a famous point with amazing views.

Cortez, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southwestern Colorado town of Cortez, one of America’s richest archaeological centers, lies between the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and Ute Mountain Tribal Park. After you visit these sites, you’ll leave steeped in the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, from the places they lived to the tools they used in everyday life. The expertly carved cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde—from Cliff Palace to Spruce Tree house—take you back 700 years to the Ancestral Puebloans who shaped them, and have been preserved by rock that was deposited around 78 million years ago.

Twentynine Palms, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twentynine Palms is the home of Joshua Tree National Park headquarters and north entrance and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the world’s largest Marine Corps training base. The city is known for its clear skies, brilliant star-filled nights, desert and mountain vistas, wide open spaces, murals, and gateway to Mojave National Preserve.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Tubac: Where Art & History Meet

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries

Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving south from Mission View RV Resort, our home base in southern Tucson, the spiny desert softens and becomes downright pastoral. Cactus-dotted slopes give way to rolling grasslands with mesquite.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac nestles in a high mountain-framed valley on the banks of the Santa Cruz River where water flow is intermittent. Around these parts, even good intentions are enough to create a riparian habitat.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 17th century, Spanish missionaries traveled from Mexico up the Santa Cruz seeking to convert native tribes. Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino entered the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691 and founded the mission at Tumacácori, building missions, ranches, and farms.

By 1732 nearby Tubac was a vista of Mission Guevavi and a mission farm and ranch by 1738.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pima Revolt of 1751, stirred by many grievances during a half-century of Spanish domination, caused widespread destruction. In 1752, Spanish troops defeated an army of 2,000 Pima warriors and established the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac (fort), the first European settlement in what would become Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifty cavalrymen were garrisoned at this remote military post to prevent further rebellion, protect settlers from Apaches, or at least try to, and further explore the Southwest.

Repeatedly attacked, the soldiers and settlers abandoned Tubac in 1775 and built El Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón in what is now downtown Tucson.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and was soon resettled and developed by Eastern entrepreneurs. Charles D. Poston was instrumental in forming the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company, and used the abandoned Commandant’s house as his headquarters. He performed marriages, granted divorces, baptized children, and printed his own money to pay company employees. His company acquired a press in 1859 which printed Arizona’s first newspaper.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac’s population steadily grew until, in 1860, it was the largest town in Arizona. The American Civil War, however, drained the region of troops, leaving it unprotected from Apaches, and Tubac was again deserted. Although the region was resettled after the war, silver strikes in the Tombstone area and the routing of the railroad through Tucson drew development interests away from Tubac, and the town never regained its earlier importance.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps Tubac’s most famous person was soldier and explorer Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza II. During his tenure at Tubac (1760-1776), Anza led two overland expeditions to the Pacific, resulting in the founding of San Francisco.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza’s second expedition to the Pacific coast departed from Tubac on October 23, 1775. Several hundred colonists from the provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora, along with sixty from Tubac, made the trip. Over 1,000 head of cattle, horses, and mules transported food supplies and tools and provided food on the journey.

It was in 1948 that landscape painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in Tubac and the quiet little burg began its evolution into an artist colony.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries, clustered in the village plaza, where old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

There’s a whiff of emergent Santa Fe here without the crowds. Tubac doesn’t even have a traffic light and I find myself falling into a relaxed rhythm as I wander the district. A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.

It’s no wonder the town coined the slogan, “Where Art and History Meet.”

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here also is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Located in Tubac’s Old Town, the park’s museum offers a fascinating look at the history of the Santa Cruz Valley and Arizona’s first printing press.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is Arizona’s first state park and marks the location of Arizona’s first European settlement. An underground archaeological site displays the adobe presidio ruins.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

Banking on Nature: Record Numbers Visit National Wildlife Refuges

A record number of more than 53 million people visited America’s national wildlife refuges

53.6 million people visited national wildlife refuges during fiscal year 2017 (2017-2018) which had an economic impact of $3.2 billion on local communities and supported more than 41,000 jobs. The figures come from a new economic report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled Banking on Nature. The report is the sixth in a series of studies since 1997 that measure the economic contributions of national wildlife refuge recreational visits to local economies.

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

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts located in all 50 states and five U.S. territories. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas, and national wildlife refuges provide vital habitats for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, including birding, photography, and environmental education.

The report contains economic case studies of 162 national wildlife refuges and other information. Following is information relating to four of these refuges.

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

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge supports one of the most diverse and unique assemblages of habitat and wildlife within the Southwest. The 57,331-acre refuge is located south of Socorro at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Eleven miles of the Rio Grande bisects the Refuge. The extraordinary diversity and concentration of wildlife in a desert environment draws people from around the world to observe and photograph wildlife. A comprehensive visitor services program provides opportunities for people to connect with nature and enjoy the American great outdoors.

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

The Refuge had about 306,000 recreational visits in 2017 which contributed to the economic effect of the Refuge. During October through May, the Refuge conducts interpretive van tours and interpretive hikes for the general public and also offers over 100 interpretive programs during the annual Festival of the Cranes held annually the week before Thanksgiving (37th annual Festival of the Cranes is November 20-23, 2019).

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

Visitor recreation expenditures were $15.8 million with non-residents accounting for $15.5 million or 98 percent of total expenditures.

Green jay at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is located at the southern tip of Texas next to the Gulf of Mexico. Wildlife finds a haven within the refuge, the largest federally protected habitat remaining in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Subtropical forests, coastal prairies, freshwater wetlands, and a barrier island support a mix of wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Laguna Atascosa has recorded an impressive 410 species of birds drawing birders from around the world. Several tropical species reach their northernmost range in south Texas as the Central and Mississippi Flyways converge here.

Curved bill thrasher at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 485,000 recreational visits in 2017. Interpretation activities include bird tours, bird walks, and habitat tram tours. Visitor recreation expenditures were $30.0 million with non-residents accounting for $23.0 million or 77 percent of total expenditures.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to preserve the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest refuge in the east and includes over 407,000 acres. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has many designations including being a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance, National Water Trail, National Recreation Trail, an Important Bird Area, and is a proposed World Heritage Site.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is considered the largest intact freshwater wetland in North America. The Refuge is made up of a variety of habitats, and includes over 40,000 acres of pine uplands that are managed for longleaf pine around the swamp perimeter and on interior islands. Other habitats include open prairies, forested wetlands, scrub shrub, and open water (lakes). The Refuge has three primary entrances and two secondary entrances for visitor access.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 724,000 recreational visits in 2017. Visitor recreation expenditures were $64.7 million with non-residents accounting for $59.8 million or 93 percent of total expenditures.

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

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge consists of 2,088 acres along the banks of the Rio Grande, south of Alamo in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where subtropical, Gulf coast, Great Plains, and Chihuahuan desert converge. There are over 400 species of birds, 300 species of butterflies, and 450 types of plants. The refuge was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds and is a great place to visit for birding and draws in people from all to look for birds like the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, and Altamira Orioles.

Great kiskadee at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 12 miles of trails, visitor center, suspension bridge, and 40 foot tower for visitors to explore. Year-round educational programs, seasonal tram, and birding tours, special events, summer programs and more that are offered to the public.

Green heron at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge had about 196,000 recreational visits in 2017 which contributed to the economic effect of the Refuge. Visitor recreation expenditures were $2.2 million with non-residents accounting for $1.3 million or 58 percent of total expenditures.

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

Worth Pondering…
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

8 Arizona Spots Every Birder Should Know About

Welcome to paradise. A birder’s paradise, that is.

Arizona offers some of the best birdwatching in America. Thanks to Arizona’s rich riparian habitats that stretch from north to south, the state is a top destination for every serious—and not-so-serious—birdwatcher in the country. Birders can marvel at an array of exotic and rare species, from tiny hummingbirds to giant California condors.

Want to get started? Check out this guide to Arizona’s best birding locations.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sight of thousands of wintering sandhill cranes is the main attraction at this 1,500-acre preserve. Between October and March, more than 20,000 cranes arrive, mostly from the Midwest, but some come from as far as Siberia. You can see the birds all day long, but if you get here before sunrise, you’ll spot them leaving their roost to feed—an unforgettable experience.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cool walls of Ramsey Canyon Preserve lure more than a dozen hummingbird species (violet-crowned, broad-billed and blue-throated, to name a few), giving this region the title of “hummingbird capital of the United States.” The delicate birds flock to the ecologically unique spot where plants and wildlife from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts blend with those from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

Gambil’s quail at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro Riparian area contains nearly 57,000 acres of public land stretching some 40 miles in a narrow band south from St. David. Most visitors start at San Pedro House which features interpretive signs of various native plants of the area, riparian, and wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy has designated San Pedro House as a globally important bird area. The cottonwood and willow trees provide essential habitat for a variety of wildlife including over 350 species of birds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Black-necked stilt at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’d be forgiven for thinking you can see exotic bird species only in Arizona’s wild lands. But you’re in for a pleasant surprise: Migratory routes pass through urban areas, too, making for great birdwatching in major Arizona cities. This riparian preserve, a premier bird site in metro Phoenix, was established in 1999 as a wetland habitat. In winter, ducks and water birds make their home here, as well as rarities like roseate spoonbill and little bittern.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina Stte Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, 25 miles north of Tucson, the park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Greater Roadrunners, Gambel’s Quail, Say’s Phoebes, Harris’s Hawks, and 42 other bird species call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting, and 10 species of migrating warblers.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Anna’s hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The multiple riparian habitats at this state park bring such sub-species of hummingbirds as the green-and-gray Anna’s or the hunched Costa’s, while the wooded areas, lake and river attract species like wrens, sparrows and orioles.

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cottonwood and willow trees at this 126-acre site not only offer shade for land-loving wildlife like the Mexican vole, but they also provide homes for the water birds and migrant shorebirds that visit during the winter. Other cool-weather birds include the bald eagle, peregrine, and osprey. In summer, you might spot breeding birds such as wood ducks and yellow warblers.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Raven at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This massive recreation area straddles the border between Arizona and Utah and is notable for one specific bird species—the spectacular California condor. Only several hundred of these birds are still in existence, and many have been introduced into the wild at Glen Canyon. They have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Look for these graceful creatures as they fly free over the Colorado River, dipping and soaring along the air currents.

Greater Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion