Visiting National Parks in Retirement

When picking your next national park adventure, consider what you love to do, hope to see, and what’s most important to you

Retirement! What does that word mean to you? For us, it means RV travel and the freedom to visit places we’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks are amazing places to visit for people of all ages. Whether it’s to walk the trail, hike, or camp these parks are national treasures that should be seen and enjoyed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks are an ideal destination for retirees not only because of the distinct natural beauty. But also because anyone over 62 visiting these protected lands can purchase a senior pass.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Senior Pass is a ticket that covers entrance fees to 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees to national parks and wildlife refuge as well as day use fees at national forests and grasslands. This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If you are visiting a location that changes per person, the pass will also cover the entrance fee for up to four adults. If you are visiting a location that charges per vehicle, the pass covers the non-commercial vehicle and its passengers.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can either buy an annual pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80. You have to be a U.S. citizen age 62 and over in order to be eligible to buy one. You also need to have proof of residency and age before the pass is issued.

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

Over half a million senior passes are sold each year to retirees who want to explore both the big-name parks as well as the smaller, more obscure (but still stunning) sites. To help narrow down the choices, here are 10 of our favorite federal recreation sites for retirees to hit. Though technically not a national park, this list includes national wildlife refuges, national seashores, national monuments, and national military sites.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is 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).

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm in the canyon.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

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

Bosque del Apache supports one of the most diverse and unique assemblages of habitat and wildlife within the Southwest. 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.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is called Arches for a very good reason. There are roughly 2,000 arches within the park — delicate, natural sculptures varying from three to over 300 feet high. Arches is also full of towers, spires, hoodoos, and ochre-colored sand.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A park that will please history buffs as well as nature lovers, Gettysburg is famous for the major Civil War battle that took place on its grounds in 1863. History struck again when it became the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address later that year.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. The Tucson Mountain District (West) has many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

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

Santa Ana 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. There are 12 miles of trails, visitor center, suspension bridge, and 40 foot tower for visitors to explore.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles protecting a diversity of plants and animals.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts.

Worth Pondering…

On being retired…we woke up this morning with nothing to do and by evening we had not completed it!

5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

The American South has a mixed reputation in U.S. popular culture: it’s home to sweet tea, gravy and biscuits, country music and the blues, barbecue and soul food, friendly and helpful people, and beautiful and diverse landscapes.

Historic Savannah Carriage Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first time we visited the South was in 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. We found an incredible region of helpful people, a countryside dotted with rolling hills, farms, and forests, and hearty food rich in flavor. From Charleston to New Orleans and Nashville to Mobile and everything in between, the South was extraordinary.

Historic Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 18 years we have further explored the region. There is prodigious variety here, a region of many impressions.

The food will make you happy

Cajun hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food plays a central role in Southern life and is rich in both flavor and diversity. Each region has its own specialties—barbecue in Memphis and North Carolina, Creole and Cajun food in Louisiana, seafood along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, soul food in the Low Country, and fried chicken and gravy most anywhere in the region. And there’s pralines and pecan pie, both Southern traditions.

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

Many picture Southern food as greasy, fried, and heavy fare. While much of it is hearty, the richness in flavor and variety is outstanding. There is something for everyone, and if you go hungry while visiting, it is your own fault.

Crawfish pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I could spend a lifetime eating my way through the South. (Mental note to future self: Do that.)

Music makes the region go ’round

Music of the region © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music is a way of life here. The sound of live music fills the air everywhere. Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans are famous music haunts, but even the tiniest towns throughout the South have robust live music scenes. From jazz to country to blues to bluegrass, there’s a music soul to this region. One can dance, jam, and sing the night away.

The people really are friendly 

Louisiana Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a common belief that the South is home to the friendliest people in the country. And along with Texans and small-town America they probably are. They are cheerful, talkative, and incredibly helpful. Strangers wave hello, inquire about your day, and generally go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. The folks here have hospitality down to an art.

Bye, Ya’ll come back now! Ya hear?

The landscape is stunning

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Southern landscape is beautiful and diverse. The Smoky Mountains are a vast, dense forest filled with inviting rivers, lakes, and trails. The Louisiana bayou is haunting with moss-covered trees and eerie calm. The hills of Appalachia stretch for wooded miles and the Mississippi Delta, with its swamps and marshes is gorgeous. And the beaches of the Florida Panhandle the Alabama Gulf Coast are so white they sparkle.

To understand The South, you have to understand its past

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a student of history, I was excited to explore the area’s colonial cities and Civil War sites. Cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Savannah, Memphis, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston helped shape the country—and their history and influence are important to the story of America.

Jekyll Island Club, the Golden Isles, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was in these cities that many American cultural and political leaders were born, the Civil War began, battles were won and lost, and the rise and fall of slavery was sown. Voodoo, alligators, wild horses, African culture, and the wealthiest families in the United States are all part of the history of the Golden Isles of Georgia. These cities and their history help explain a lot about Southern pride and culture.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the area more with each visit. It’s one of the most culturally rich areas in the country. There’s a reason why its cities are booming.

Football is a way of life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go visit the region, get out of the cities, travel through the mountains, and find your way into the small towns. You’ll discover friendly people, heavenly food, amazing music, and an appreciation for a slow pace of life.

Worth Pondering…

Y’all Come Back Saloon 
She played tambourine with a silver jingle
And she must have known the words to at least a million tunes
But the one most requested by the man she knew as cowboy
Was the late night benediction at the y’all come back saloon

—written by Sharon Vaughn and recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys

The Real Sunbelt Lives Here

Here is where you’ll find sunshine this winter

Can’t stand the gloom of the Pacific Northwest? Winters in the Northeast? Bone-chilling temperatures and blizzards of the Midwest? Then pack the RV and head to Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the following U.S. cities get sunshine more than 84 percent of the time (or more than 300 days a year, if you do the math based on those percentages)—far more than most places in the U.S.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before we get started with the list, let’s give out the four honorable mentions to round out a top 10—Fresno, California and Reno, Nevada with 79 percent annual sunshine and Flagstaff, Arizona and Sacramento, California with 76 percent.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although omitted from the NOAA analysis, Las Cruces, New Mexico (45 miles northwest of El Paso) boasts similar percent of sunshiny days with the West Texas city.

Now, grab your sunscreen and take a look at the six U.S. cities that get the sunniest days.

El Paso, Texas (84% Sunshine)

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’d be pretty cool to live on Sunshine Court in El Paso. It’s a short, aptly-named street in the eastern part of the city. The El Paso area is home to Franklin Mountains State Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Hueco Tanks State Park, and numerous other scenic and historic places that are best observed on sunny days, of which there are plenty.

Las Cruces, New Mexico (84% Sunshine)

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces (pop 75,000) is the largest city in southwestern New Mexico and has been a popular resting stop along traditional trade routes for centuries. Las Cruces is located in the Mesilla Valley close to the Rio Grande River and is framed dramatically by the Organ Mountains to its east, allowing for a variety of recreational adventures within a short drive of town.

Tucson, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Saguaro National Park just outside of city limits to the east and west, Tucson is another great spot to soak up the sun in nature. It was also a great place to film Westerns, including Tombstone, the hit starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp.

Phoenix, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Bush Highway near Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another Arizona city with lots to do, Phoenix is the state’s capital and the home of the aptly-named NBA team the Phoenix Suns. A giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo is even named Sunshine. Snowbirds can take advantage of all that sunshine by enjoying a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, driving the Apache Trail, or hiking Usery Mountain.

Las Vegas, Nevada (85% Sunshine)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viva Las Sunshine. If you head to Vegas, you’re not taking too much of a gamble on the weather. Odds are, it’s plenty of sun (and plenty of overwhelming heat in the summertime). So be sure to get out of the casinos and enjoy it. The region offers Red Rock National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Valley of the Fire State Park, and so many more opportunities to get off of the Strip.

Redding, California (88% Sunshine)

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I was surprised this NorCal city edged out Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson on the list, but alas, it did—clocking a whopping 321 or so days of sunshine each year. The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay is a Redding icon and acts as a massive sundial—perfect for this sunny city.

Yuma, Arizona (90% Sunshine)

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With nearly 330 days of sunshine a year (4,300 sunny hours), Yuma actually holds the world record for most recorded annual sunshine, according to Current Results. Reporters at the aptly-named Yuma Sun will tell you that rain is an actual news story there. Not just downpours, but any rain.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All that sun comes at a price in the summertime though, because guess what? Yuma is also the hottest city in the nation. But you sure can’t beat that sunshine in the winter. Ask any snowbird who winters here!

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

Hiking Arizona

Your boots were made for walking through some of Arizona’s most awe-inspiring scenery

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure in the Grand Canyon State.

The Arizona landscape is so diverse from the desert and mountain hiking trails in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson areas to the cool high country of Northern Arizona, Arizona Lakes, Rivers, Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, White Mountains, Slot Canyons, and wilderness backcountry.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Arizona trails is a magical experience whether you choose short, easy hikes or long strenuous hikes. There are beginner trails, day urban hikes, and trails that only the experienced should attempt.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With year-round sunshine and breathtaking scenery, Arizona is widely considered one of the best places for hiking adventures. From the epic chasm of the Grand Canyon and the giant Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert to the magnificent monoliths that make up Monument Valley, Arizona is the red-hued epicenter of America’s adventure scene.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, one of the biggest draws is the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it welcomes more than six million visitors each year. However, only one per cent of these walk further than the South Rim viewing platforms and miss the real wonders of the Canyon.

Mother Nature has blessed Arizona with more than just the Grand Canyon. A hundred miles north, on the Colorado plateau, is the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument—striped waves of colored sandstone rippling through an arid landscape. The best way to experience it is to grab a hiking permit from the visitors’ centre and explore the towering stone cliffs and deep, ruddy canyons on foot as condors glide overhead.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona is famous for its fossilized logs, which date back more than 225 million years. Explore the Rainbow Forest or hike through the badlands to Red Basin and Martha’s Butte. Don’t miss the Blue Mesa trail for outstanding vistas.

Red Rock Country near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hundred miles south of the Grand Canyon is Sedona, a charming, artsy enclave famous for its huge sandstone formations which blaze brilliant reds and fiery oranges. It makes a great base for an adventure trip with everything from mountain biking through Red Rock State Park and wild swimming in Oak Creek to hikes around Cathedral Rock. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

Cathedral Rock near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south still is Phoenix and its sister cities which also draws numerous hikers and mountain bikers. It offers moderate to advanced trails through this rugged corner of the Sonoran Desert across White Tank, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Down in the southernmost flanks of Arizona, Tucson is a desert city sheltered by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Explore both units of Saguaro National Park, home of the giant Saguaro cacti. An iconic emblem of the Southwest, these spiky beasts can grow to more than 50 feet tall. The park offers 165 miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill trail which leads to rock art of the ancient Hohokam people.

Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike up to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Lemmon and spend the evening at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, a prime spot for stargazing. Alternatively, head 25 miles south to Madera Canyon and hike the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains easily accessible from the canyon campground.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, 100 miles southeast of Tucson is the Chiricahua National Monument, an ethereal landscape scattered with ancient rock spires. There are 17 miles of hiking trails each winding through the giant and amazingly balanced boulders, where you’ll follow in the dusty footsteps of the early pioneers of American adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

4 Stunning Natural Features That Define Arizona

It’s not a secret that Arizona has an abundance of diverse natural features that are bursting with beauty

Few places in America offer such startling variety of natural features as Arizona. Deep canyons give way to rugged snow-capped mountains. The world’s largest contiguous forest of Ponderosa pines merges into the arid Sonoran Desert.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s head right to the state’s crown jewel, the Grand Canyon—an iconic attraction that’s on every RVer’s bucket list. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. This massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Visible from space, the canyon is close to 300 miles long and at points over a mile deep.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For decades poets and artists have tried to capture the beauty of this place. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 1,900-square-mile canyon took nearly 2 billion years to make, and it was worth the wait. For starters, it’s huge—11 miles wide and one mile deep at one point.

Sonoran Desert

Sonoran Desert southeast of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you think of desert heat, cacti, and cowboys, you’re thinking of the Sonoran Desert. Washed over by silence and muted gray-green forms, southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is mesmerizing like no other landscape. But it is anything but empty. The thousands of saguaros here have stood sentinel for centuries. They don’t even start growing their iconic arms until they are about 70, and they can live more than 200 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no better place to get lost among the saguaros and their desert buddies—fuzzy cholla and spindly ocotillo plants, fluorescent green palo verde, and mesquite trees—than in Saguaro National Park.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument celebrates the Sonoran Desert, raw and unspoiled, big and bursting with color. The southwestern Arizona monument is one of the state’s most beautiful places. The 21-mile, mostly gravel Ajo Mountain Drive is wildly scenic and suitable for cars. The Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture trails form a loop along which you can see a profusion of wildflowers in spring.

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

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum features all the prickly giants and creatures surviving in the Sonoran Desert. Among them: pumas, coyotes, roadrunners, desert tortoises, and javelinas.

Spring Wildflowers

Spring wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona in the spring is the right place at the right time. It’s when the Mexican poppies, brittle bush, globe mellows, fairydusters, chuparosas, desert marigolds, lupines, desert pincushions, and numerous other wildflowers bloom.

Spring wildflowers along Penal Parkway south of Florence © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember to bring your camera.

Click.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the explosion of color that takes over the desert for a few weeks, part of the allure of wildflower season is how little we know about it. It’s impossible to predict when it’ll come, and it requires a “triggering rainstorm” months in advance.

Sedona’s Vortexes

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its red-rock mountains and cold creeks alone make Sedona a special place, but there’s something else at work. Sewn into the fabric of the town is the New Age vibe that brings the health-food-eating, yoga-practicing aficionados in droves. But where does that vibe come from? It’s the vortexes, duh.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nailing down exactly what a vortex is in this context can be pretty difficult. It’s an abstract concept you might tell yourself you ‘get’ before you do, much in the same way you might tell yourself you ‘feel’ it before you do. A vortex is simply a place where natural Earth energies are strong. Many believe Sedona’s vortexes have healing or spiritually activating powers that help with everything from health to general problem-solving abilities and clear-mindedness.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you find this idea a little too hippy-dippy, think of Sedona as a place so inspirationally beautiful you can’t help but contemplate the scientific fact that your body is made of the exact same atoms as the dirt and mountains around you.

Worth Pondering…

A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

Temecula Valley Wine Country

Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first modern commercial vineyard was planted in 1968 by the late Vincenzo Cilurzo and his wife Audrey. Cilurzo worked as a television lighting director in Los Angeles for many years and, like many later Temecula Valley pioneers, he fostered an interest in winemaking as a hobby before he decided to pursue his dream full time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later in 1968, Guasti-based Brookside Winery also planted a vineyard in Temecula Valley. In 1971, Brookside Winery produced the first commercial wines made from Temecula grapes.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway Vineyard and Winery began farming grapes in 1969, and opened the first Temecula Winery in 1974. Its founder, Ely Callaway went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

John Poole’s Mount Palomar Winery opened in 1975, and in 1978 the Cilurzos opened the third Temecula winery at a new site. Their original vineyard, Temecula’s oldest, is now owned by Maurice Car’rie Winery.

Temecula Valley received formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area in 1984, first as Temecula AVA with a subsequent name change to Temecula Valley AVA in 2004.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley now boasts over 40 licensed wineries, producing over 500,000 cases annually.

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula, and this is a balance combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail is family owned Robert Renzoni Vineyards. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks. The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We tasted a portfolio of five wines in the Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We previously visited the Temecula Valley Wine Country in November 2001 while staying at Thousand Trails Wilderness Lakes Preserve. We took in the 10th annual Harvest Wine Celebration held the third weekend in November. At that time 14 wineries produced premium wines made possible by a unique micro-climate and well-drained decomposed granite soils.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling east on Rancho California Road, we started with the last winery, Wilson Creek. Founded and operated by the Wilson family, Wilson Creek carried a broad selection of premium wines and offered a unique tasting experience including the very popular Almond Champagne. Next to the winery and tasting room was an elegant wedding gazebo, landscaped gardens, a large event tent, and a natural creek and pond.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards features a welcoming tasting room, full-service restaurant with vineyard view dining and expansive patio, creek side picnic area, indoor and outdoor conference and event spaces, romantic wedding venue, and exclusive retreat accommodations.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The following day we returned to the Temecula Valley Wine Country stopping for tastings at Filsinger, Keyways, Van Roekel, and Callaway Wineries. And that was 17 years ago when wine tasting was $3 to $5 a person and often with a complimentary wine glass.

A family-owned winery since 1978, Filsinger currently produces about 7,000 cases including seven different varietal wines and four types of champagnes.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1989, Keyways Vineyard and Winery was one of the original wineries along Temecula Valley’s winding De Portola Wine Trail. Keyways’ beautiful building and grounds are reminiscent of an early California mission, complete with vineyards and horses grazing in a nearby coral.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maurice Car’rie Winery produces wines under the Maurice Car’rie and Van Roekel labels.

Callaway Vineyard & Winery wines are only available at the winery and are offered for tasting and purchase in their gift shop and tasting room.

Pechanga Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

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

―David Hyde Pierce

Wonderful Winter Day Hikes in Arizona

Natural areas for wintertime hiking

With more mountains than Switzerland—we swear!—and millions of acres of protected land, the number of hiking trails in Arizona is mind-boggling.

The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of hiking opportunities is the variety of scenery hikers can enjoy including desert, alpine, urban, remote, rocky, sandy, and grassy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because we couldn’t possibly cover all of this in one article, here are a collection of hikes perfect for Arizona’s balmy winter months. From Tucson’s Sabino Canyon to Thumb Butte in Prescott, explore these six natural areas for a perfect wintertime trek.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 3.2-mile (round trip) Wind Cave Trail makes a great family hike in the Pass Mountain. Although the “cave” is more of a shallow arch than a gaping, mysterious, bat-infested hole, the sweeping views to the north and west and the interesting array of plants growing from the “ceiling” make it worth a visit.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch. The shade at the mouth of the cave creates a nice spot for an alfresco meal.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the lush Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers visitors open-air shuttle rides.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hike the area without the use of the trams (which cost $8 for adults and $4 for kids), but they do help you see more—and save some sweating—on your Sabino Canyon hike. (As of November 2018, tram service is temporarily suspended while a new provider is determined.)

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bear Canyon Tram goes directly to the trailhead for this 2.5-mile walk to picturesque Seven Falls, which includes several stream crossings.

The Sabino Canyon Tram makes numerous stops along its 45-minute route. Several hikes of varying difficulty start along the bus path.

Thumb Butte, Prescott

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy to spot from nearly everywhere in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers a nearly two-mile hiking loop, part of which is paved, that goes almost to its summit.

Upon reaching the loop’s high point several hundred feet below the summit, look for a spur trail that takes you to an interpretative sign and bird’s-eye views.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sign gives you the names of each of the mountains in the Bradshaw Range you’ll see before you. On a clear day, you can even see north all the way to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, although there’s no interpretative sign naming those mountains.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter warning: The steeper side of the loop, which is partially paved, doesn’t see too much sun this part of the year and can sometimes be a little icy.

East Wetlands, Yuma

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just steps from downtown, you can explore the Yuma East Wetlands, where nearly 500 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area. Just past the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½-mile to a raised overlook, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. Or for a bird’s-eye wetlands view, walk the paved path along the levee.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more extended hike, follow the paved path heading west from Gateway Park. This route stays close to the Colorado River and is dotted with city parks.

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, bird watching, and hiking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail is an easy hike through the foothills that begins and ends at the Trailhead parking lot. The loop is created by a link connecting the Romero Canyon Trail and the Sutherland Trail. The trail is relatively flat, but about halfway around there is a slope with approximately 90 stairs. The Canyon Loop Trail crosses a wash several times, so seasonal stream flow may result in wet feet.

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.

The Beating Heart of Yuma

Discovering the beating heart of Yuma

I did not like Yuma in the least.

We first showed up here in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. We had a hard time finding our way to the banks of the Colorado River—even though it was the river that put Yuma on the map.

Colorado River in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a dumpsite. I revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

OMG! What a difference. The transformation amazed me. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma!

West Wetlands Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark downtown development.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Native American tribes to Spanish explorers to gold-seekers, travelers found their way to Yuma for hundreds of years because this was the safest place to cross the mighty Colorado before dams tamed it.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as Yuma exploded in the mid-20th century, it turned its back to the river. With 90 percent of the water diverted further upstream and its banks overgrown with invasive vegetation, the Colorado River was a shadow of its former self as was Yuma’s historic downtown. The closing of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge in 1988 could have been the death knell for both.

Yuma Historic Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a dedicated group of Yumans was determined to reconnect the community to its literal lifeline. Despite fits and starts they had a vision for this desert town to “rediscover the river” —and through it, Yuma’s historic roots.

Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000. The result has been an investment of nearly $100 million in Yuma’s riverfront over the last 18 years. That includes about $40 million from the feds, state, city, and foundations plus $30 million in private investment for construction of the Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic significance aside, all that investment and hard work has also yielded numerous ways to discover the Colorado River and the Yuma Crossing. Here are a few suggestions to add to your Yuma bucket list:

  • Pedal away – Explore paved trails along the river and East Main Canal
  • Take a dip – Make a splash at three beaches (one at Gateway, two at West Wetlands)
  • Go fish – Drop a line at the West Wetlands pond, along the river, or in the back channel through the East Wetlands
  • Linger and learn – Get a capsule lesson in local history at Pivot Point Plaza
  • Bird’s eye view – Wildlife watching opportunities abound along the river
  • Tip your hat – Leaders of Yuma’s riverfront revival are recognized at Founders’ Plaza at Yuma Quartermaster Depot
  • Get the big picture – Enjoy a panoramic view atop the guard tower at the Territorial Prison
Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems like we never run out of things to see and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be back in Yuma.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Out and About In Southern California

Start your Southern California journey in the Coachella Valley

Southern California boasts a diverse geographical terrain—you can experience the desert, sandy beaches, and snow-capped mountains all within just a few hours drive.

Shields Date Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your Southern California journey with something sweet by visiting Shields Date Garden in Indio and you’ll find yourself in a date oasis where the Shields have been growing their own since 1924. Enjoy a date milkshake, a variety of date-centric dishes in the garden café, or educate yourself by viewing a short documentary on the cultivation of this exotic fruit. Be sure to also take a stroll through the garden in the back.

Shields Date Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1970, The Living Desert started as a nature trail and preserve dedicated to preserving desert flora and fauna. Now a remarkable zoo and botanical garden representing desert environments around the world, The Living Desert contains lush botanical gardens representing 10 different desert ecosystems. Located in Palm Desert, the Living Desert showcases more than 430 desert animals from the deserts of four continents with appropriate dry climate landscape.

Coachella Valley Nature Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, and their neighboring desert cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California. An escape from winter’s chill, it is also a destination filled with plenty of places to visit and things to see and do. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, biking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are so many great trails from which to choose—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs. Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, at 500 West Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive, offers exhibits, an observation deck, and a theatre room for viewing a video that narrates the legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

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, cholla, and other cactus. 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.

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

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

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

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards. Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall, when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit to Julian, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

7 Confessions of a Snowbird Living the RV Lifestyle

Confessions that stem from 23+ years of living the Snowbird Lifestyle

I have a confession to make. Actually seven of them. Seven confessions about our lifestyle as a snowbird. Seven confessions about how I view my snowbird lifestyle and the things I enjoy doing.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is not a how-to article, nor does it contain wisdom pertaining to snowbirding and the RV lifestyle. You won’t find bits of advice on sharing a condo-on-wheels with your spouse, successfully dumping your black tank without gagging, or backing into a campsite that is clearly too small for your RV.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Eagles Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What you will find are my heartfelt confessions that stem from 23+ years of snowbird living and traveling in a variety of RVs including a smallish fifth wheel trailer to our present 38-foot diesel pusher. 

1. This is Not Camping

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Eagle’s Landing RV Park, Holt, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our version of snowbirding is not camping—it’s living. In other words, we don’t consider our snowbird lifestyle to be one big camping trip. We don’t eat s’mores every night, nor do we sit around the campfire or the picnic table playing board games by lantern. (Although now that I think about it, s’mores every night does sound good).

Yes, we live in a campground, but not the same one for six months, and for the most part we are not camping.

2. We Find Weekends, Especially Holiday Weekends, a Drag

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As anyone who has ever visited a campground on a weekend and especially on a holiday weekend knows, this is prime camping time. Which makes it a complete drag for those of us who rely on campgrounds as a place to live for a month or more.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimer, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While I’m pleased to see so many families enjoying nature and each other’s company, an overflowing campground jam-packed with kids on bikes and billows of campfire smoke floating in my windows is not my idea of a fun time.

3. We Always Prefer Our Condo-On-Wheels Over Your Guest Bedroom

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Terre Haute KOA, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we park in your driveway (which is really appreciated), we will say thanks but no thanks when you offer up your guest room. You see, the thing is that our motorhome with our cozy bed has everything we need within reach.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We travel in an RV because we enjoy the convenience of always having our motorhome with us. So it’s not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but we really would prefer to sleep in our own bed.

4. This is Not a Permanent Vacation

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Las Vegas RV Park, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a hard one for non-snowbirds to grasp. So you live in an RV and you get to travel to any warm place you want, yet you don’t consider yourself to be on vacation? No, not even a little bit.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Columbia Sun RV Park, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We don’t consider this a vacation because we are retired and maintain a regular routine. For us, snowbirding in an RV is a lifestyle choice, not a vacation.

5. I Sometimes Forget That I’m Not “Normal”

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I sometimes forget that our chosen lifestyle is considered out of the ordinary. Especially when spending months at a time in the Sunbelt with other snowbirds who view living in a tiny house on wheels as commonplace. It usually takes an encounter with the “normal” folks to remind me that how we live is fascinating and envy-worthy.

6. We Have No Idea When We’ll “Be Done” Snowbirding

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Irwins RV Park, Valemont, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why would we willingly choose an end a lifestyle that brings us joy and happiness and takes us away from a frigid and snowy northern winter? Why would I want to be done with all that?

7. We Will Never See Everything

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at La Quintas RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We could travel round and round the country for a lifetime and still not see everything. There is always more to see.

And we love that! We love discovering more things to do, to see, and to explore than we could possibly hope to accomplish in any amount of time. We love that America is incredibly diverse and filled with such an array of landscapes, communities, and people that even if we traveled for many more decades could never see, do, or explore it all.

Seven Confessions…

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So there you have it. Seven confessions of a snowbird living and enjoying the RV lifestyle! Agree or disagree, these are the realities of our life. A life that we love and couldn’t imagine changing in any way!

Worth Pondering…

What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah, and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.