Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: Connecting People with Nature

Connecting with nature at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland. Today, over 250,000 visitors enjoy Bernheim each year.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born in Schmieheim, Germany on November 4, 1848, Bernheim immigrated to the United States in March, 1867 at the age of eighteen with only $4 in his pocket. But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After struggling for several years he moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard. By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition and died in 1945 at the age of 96.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim was a man of vision. Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon, Bernheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the more popular trails, the 1.3-mile Lake Nevin Loop circles the 32-acre manmade Lake Nevin, a feature of the landscape design created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1948. This mostly flat and gravel-paved trail crosses through many of Bernheim’s beautifully landscaped gardens and connects to several other trails. This trail highlights Lake Nevin’s features, including the cypress-tupelo swamp, bluegrass savanna, and its irrigation duties for Bernheim’s arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in to the visitor center, Kentucky’s first LEED platinum building for information to help plan your visit. Take time to relax, explore the gift shop, grab a bite at Isaac’s café, and learn about sustainable design.

Each month Bernheim sponsors special events for visitors. These include nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about wildlife and nature at Bernheim’s Education Center. Stop in to view their art gallery, explore exhibits, and enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Room where you can watch birds, small mammals, and bees interact with their natural environment.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience Bernheim from atop the oldest structure, the historic fire tower. A volunteer naturalist will lead you 961 feet up the flights of stairs for one of the best views in the state. The incredible scenery will leave you amazed as you take in the knobby landscape that surrounds Bernheim.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang out in the tree-tops in our Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located in Clermont (near Jim Beam Distillery), 30 miles south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on KY-245, then turn right into the entrance.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The arboretum is free to all Monday-Friday; weekends and holidays, $5 per vehicle.

Grandma’s RV Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville (I-65 at Exit 116); distance to Bernheim Forest is 7 miles

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

There are so many fall outings we can’t wait to do

Autumn is the perfect time of year to head out on a road trip. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp (so you can break out the coziest sweaters), and you can hit every single pumpkin patch you see along the way.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than a quarter of Americans traveling between Labor Day and Thanksgiving seek out fall foliage, according to an AAA survey.

While driving gives you the freedom to explore, spending the weekend stuck behind a line of vehicles on the best-known routes is a major nuisance. Instead, travel midweek or to an off-the-beaten-path destination. No matter which of these special spots you choose, you’re bound to find gorgeous autumn scenery.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, what are you waiting for? Hop in the RV, grab a camera, and get ready for an epically unforgettable experience. You’ll be so glad you did.

Vogel State Park: Blairsville, Georgia

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for a park with mind blowing fall color, head to Vogel-ville. Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s top parks to see fall foliage in October. To reach the park, travelers can drive through the Chattahoochee National Forest on Wolf Pen Gap Road. Even the drive into the park is something special.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside, families with young children can walk the easy Trahlyta Lake Trail to the small Trahlyta Falls waterfall. Experienced hikers will enjoy the 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail, which boasts a high vantage point with spectacular views of the vivid Blue Ridge Mountains.

New River Gorge National River: Glen Jean, West Virginia

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River kicks off fall in late September with its Hidden History Weekend, an annual event that explores Appalachian and Native American traditions. It’s also a prime spot for adventure activities. Visitors ages 15 and older can join Adventures on the Gorge for lodge- or tent-based whitewater rafting trips, while those 12 and up can admire the region’s fall foliage from the resort’s zip lines. Leaf peeping is best enjoyed in late October from the New River Gorge Bridge or the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See Shenandoah National Park from your RV or toad as you drive along Skyline Drive, an historic 105-mile National Scenic Byway that traverses the park. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. During the fall, the mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains gives drivers an up-close look at Virginia’s lush fall foliage from late September to early November. Whether looking east to the Virginia Piedmont or west to the Shenandoah Valley, Skyline Drive motorists will find golden hickory trees and red maple, sumac and oak trees with vivid orange leaves. It’s a busy road, but be sure to pull over at designated overlooks like Stony Man to admire the beautiful display of colors.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: Arizona

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Tonto National Forest near the rustic town of Superior, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Boyce Thompson is a surprising spot for fall color, given that the high-desert garden is only about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than nearby metro Phoenix.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall season, enjoy live music and cider at the park while admiring the changing colors of its pistachio, hackberry, black walnut, and sycamore trees.

Follow trails through the 100-acre botanical garden to see colorful trees and shrubs such as canyon hackberry, sycamore, willow, ash, cottonwood, pomegranate, and the spectacular red of the Chinese pistachio.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The crown jewel of spectacular autumn drives is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Established in 1936, the 469-mile parkway in the heart of Appalachia serves as a connection between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because its reach is so extensive and accessible, the parkway is consistently ranked at the top of the National Park System’s most visited list.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.

—Jim Bishop

Amador Wine Country

Take a drive through the rustic vistas and rolling scenic vineyards of Amador Gold Country

What do miners do when they don’t find gold? They settle down to plant zinfandel, or at least that’s what they did in the Shenandoah Valley, the heart of Amador Wine Country.

Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Gold Country first rose to prominence during the 1849 gold rush, but now, people come to experience the region’s natural beauty, the balmy weather, and the wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim.

The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all year long.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we first pulled into Plymouth, we asked ourselves where the “there” is—this tiny burg is the epitome of the one-horse town. But Plymouth is the real working heart of Amador wine country.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turning off Highway 16 (an extension of California Highway 49) onto Shenandoah Road, we find ourselves amid rolling, oak-studded hills where cows or sheep graze on one side of the road and tidy rows of grapevines climb the other.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards.

Amador’s first wineries arose in 1849 when European immigrants discovered that wine grapes thrived in the Sierra Foothills. By 1880, Amador had more than 3,000 acres of grapevines that thrived until Prohibition closed all but one of its wineries. By the 1970s, Amador had declined as a source for low-quality jug wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador wines were revived due to the rediscovery of zinfandel. Zinfandel arrived in Amador in 1852, thrived in the Sierra Foothills, and became the wine of choice in the Gold Rush and one of the most widely planted grapes in California.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Prohibition, many zinfandel vineyards were destroyed. Fortunately, Amador maintained several old zinfandel vineyards dating to 1890 or earlier. Amador’s abundance of zinfandel grapes, combined with its complex raspberry and spice flavors, enticed a new generation of winemakers in the 1960s who ultimately made zinfandel California’s signature grape varietal.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 1960s, a new generation of pioneers began migrating to the Gold Country’s Amador County, this time drawn by the region’s rolling, sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils—ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. When their robustly flavored wines, especially zinfandel, began attracting the attention of wine lovers, the historic Sierra Foothills wine region was reborn.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It began when Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley tasted Amador Zinfandel for the first time in 1968. He was hooked and decided to produce wine from Sierra Foothills grapes. A few years later, Sutter Home developed White Zinfandel, a major success that put Amador on the map.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1970, Montevina Winery became the first post-Prohibition winery in Amador County. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, new wineries sprang up and Amador shed its status as a backwater wine region.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 20 years, Amador vintners have begun producing a diverse array of varieties, especially those of Italian and southern French origin. While zinfandel, with over 2,000 acres, remains Amador’s signature variety, the region’s wineries also vinify superb examples of barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc, and syrah; limited bottlings of pinot grigio, verdelho, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah, aglianico, and tempranillo; rosés made from a wide variety of grapes; dessert wines made from muscat grapes; and port-style wines made from zinfandel and traditional Portuguese varieties.

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

10 RV Driving Tips

Whether you are new to RVing or not, these tips can help ensure that your trip will be problem-free

Most RVs are not particularly difficult to drive but there are a few things to keep in mind that will make your travels safer and more enjoyable.

The majority of drivers can adapt quite well to the increased size, height, and weight of an RV, but keeping alert, planning ahead, and driving cautiously remain top priority in the safe handling of your vehicle.

Driving Newfound Gap Road through Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check Lights before Traveling

  • Prior to starting your day’s travel check the functioning of all signal lights, 4-way flashers, brake lights, and head lights
Driving Highway 12 Scenic Byway in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mirror Adjustments

  • Adjust the side-view mirrors to barely see the side of your RV
  • Adjust the convex mirrors to include blind spots, keeping in mind that distances may be distorted
  • Check your mirrors every 30 seconds
  • Ensure that you’re driving within the painted lines
  • Be aware of the traffic behind you and whether they are keeping up with you, preparing to pass, or falling back
Driving near Glen Canyon Recreation Area in northern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look Well Ahead

  • DO NOT overdrive your visibility
  • 90% of all driving decisions are visual based
Driving Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leave Yourself an Out

  • Determine the lane of least resistance and safety
  • Maintain safe following distances
  • Leave room to change lanes when stopping behind another vehicle
  • Is there a way out of here?
  • DO NOT drive your RV into any place that you can’t see a way out of—especially if that RV is a large motorhome towing a car
Driving Highway 12 Scenic Byway between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navigating Large Cities

  • Plan your trip in advance so that you can avoid going through large cities during morning or late afternoon rush hour
  • The best time to drive through major cities is early Sunday morning—during the workweek, you’re best to travel between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Driving Newfound Gap Road through Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow the Rule of 20 Percent

  • Fully loaded RVs have slower acceleration and take longer to come to a full stop than autos
  • To compensate, add 20 percent to everything you do, from increasing your following distance and judging if you have enough clearance to safely merging into traffic.
Know your height1 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know & Post Your Height, Width & Length

  • A major insurance claim is RVs hitting gas station overhangs, underpasses, and bridges

Solution: Post your exterior height, width, and total length in the motorhome or tow vehicle where it can easily be seen while driving

Height: Measure to the highest point such as air conditioner or satellite dish

Width: Measure to the outermost points such as mirrors, awnings, or handles

Length: Measure from the front of the vehicle to the end of the towed vehicle or trailer

Know your height, width, and length! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Hour Rest Stop Walk-Around

Visually inspect your tow hitch connections and check for overheated and low tires every time you stop at a rest stop or refueling location. Pranksters have been known to remove pins from the hitch. Perform a walk-around that covers these visual points:

  • Check to ensure that tires have not overheated
  • Check tow bar or hitch and safety cables
  • Ensure that hitch pins or bolts are still in place
  • Check to ensure that the wiring harness is connected securely
  • Look under the chassis for signs of oil or coolant leaks
  • Check storage bay doors
Driving Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turn Signals

  • Turn signals are valuable for communicating your intentions to other drivers; if you don’t signal, other drivers have no way of knowing what you plan to do
  • In an emergency pull completely off the road and use emergency flashers, flares, or some other emergency signaling device to warn oncoming traffic
And we arrived safely again… © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember, Safety Is No Accident

Worth Pondering…

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

An Overlooked, Affordable & Scenic Wine Region

Forget Napa and head to Canada for your next wine tasting trip

It doesn’t take much effort to drop $500 when touring Napa. In a day! Not on insanely rare wines or dinner at an exclusive restaurant, either. 

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s not to disparage Napa Valley. Lovely place, that Napa, full of wonderful vineyards and terrific wines. Five hundred dollars-a-day good times just don’t fit within the typical RVers budget.

Trouble with Napa is, for a huge number of Americans, it’s just a short day trip away.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So how does an RVer drink great wines amid breathtaking natural beauty without blowing out a couple of credit cards? Easy: go to Canada.

And, no, you won’t have to bundle up like the kids from South Park.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead, consider an autumn jaunt to the Southern Okanagan wine region in British Columbia. Obscure? Compared to Napa, sure. But it’s also possibly the most scenic wine region in North America, and a place where RVers and other normal people can afford to taste wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”). Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine tasting here is as much about the surroundings as the wine itself. Wedged between the Cascades and the Columbia Mountains, the Okanagan Valley enjoys hot summers and mild winters unique to Canada—it constitutes the country’s only temperate desert region.

Tinhorn Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wineries sit on the eastern benches and western foothills of the gentle mountains, allowing you to enjoy the morning sun on the patio at Tinhorn Creek as you look east. To end the day, there’s a sunset tasting across the valley on the eastern bench at Burrowing Owl as you take in the westerly view. All of it overlooking the 12-mile-long Osoyoos Lake, which stretches south across the Washington State border.

So what will you be tasting?

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forget the ice wine—it is actually more prevalent in southern Ontario, where temperatures drop below freezing during baseball season.

The South Okanagan makes wine like the Pacific Northwest (think Washington, Oregon, and Northern California) with pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah dominating the reds; chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer the whites.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with any wine region, some wines you’ll like, and others you won’t. But if you’re not a connoisseur—as the vast majority of RVers are not—the wine here serves the purpose of your RV trip: trying small-production wines you’ll likely never find again, then taking home some fantastic juice.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wineries have character that hasn’t been compromised amid platoons of tourists.

But the best thing about the wineries here? They’re inexpensive. You’ll rarely see a tasting over $5 while some are complimentary. Tasting fee, when applied, is normally waved when purchasing a bottle.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley’s abundance of you-pick farms and fruit stands (think cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, and pears) along Highway 97 gives a visitor the first inclination of the food ahead. The larger wineries all have restaurants, where chefs have relationships with the local farms, and menus take advantage of the local produce.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And the restaurants all come with a view. The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate feels like eating in an old hunting lodge over a lush desert valley. And the corner table on the patio at Tinhorn Creek’s Mirodoro might be the best table in the region.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So yes, Canada might not be the first place you think of when considering a wine-tasting vacation. But if you’re more into the quality of your experience than name recognition, it’s a tough destination to beat. The wines are good, the food is fresh, the scenery is unbeatable, the locals are friendly, and it won’t cost you a fortune.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Temecula Valley Named Best Wine Destination for 2019

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

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.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The esteemed annual list is a product of extensive travel and tastings that Wine Enthusiast editors and contributors undertake throughout the year.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We seek locales that offer world-class wines as well as unforgettable restaurants, hotels, and cultural activities suited for the intrepid wine lover,” says the publication’s executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. “The list balances classic, famed regions with emerging, insider gems that have yet to be discovered.”

This marks the first time that Temecula Valley was selected.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The wines have never been better,” says Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, “and I’ve sensed an increased focus on grape growing and quality winemaking in just the past five years that I’ve been covering the region. Plus, there’s a lot more excitement surrounding their hospitality offerings now than ever before.”

Temecula Valley has been producing notable wines since the late 1960s, when early adopters discovered that a wide range of varietals could flourish here. Now, winemakers have had time to take their craft to the next level. In addition, some have opened hotels and gourmet restaurants to round out the experience.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Not long ago, Temecula Valley was just beginning to create tourism experiences with only a handful of wineries and offerings,” says Kimberly Adams, CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. “The pioneers had a dream and persevered; it was their passion—and that of those who followed—that continue to make this a destination people fall in love with.”

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relative newcomers are making an impact, too—like Robert Renzoni and his vineyard, which he opened in 2008 on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail. 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.

“Back in the day, people used to laugh at Napa and Paso Robles,” he says. “It took determination and experimentation for those regions to get to where they are now.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

He says Temecula is following the same trajectory: Dedicated winegrowers are settling here, doing their homework, and continually experimenting. Now they’ve had time to figure out what grows best; with a terroir and elevation similar to Tuscany, that’s been mainly the Mediterranean varietals.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Syrah and Sangiovese will make this region famous,” he says, but Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Vermentino are flourishing as well.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit we tasted a portfolio of five wines in their 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.

Renzoni also jumped on the flourishing hospitality trend by opening an on-site trattoria, Mama Rosa’s, a few years ago. And he’s happy to see the area begin to receive national attention for all of its offerings. “Eventually, we’ll get to the point where people will say, ‘Remember when people laughed at Temecula?’”

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Discovering the Joys of Kentucky Bourbon

Each distillery along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has a unique story to tell

Bourbon is big.

Along with Willie Nelson and his country music classic, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” we headed southeast to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching from Louisville to Lexington, then southwest along the Bluegrass Parkway, the trail is a trademarked destination made up of nine member distilleries. Over several days, we toured four of the chosen nine and then veered off to a new craft distillery. Like the four that are featured here, each had a unique story to tell, interlaced with a rich history and distinctive style.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon “distinctive,” you say? Heck yes. While once considered the drink of the common man, bourbon’s status has swelled in recent years, as sales have surged. Production has exceeded 1 million barrels annually for the past five years, driven by the demand of younger customers and an appreciation of small-batch and single-barrel bourbons, the premium equivalents of a single-malt scotch.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the uninitiated, a primer: All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are stringent regulations, set by Congress in 1964, that make bourbon exclusive within the spirits world. To be labeled a bourbon, it must be made in the United States using a grain mixture that’s at least 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof (62.5 percent alcohol); and it must be bottled at 80 proof or more.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling through verdant hills, Kentucky is a blend of genteel traditions—Churchill Downs, mint juleps, the stately white fences that frame the horse farms—and pure Americana: Louisville Slugger, Muhammad Ali Center, and Bill Monroe.

Barton 1792, Bardstown

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a sleepy valley in Bardstown lies the sprawling Barton 1792, an old school distillery with an old school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves.

Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Bardstown, we headed down the winding roads to the home of Maker’s Mark Distillery a National Historic Landmark nestled in the rolling hills of Marion County. Any bourbon tour would be incomplete without a stop at Maker’s Mark who has been producing its bourbon whiskey (they spell it “whisky” in honor of the company’s Scottish roots) since 1840.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are plenty of signs along the way to get you there in time to dip your own souvenir bottle in their signature red wax.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buildings from 1881 still stand, used in the production of brands such as Blanton, Stagg Jr. and Van Winkle, whose rare 23-year-old bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, fetches more than $1,000 a bottle.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in the late 1700s, Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest U.S. distillery that has continuously produced bourbon. The reason being, during Prohibition (1920 to 1933), it was one of six distilleries licensed by the federal government to sell whiskey for “medicinal purposes.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“A person could get a prescription from his doctor and receive 2 quarts per month,” says our tour guide.” And when Prohibition was canceled, Kentucky was the healthiest state in the Union.

Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wild Turkey Distillery tour reveals an intriguing combination of tradition and modern mass production. In the fermentation room, for example, 70-year-old cypress tanks stand next to modern stainless steel ones.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns , the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad).

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ll be back. Our well-practiced taste buds will demand it.

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart

Unplug & Recharge

Take a walk in the woods for better health

To “unplug” used to mean take a step away from your daily routine and forget about life’s worries. It also means something more literal—to pull the cord on the electronics in your life, turn off your dang phone, stop checking texts and email, and get off the ’gram.

Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This all is increasingly difficult to do, but it’s critical. Our digital life connects us in ways never before seen, but it also has health ramifications, from psychological addiction to disrupted sleep.

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents, and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.

Cherohola Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before smartphones and self-driving cars, Japan deemed “forest bathing” an essential part of its national health program. With forest bathing, the soaking isn’t literal. Bathing takes on a new meaning—immersing oneself in the natural environment.

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

The concept stems from Japanese Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy and goes back to 1982. Over three decades later, the goal of forest bathing is still to reintroduce people to the healing power of nature. Much study and research has confirmed what the Japanese have long believed—nature benefits wellbeing in many ways.

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the problems of modern society, the importance of nature, and restorative benefits of spending time outdoors. “We need the tonic of wildness,” he wrote in Walden, after spending two years in the woods.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here in the 21st century, an increasing number of health experts agree with Thoreau. The varied physical and mental health benefits that seem to come with spending time in the woods or other wild and green settings is the subject of an increasing body of study and some scientific research.

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good old walk in the woods has been credited with reducing blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, while improving mental health, cognitive abilities, and sleep patterns. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outdoors. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family?

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

Go for a hike. There are a lot of places where you can hike—parks, trails, nature preserves. You’ll be out in nature, so it’s a great way to enjoy different types of plants and animals. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Hiking Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.” Whether it’s hiking in the Smoky Mountains, the Sierras, or the Rocky Mountains, follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos. Taking photos outside requires that you focus in on the nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or birds to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit to take photos, because the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching ways. You can also visit a nature preserve or wildlife refuge and look for photo opportunities with animals or plant life.

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

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby. Hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, fishing, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting try mountain biking.

Camping in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain biking in Utah is an endless-crazy-fun adventure. Head to the mountains or red rock desert trails. Singletracks, dirt roads, steep climbs, and rolling hills dominate the state’s beautiful landscape. Mountain biking is an invigorating and intimate way to experience the west. Located just north of Moab, Slickrock is perhaps the most popular mountain bike trail in the world boasting over 100,000 visitors per year.

Get Healthy, Get Outdoors

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find time today to venture outside and take advantage of the health benefits of the outdoors. Replace time spent inside on electronic devices with a bike ride or a walk to a local park. Take up forest bathing or gardening as a new hobby. And remember outdoor recreation can be enjoyed alone or as a family.

Reconnecting with nature in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no wrong way to get outside and so much to be gained by exploring the natural world. You know why being outside is important. It’s time to reconnect with nature. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Sample the bounty of the Okanagan Valley

There is magic in the air as August turns into September—a ripening of the season as fruit trees grow heavy with red apples and pale yellow pears; leaves turn golden to reveal a harvest of pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the field; and grape vines hang heavy with clusters of newly turned red and purple/black grapes.

Skaha Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Lake between Penticton and Summerland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”. Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.

The S.S. Sicamoos moored on Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a hillside overlooking vineyards, sagebrush, and the old gold mining creek that is its namesake, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has been owned and operated by the Shaunessy and Oldfield families since1993. The winery is located south of Oliver at the junction of Highway 97 and Road 7 in the famed Golden Mile wine-growing district.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek sources fruit exclusively from its own vineyards: 150 acres of prime land on two benches. The 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench is planted with a mix of red and white varieties, primarily Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench is also planted with a mix of red and white grapes.

Hester Creek Estate Winery

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Estate Winery is situated within some of British Columbia’s oldest vineyards in the bountiful Golden Mile region. The 95-acre, Mediterranean-influenced grounds, winery, and guest Villa evoke an old-world sense of tranquility.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Estate winery boasted a green and shaded patio perfect for a picnic and a bottle of wine. The tasting room was a work of art in its own right, as were the wide variety of wines we sampled. The staff were friendly and accommodating

Burrowing Owl Winery

Burrowing Owl Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Resembling a cross between a castle and a pueblo, Burrowing Owl winery rises from the sandy southern end of the Okanagan on some of the most coveted grape-growing land in the valley. The venue is gorgeous; set among rolling silver-brown hills and green vines.

Burrowing Owl Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winery is named for the Burrowing Owl, and the winery owners have been working to help preserve and repopulate this endangered species.

Nk’Mip Cellars

Nk’Mip Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Osoyoos, one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada), have lived in the southern part of the valley for centuries. They own 24 percent of the grape-growing land in the valley and established their own vineyards in 1968. Nk’Mip (pronounce it “IN-ka-meep”) Cellars is the first native-owned winery in North America. It’s part of a whole constellation of buildings make up the tribe’s new resort, including a luxury hotel in glowing ochre and cinnamon, with a spa featuring indigenous and desert-based treatments, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, a beautiful building made of rammed earth, with a roof planted with local vegetation.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste your way through the Okanagan. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Recommended RV Parks: Desert Gem RV Resort in Oliver and Nk’Mip RV Park in Osoyoos

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

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Over 100 wineries and Gold Rush history to savor in the Sierra foothills

The roots of old zinfandel grapevines run deep in the Gold Country with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days of the 1850s.

Now, an explosion of wineries, wine tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants specializing in wine country cuisine has added a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the Sierra foothills where more than 100 wineries now produce a wide range of varietals, most notably zinfandel, but also an intriguing variety of other varietals.

Gold Country winery Tuscany style © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold country has always been audacious and rip-roaring. No surprise—its wines are too. Most wines need time to rest, relax, and mature. And really, don’t we all?

Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson as our home bases, we explored the Gold Rush Trail and Gold Country wineries along California Highway 49.

Cooper Vineyard, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To sample the new boom, we headed to tiny Plymouth for surprisingly trendy tasting rooms and sleek restaurants like Taste—a magnet for savvy foodies. Here we used Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort as our home base while we explored the historic and picturesque towns and unique wineries in Amador and El Dorado counties.

Helwig Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador is old vine country; nearly 600 acres of the county’s vines are at least 60 years old, while several vineyards date to the 19th century. The most common adjectives for the area’s potent reds are big and robust—zinfandels, syrahs, and barberas that howl at the moon. Roughly 40 wineries in Amador County alone offer sips.

Bojon Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region’s Shenandoah Valley, in the northern part of the county near the small town of Plymouth, is a great place to experience the influx of new mixed with the old. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Bella Piazza Winery, Amador County

Amador may have developed its reputation around zinfandel, but Shenandoah Valley winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Helwig Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards, one of California’s most charming family wineries and a personal favorite.

El Dorado County Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Dorado sits at the north end of California’s famed Mother Lode, the 120-mile gold vein discovered in the late 1840s which became the site of the Gold Rush. Today, the region is better known for its visitor attractions, agriculture, and old-vine zinfandel. Winemaking at a higher level, the Sierra foothills range from 1,200 to 3,500 feet and hundreds of microclimates perfect for nearly 50 grape varieties. And their artisan winemakers have a passion for experimenting and for this place. That’s what sets El Dorado apart.

Grace Patriot Wines, El Dorado County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Dorado County’s Grace Patriot Wines, a family-run business, provides not only award-winning wine, but history to the area. Their scenic property lies a few miles east of Placerville in an area known as Apple Hill for the abundant apple orchards scattered across the landscape.

Calaveras County Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mark Twain gave Calaveras County its claim to fame with his bestselling story “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this famous Gold Rush location still maintains its 19th-century charm, including Murphy’s Historic Hotel, in operation since 1856. Twain was just one of its famous guests.

Murphys tasting room © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 30 wineries in Calaveras and more than 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphys’ Historic Main Street. That means you can literally do wine country on foot.  But don’t miss the chance to hop in your car to hit up a few of the operational wineries that are mere minutes from downtown and offer the authentic winery experience complete with wine caves, and stunning views.

Ironside Winery, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beautiful scenery pairs well with a glass of wine. Famous attractions like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe offer breathtaking examples of the state’s natural abundance, while just a short drive away.

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966