A Monumental Big Year

643 bird species, 44 states, two trips across the country and back, one pickup camper—all Taylor Páez needed to complete her Big Year on the road

In case you didn’t see the movie The Big Year, a Big Year is a personal quest to find as many species as possible during a calendar year. There are personal variations on this simple definition, but any way you do it, a Big Year is a serious undertaking that takes an absolute dedication, lots of free time, and some extra cash, as most participants do a lot of traveling.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enter an ambitious young birder, Taylor Páez, who planned her Big Year, saved money, and left her office job; then ready, set, go—she was off, with the hope of finding 700 different birds in the lower 48 states.

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

Taylor’s route was a road trip of epic proportions. Starting at her home in northern California, she looped south through Arizona, southern Texas, and around the Gulf of Mexico; then turned north, passing through many eastern states to New Hampshire and Maine. Next: New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan including the Upper Peninsula, and Wisconsin. Then it was back to the West: the Great Plains, Colorado, on to Washington, and back home to California—all by July; traveling solo, living out of her compact truck camper, and experiencing the ultimate bird search day by day.

Green Heron at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As she traveled cross-country, Taylor monitored bird sightings reported on eBird, the American Birding Association’s state by state Birding News, Audubon listserves, and local birding groups’ posts on Facebook. Sometimes she even learned of rare bird sightings on Instagram, or by word-of-mouth from birders she interacted with at popular birding hotspots.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a month-long break to re-charge at home, Taylor began the “zig-zagging” phase of her Big Year, driving through southern California, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, then zigging and zagging before taking a boat trip off the coast of Maine; on to New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana, and back to California to finish the year. Taylor explained her zig-zag pattern: “Toward the end of the year it was pretty crazy because it’s less about the common birds and more about the rare ones;” so when a rare bird showed up cross-country, she might begin a heated chase.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at La Feria Nature Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After her sweeping bird quest across the country—twice—Taylor had a tough time picking just one favorite local. The country is filled with amazing biodiversity, and she enjoys it all. But if she had to pick a favorite, Taylor would pick the subtropical region of southern Texas. During one day at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge she identified 35 new birds, the most new species she listed at once.

Roseate Spoonbills along the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Her favorite birds: Green Jays, Roseate Spoonbills, Greater Kiskadees, and Audubon’s Orioles—all found in the above-mentioned wildlife refuge.

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

After spending a year in the great outdoors and tallying 634 species, Taylor did not go back to her office job. Instead, she turned to opportunities in the natural world: Working as a park naturalist and a stint conducting hummingbird surveys.

Tri-Colored Heron at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I realized I not only wanted to be outside, but I wanted to make a positive impact on people. I wanted to bring them accessibility to nature and the outdoors. We need it now more than ever,” Taylor said. “I never thought I would do what I did—before that I played everything safe. I didn’t take risks, ever.”

Great Kiskadee at Edinburgh Wetlands, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Such a long trip was a big challenge, but after her Big Year, Taylor knows the risks are well worth the payback.

Black-necked Stilt at Gilbert Riparian Preserve, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original article about Taylor Paez’s Big Year appears on the BirdsEye Birding website. BirdsEye’s free photography website is a comprehensive library of photos submitted by nature enthusiasts.

Great Horned Owl at Whitewater Draw, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

Turkey Talk At Thanksgiving

Let’s talk turkey. We’ll examine some little known facts about the turkey to gobble up along with your Thanksgiving feast.

Today is my favorite holiday of the year.

No presents to buy.

And as Canadian Snowbirds we have the opportunity of celebrating Thanksgiving in October (Canadian Thanksgiving) and again today.

The only thing to spend is time with family, food, and football.

Giving thanks for turkeys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Thanksgiving holiday is an opportune time to consider turkeydom—the wild stock and those top-heavy, farm-raised birds that are pardoned and spared from the dinner table each Thanksgiving by the President of the United States.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know you’ll probably eat too much. But what do you really know about Thanksgiving? What do you know about the headliner of the day, Tom Turkey?

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkeys are native to North America, with some interesting historical and geographical twists along the way. The common turkey was tamed between 800 and 200 BC by the people of pre-Columbian Mexico. Up until about 1100 AD, the Pueblo peoples raised turkeys primarily for their feathers for use in rituals, ceremonies, and textiles.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then in the 1500s, European explorers carried wild turkeys back to Europe, where the birds were further domesticated. When early English settlers brought turkeys to Eastern North America a century later, the species crossed the ocean once again.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild turkeys live in hardwood forests and marshlands. Equipped with powerful legs and clawed toes, they are adept at raking through leaf litter and moderate snow depths. Their broad diet includes over 600 types of fruits, nuts, waste grains, grasses, and insects. At night, Wild turkeys roost in trees for shelter and predator protection.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appearance-wise, the Wild Turkey won’t win a beauty contest. Males have blue or gray featherless necks and heads that can shift color according to the bird’s emotional state. When angry or during courtship displays, the neck and head turn a radiant red. The male toms are the larger sex that boasts a spikey “beard” of feathers protruding from their mid-chest.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The snood is a fleshy flap that hangs from the beak; prominent bumps on the head and throat are termed carbuncles, while the wattles drape from under the chin. These physical characteristics are far more pronounced in domestic turkeys.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most commercial turkey farmers breed their birds to have white feathers because white feathers leave no spots on the skin when plucked. Bred exclusively for the table, flightless domestic turkeys are 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. This differs from their wild relatives, whose breast flesh is darker due to their active flight habits.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two types of meat differ nutritionally. White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat. The rich flavor of dark meat is especially valued in soup and stew recipes. Dark meat holds up well in rich marinades and is a perfect choice for grilling and barbecuing.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States’ bird, was dismayed when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey. Franklin wrote to his daughter, referring to the eagle’s “bad moral character,” saying, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, supposedly as a response to a campaign organized by magazine editor Sara Joseph Hale. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day forward one week, as it is presently celebrated.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2012, more than 253.5 million turkeys were raised. More than 210 million were consumed in the United States. An estimated 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas, and 19 million at Easter.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2012.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deep fried turkey originated in the southern United States but is popular today throughout North America. Quickly cooked, deep-fried turkey is rich in flavor with a golden brown crispy exterior while moist and fork-tender on the interior.

Turkey consumption has nearly doubled over the past 25 years. In 2012, per capita turkey consumption was 16 pounds compared to 8.3 pounds in 1975.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turkey can be used in so many cooking methods, including stovetop, oven, microwave, and grill. The wide range of cuts and products available such as ground turkey, turkey ham, turkey franks, turkey pastrami, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, and deli turkey make this protein easy to incorporate into any meal.

Giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you Know?

Only tom turkeys gobble. Hen turkeys make a clicking noise.

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour.

Thanksgiving & Our RV Lifestyle: Giving Thanks

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Travels

Many will be on the road traveling today and throughout this Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend in America, and RVers are out in force, back on the road, crossing the country in their RVs to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And many snowbirds are traveling south to their favorite Sunbelt roost to avoid the rigors of another northern winter.

I have so much to be thankful for! I give thanks to my partner—my wife Dania, my co-pilot—and our family and friends.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a lifelong love of travel, a condo-on-wheels has always been our destiny. Yes, we’re living our dream! We’ve wintered in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Our RV travels have taken us to over 40 states and four western provinces.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I am thankful as Canadian Snowbirds that we have the opportunity of celebrating Thanksgiving in October (Canadian Thanksgiving) and again in November.

Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to reflect on life, liberty, and the pursuit of full hookup campgrounds with really good Wi-Fi.

We’re thankful that RV travel is so popular in our own vast and wonderful countries.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m thankful for our continued health and safety while traveling. Any time you venture onto highways, you are rolling the dice. So far we’ve enjoyed over 150,000 miles of safe and mostly carefree travel as we cruise the highways and byways of our two great nations!

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I am thankful for our freedom. As Americans and Canadians we take so much for granted when it comes to freedom. We have freedom of speech, expression, the right to vote, and so much more that others across the world only dream of. That freedom came at a price—and that is the lives of many of our servicemen and women.  So, I also would like to give thanks to our troops.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh yeah … and I give thanks to the Internet which has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts on RV Travel.

Stay tuned, friends…the best is yet to come!

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are you thankful for?

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend from our family here to you and yours.  We hope it will be full of amazing food, love and laughter and of course–great wines!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Travels…and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanksgiving Day Stats

Key to any Thanksgiving Day menu are a fat turkey and cranberry sauce.

An estimated 238 million turkeys were raised for slaughter in the U.S. during 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 46 million of those turkeys ended up on U.S. dinner tables on Thanksgiving—or about 736 million pounds of turkey meat, according to estimates from the National Turkey Federation.

Minnesota is the United States’ top turkey-producing state, followed by Arkansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, and California. These “big seven” states produce more than two of every three U.S.-raised birds, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

U.S. farmers also produced an estimated 841 million pounds of cranberries in 2014, which, like turkeys, are native to the Americas. The top producers are Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.

Giving Thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. grew 2.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes—many in South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, California, Texas, and Louisiana—and produced more than 1.2 billion pounds of pumpkins. Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio grow the most U.S. pumpkins.

Worth Pondering…

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.

—Edward Sandford Martin

Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

Here are our top tips for making your road trip safe and enjoyable this Thanksgiving

As the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel season kicks off and cold temperatures begin blanketing many parts of the country, it’s time to pack a little more patience as hundreds of thousands more travelers head out for turkey and stuffing this year.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend in America and RVers are out in force, back on the road, crossing the country in their RVs to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. And many snowbirds are traveling south to their favorite Sunbelt roost to avoid the rigors of another northern winter.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 55 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home for the holiday, according to an AAA news release. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, November 27, to Sunday December 1.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The busiest days to travel are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. If possible, AAA recommends that motorists plan their travel around these days (Thanksgiving Day is actually the best day to be on the roads).

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, predicts road trips could take as much as four times longer than normal in major metros on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the nearly 90 percent of travelers who will drive to their destinations there is good news: Fuel prices have been fluctuating as of late, but are currently cheaper than the national average at this time last year, giving travelers a little extra money to spend and motivating millions to take road trips. In most regions of the country, prices average about 10 cents less than last Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your travel and route by checking the weather, road conditions, and traffic. Leave early, if possible, and allow plenty of time to safely get to your destination. Carry items in your vehicle that may prove useful in the event of an emergency or if you get stranded, including: snow shovel, broom, ice scraper, jumper cables, flashlight, flares/emergency markers, blankets, mobile phone with charger, water, food, and any necessary medication.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you become stranded, don’t run your vehicle with the windows up or in an enclosed space for an extended period of time to avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning. If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow and run it only sporadically—just long enough to stay warm.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inspect your tires to avoid a blowout and to ensure proper grip in inclement weather. Make sure each tire is filled to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure. Don’t forget to check your spare tire to ensure it is properly inflated.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure your windshield wipers work and, if necessary, replace worn blades and completely fill your vehicle’s windshield wiper fluid reservoir.

Keep up with routine maintenance and tune ups. Have your entire vehicle checked thoroughly for leaks, badly worn hoses, or other needed parts, repairs, and replacements.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember to always wear your seat belt and ensure that children are buckled up in age- and size-appropriate restraints. Children under age 13 should be seated in the back seat.

We can all do our part by buckling up, obeying the speed limit, and avoiding distractions while driving.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never drive drunk or distracted. Driving drunk kills people. In every state, it’s is against the law to drive with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or higher.

The spotlight on holiday driving led to warnings about avoiding drunken drivers. Over 1,000 people died in drunken driving crashes during the holiday season last year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures reviewed by the advocacy group Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So obey the law; stay focused and alert at all times.

Doing so could save your life.

Be a patient driver and don’t speed when out on the nation’s highways.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drivers are urged to keep their speed in check, buckle up and avoid distractions, especially texting while driving.

Drivers also should get a good night’s rest before traveling, check their vehicles’ tire pressure and be prepared for unscheduled closures due to crashes or disabled vehicles.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying up to date on weather conditions and packing an emergency preparedness kit, with items such as blankets, flashlights, extra clothes, drinking water and snack foods, is another smart idea.

Worth Pondering…

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.

—Edward Sandford Martin

Temecula Valley: 50 Years in the Grapes

Winegrowing goes back over 50 years in Temecula Valley

A stone’s throw from the millions of people who inhabit Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, the Temecula Valley sits in western Riverside County.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a hot August day in the late 1960s, Eli Callaway, a very East Coast businessman, was being driven on what is now Rancho California Road when he came upon a very pregnant woman working in a small family vineyard.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It must have been over 100 degrees,” said Audrey Cilurzo, who with her husband, Vincenzo, had planted the first commercial vineyard in the region.

Dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing white shoes, Ely Callaway wasted little time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“He walked up to me and said, ‘My name is Ely Callaway and I’m the CEO of Burlington Industries and I only have two hours to learn all there is to know about the wine business.'”

Fifty years later, much has changed in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula’s Wine Country, a dream of a handful of pioneers five decades ago, has grown in both size and prestige having been named one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast.

Ely Callaway and John Moramarco met on a dirt road in what is now Temecula’s Wine Country when Callaway was looking for property to buy.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1967, Moramarco who descended from a long line of viticulturists had been hired by Brookside Winery of Rancho Cucamonga to come to Rancho California to plant 1,000 acres of grapes. Brookside and the Cilurzos were the first to plant commercial vineyards in the valley.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway asked Moramarco where a good location would be for a winery. Moramarco pointed to the spot where the winery sits today.

In 1968, Callaway bought 150 acres. Soon after, he hired Moramarco away from Brookside to plant grapes and manage the vineyard.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next year, Moramarco planted 105 acres of grapevines, including 40 acres of sauvignon blanc, 40 acres of chenin blanc, and 25 acres of white riesling.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1973, Callaway sold 25 tons of grapes to Robert Mondavi Winery, keeping just enough of his harvest to determine whether he should build a winery in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After heading up giant textile manufacturer Burlington Industries, but being passed over for its chief executive officer position in 1973, Callaway “retired” to Temecula to oversee the vineyard. In January 1974, he began building the winery, with plans to crush and bottle the first Callaway wines that September. Moramarco served as the vineyard’s manager. The first wines were sold in October 1975.

Eli Callaway sold the winery to Hiram Walker & Sons in 1981 and went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

You can find almost every familiar variety in California here, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Merlot. There are also some grapes that aren’t so common, like Vermentino, Falanghina, and Counoise.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red blends are popular including classic styles like Rhône and Bordeaux blends. Grapes that originate in warmer climates, like Sangiovese and Tempranillo, also do well.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rather warm region is cooled by Pacific Ocean wind and fog that sails through the “Rainbow Gap” of the Santa Margarita Mountains. Today, thanks to more than 40 wineries and their multifaceted tasting rooms, the hospitality industry is thriving, with restaurants, hotels, golf courses, breweries, distilleries, and even a casino with a 5-star RV Park.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With great wines and beautiful scenery, Temecula Valley is a fun place to spend a few days or a few weeks in your RV with lots of options for all ages.

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Pechanga Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Here’s how we handle cold weather in our motorhome

A major benefit of the RV lifestyle is the ability to follow good weather.

Diamond Groove RV Park, Spruce Groove, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hide out in the south during the winter and cool off in the north in the summer. Plus, you can enjoy spring and fall for several months as you move in between.

Creekside RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But sometimes you get caught in cold weather due to an early winter or unexpected circumstance. The typical recreational vehicle is not designed for use in the snowy, cold, and icy northern climates. Some RV manufacturers offer a “Polar Package”—don’t believe it, mostly marketing hype. There is not a chance it would keep you cozy warm in any “polar” climate.

Angel Lake RV Resort, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even with the cold weather limitations of most RVs, there are things you can do to reduce heat loss plus items you should have ready just in case.

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is not the scope of this article to address winter-proofing an RV for those who are staying long-term in the cold.

Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most RVs have furnaces, but cranking up the heat is expensive and counter-productive if you are losing too much heat at the same time. Look for ways to reduce this heat loss. Of course, you can pull out the sweaters and sweatshirts during the cold so you don’t have to keep the furnace temperature setting as high.

Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you arrive at your destination, try selecting a site that will receive sun exposure throughout the day, and also offer some type of wind break. Position your RV in such a way that the front or rear—and not the side—receive the force of the wind.

Quail Ridge RV Resort, near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved rt, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Windows are a major heat loss in RVs. The first thing is to lock your windows. That extra latch helps close the seals in the window.

Close the blinds when you don’t need them open for the view or the warming sunshine. If you have curtains or secondary blackout blinds, use them.

The Springs at Borrego Golf and RV Resort, Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use Reflectix bubble foil. It is available from stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, or Home Depot, and comes in rolls. It can be cut to fit into window openings or anywhere you want to add an extra layer of insulation.

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

The foil will reflect the heat back in and the bubbles provide insulating air gaps. It can be used for both cold and heat. When not needed, it rolls back up for easy storage.

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

If you really need to reduce heat loss overnight, bring in your slides. This reduces heat loss from the seals and reduces the exposed surface area. It also reduces the volume of the air inside your RV that needs to be heated. You may wish to retract your slides when dry camping and are trying to keep energy usage to a minimum.

Hidden Lake RV Park, Beaumont, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A goose down duvet is an investment with high returns that’s realized every time you cozily cuddle in bed. A duvet cover is typically purchased separately.

Down is a great natural insulator. It is the very first undercoating of goose feathers. The clusters of down are made of plenty of soft fibers that directly radiate out from the central core of the feather. The structure of down is perfectly created to trap air. For this peculiar characteristic, goose down duvets keeps you suitably warm. It still allows the moisture to escape and is a great product to keep snug yet dry. Goose down duvets is amazingly soft and light.

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

The quality of down duvets is measured by its insulation abilities. The best quality down duvets would have larger clusters of down. Best quality down would be capable to acclimatize according to warmer or cooler atmospheric temperatures. If the thick, fluffy and breathable down can keep the goose so cozy out in the cold, it definitely is a sure winner for you.

Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t need spare blankets for your bed with your down duvet but they add another layer in insulation during your waking hours. You can also hang a light blanket to add an extra layer over the door and the seal around the door.

Palm Springs-Joshua Tree KOA, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clothespins can be used to keep it in place. This especially helps if you need to go in and out the door as a temporary vestibule. More blankets or towels can be used to block any cold drafts.

Keeping warm in our motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fill your fresh water tank and use the pump instead of the city connection. Disconnect the outside supply water hose, drain it, and store it in your water/sewer compartment. Remember to turn on the tank heaters in your RV.

Keeping warm in our motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try to dump your holding tanks during the warmer afternoon since everything is more difficult to work with in a cold morning. Depending on the temperature, you may wish to stow your sewer hose. Using it on an extremely cold morning may result in a cracked sewer hose.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Roy Bean

Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

Exploring the popular north-to-south Snowbird RV travel routes

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the American Northwest and Western Canada tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest and Central Canada flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast and Eastern Canada head for Florida.

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework before you leave. Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

Bellingham (Washington) RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post we discussed keys to planning a successful and stress-free snowbird RV route with tips for traveling the two most popular East Coast routes—Interstates 95 and 75. In today’s post we explore the main routes for snowbird RV travel from the Northwest.

Snowbirds who RV south for the winter from the northwest have a choice of several routes with most opting for I-5 or 1-15 for a major portion of the journey.

La Conner, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main West Coast highway, Interstate 5, runs all the way from the British Columbia-Washington border at the Peace Arch south of Vancouver to southern California. It connects most of the major cities from Seattle and Portland to Los Angeles and San Diego. It largely parallels Highway 101 and California Route 1, or more famously known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

Columbia River RV Park, off I-5 in southern Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two major sight-seeing destinations are only short side trips from Interstate 5 in Washington. Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another interesting side trip from I-5 would be a visit to Mount St. Helens…or what’s left of it, I should say! To me, it was intriguing to see half of a mountain standing in a spot where a WHOLE mountain should have been. You’ll find an attractive visitor’s center in which you may view interpretive exhibits and see a film about the volcanic explosion at Mount St Helens.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joining the intermountain west with the desert southwest, Interstate 15 provides a major link between the interior of Canada, several transcontinental east-west corridors, Southern California, and Mexico. Travelers westbound on Interstates 40, 70 and 80 may easily transition to southbound I-15 to connect to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Between these destinations, I-15 is an extremely busy highway, frequently backing up on holiday weekends in the Mojave Desert.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between San Diego and Temecula, Interstate 15 replaced U.S. 395. U.S. 395 largely still exists today as a busy expressway route from Spokane, Washington south to Reno, Mammoth Lakes and Hesperia.

Ambassador RV Park, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But many RVers ask, “Isn’t there a better route?” That seems to be a common question on RV forums.

Although friends have shared little short-cuts with us (such as leaving I-15 at Dillon and going 41/55 to Whitehall and 69 into Boulder, avoiding the big climb to Butte), the result of our conversations and research have shown few strong alternatives to the I-15.

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its winter, we’re not interested in the icy scenery and we just want to get out of the cold. Getting there is not half the fun. All of this points to the I-15 as the best Snowbird path south from Alberta, Montana, and eastern Idaho.

Snowbirds from the Midwest often use Interstate 35 and a combination of several other interstates and secondary highways to reach their Sunbelt roost.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plotting a route using mapping software or relying exclusively on a GPS generally produces the fastest or shortest route, which isn’t necessarily the best winter driving route for RVs.

7 Feathers Casino RV Resort, off I-5 in Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the weather and road reports. Leave when you have a three-day window of good weather and clear roads. Mountain driving, with its steep grades and hairpin turns, can be scary enough in the summer especially for those accustomed to gunbarrel-straight highways. However, it’s really the ice and snow that are the big concern.

Durango RV Resort in Red Bluff, off I-5 in northern California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you get caught in a winter storm, wait it out and give the road crews time to clear the highway. Drive carefully leaving extra room between vehicles and allow extra time to stop.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the weather looks like it will be getting bad, or becomes terrible overnight, then stay put. Much better to spend an extra day in a campground than in a cold RV stranded on a snow-bound highway.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Finding the unexpected in Bluegrass Country

From our home base at Whispering Hills RV Park, we spent an enjoyable week exploring historic Georgetown and the local area. A generally pleasant campground in a pastoral setting, Whispering Hills RV Park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129 and 7 miles north of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 25.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using our tow-along, we drove several of the scenic back roads including the Buffalo Gals Homemakers Barn Quilt Trail near the small community of Stamping Ground, named for the buffalo herds that waited impatiently to drink from its spring.

Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day, we drove the scenic back roads past immaculate horse farms with manicured fields of bluegrass and miles of white and black plank fencing that are characteristic of central Kentucky. Another distinctive fence is the fieldstone or dry laid stone fencing. Although it’s almost inconceivable, no mortar of any kind was ever used. On this road trip, we ended our scenic drive at Keeneland Race Course, one of the most genteel, beautiful racetracks in the world.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. The first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad, Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture. The railroad running through the middle of the main street with a one-way street on either side of the tracks, creates much of the special charm and appeal of this friendly and quaint town.

Bluegrass Country Thoroughbred Horse Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Historic Midway, we continued onto Versailles, Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum, Wild Turkey Distillery, and Lawrenceburg.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Wild Turkey Distillery 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). The tasting room houses the original copper still from the old Wild Turkey distillery. A delightful tour, led by a well-informed and articulate tour guide.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day and another road trip to Woodford Reserve Distillery. Set amid horse farms, Woodford Reserve was a scenic drive via Historic Midway. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn’s Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Re-opened in 1996, Woodford Reserve gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve bourbon is made much as Pepper’s bourbon was in the 1800s.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our final day we toured Frankfort visiting Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, Kentucky State Capitol and Floral Clock, Old State Capitol, Kentucky Historical Museum, and Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.

Kentucky Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons are bottled and sealed by hand.

Downtown Frankfort with Old State Capitol

The Trace Tour offers a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and begins with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found Georgetown to be the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. We  enjoyed our week but have left numerous attractions for another visit—Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, Danville and Shaker Museum, Ark Encounter, and Toyota Auto Plant Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina

Quite simply, South Carolina has it all, y’all—and the state has delivered to visiting RVers with a friendly southern drawl. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State beckons with a wave that signals everyone’s welcome—come on down.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park.

The Peachoid at Gaffney © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern charm makes Gaffney a desirable place to visit especially if your RV is a motorhome built on a Freightliner chassis. The Freightliner Custom Chassis Factory Service Center offers six service bays, 20 RV electric hookup, and factory-trained technicians. Be sure to visit the factory and see how the custom chassis is produced for the RV market. And the Peachoid, a 135-foot structures that functions as one million gallon water tank, is an iconic landmark that draws attention to one of the area’s major agricultural products.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thoroughbred Country was famous as a winter resort for some of America’s wealthiest families with names such as Goodyear, Whitney, Astor, and Vanderbilt had homes in the town of Aiken. The Winter Colony Historic Districts—90 room “cottages,” roads with equestrian stoplights, beautiful gardens, and a restored late 19th-century inn—recall the town’s golden era.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands city of Sumter, the beautiful black waters of Swan Lake form the setting for the spectacular Iris Gardens. The only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is also home to some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris featuring 120 varieties. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colorful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park showcases the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. An International Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area this 24,000-acre park is located in central South Carolina about 20 miles southeast of Columbia along the north side of the Congaree River. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on foot by using the over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe the Lowcountry and Resort Islands. Picturesque Beaufort charms visitors with historic Southern mansions, tree-lined boulevards, and an oceanside location.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest sea island between New Jersey and Florida, Hilton Head covers 42 square miles of broad beaches, nine marinas, over two dozen championship golf courses, and more tennis courts than any other resort of its size.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near historic Beaufort, four-mile-long Hunting Island is home to dense vegetation and wildlife making it the most natural of the Lowcountry Islands.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1670, Charleston has suffered fires, earthquakes, pirates, a civil war, and a hurricane. Charleston boasts 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings—136 from the late 18th century and more than 600 others built prior to the 1840s. RVers will find numerous Charleston things to do: wander cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques, browse the Old City Market where Gullah basket ladies peddle their wares, and peek at private gardens tucked serenely behind iron gates. House museums and monuments to wealthy Colonial merchants are open to visitors, as are the plantations and gardens that line Ashley River.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic beach resorts at Kiawah Island, Seabrook, Wild Dunes, and Edisto Island offer miles of unspoiled beaches and marshlands. The semi-tropical retreat of Kiawah Island offers 10 miles of undisturbed beaches and five world-renowned golf courses.

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing. Continuing for more than 60 miles along the Atlantic Coast, this string of beach resorts includes such ocean-side communities as Myrtle Beach, considered the Strand’s hub, North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Surfside, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, and Georgetown.

Middleton Place near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Myrtle Beach was founded more than 30 years ago when the communities of Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Ocean Drive, and Cherry Grove united. The historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet has earned the title “seafood capital of South Carolina” because of the fresh seafood drawn from its waters and served at the many restaurants lining the waterfront.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year

For many, snowbirding isn’t just about having fun—it’s about avoiding the miseries of a northern winter. With the challenge of icy roads, shoveling snow, the cold, and being stormbound, is it any wonder so many of us like to escape winter?

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More and more snowbirds are now choosing RVing to the Sunbelt over flying to a rented or owned vacation home. RV snowbirding gives you the freedom to travel to different destinations, to leave and return when you want, and to enjoy the comfort of having your own stuff with you all the time. It’s your vacation home on wheels—how great is that?

Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes. A key aspect of this preparation is making sure your home appears occupied.

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re new to the snowbird lifestyle or an experienced RVer, creating your own customized checklist is a great way to keep track of your seasonal preparations.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? (And how will you get there?)

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

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

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest flock to TexasMississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

Rio Bend Golf and RV Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Clermont Golf and RV Resort, Clermont, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to visit friends or sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

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

Maybe your plan is to head to a single destination, park there, and treat your RV like a cottage; taking day trips and excursions from one home base. Or maybe your plan is to visit several destinations, spending a few weeks or even a month at each. This is ideal if you’re attending festivals and events, or checking off a bucket list, like your top 10 national parks or roadside attractions.

Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Either way, experienced RVers know that your first step—after you’re comfortable driving the RV, of course—should be to plan your route and research your overnight stops.

Pro Tips:

Arizona Oasis RV Park, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be realistic about how many hours you can drive in a day.

Reserve your RV parks in advance, based on your route. This guarantees you’ll have a spot to stop each night.

New Green Acres RV Park, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure the park can accommodate the size of your rig. Plan to get there while it’s still daylight so you can park and set up and have time to relax.

Take holidays and long weekends into account: this will affect availability of camping sites.

Is Rover Roving with You?

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

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

Make sure your dog is trained, fit, and healthy for the type of travel you plan. Take into account the type of transportation, activities, and living situation. Ensure your dog responds to recall and “leave it” commands for everyone’s safety.

Hill Top RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when I hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our home in Alberta, something in my genes starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the motorhome with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.