It’s Clearer than Ever That We Need our Parks and Natural Areas

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been escaping their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty. Because so many of us have been seeking out nature, in some places, it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A new national park visitation trends tracker from U.S. Travel Association, Rove Marketing, and Uber Media indicates that visitation at select national parks is climbing as people seek healthy ways to travel and #RecreateResponsibly. As the overall visitation numbers begin to climb more than two-thirds of all park visitors are out-of-town travelers and more than half journeyed a distance of more than 200 miles.

Francis Beider Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parks and natural areas are a valuable asset in the effort to promote and improve public health. A large body of evidence correlates time spent outdoors with improved physical and mental health. Access to the outdoors has been especially treasured during a pandemic in which many of us have had to deal with health and economic stress. The benefits of that access are so clear that, even in this time of social distancing, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is underscoring the importance of outdoor activity:

“Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air and vitamin D, stay active, and safely connect with others.”

Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During a time of national stress such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or just in everyday life, we need to access parks and take a healthy walk, clear our heads, or simply enjoy the serenity of a forest, marsh, or lake.

Take a look at some of these amazing parks and natural areas and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your hiking boots.

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Canyon, North Dakota

Located in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Painted Canyon is one of the most photographed areas in North Dakota. Painted Canyon Overlook affords views of the Canyon, and a one-mile walking trail dips down below the rim to offer views of the unique strata.

Francis Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

The National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp contains within its 18,000+ acres the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress/Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world. One thousand year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia. A 1.75 mile self-guided boardwalk trail (handicapped accessible) allows visitors the opportunity to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp…to see it the way nature intended!

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon, found just twenty-five miles southeast of Tucson is a hiker’s paradise. This natural area is nestled in the northwest section of the Santa Rita Mountains between Mount Hopkins and Mount Wrightson. Madera Canyon has campsites, picnic areas, and several hiking trails. Climbing towards the top, the mountain vegetation ranges from grassland, palo verde bushes, mesquite trees, and saguaro cactus to Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. At 9,453 feet, Mount Wrightson is the highest mountain in the area.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is one of South Dakota’s biggest outdoor wonderlands. With 71,000 acres to explore, you’ll never run out of things to see and do. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. There are nine scenic campgrounds available throughout the park.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. The largest protected natural area in Kentucky, Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a huge area consisting of multicolored sandstone cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana

A reproduction Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. The Farmstead is an example of how a typical single-family farm would have appeared around 1800. The site includes the family home with an outdoor kitchen and bread oven, slave quarters, and a barn. In the pasture located adjacent to the barn, there are cattle typical of those raised by the Creoles and Acadians at that time.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

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

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The Refuge is 57,331 acres along the Rio Grande near Socorro, located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands—3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

One of the least visited parks in the national park system, Lassen Volcanic preserves the volcanic legacy of Lassen Peak, the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, and its long-eroded Mount Tehama. Evidence of the burning hot spot below Lassen is abundant with several geysers, boiling pools, steam vents, and boiling pools to visit. Beyond the geothermal activity, Lassen is a beautiful alpine environment with plenty of adventures to offer.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

The Pros and Cons of Buying a Travel Trailer

A travel trailer offers the amenities of a home with the portability of a trailer

If the coronavirus has you going stir-crazy, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about buying an RV and taking a road trip. After all, an RV allows you to travel without exposing yourself to germy airports and hotels.

Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You wouldn’t be the only person to come up with that idea. But if you’re a first-time RV buyer, there can be a steep learning curve to overcome. First, you need to figure out which type of recreational vehicle is right for you.

Solaire travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel trailers are the most popular—and most varied—type of towable RV. They have solid walls and often feature a slide—a section of wall that pulls out to provide more interior space when camping.

In an earlier article we discussed advantages of a travel trailer and factors currently fueling an increasing demand for this type of recreational vehicle.

Travel trailer at White Tanks Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent study revealed that demand for travel trailers is expected to rise 5.2 percent per year through 2022 to $12.6 billion with volume reaching 475,000 units on 3.9 percent annual growth.

Jayco travel trailer at Golden Village Palms RV Park, Hemet, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel trailers are favored for their variety of options, from luxury to low-cost entry-level versions, and from those that require a truck to tow them to those that can be managed by most small automobiles.

Travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this article we’ll outline the different types of travel trailers available for purchase and the pros and cons of this type of recreational vehicle.

Travel trailers come in a wide variety of sizes and designs:

Airstream travel trailer at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
  • Small retro-inspired teardrop trailers are essentially a tent and bed on wheels
  • Small molded fiberglass trailers like the Casita and Scamp have passionate fan bases for their low-maintenance designs
  • Mid-priced trailers offer a lot of space and features for the money
Travel trailer on display at RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The iconic Airstream has a distinctive aluminum body. Aerodynamic and low to the ground, these are easy to tow but are expensive for their size.

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

Smaller trailers have a single axle; larger trailers can have two (or even three). More axles increase towing stability and increase your living space, but they also add to tire replacement costs.

  • How long are travel trailers: 8 to 40 feet
  • How much do they weigh: 1,000 to 10,000 pounds
  • How many can they sleep: From two to eight
  • How much do they cost: $10,000 to $150,000
Travel trailer at Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • Spacious, open floor plans suitable for a variety of uses
  • Rigid walls provide some insulation from cold and noise, compared with a pop-up trailer or tent
  • Lower profile allows roof storage of items such as canoes
  • Very little setup time
  • Come in a wide variety of lengths and weights
  • Provides more interior space per length foot than motorhomes because it does not contain driving and engine compartment
  • Can be towed with a variety of vehicles fitted with a standard ball hitch and rated for the trailer weight
  • Tow vehicle doubles as local transportation
  • Lower profile allows easier entry than a fifth wheel trailer
  • Available in a wide range of amenities
Travel trailer at Sea Breeze RV Park, Portland, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cons:

  • Less storage than fifth wheel trailers because it lacks a raised section
  • Driving and living compartments are separate; living area inaccessible while moving
  • Require a suitable tow vehicle
  • Least stable on the road of all RV types
  • Requires the most skill to tow and back up
  • Towing requires learning (and practicing) some different driving skills
  • Larger models can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces
  • Larger models require large storage area when not in use
  • Large trailers require large trucks to tow
  • Larger trailers won’t fit into small campsites
Travel trailer at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.

—Anon

Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

These are some of the best places to hike in the United States from Virginia to Utah and South Dakota to North Carolina

Many Americans are rediscovering favorite pastimes during the COVID-19 pandemic including exploring outdoor areas. Because you can breathe fresh air and get away from enclosed spaces, this can be a great time to plan a hiking trip. Being outdoors is one of the most effective ways to avoid close contact while enjoying exercise and leisure.

It’s possible to explore a natural marvel in your backyard or scratch a national park off of your bucket list. You may also try to find little-known hiking trails to avoid large crowds and to make a memorable road trip.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The National Park Service maintains the Blue Ridge Parkway which is 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. While the visitor centers and campgrounds are not open, most hiking trails are. Some notable landmarks to hike include:

  • Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Humpback Rocks Trail (MP-6; Length: 1 mile one-way)
  • Peaks of Otter, Sharp Top Trail (MP-86; Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Moses Cone Park (MP-294)
  • Linville Falls Visitor Center, Erwins View Trail (MP-317; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Craggy Gardens, Craggy Gardens Trail (MP-364; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Mount Pisgah, Mount Pisgah Trail (MP-408; Length: 1.6 miles one-way)
Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 369 miles of hiking trails are in the parkway. Some portions of the parkway are near the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. You might be able to hike on these trails if time allows.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian Trail

Serious hikers dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail spanning 14 eastern states. As life is different this year, you won’t be able to hike the full trail at one-time easily. Most shelters are not open, so you may have to avoid an overnight hiking trip. Each state from Maine to Georgia has its unique gems. You can explore “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia with its 28-mile stretch near Harpers Ferry.

Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

National parks offer many travel opportunities but several state parks are great too. South Dakota’s Custer State Park has driving and hiking trails. You may enjoy seeing the buffalo and hiking in the Black Hills. Four hiking trails include:

  • Cathedral Spires Trail (Length: 2.3 miles return)
  • Little Devil’s Tower Trail (Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Prairie Trail (Length: 3 miles loop)
  • Sylvan Lake Shore Trail (Length: 1 mile loop)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Utah has plenty of things to do outdoors. Zion National Park is one of the state’s hiking paradises and has the privilege of being Utah’s first national park. But there are some temporary restrictions to be aware of before traveling. First, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible via park shuttle with reservations required in advance. Second, the Kolob Canyons area is not open until further notice.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may also need to avoid contact with park streams due to toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Make sure you bring plenty of extra drinking water for this hiking trip. Despite these restrictions, there’s plenty to see by foot in Zion including:

  • The Grotto shuttle stop, Angels Landing Trail (Length: 5.4 miles round trip)
  • Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, The Narrows (Length: 5-9.4 miles round trip, depending on how far you go)
  • Zion Lodge shuttle stop: Emerald Pools Trail (Length: 1.2 mile round-trip loop to Lower Pool; 2 miles round trip to Middle and Lower Pool; 2.5 miles round trip to Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools)
  • Trailhead on UT-9 beyond first tunnel, Zion Canyon Overlook Trail (Length: 1 mile round trip)
  • Watchman Campground, Watchman Trail (Length: 2.7 miles round trip)
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, consider hiking Utah’s Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, or Arches National Park if you want to try something different. Utah has laudable state parks as well, including Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summary

National parks tend to have the best hiking trails, but state or local parks are hidden gems as well. You may try to explore lesser-known areas to avoid large crowds. You can still enjoy the great outdoors and the views may rival those of the most popular hiking trips.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne

Traveling By RV? Everything You Need To Know Before You Hit The Road.

From finding a campsite to keeping clean

After months of isolation, summer travel season is upon us. And as travel restrictions ease up, all signs are pointing to a vacation season defined by the great American road trip. And at the center of it is the humble land yacht: The RV. A whopping 46 million Americans plan to take an RV road trip this summer, according to Ipsos. In an era where hotel stays can cause tremendous anxiety, it makes perfect sense: An RV is basically a motel on wheels, and you alone control the breakfast buffet, guest list, and zip code. 

Class A motorhome at White Tanks Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re buying an RV or renting, here’s everything you need to know before you hit the road.

First, you need to figure out which type of recreational vehicle is right for you. If you’re looking to rent, you’ve essentially got three options. 

Camper vans (aka Class B motorhomes) are the least expensive, most discreet, and the simplest way to ease into the lifestyle, but aren’t usually equipped. This is especially troublesome in the pandemic since many public restrooms are closed. Also, it’s really tough to stand up inside. 

Class C motorhome at Wind Creek Casino, Atwood, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class C motorhomes are recognizable by the cab over the driver and the boxy back. These usually have a toilet, a shower, a small kitchenette with a fridge and stove, and are commonly available as rentals. 

Class A motorhome at Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, Class A motorhomes are the bus-like behemoths with stuff like TVs, multiple beds, and lounging areas. These tend to cost more than an actual house and are expensive to rent… and operating one for the first time can feel like driving a condo. 

RVs at Rain Spirit RV Park in Cottonwood, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re just testing the RV lifestyle for a weekend or even a week or two, renting is probably the best idea. RVShare, the Airbnb of renting RVs, is a good place to start while nationwide companies like Cruise America will set you up with a land yacht. 

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re buying into the lifestyle for the long run expect to drop an anvil of cash. RVs are in serious demand this summer. If you can find a good deal on a used one that’s also a solid option but be aware that you could be buying someone else’s problem. Like buying any vehicle, check the mileage before buying and get it inspected by somebody who knows what they’re doing. Mold and dry rot can also be problems in older models.

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

Plan your route, but be ready to change course. You can’t see it all. You should plan a route, sure, but leave yourself open for those spectacular nights beneath the stars. 

Walking tour of Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s good to have a rough idea of what you want to do so you can prepare. You don’t want to miss anything that could be really special but at the same time you want to leave room in your plans for the unexpected. That’s what really makes it special. The unknown and spontaneity of it!

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

Google Maps is an obvious way to plan your trip. Or use a site called Roadtrippers ($29.99/year) which allows you to plan your route and highlights cool stuff to see along the way including roadside attractions. And, to alter your plans on a whim!

Campground in Glen Canyon National Recreation, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choosing the right campground for your needs

If you’re reading this now, chances are you’re not going to easily find a campsite in a national or state park. They exist, but in the summer of COVID they’re in extreme demand. The likelihood of just rolling up to a panoramic site in Arches without a reservation is basically out of the question. RV Parks and campgrounds are also hot commodities, but might be the safer bet and easier to book.

Tucson/Lazydays KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Having a toilet on wheels means you get to experience the joys of pumping grey water (shower waste) and black water (toilet waste) into the sewer. Your RV should come with the tools to do this but before you hit the road make sure your hose doesn’t have any holes in it (and you carry a spare). Just make sure you’re pumping it in the right place and not going full Cousin Eddie in the storm drain. 

Sewer connection at a full-service RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for showering, folks with camper vans are advised to pack baby wipes or a camping shower that can be set up when you stop. If you want a quality shower, campgrounds are your best bet, but some truck stops like Love’s and Pilot Flying J’s have coin showers you can use too.

Dump station for gray and black water disposal © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare for Campground Safety Regulations

Be aware of any safety requirements in place due to COVID-19. Some campgrounds require campers to wear face masks when there’s a risk of contact with anyone outside of the household. Be sure to bring hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and disposable gloves to keep your hands and any surfaces clean during your RV camping trip.

Worth Pondering…

RVing puts the world at your doorstep. Wherever your doorstep happens to be!

Getting Back to Nature: How Forest Bathing Can Make Us Feel Better

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been pouring out of their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature. Subsequently, I listed numerous fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature including forest bathing.

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

The tonic of the wilderness was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.

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

The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere. The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Healed By . . . Trees?

Spending time walking in a forest has positive effects on your body and mind. Following are some conclusions based on various studies conducted by doctors and psychologists.

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

Physical benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Enhanced immune response
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep
Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mental benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved short-term memory
  • Restored mental energy
  • Improved concentration
  • Enhanced creativity
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How can walking in a forest do all that? Scientists say some of it has to do with the chemicals plants give off to protect themselves from insects and to fight diseases. These chemicals have antibacterial and antifungal qualities and when we inhale them our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell that kills tumor- and virus-infected cells. Another reason is simple: Forests reduce stress, the root cause of many ailments.

Raccoon State Recreation Area, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Simply living around trees and looking at them is beneficial as well. A medical study found a 12 percent lower mortality rate for people who lived near green spaces with fewer incidences of a wide variety of diseases than people who lived in urban areas.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (See poem below), North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, next time you’re near a swath of towering timber go right on under their welcoming limbs and take a hike.

Worth Pondering…

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

—Joyce Kilmer

An Isolation Itinerary: Places to Get Lost and Find Yourself

Looking for a road trip destination this summer? You will feel safe with this ‘isolation itinerary’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we travel in 2020. The more we read, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside.

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip. Unlike a plane, train, or other public transport your RV is your personal space and allows you control the level of cleaning and sanitation and who you share the space with. Plus, fuel prices are low this year while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In an RV you can go where you want and stay in a campground, an RV park, or boondock on public lands.

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” and for all these reasons natural sites like national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest.

The National Park Service states that more than 300 million people visit more than 400 national park areas in the U.S. each year. Since summer is typically the prime time for travel, it makes sense that many parks fill to capacity during these warmer months. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, national parks may be even harder to access than usual. Phased reopenings are occurring in many popular locations such as Arches, Zion, and Joshua Tree. Because national parks provide an ideal road trip destination, it’s safe to say they’ll be popular in the coming months. 

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks can be a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Even better, they usually aren’t as busy as national parks. If you don’t want to take a chance on crowded national parks this summer visit one of more than 8,000 state park areas instead. State parks are often underrated destinations, but they can provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for outdoor recreation also draw people to national wildlife refuges. Many visitors enjoy fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and hiking with 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks available. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, we’ve put together a list of incredible state parks and natural wildlife refuges from coast to coast. You will feel safe with our researched “isolation itinerary.”

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Located along the southern coastline of Alabama, Gulf State Park provides a beautiful escape to the seashore and nearby lakes. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves thousands of acres of diverse habitats and archaeological sites alongside the Columbia River. Taking a stroll from the parking lot, the pedestrian bridge allow you to stand over the railroad tracks and gaze westward over the mosaic of seasonal wetlands, permanent wetlands, grasslands, upland forests, riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and croplands that become home to thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that winter on the Refuge.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

The 4,127-acre Babcock State Park is 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville  and the New River Gorge Bridge. You can hike, fish, and mountain bike in this scenic park though a huge attraction is seeing the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This is a fully functioning replica of Cooper’s Mill which once stood in the same area. The mill attracts photographers from all around to capture idyllic scenes along the creek. Campsites are available for overnight stays.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the deser. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Brasstown Bald State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia

Plan a trip to Georgia’s tallest mountain for amazing views and quality time with Mother Nature. As the state’s highest peak—4,784 feet above sea level—Brasstown Bald is among the first to display fall colors. Even in summer, you’ll find the mountain a worthy escape thanks to its picturesque location amid the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and its refreshing temperatures. Nearby, take a scenic drive through the national forest via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From the byway, stop at Vogel State Park which offers ample camping, plus fishing, hiking, and lake swimming.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Worth Pondering…

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

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

On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Get on the road and stay safe with these safety tips

Days of packed resorts and amusement parks might be a thing of the past until we see a more consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases. Instead of packing out theme parks and resorts, families are gearing up and hitting the road. Millions of RV and camping enthusiasts are traveling the highways and byways of the U.S. and Canada this summer, many for the first time. And as more people join the RV lifestyle, it is increasingly important that RVers take the time to understand ways to safely enjoy these fun but challenging recreational vehicles.

Along Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to stay safe on the road and avoid accidents that may take you off the road for costly and time-consuming repairs—and raise your insurance premiums.

Always conduct a pre-drive safety check.

A “walk-around” visual inspection can save your life.

Driving north to Page and Lake Powell on US Highway 89 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure bay doors are closed and secured.

Double-check tow bar and safety cables.

Disconnect all power, cable TV, phone, water, and sewer hoses.

Retract jacks, steps, and awnings.

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

Look under the rig for signs of fluid leaks.

Check signal lights, brake lights, and headlights prior to departure.

Check oil, transmission, and coolant levels.

Check the propane tank for leaks and intake/exhaust lines for blockages.

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

Check tire inflation pressure and examine tread wear.

Make sure carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP gas (propane) detectors are operational.

Check your surroundings (weather, overhangs, and ground hazards).

Turn LP gas (propane) OFF at the tank when traveling.

Connected to city water using a pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never refill propane tanks with appliances or engine running.

Avoid refrigerator fires. Have your propane tank regularly checked by a certified dealer to ensure lines are in good operating condition and not leaking.

Follow the Rule of 20 Percent. Fully loaded rigs have slower acceleration and take longer to stop than cars. To compensate, add 20 percent to everything you do, from increasing your following distance, to judging if you have enough clearance, to safely merging into traffic.

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

Protect yourself from blowouts. Blowouts count for the majority of RV insurance claims. They’re caused by improper inflation, worn tread, an overloaded/overweight vehicle, and aged-out tires. To avoid cracking, regularly wash your tires with mild soap, water, and a soft brush. To prevent UV damage, keep your tires covered when you’re not driving.

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Under- and over-inflation can both lead to blowouts. Check the inflation pressure on your tires at least once a month and always before a trip. Do this when tires are cold, since heat from driving temporarily increases air pressure. Never remove air from a hot tire. It can create dangerous under-inflation when the tire cools.

Check the age stamp on the tire and replace when 7 years old, no matter the condition of the tire.

Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Practice S.A.F.E. cornering:

  • Slowly approach the turn.
  • Arc the turn. Be careful not to start by swinging in the opposite direction, which can confuse drivers behind you.
  • Finish your turn completely. Don’t straighten the wheel before the back of the vehicle has cleared the pivot point.
Know your height. Covered bridge in Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience is Key. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Know your height. Believe it or not, hitting bridges and overhangs is one of the most common RV accidents. Know your exact clearance and write it on a sticky note on your dashboard. Speaking of measurement, most RVs are 8.5 feet wide and the average highway, about 10 feet. That gives you only a foot and a half of wiggle room.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you feel your front wheel slipping off the road into a rut, take your foot off the gas and gently brake. Jamming the brakes can get you deeper into the rut. Keep steering your RV forward. Once you’ve slowed down, gently turn to the left and ease out of the rut slowly. If you overcorrect by jerking the wheel left, you might jackknife.

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always back in to tight places, and pull out facing forward.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

7 Tips for Newbies to Know BEFORE the First Trip

Vacationing by RV this summer? Here’s what you need to know.

When you first heard the words “black water” in conversation, you may have assumed the speaker was discussing an obscure movie, perhaps an Australian film created by 3D models or a 2017 Jean-Claude Van Damme flick.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, if you’re one of the many people who decides to take a summer road trip in an RV you would know that the first definition of black water is solid and liquid waste that must be dumped from your RV holding tank.

Here are seven helpful tips to know before embarking on your first RV road trip.

Sewer hose connected and ready to dump © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Don’t get poop on yourself

If there’s a toilet in your rig—and there most likely is—you’re going to need to dump the waste—the aforementioned black water—at some point (likely sooner rather than later). When you go to open the storage compartment on the side of the vehicle to remove the cap and connect the sewer hose in order to dump, remember this: Make sure the dump valves are closed! Trust me on this! Read the page in your RV owner’s manual about the holding tanks. Make sure you close those latches! Otherwise, you might gag while your sneakers become “poop shoes” you can never wear again.

Sewer hose connection up-close © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Remember your toolkit

It’s hard to anticipate something like having your side view mirror get so loose that it no longer provides any help with attempting lane changes. But these things happen, and you should prepare for them, instead of relying on your copilot to turn or finding a man on the road who has a wrench you can borrow to tighten said mirror.

Sewer dump station © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring a toolkit. And store it on the curb side. Again, trust me on this. Bring Allen wrenches or Hex Key set. Bring duct tape and Rhino tape. Bring variety of screwdrivers including Phillips and Robertson. Bring hammer. Bring scissors. Bring a variety of wrenches. Bring plenty of rags. Be ready to fix the unanticipated.

Read carefully before pulling lever © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pack sufficient cookware

If you’re renting an RV that comes stocked with kitchen tools, check that it also has pots and pans, cutting boards, and silverware. And if it has knives, make sure they’re sharp enough to cut effectively. Will the rental company reimburse you for replacing any missing or faulty cookware? It may be wise to take complete inventory of your cookware at time of rental.

Camping at Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Use leveling blocks

Like Legos? Stackable leveling blocks can be placed under your vehicle’s wheels in order to level out your parking spot. If you arrive at your camping site when it is dark or too tired to use leveling blocks, be prepared to face the consequences.  The fridge may stop running (because it relies on gravity to cool properly and only works when the vehicle is level). That brings us to the next tip.

Camping at Monahans Sands State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Arrive at your campground before dark

Plan your trip so that you get to your overnight parking spot before dark. Whether you’re driving into a campground, an RV park, or—especially—a place in the desert or woods where you’ll be boondocking (RV-speak for spending the night somewhere for free, without electric or water hookups), it’s important to be able to see your surroundings.

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

It’s very challenging to see camping site numbers and even harder to determine whether you’ve parked safely (and level) in the dark. Also: You want to wake up the next morning and be able to recognize your surroundings. Not knowing where you are can have a rather disturbing feel!

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

6. Use RV toilet essentials

Sorry to bring up the poop thing again, but it’s important. Without it, traveling during a pandemic would be more dangerous. And if you don’t pack certain RV bathroom essentials, you’ll find yourself up a certain creek without a paddle.

Camping at Poches RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Knowing what your black water tank holds, the next logical question to ask is: how the heck do you keep it clean and odor-free? Fortunately, the availability of commercial chemicals and deodorizers makes it pretty simple to maintain your black tank on a regular basis.

Camping in Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the start of your camping trip, add a dose of RV black water tank treatment, which may come in liquid form or in Tide-Pod-like packets. Be sure to add in about a gallon of water, as well, which helps the chemicals do their job. Along with keeping tank odors down, these chemicals also have the ability to break down solid waste and toilet paper. That makes for a much smoother process when it comes time to dump your tanks.

Even if you use those things properly, there is a rare possibility you might end up with a clog in your toilet—and that is not a pretty picture.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Wake up early and enjoy the sunrise

Driving your bathroom and kitchen around with you makes life super convenient. You can eat, nap, and relieve yourself whenever you’d like! With that in mind, here are several suggestions on structuring your days when you visit national or state parks: Wake up early. Make coffee. Drive inside the park to a place with a gorgeous view. Enjoy the sunrise and wildlife with few other humans around. Go on a hike

Enjoying camping on Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you return to your camping site, take some time to appreciate the RV lifestyle. Bask in the nature around you before retiring to your big sleeping box. And promise yourself you’ll go on another road trip real soon!

Worth Pondering…

Wherever we go, we’re always at home.

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing the Perfect RV for Your Family

The first barrier to living the RV life is discovering which type of RV is right for you

A comfortable bed to sleep in after the day spent playing at the lake? A kitchen to prepare your family’s favorite meals? A shower to clean up in after a long day on a hiking trail? A home away from home in all your favorite places?

Fifth-wheel trailer with tow vehicle at Leaf Verde RV Park in Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you want a big rig or a camper van? Will you drive a Class A or a bus conversion? Should you explore a Class C, or will a travel trailer work well with your truck? In the beginning, there are lots of questions. Yet asking questions is a good thing!

Class C motorhome at Wahweap RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve decided you want to experience the RV lifestyle. Or maybe your family’s needs have changed and it’s time for an upgrade. With so many RVs to choose from it can be overwhelming. Don’t worry! Ask yourself these questions to help make the decision easier.

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do You Have a Tow Vehicle?

If you have a tow vehicle then you’ll want to narrow your search to RVs within your vehicle’s towing capacity. Don’t forget to add the weight of passengers, cargo, and liquids to the dry weight of the RV. You don’t want to fall in love with an RV only to determine that it exceeds your vehicle’s maximum capacity to tow safely.

Toy hauler fifth wheeler and tent trailer at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Many Beds Do You Require?

Sleeping arrangements in RVs range from plush king size beds to fold out beds. Think about how many your RV needs to sleep, and also the bedtime routine. Some people don’t mind turning dinettes or sofas into beds every night while others consider a designated pre-made bed for each person a must.

Truck camper at Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where Will You Camp?

When most people think of RVing they think of campgrounds, but RVs open up a whole world of different types of adventure and exploration. Some RVs are better suited for boondocking or off grid camping with larger holding tanks and generators or solar panels. Perhaps you plan to use your RV to tailgate at sporting events. If your goal is to spend as much time as possible in national and state parks then length will be a consideration.

Boondocking near Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Amenities Do You Require?

Some buy an RV because they no longer want to sleep on the ground and want more protection from than what a tent offers. But creature comforts don’t stop at a roof and a bed. RVs are available with numerous amenities including gourmet kitchens and state of the art entertainment centers. Make a list of your most important amenities and prioritize.

Full service site including 50-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Activities Do You Enjoy?

Hobbies and activities will help you narrow down your RV search. Sport utility RVs, or toy haulers, provide space for ATVs, golf carts, and bikes. Since some RVs offer more storage space than others, consider where all that gear will go.

Taking everything with you! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Much Space Do You REALLY Need?

This is different for every family. Do you plan to use your RV every weekend all summer or for extended trips? Or is it going to be an every once in a while outing? Do your kids need their own bedroom? Do you need your own bedroom?

Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Preferred Floor Plan?

Visit RV shows and dealerships to get an idea of what floor plan will work best for you family. Spend time in the RVs. Sit on the couches. Lay on the beds. Walk into the bathrooms. Imagine cooking in the kitchen. Ask for brochures to take home. Most dealerships are happy to let you spend time in their RVs because they want you to be happy with the RV you choose.

Teardrop trailer at Distant Drum RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider Maintenance and Repair

All RVs have maintenance and repair issues from time to time. New models come with a warranty where manufactures and dealerships take care of the repairs for a set amount of time. Pre-owned RVs are typically sold “as-is” meaning all repairs are your responsibly.

Class A motorhome (Diesel Pusher) at Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Style of Travel?

Do you like moving every night or do you prefer to set up and stay at one campground for a while.

Airstream trailer at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Budget?

Just as there is an RV for every lifestyle, there is an RV for every budget. Decide on a budget before beginning your search. Pre-owned RVs are a great option for a limited budget.

Taking it all with you at Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buying an RV will be one of the best decisions you’ll make for your family. At the end of the day or a long weekend, spending time together and creating memories are what is important and that will happen in any type of RV.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

The 9 Things You Should Never Travel Without

Things you should never set off in your RV without

Every RV traveler has their go-to gadgets and comforts. These are the nine items that should always go with you when you travel.

Needed RV supplies include water and sewer hoses. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First aid kit

You can buy a first aid kit at your local pharmacy before setting off or you can make your own if your family has special medical needs that are not accommodated by the store-bought ones. Be sure to pack ample allergy medications in case you find that the local plant life triggers your allergies wherever you go.

Sewer hose and connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV essentials

These are the things your systems need like oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid, and spare batteries. Think outside of the RV as well such as road flares in case you break down, raincoats, rags, and anything else you may need to get back on the road again.

Water hose and city water connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camera

In reality, if you have a smartphone you probably have a camera capable of capturing amazing memories wherever you go. In fact, I agree with professional photographer Chase Jarvis, who says that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” 

Be prepared for varied weather conditions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notebook and pen

Sometimes the best gadget is low-tech and simple. Always travel with a notebook and pen. Actually, for a guy who writes an RV blog my brain thinks surprisingly in analog, and pen on paper helps me organize my thoughts. And the best part is notebooks never run out of batteries.

Don’t forget supplies to ensure the safety and comfort of your pet. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Protection System

When looking at an electrical protection system for your RV, you want to make sure it is more than a surge protector and monitors high and low voltage. This is what the Progressive Emergency Management System does and what models like Surge Guard and other brands do as well. When looking at an electrical protection system, be certain to consider the protection levels. Here is what you need out of a great electrical protection system:

  • Surge Protection
  • High and Low Voltage
  • Pedestal Analysis
  • Load side protection
Progressive Energy Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are different electrical protection brands on the market and the Progressive EMS is the unit that we trust with our RV. Others prefer Surge Guard brand. If you do not already have an electrical protection system for your RV, take it from me and other seasoned RVers—get an electrical protection system for your RV. You can’t go wrong with a model from Progressive or Surge Guard.

Enjoy camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack Tools and Spare Parts

Pack a well-stocked tool kit and store on the curb side of your RV. Include basic tools and items that may need to be replaced including LCD flashlights, spare fuses, LCD lights, jumper cables, nuts and bolts, WD-40, silicon spray, duct and gorilla tape, and cleaning supplies. Be sure to bring spare parts that are unique to your rig.

Creek Fire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

High-quality sewer hose

Some things you definitely don’t want to skimp on and your sewer hose is one of them. No one wants to be dealing with a ruptured sewer hose while on vacation. Invest in a high-end hose—your peace of mind and nasal passages will thank you.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunglasses Are a Must

When hitting the road in your RV, you’ll a good pair of sunglasses regardless of whether you’re heading to the beaches or to the mountains. No one wants to stare into the sun for hours on end not to mention that driving without sunglasses can be dangerous. Do yourself (and your eyes!) a favor and remember your shades.

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

Last But Not Least, Know where you’re going

Okay, okay. You likely have a destination in mind. But if you’re heading out for months on end, you might want to bring along a few suggestions.

Now hit the road already!

Corpus Chrisiti, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.