Groundhog Day: A Break from the Freeze?

Why do we put our faith in these furry little forecasters once a year?

There will be six more weeks of winter, Punxsutawney Phil predicted as he emerged from his burrow this morning to perform his Groundhog Day duties.

It was 30 years ago when the movie Groundhog Day came out, yet it must seem like yesterday for the die-hards who anxiously await this annual prognosticator.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 20,000 visitors gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania—about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburg—as members of Punxsutawney Phil’s inner circle summoned him from his tree stump at dawn to learn if he had seen his shadow, a message they said Phil communicated in groundhogese. After Phil’s prediction was announced, the crowd repeatedly chanted six more weeks!

According to folklore, spring would come early if he didn’t see it.

Winter lovers can rejoice as the legendary Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on this Groundhog Day which means spring won’t be arriving early in 2023. And while it may seem silly to take Phil’s word for it, it turns out the majority of Americans are more likely to trust a rodent than their local meteorologist.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s according to a recent OnePoll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults which reveals that 58 percent agree that whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day determines if there will be six more weeks of winter. Moreover, more than one in four Americans “strongly agree” with this statement. Three in five believe Phil more than meteorologists, hmm.

Since COVID-19 has changed the world so drastically over the last three years, maybe it’s okay to have this one nice thing to enjoy every year—unless you hate winter, too!

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions date back to 1887. Of course, since the average lifespan of a groundhog is about six years, the name is really attached to a monolithic organization of different groundhogs that trot out once a year in Gobbler’s Knob to perform their duty.

In the words of Phil Connors from Harold Ramis’ 1993 movie Groundhog Day, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anyway, Phil did see his shadow this morning—which means he was scared of his shadow and has run back inside his den and pronounced six more weeks of winter.

Punxsutawney Phil may be the most famous groundhog seer but he’s certainly not the only one. Groundhog Day celebrations are major events in other parts of North America.

In Canada, similar celebrations are held with Ontario’s clairvoyant rodent Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, and Quebec’s designated oracle groundhog Fred la Marmotte. Willie is the successor to the original Wiarton Willy who died in 2018.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fred made his prediction in Val-d’Espoir, Quebec, on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula. This Fred is still new to predicting—organizers call him Fred Junior. The previous Fred has retired.

The Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with February 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.

The annual event may have its origin in a German legend about a furry rodent. Some say the tradition can be traced to Greek mythology or it could have started with Candlemas, a Christian custom named for the lighting of candles during the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Scottish couplet summed up the superstition: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, it was a sure sign of an early spring.

However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Canada’s West Coast in British Columbia, they now call on marmots like Van Island Violet who lives on Mount Washington. Like groundhogs, marmots are a type of large ground squirrel. But, like the yellow-bellied marmots of Vernon, Violet tends to be asleep on February 2; therefore, she cannot see her shadow.

This makes sense of course and highlights a danger of asking a groundhog in the first place. More winter just means a sleep-in for the marmots and who doesn’t like to sleep in?

In general, rodents don’t have a great track record when it comes to long-term forecasting.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In his book, The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry, climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities which concluded that there were an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on February 2. During that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.

There are other pseudo Phils: Manitoba’s Merv is a puppet while Alberta’s Balzac Billy is a six-foot tall sunglass wearing mascot who uses his thumb to check for a shadow. Known as the Prairie Prognosticator, the groundhog signals a thumbs down if he sees his shadow or thumbs up for no shadow and an early spring.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg Wyn is a fortune-telling ambassador groundhog at Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Instead of watching to see if Wyn sees her shadow, the rehabilitation centre said it bases its prediction on her behavior which is a more reliable indicator.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it’s about giving us hope or really just celebrating an animal that we don’t celebrate very often, I think it’s wonderful. And, if it gets people outside for just a few minutes then that’s awesome!

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

Winter 2022-23: 10 Best Things to Do in America

While summer gets all the popular attention—sun, sand, sea, surf, and so on—it’s safe to say that winter is underrated

From fishing and camping to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 10 best things to do in the US this winter. Your RV bucket list just got (a lot) longer.

The best things to do this winter include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-trued staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this winter.

Daytona Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cruise the Atlantic Coast of Florida

Location: Jacksonville to Key West, Florida

Stretching along Florida’s Atlantic Coast from Fernandina Beach to Key West is the iconic A1A highway. The famous route passes through historic towns like St. Augustine before making its way through hotspots like Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Then, stay a few days in Miami before continuing south on the Overseas Highway, a scenic 130-mile stretch of roadway connecting Key Largo to Key West in the Florida Keys.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Discover Outer Space at Kennedy Space Center

Location: Kennedy Space Center Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

Visiting Kennedy Space Center allows you to live out the dream of being an astronaut. You can see the space shuttle Atlantis, meet an astronaut, and watch a space movie in the IMAX movie theater. For true space travel enthusiasts, consider booking one of the add-on enhancements such as the Special Interest Bus Tour or the Astronaut Training Experience. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Wander through Mount Dora

Location: Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

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

4. Feel the warm desert air in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Location: Ajo, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake. The park lies near Ajo, 43 miles south of Gila Bend on Interstate 8. This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fish and camp at Goose Island State Park

Location: Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot-long fishing pier. Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sample the South in Savannah’s Historic District

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Few US city centers match the charm and style of Savannah’s Historic District. Every corner reveals an 18th-century home somehow more picturesque than the last. The area is perfect for strolling aimlessly and stopping for treats (and shade) along the way. Wander down River Street to sample the famous southern pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen or indulge in a Bourbon Pecan Pie martini at Jen’s & Friends. If you’re somehow still hungry, choose from over 100 eclectic restaurants. Then, burn it all off by dancing the night away in Savannah’s buzzing nightlife scene. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Experience the magic of the Sonoran Desert at Usery Mountain Regional Park

Location: Mesa, Arizona

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

>> Get more tips for visiting Usery Mountain Regional Park

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience the quaint, seaside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Location: Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

It’s no secret that the farther west you travel along the Mississippi coast, the stronger you’ll hear the call of New Orleans. Once you hit the waterfront in Old Town Bay St. Louis, you might as well be in the French Quarter. Many locals here have New Orleans roots and this little burg is all about letting those bons temps rouler. Its artsy, funky, and quirky yet still peaceful and relaxing, with the unhurried, y’all-come-on-in attitude of a small Southern town: NOLA, meets Mayberry.

In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living MagazineBudget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Fairhope, Alabama

Location: Fairhope, Alabama

Wiry trees draped with Spanish moss frame pastel-painted bungalows in this small Alabama town. Fairhope is perched atop bluffs overlooking Mobile Bay. You can bike oak-lined sidewalks, watch watercolor sunsets, and browse inspiring shops including Page & Palette bookstore and other businesses in the town’s French Quarter near the water.

Explore the piers and meander the parks and beaches—if you’re lucky, you’ll witness the summer jubilee when sea creatures wash up on the beaches by the bucketful. Once you watch a sunset from the Tiki Bar at the American Legion Post 199, you’ll understand Fairhope nostalgia and wonder why anybody would want to live anywhere else.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Discover the Crawfish Capital of the World

Location: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

A tiny bayou town just a short hop from Lafayette, Breaux Bridge is not only the “Crawfish Capital of the World” per the Louisiana legislature but lays claim to having invented crawfish etouffee. It’s in the heart of Acadian Louisiana with all the fantastic food and music that entails. Cajun dancers have been two-stepping and waltzing around the beautiful old dance floor at La Poussiere since 1955. On Saturdays, Café des Amis serves a Zydeco breakfast with live music downtown.

Breaux Bridge is one cool little Louisiana town where locally-owned shops, Cajun eateries, French music, bayou country, and crawfish all come together. The walkable downtown hub is studded with antique shops, restaurants, and homey cafes. And if you love fishing and boating, you’ll be right at home thanks to the town’s quick access to Lake Martin. For art lovers on a budget, the Teche Center for the Arts has regularly scheduled workshops and musical programming that typically clock in under $10.

>> Get more tips for visiting Breaux Bridge

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

State parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your own backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Furthermore, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, which bode well for overnight guests.

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

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

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

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

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

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

White-sand beaches might not be what comes to mind when you think of Alabama but a visit to Gulf State Park might change your perspective. From the Gulf Coast’s sugar-sand shores, you can kayak, bike (28 miles of trails), swim, bike (rentals available), play pickleball or volleyball, or do absolutely nothing.

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full – hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. All full hookup camping pads are large enough for RVs with pullouts and have picnic tables and pedestal grill tops. There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the Campground.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.

Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.

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

There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds that are free but offer few amenities, and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.

Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Myakka River State Park

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitats for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks. 

Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through the hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine Flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.  

The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition, primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (west of Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park.

The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge, was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. Fish from the shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries. In 1969, it was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak.

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. The park also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Cerulean Warbler at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Falcon State Park, Texas

Falcon State Park provides refuge from the cold for both humans and wildlife. But that’s not its only draw. Anglers come here to access one of the best freshwater fishing lakes in South Texas.

At Falcon State Park you can fish, swim, camp, bird watch, water ski, boat, geocache, hike, or just relax and enjoy the mild climate. Anglers mainly catch largemouth bass and channel catfish here. Bird-watch along the lakeshore and in the brushy areas away from shore. Besides the common bird species of the American Southwest, many tropical species also visit the park. Explore 2.8 miles of trails, visit the recreation hall for a snack or domino game, or rent the hall for a family gathering.

Greater roadrunner at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay at a campsite, shelter, or cabin. Falcon offers pull-through campsites, half with water and electricity, and half with full hookups. The water-only sites are non-reservable.

31 full hookup campsites with 30/50 amp electric (sites # 201-231) are available in the Cactus Loop. 31 sites with 30/50 amp electric and water (sites # 101-131) are available in the Cenizo Loop. 36 sites with water (sites # 43-79) are available in the Javalina. Other amenities vary by loop and may include a covered picnic table, fire ring, barbecue pit, and waist-high grill.

Or choose a screened shelter or cabin.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, Utah’s newer state park is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle. A favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, Sand Mountain provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

Sand Hollow offers three campground areas ranging from full hookups to standard camping. Camp in the full hookup Westside  Campground or stay close to the action and ride your OHV from your site to the dunes in the new Sandspit Campground. Choose from 43 full hookup sites, 17 standard sites including six with partial hookups, and 60 camp-vehicle primitive sites.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Winter Isn’t For These Birds

Are you dreaming of a snowless destination for the winter?

Winter is for the birds. Do you find yourself repeating this throughout the snow-filled colder months? Or perhaps, some other version of this sentiment that isn’t exactly appropriate for publication?

Winter is a wonderful and beautiful time of year in Canada and the northern states but this season’s charms aren’t for everybody. Freezing temperatures, an abundance of snow, and icy conditions soon have many people dreaming of warmer climes. Many northerners like to temporarily trade in their winter gear for shorts and sandals with a winter getaway to a sunny destination. But this plan only provides some temporary relief until one needs to come back home to frigid reality.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular solution is to skip winter altogether by RVing to a warmer location until spring. People who follow this plan are often referred to as snowbirds. Many snowbirds migrate from the northern United States but numerous Canadian snowbirds also make the move. The word has been used in its popular context since the 1980s to mark the trend of retirees flocking south for the winter.

While this lifestyle has long been most suited to seniors, the increasing popularity of remote work options has opened up opportunities for people from all demographics to become snowbirds. They can be found all across the southern states but their most popular destinations are Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond these popular destinations, more and more snowbirds have been choosing other states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. Generally, these states offer much milder winters than a snowbird’s home state allowing migrating active adults to avoid frigid temperatures and precipitation.

There are many reasons that people choose to travel to warmer locations for the winter. Personal preference is often a big factor but choosing to be snowbirds can significantly improve the quality of life for those with health conditions or mobility issues.

Corpus Christi sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many of us, things like shovelling snow, dealing with icy conditions, and freezing temperatures are simply some of the less enjoyable aspects of winter. These facets of winter living can keep a person housebound and isolated for those dealing with certain health conditions and/or mobility issues.

We know what snowbirds do best: RV south. There are tons of incredible destinations all over the U.S. that are sunny, beautiful, and certainly not frozen over in the winter. Here are some great destinations for northern snowbirds and why they’re so appealing.

Phoenix as seen from the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix, Arizona

Some reasons you’ll love Pheonix in the winter include the incredible hiking and biking, shopping and live music, time spent in the mountains, excellent opportunities to golf on beautiful courses, the gorgeous desert with blooming wildflowers, warm weather all year, and tons of fantastic RV parks. Phoenix has more than 300 days of sunshine each year and you will instantly forget that winter is ever a thing.

>> Get more tips for visiting Phoenix

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Visiting the desert in winter means idyllic weather. You can expect temperatures over 70 degrees so pack your warm-weather clothing. With its abundance of golf courses, spas, shopping, and upscale dining, Palm Springs is a fantastic option to wait out the colder months. The warm, desert heat is perfect for those looking to escape the snow and there are many luxury RV resorts full of amenities. If you’re looking for the perfect place to park your RV this winter, Palm Springs might be it.

>> Get more tips for visiting Palm Springs

Near Fort Myers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Myers, Florida

A snowbird’s destination list wouldn’t be complete without the Sunshine State. Just about anywhere in Florida could be considered a good destination for snowbirds, but some areas are more popular than others.

Fort Myers has various activities and experiences for all different interests. You can take a fishing charter out before sunrise and make it back in time to soak up the last of the afternoon rays on Estero Island. Spend your days traversing the shops and avenues or stay beachside with clear water views and seaside restaurants. There are plenty of museums for history buffs and national baseball tournaments for athletes and fans.

Texas State Aquarium at Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gulf Coast of Texas

If you have yet to consider the Texas Gulf Coast the ideal snowbird destination, you need to add it to your list. There is a 350-mile-long stretch of sandy beaches and unique places to visit along the whole thing. Kick your feet up and relax on South Padre Island, stroll along Galveston‘s seawall to its one-of-a-kind Pleasure Pier, or explore Corpus Christi‘s fascinating museums.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Gulf Coast

Lesser know snowbird destinations

Increasingly, more and more RV travelers are seeking alternative snowbird destinations in their quest to escape the winter cold. If you’d love to spend some time in a milder climate or are just dreaming of new experiences and the usual hot spots don’t entice you, you might be intrigued by one of these six unexpected snowbird destinations.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Full of history, architecture, gardens, and art, Savannah, Georgia, is a fantastic place to spend the winter. Wander the historic squares and see the preserved buildings and cultivated gardens or explore the local restaurants and shops. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Signage near Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Vegas, Nevada

For those who love dining and nightlife, Las Vegas can’t be beaten. The temperature stays warm throughout winter and with endless restaurants, shows, and shopping options, there’s always plenty to do. Nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Lake Mead National Recreation Area provide hiking for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Golfing at Hurricane near St. George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. George, Utah

Think Utah winters are all about cold weather and snow-capped mountain peaks? Think again. The desert city of St. George in the southwestern corner of the state (aka Utah Dixie), is closer in climate (and distance) to Las Vegas than to the ski resorts in northern Utah. St. George has been a snowbird destination for decades but it’s becoming more popular as the city grows. And it’s not hard to see why: Sunny over 300 days a year on average with winter temperatures in the 50s and 60s and relatively little precipitation. Plus it’s close proximity to Zion National Park!

Main Street Downtown La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces, New Mexico

While New Mexico might not immediately come to mind when you’re deciding where to spend the winter months, the southern part of the state has a lot to offer. With sweeping views of both the desert and rugged mountains and mild temperatures in the 50s and 60s, Las Cruces is an up-and-coming destination for snowbirds. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Las Cruces

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Florida isn’t the only state where snowbirds can relax on the beach. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, gives visitors easy access to the ocean with fewer crowds. There are plenty of options for shopping, fishing, golf, and, of course, a sandy beach. Myrtle Beach is a fantastic place to spend the winter months on the East Coast. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island lies in southern Georgia on the Atlantic. With its mild weather, you can golf year-round here. It’s also a sought-after location for snowbirds who like to explore nature, birdwatch, and beachcomb. In addition, there’s a sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island.

>> Get more tips for visiting Jekyll Island

Worth Pondering…

One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.

—Dennis Franz

21 Arizona RV Parks You Must Visit

Explore this guide to find some of the best places to camp in Arizona

The state of Arizona is an ideal destination for anyone who loves to travel and camp with an RV. Known as the Grand Canyon State, Arizona is famous for its low amount of rainfall, stunning natural scenery, and plenty of sunshine. Temperatures stay relatively warm throughout most of the year, even in January and February making the state a prime escape from the winter weather elsewhere.

A key factor in planning an RV road trip is selecting RV campgrounds. Choices for RV parks include public campgrounds, luxurious RV resorts, activity-filled family destinations, 55+ parks, secluded natural settings, and basic parks conveniently located for an overnight stay. The quality varies from budget to high-end resorts. And prices also run the gamut.

Here are my top 21 picks for Arizona RV parks, campgrounds, and resorts.

Vista del Sol RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vista Del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City

This area needed a new 5-star RV resort and in November 2015 a new Roberts resort opened with paved streets. The 88-wide concrete sites are terraced both back-ins and pull-ins in the 65-foot range with paved sites and patios.

The pull-in sites face the west-northwest with views of the hills and mountains as well as Bullhead City, Laughlin, and the Colorado River. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are conveniently located. Resort services include Wi-Fi, two pools, one spa, a fitness room, a billiards/game room, daily activities, Doggie Park, gated entry, and a clubhouse with a commercial kitchen and serving area for groups. Within this gated 55+ community, one can also purchase a 400 sq. ft. model home or a manufactured home in varied sizes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.

The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park

Eagle View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle View RV Resort at Fort McDowell, Fort McDowell

Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings, and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library.

If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.

Canyon Vista RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon

Canyon Vistas RV Resort is nestled at the base of the Superstition Mountains in the Gold Canyon area southeast of Phoenix. Here you’re beyond the noise and congestion of the city, yet minutes from shopping and entertainment. Enjoy a morning walk or bike ride amid a stately hundred-year-old Saguaro cactus or keep in shape at the state-of-the-art Fitness Center.

Meet your friends for a round of golf at the pitch and putt course followed by a cool drink on the covered veranda. Go hiking, boating, and horseback riding in the nearby mountains. Other amenities include ceramics, wood carving, lapidary, pickleball, computer lab and classes, quilting and sewing room, pools and spas, tennis courts, and a pet area.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams

Set in the mountain community of Williams—Gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is the ideal place to unwind and relax. The park has three types of RV spaces: select from pull-through, buddy spaces, or back-in sites. All spaces are 50-amp and large enough for big rigs. Each space comes with high-definition digital TV provided by DirecTV, wireless Internet, and access to the indoor swimming pool and hot tub at the adjacent Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. The property has coin-operated laundry machines and a common picnic area with gas grills and a fire pit.

Take the historic train from Williams into Grand Canyon National Park. Adjacent to the historic train depot, Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is just two blocks away from Route 66 and downtown Williams.

Arizona Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Oasis Resort, Ehrenburg

Located on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona Oasis RV Resort is a perfect RV park getaway spot. Just across the state line from Blythe, California, Arizona Oasis is just 20 minutes from Quartzsite. Big-rig friendly the resort has over 150 RV sites on or near the Colorado River. The gated resort offers 50/30 amp service, water and sewer hookups, full-through and back-in sites, 1,000 feet of Colorado River beach, a boat launch, heated pools and a spa, a dog park, free Wi-Fi, and a clubhouse. 

Tucson/Lazydays KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson/Lazydays KOA, Tucson

Tucson/Lazydays KOA Resort features citrus trees throughout the park and offers pull-through RV Sites with full 30/50-amp hookups, grassy luxury sites, and new RV sites with a patio and fireplace. Whether you want to relax by one of the two pools, soak in the hot tubs, play a round on the nine-hole putting green, or join in the activities, this park has something for everyone to enjoy.

Two solar shade structures allow guests to camp under a patented structure that produces solar energy. The structures shade more than two acres of the campground giving visitors room to park RVs on 30 covered sites. Lazydays, a full-service RV dealership with a service department is located next door. Other campground amenities include a bar and grill, meeting rooms, fitness center, three off-leash dog parks, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Butterfield RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory, Benson

A 5-star park, Butterfield RV Resort, and Observatory is a 55+ park with pull-through and back-in sites. Our back-in site (#120) is 55 feet in length and over 30 feet in width. 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are located near the rear of the site. The park is clean and well-maintained. Interior roads are asphalt; back-in sites are gravel with pull-through sites asphalt. The park is easy-on easy-off (I-10 at Exit 304, south one-half mile on Ocotillo Avenue) and is conveniently located immediately behind Safeway and near downtown. The highest-rated park in Benson we’re pleased with Butterfield and would return.

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort, Casa Grande

All RV sites at Palm Creek are back-ins with a minimum of 50 feet in length and 40 feet in width. All sites come equipped with patio pads and full hookups, including 50-amp electric service, cable TV, water, sewer, and Wi-Fi service. Amenities include a championship Par-3 golf course, 4 swimming pools, Jacuzzi tubs, an on-site bistro, pickleball, and tennis courts, lawn bowling, a softball field, a fitness center, a ballroom, 4 laundry facilities, and 9 dog parks.

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort, Yuma

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis RV Resort is a 55+ park with 460 full-service sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70-foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a heated pool, hot tub, horseshoes, recreation hall, game room, planned activities, shuffleboard, exercise room, pickle ball courts, and mini golf.

Sonoran Desert RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoran Desert RV Park, Gila Bend

After a day of rolling through the dramatic and diverse Sonoran Desert, you can roll your rig right into this oasis in the desert. It’s so convenient with the easy-on/easy-off access from both I-8 and SR-85. Formerly, Gila Bend KOA, the campground was built for RVers by RVers and it shows! You’ll find roomy, 100-foot full-hookup pull-through sites throughout the park—all big rig friendly.

Relax by the heated pool or just soak up the desert views and dark evening skies from your site. Fido will love the 4,000-square-foot Canine Corral with three separate corrals (two with grassy areas). Amenities include Wi-Fi throughout the park, a laundry facility, a putting green, a heated pool, and a recreation hall Ranch House with a 2,500 sq. ft. veranda that’s perfect for savoring a brilliant sunset at day’s end. 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Eloy

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.

The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RVs and/or tents. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restrooms/showers, a fitness room, laundry facilities, a recreation room, a library lounge, a pool and spa, and a dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, and Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Usery Mountain Regional Park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction

Lost Dutchman State Park is your gateway to amazing Sonoran Desert experiences and memories. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains on Apache Trail (SR-88), 5 miles northeast of Apache Junction.

The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome. Five camping cabins are situated perfectly so visitors can take advantage of both the sunrise and sunset right from the porch.

Leaf Verde RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf Verde RV Resort, Buckeye

Leaf Verde RV Resort offers spacious back-in and pull-through RV sites with full hookups including 20/30/50-amp electric service. Enjoy gravel pads with concrete patios, complimentary Wi-Fi to keep you connected, and a picnic table for your outdoor enjoyment. Other amenities include a swimming pool, shuffleboard, game room, clubhouse, pet area, laundry facilities, restroom, and shower facilities. Located in the West Valley off Interstate 10 at Exit 114.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Waddell

Nearly 30,000 acres make this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valley’s west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for RV camping. Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and all offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and a nearby dump station. All restrooms

Destiny RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destiny RV Resort, Goodyear

A walled and gated community, Phoenix Destiny RV Resort offers 20/30/50-amp service on every site, a heated pool and spa, fitness center, laundry facility, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, pickleball courts, putting green, billiard room, and fenced-in pet areas and a shaded turf dog run. The RV resort is clean, well-maintained, and attractively landscaped with an abundance of citrus and other trees and shrubs. Interior roads and sites are asphalt; the picnic table is conveniently located on concrete. Destiny offers a quiet, peaceful, and friendly atmosphere with easy access to I-10 (Exit 123; Citrus Road). Our pull-through site (#263) is in the 55-foot range.

Blake Ranch RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blake Ranch RV Park and Horse Motel, Kingman

Easy-on easy-off (I-40, Exit 151), Blake Ranch RV Park is a convenient location to overnight and for a longer stay to explore the area. The RV park offers long and wide and level pull-through and back-in sites with 30/50 electric, water, sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Amenities include a park store, private showers and bathrooms, laundry facilities, a dog run, a recreation room, and a horse motel. There’s plenty to do and see in the area. The park is 12 miles east of Kingman and Historic Route 66 and the ghost towns of Chloride and Oatman are easy day trips.

Twin Peaks Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Stop by Twin Peaks Campground, and you’ll feast your eyes on a fantastic collection of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert as well as some stunning vistas. You’ll find a showcase of nature’s creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this region. Thirty-one species of cactus have mastered the art of living in this place including the park’s namesake and the giant saguaro. The location comes with a 360-degree view of gorgeous desert scenery including a broad valley to the south and small hills to the north and west, all packed with huge cacti. It is a perfect setting for colorful sunrises and sunsets.

The main campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Twin Peaks Campground is a sprawling outfit that boasts 208 sites. January through March is the peak season for the campground and reservations are required. Sites don’t offer hookups (but do allow generators) but with all the spectacular scenery, you won’t miss that convenience at all.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino and a short distance from Montezuma Castle National Monument. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level.

The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Tucson Is For the Birds and Birders

The Tucson area has so many excellent bird-watching spots that I can’t list them all but here are a few favorites to get you started

Tucson, Arizona, isn’t just a haven for snowbirds. It also is known as a birdwatcher’s and nature lover’s paradise.

Tucson is for the birds, or maybe better said, Tucson is for birders. With the area’s desert, mountains, forests, mild winters, and proximity to tropical Mexico, sightings of more than 500 species of birds have been recorded.

Mexican jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a surprising diversity of birds here, thanks to what Tucson Audubon calls a perfect storm: varied elevations; generally mild climate; Sky Island ranges linking the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Madre; influences from Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan deserts; migratory flyways; and tropical areas south of the border.

I enjoy capturing photos of everything from butterflies and dragonflies to reptiles and mammals and that includes birds. As a person who likes being out in nature and one who appreciates observing and photographing wildlife, here are five of my favorite nature spotting and birding locations in and near Tucson.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is located in northeast Tucson at 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road. This picturesque canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of Coronado National Forest, is one of the premier natural areas in southern Arizona. Although no private vehicles are permitted in the canyon, a tram service is available. Visitors can take an enjoyable and educational 45-minute, 3.8-mile narrated tram ride through the canyon. Trams stop at several trailheads, providing access to 30 miles of trails throughout the canyon.

Vermilion flycatcher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the wide variety of mammals in the canyon, birders might spot vermilion flycatchers, pyrrhuloxias, gray hawks, western tanagers, phainopeplas, and peregrine falcons.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Many folks picture the saguaro cactus (the largest cactus in the United States) when they think of Tucson. One great place to see a vast collection of these majestic plants is another of my favorite spots, Saguaro National Park which actually is two parks in one. One district lies east of Tucson (Rincon Mountain District) and the other is to the west (Tucson Mountain District); approximately 30 miles separate them. Both have well-maintained roads and numerous hiking trails. Note that vehicles more than 8 feet wide and trailers longer than 35 feet are not permitted on Cactus Forest Drive (east park) or Bajada Loop Drive (west).

Gambel’s quail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each of the districts has distinctive characteristics. The west park has the greatest number of saguaro cacti, as well as an ancient petroglyph site. Visitors may spot birds and other wildlife in both parks. Keep your eyes open for the distinctive Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpecker, American kestrel, northern goshawk, and cactus wren, among many other species.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park 

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area and Saguaro National Park West. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Mexican gray wolf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum 

On my “must visit list” is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at 2021 N. Kinney Road in Tucson (adjacent to Saguaro National Park West and Tucson Mountain Park). The gardens at the museum have walking paths through a vibrant Sonoran Desert ecosystem that is home to native plants, butterflies, and birds. The museum also has natural enclosures (not traditional zoo enclosures) with mountain lions, bobcats, Mexican gray wolves, gray foxes, and other mammals native to the area, plus a free-flight bird aviary and a hummingbird aviary.

Raptor free flight demonstration © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A highlight of this is the raptor free-flight demonstration which provides an up-close look at hawks, falcons, and owls native to this part of Arizona. It was such an amazing display and photo opportunity that you plan to return a second day to take more photos.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

The fifth location is widely known among birders—Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest and the Santa Rita Lodge. Madera Canyon lies south of Tucson in the Santa Rita Mountains. Santa Rita Lodge (located at 1218 S. Madera Canyon Road in Madera Canyon) offers overnight accommodations, as the name would suggest, but it also has a bird feeding area that is open to the public. Free parking is available for those visiting the viewing area which has limited seating and is wheelchair accessible.

Birding at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, you can view and photograph a wide variety of birds in a natural setting. A telephoto lens in the 400mm to 500mm range works well. Among the wide variety of birds attracted to the area are the yellow-eyed junco, flame-colored tanager, painted redstart, Mexican jay, crescent-chested warbler, and 15 species of hummingbirds. You might also get a glimpse of an elegant trogon, a prized sighting for birders in southern Arizona.

Coronado National Forest offers several trails in the area with limited parking at the trailheads.

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

Tucson boasts a wide array of natural and man-made attractions with something to interest everyone, including those who enjoy getting outdoors in nature. It is a renowned birding destination for visitors from far and near. It also is popular among snowbirds and other RVers, and RV campgrounds and resorts abound in the area.

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

As mentioned earlier, the Tucson area has so many excellent bird-watching spots that I can’t list them all. In addition to the five birding locations listed above, you may wish to explore the following:

  • Tohono Chul
  • Tucson Botanical Gardens
  • Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
  • San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
  • Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
  • Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
  • Ramsey Canyon

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

Swim with the Manatees of Florida’s Crystal River

Meet a manatee

Every year, tourists from around the world flock to Crystal River. A brief drive through the charming Citrus County hamlet provides a hint as to why: You’ll find manatee-shaped mailboxes, manatee placards on the streetlights, manatee statues, and murals. The city’s logo, a smiling sea cow, is festooned upon a water tower downtown.

Citrus County is revered as the manatee capital of the world and rightfully so. Only in the waters of Citrus County are you able to legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. Home to roughly 3,000 people, Crystal River is located 80 miles north of Tampa. For snowbirds looking for a magical getaway, this is the perfect place to get up close with these gentle creatures.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much like other mammals (humans included), at the first sign of winter, manatees seek out a warm locale to wait out winter’s wrath. For West Indian manatees, their go-to spot is Crystal River, Florida.

For generations, West Indian manatees (also known by their subspecies, Florida manatees) have been following the same migratory pattern from as far north as New England to this stretch of warm water located 85 miles northwest of Orlando and several miles inland from Crystal Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This is where these herbivores will stay from roughly November through March spending much of their time munching on sea grass and other shoreline vegetation (they’ll consume as much as 10 percent of their body weight a day amounting to between 100 and 300 pounds of vegetation) while floating languidly in the warm waters of Crystal River and Kings Bay which average 72 degrees thanks to their shallow nature (manatees can’t tolerate water temperatures when they dip below 68 degrees).

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crystal River area is considered the largest natural winter refuge in the world for manatees and is comprised of 70 springs including Three Sisters Springs where between 400 and 500 manatees have been sighted during the winter in recent years thanks to its ample vegetation and temperate waters.

Because of their calm demeanor and sheer cuteness—they’re a distant relative to elephants—seeing one of these gentle giants in the wild has become a bucket-list item for people around the world. But because they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers them a threatened species (there are about 6,300 manatees in Florida today a significant increase from 1,267 in 1991). Citrus County is the only place in the United States where people can legally swim with wild manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are manatees friendly to humans?

The manatee is the world’s most humble creature. They don’t know any form of aggression. They have no natural predators and no prey. They don’t even compete for resources.

Manatees are completely vegan subsisting on a diet of aquatic vegetation. They need to consume 10-20 percent of their body weight in wet vegetation every single day to keep their body temperature regulated. For an animal that weighs 1,000 pounds on average—that is a lot of food!

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They aren’t picky eaters; they will munch and crunch on any kind of grass, leaves, and even sweet potatoes if they can access them. Their most nutritious food sources are in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico where grasses grow in abundance and variety. In Kings Bay, they feast on the native Eelgrass which has been planted by our Grass Restoration Project to the tune of about 17 million dollars. Each acre of planted grass can support about 40,000 fish and 50 million small animals and it provides a necessary food source for our manatees.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kings Bay, Crystal River, and Three Sisters Springs region

Three Sisters Springs gets all the attention and for good reason. It’s gorgeous: A rare freshwater spring that has never been developed as a swimming hole or park still features natural lush vegetation around its vivid and clear turquoise waters. And it’s popular with manatees as well as people.

But the Three Sisters Springs group represents just three of the 70 springs within the 600-acre bay. The Fish and Wildlife Service has maps that show areas that are off-limits to boats because manatees congregate there and those maps indicate a half dozen other manatee refuge zones in addition to Three Sisters.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two other areas are popular with swim-with-manatee outfitters and kayakers exploring on their own:

  • Adjacent to a mangrove-filled Banana Island in Kings Bay is Kings Spring, the largest and original spring that prompted the creation of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in 1983. In the winter, manatees congregate here and boats—but not swimmers—are barred from Kings Spring.
  • Not far north of Three Sisters Spring, Hunter Spring City Park is the most popular place to put in kayaks and is close to Jurassic, House, and Hunter springs, all of which attract manatees as well as people who want to swim with manatees.
Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River is a year round home for the manatee

But, this isn’t what makes Crystal River so special. Crystal River didn’t earn its designation as Home of the Manatee from the ones that visit in the winter. That’s right! Crystal River is uniquely the only place in Florida that has a consistent year-round population of 50-60 manatees that decided to become permanent residents. No matter the day of the year, you are almost guaranteed to see a manatee in the Crystal River National Wildlife refuge. Visiting before the season is a great way to get close to these creatures while avoiding the crowds.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why do manatees love Crystal River?

The life of a manatee is pretty consistent—they sleep, eat, and repeat! Because of this, Crystal River is just perfect for them. For instance, there are a lot of quiet secluded backcountry for these solitary animals to rest, plenty of fresh water for them to drink, and plenty of food here to feed their humongous appetite.

Manatees are always on the food search. They graze about 8–10 hours a day consuming about 10 percent of their body weight daily. Weighing in at about 1,500 pounds, your average manatee consumes about 150 pounds of grass a day! That’s what I call a HEALTHY appetite!

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meet a manatee

There are plenty of ways for anyone to see manatees from swimming with manatees to kayaking and stand up paddle-boarding and boat tours to visiting the incredible fully accessible boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs Refuge in Crystal River and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa.

However you choose to meet a manatee, remember to keep calm, enjoy the moment, and don’t be surprised if meeting a manatee changes your life.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All swimmers on manatee tours learn their manatee manners before ever getting in the water.

Find a tour group that takes a conservation-minded approach. Explorida is a company that starts each swim session with a lesson. These animals are protected by federal law and harassing or harming them can mean hefty fines and jail time. They emphasize the art of passive observation which involves quietly enjoying the animals from a distance. If manatees want to venture closer and touch you that would be fine but initiating contact is a big no-no.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the short boat ride, your in-water guide offers tips such as the following:

Manatees will be able to feel you coming thanks to the tiny hairs that cover their body. They are curious and friendly and generally don’t mind respectful humans. To keep them comfortable, it’s best to avoid loud noises or splashing. In other words, stay still and act like a manatee.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To spot manatees from the boat first look for a mound of bubbles. Then a whiskered nose will emerge from the water—the tip of the manatee iceberg. If the water is clear, you’ll see the round silhouette of the rest of its body under the surface.

The sleeping sea cow will hover in a cloud of bubbles. Every few minutes she/he will float to the surface to inhale before sinking back down. Small catfish may swirl around her. She won’t mind them or a group coming close to watch.

This process will be repeated several times. Find a manatee and get a peek into its morning routine.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other things to do in Crystal River

There is more in Crystal River than manatees. Here are a few other ideas:

Crystal River Archaeological State Park: An ancient Native American ceremonial site located in a beautiful setting overlooking the wide Crystal River. The mounds here are surprisingly impressive but little is known about the people who built them starting 2,500 years ago. A small museum has interesting artifacts and the picnic tables along the water are a great place to relax. Located at 3400 N Museum Point, Crystal River.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River Preserve State Park: Located adjacent to the archaeological park, it has several trails with forest, marsh, and water views. Located at 3266 N. Sailboat Ave., Crystal River.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: 15 minutes south of Crystal River, you can see manatees every day via the park’s underwater observatory of its resident manatee population. Visitors start a visit on a pontoon boat ride down Pepper Creek to the wildlife park where you also see Florida panthers, bears, bobcats, deer, alligators, and a wide variety of birds. In winter, the gates into the first-magnitude spring are opened, and wild manatee flock to the warmer waters. On cold days, you may see dozens of wild manatees. The park has many attractions and charges an adult admission of $13. Children aged 6-13 are $5.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to camp near Crystal River

Here are a few RV parks and campgrounds throughout Citrus County to consider for your trip:

  • Rock Crusher Canyon RV Resort: A beautifully landscaped campground with a swimming pool, playground, fenced-in dog run, and a clubhouse for activities. Rock Crusher offers full hookups with 30- or 50- amp electric which can accommodate up to 40 feet RVs with plenty of room for slide-outs. All sites offer back-in and pull-through availability. They also have elite sites which include beautiful brick paver pads and a shed for extra storage.
  • Crystal Isles RV Resort: An Encore RV resort, this park offers numerous amenities including a pool, waterfront sites, and on-site laundry. Rent a boat, catch a fish in local streams, or visit nearby King’s Bay to swim with a manatee.
  • Rousseau RV Resort: Situated on 15 acres shaded by majestic, ancient live oak and cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, many of the sites are generous and big rigs are welcome.  All sites are full hookups with 30-amp and 50-amp service. 
  • Nature’s Resort: Situated on the Homosassa River, this 97-acre resort offers RV sites and also cabin rentals. There’s a swimming pool, game room, and access to the Gulf for fishing and boating.
Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

A full-grown manatee which can weigh more than 1,000 pounds looks like the result of a genetic experiment involving a walrus and the Goodyear Blimp.

—Dave Barry

What is the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch?

Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park welcoming hikers, runners, bikers, horseback riders, wildlife watchers, and casual strollers

Gilbert, Arizona is located 17 southeast of Phoenix and offers a wide variety of activities but one of its biggest attractions is also one of its most natural: the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert was developed in 1999 to provide a combination of three functions: a recreational and educational area, a facility for water reclamation, and a wildlife habitat.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Riparian Preserve is easy to access and enjoy with 4.5 miles of trails both paved and unpaved for walking, biking, hiking, or horseback riding. Plus, it’s pet-friendly so you can bring your beloved pooch along as long as it’s cool enough for them (tip: if you’re visiting Gilbert during the summer you’ll want to visit the preserve in the early morning or later at night to avoid dangerous levels of heat).

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational & Educational Area

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert offers a multitude of recreational and educational opportunities for all ages. There are over four and a half miles of trails throughout with several interpretive education panels on vegetation and wildlife along the walkways. Other educational spaces include a hilltop outdoor classroom, dinosaur dig site, a state-of-the-art observatory, and hummingbird plus butterfly gardens, to name a few. The Gilbert Trail System connects with the Preserve’s trails which allows for hikers, casual walkers, leashed and behaved dogs, also horses on specific equestrian trails.

Related article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

There are seating and viewing areas along the Preserve’s paths. Restrooms and drinking fountains are also onsite. Several ramadas and campsites for group gatherings are available by reservation.

Another huge recreational benefit offered is the Water Ranch Lake for fishing. As a part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Community Fishing Program, those looking to fish for rainbow trout, sunfish, largemouth bass, and farm-raised channel catfish can do so with a proper fishing license.

Northern shoveler at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water Reclamation Facility

Seventy acres of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch’s 110 total acres comprises seven water recharge basins for 100 percent of Gilbert’s treated effluent water each filled on a rotating basis. For those of you, like me, who feel compelled to Google the word effluent to get a better understanding of its meaning this is for you. Per Wikipedia, “Effluent is an outflowing of water or gas to a natural body of water from a structure such as a wastewater treatment plant, sewer pipe, or industrial outfall.”

Related article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

American Avocet at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the seven percolating ponds there is also a recreational urban fishing lake filled with reclaimed water. Also, one of the ponds contains a unique, desert-like distribution stream. The Water Ranch in the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch combines the Town of Gilbert Drinking Water Treatment Plant, the Southeast Regional Library building, Fire Station, Nichols Park, and the Salt River Project Eastern Canal. The Water Ranch property stretches from Greenfield Road east to Higley Road containing most of the land between Guadalupe Road and the utility easement.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Habitat

Arizona wildlife including birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals call Gibert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch home in its various vegetative zones of native riparian, marshlands, and upland vegetation areas. Let’s delve into the birds a little more; the Preserve is a bird watchers paradise with 298 species of birds identified. The National Audubon Society has also designated the Riparian Preserve as an Important Bird Area. Plus, there is a designated garden exclusively for hummingbirds and butterflies. For a close-up view of fish and ducks the urban recreational lake provides guests with a floating boardwalk that crosses the northern end.

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

Programs

There are a variety of programs from public, school to youth and Scout offered at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Public programs such as bird walks with Desert Rivers Audubon, The Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory’s Skywatch featuring a 16-inch Meade state-of-the-art telescope managed by the East Valley Astronomy Club, Naturalist Guided Preserve Tours, and the Outdoor Learning Project answering questions like “Can I Feed the Ducks?”.

Related article: Explore Phoenix Naturally

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is an excellent field trip destination for surrounding schools to offer a multitude of fun engaging environmental studies of birds, insects, desert life, Arizona groundwater, pollination, fossils, solar energy, and plants. Scout and Youth Groups also enjoy the Riparian Preserve with nature hikes, overnight camping, scout badge work, dinosaur digs, astronomy viewings, and group lessons on wildlife, water, plants, ecology, and conservation.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photo Opportunities

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch offers a fantastic place as a wildlife habitat, water reclamation facility, and community recreational go-to spot. Still, there are extra benefits to be enjoyed. The Preserve might be the place for you if you’re looking for the perfect backdrop for a family or special event portrait. Or perhaps you’re adding to your nature photography portfolio. It might be safe to say many are looking for ways to make their Instagram pop. Can you say fascinating wildlife, stunning sunsets, gorgeous waterways, tranquil colors, and light? Yes, yes, you can. The bottom line is that there are multiple dynamic photo opportunities for cell phone cameras as well as novice and professional photographers at Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hours & Parking

The Gilbert Parks and Recreation Department manages the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Hours are from 5:30 am to 10:00 pm with the habitat area open dawn to dusk. The Preserve is at the southeast corner of East Guadalupe Road and North Greenfield Road. The most available parking is on the north and west sides of Maricopa County’s Southeast Regional Library at the furthermost northwest corner of the park near the community fishing lake. Additional limited parking is located on the north side of the park off of E Guadalupe Road.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

Explore Phoenix Naturally

Desert, mountains, lakes, diverse wildlife, and a variety of attractions await exploration within and outside the limits of this bustling Arizona city

Getting out of busy, congested cities to soak in the natural beauty of our planet has long been my favorite thing to do and I wanted to see the natural side of Phoenix.

Phoenix often becomes overshadowed by Tucson or Sedona and it frequently is viewed by visitors as a refueling stop on a journey to the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree. What many don’t realize is that there is much to see and do in and around Phoenix.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown architecture displays a mix of silver skyscrapers, adobe missions, and vintage Spanish Colonial homes. Phoenix boasts numerous galleries and museums including the Heard Museum with its extraordinary collection of Southwest American Indian art. Another interesting place to visit is the famous Taliesin West home built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in nearby Scottsdale.

I wondered what area campgrounds were like and soon headed out to explore. Starting at the small town of Apache Junction, I took the Apache Trail Scenic Drive (State Route 88) to Lost Dutchman State Park located 40 miles east of Phoenix.

Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1870s, a Prussian immigrant named Jacob Waltz reportedly found gold in the Superstition Mountains. He kept the whereabouts of the mine secret, only revealing the location to his caregiver on his deathbed in 1891. She and countless others since have tried to find the Lost Dutchman Mine without success.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park campground has 138 sites; 68 of them with 50/30/20-amp electric service and water and a paved road network to all sites. The campground has no RV size restrictions. Several hiking trails lead visitors from the park deep into the Superstition Mountains Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. In March, a carpet of wildflowers takes over the park. Lost Dutchman is in the middle of an area with diverse wildlife habitat, so don’t be surprised to see a desert mule deer, a jackrabbit, a greater roadrunner, or a Gila monster stroll through your campsite.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An internet search for Tonto National Forest yields a five-star-rated description of the desert, mountains, rivers, and camping. What more could one ask for?

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Lost Dutchman State Park on Apache Trail Scenic Drive, I headed north straight into Tonto National Forest. This is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona. However, a warning: Drivers encounter narrow shoulders and steep grades along parts of this route and some of it is unpaved. Large RVs are not recommended on certain sections of the 120-mile loop. And it’s advisable to check road conditions before heading out.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, this scenic route is well worth the endeavor although nervous drivers or passengers may want to take a pass. Twisting and turning around buttes of alternating layers of rose-, cream-, and rust-colored sandstone canyons sprinkled with stubby pine bushes suggests a scene right out of an old John Wayne movie. It’s best to avoid this road on weekends.

Related article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I made it as far as Canyon Lake that day. Known for its shorelines with easy access for boaters seeking seclusion, Canyon Lake resembles a turquoise gem trapped between rocky cliffs. Many picnic areas, private campgrounds, and RV resorts surround the lake. Most places are set in a typical desert atmosphere with campsites surrounded by conifer, oak, and aspen trees, depending on their location on the lake. The Canyon Lake Marina and Campground offers marina services, a restaurant, and a beach, as well as 28 RV sites with electric and water hookups.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto, the largest national forest in Arizona consists of almost 3 million acres of cactus-studded desert among pine-covered mountains. Because of its proximity to Phoenix, the forest is considered one of the most “urban” forests in the United States with more than 3 million people visiting every year.

Some people claim that the forest was not named after the famous sidekick of the Lone Ranger but the Tonto Basin at its core was found on historic maps created when the land fell under Spanish rule. Why the Spanish named the basin Tonto is a mystery. A few historians claim the term tontos which is Spanish for fools or crazy people was often heard in early pioneer days about the Apache Indians. Most speculate the name resulted from the early settlers’ impression of a people who dressed and talked very differently from themselves. Hmm; maybe that ghost was not Roy.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established around the construction of Roosevelt Dam, the forest was created in 1905 to protect the watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers. These has two scenic rivers are known for their fast-moving clear water, fossil rock formations, and guided raft or kayak excursions. Another terrific place is Tonto National Monument which showcases cliff dwellings occupied by the Salado Indians starting in the 13th century. The museum there hosts a fine collection of pottery and textiles.

Related article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto National Forest is large with many camping options. Elevations range from 1,300 to 7,900 feet and some areas are difficult to reach with large RVs so it is important to research the many private and public campgrounds in the area. The main question to ask yourself is what Arizona habitat you wish to embrace for your stay—the desert flats or the forested mountains.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I spent a day enjoying nature within the city at Papago Park. The 1,200-acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through the Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beautifully designed with more than 21,000 cacti and desert flora, Desert Botanical Garden is made for a calming stroll along prickly cacti. Desert plants of many colors were showing off spring blooms of red, lavender, and yellow. Many sizes were represented as well with one cactus as tall as a two-story building. The garden boasts of nurturing 4,400 different species in its Living Collection and 485 plants that are rare and endangered species.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water features are scattered throughout inviting visitors to stop and rest their feet. I highly recommend the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and the enclosed Butterfly Pavilion is a must-see.

Related article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Programs for children, families, teachers and gardeners are held routinely at the Desert Landscape School with online or in-person activities.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Few Fun Facts

  • At Tonto National Forest starting in early November, a special permit can be purchased to cut down your own Christmas tree.
  • The Salado Indians settled along the Salt River near where the original city of Phoenix was built. Salado in Spanish means salty.
  • The Desert Botanical Garden is a popular venue for weddings and nature photographers. During the winter holiday season, 8,000 flickering luminaria candles light up the garden in the evening at the Las Noches de Las Luminarias throughout December.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

12 of the Best State Parks for Winter Camping

Parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

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

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

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

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases, you’ll still want to plan to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in person. And some parks are first-come, first served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

Related article: The 10 Best State Park Camping For Snowbirds

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, makes its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.

Related article: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitat for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks. 

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.  

Related article: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites with electricity as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. In addition 10 Eco Lodge bedrooms are available for rent. The RV sites range in size from 15 and 25-foot back-ins to 50-foot pull-through sites.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Turkey Sink Campground offers 48 sites with 50 amp electric service. Cedar Sage Campgrounds offers 37 sites with 30 amp electricity. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, tent pad with restrooms with showers located nearby.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad State Park, Texas

The whitewashed walls of Mission Espíritu Santo tower over the park. Workers with the Civilian Con­ser­vation Corps restored this Spanish colonial-era mission in the 1930s. Tour the colorful chapel and exhibits, ring the church bell and learn about the mission’s ranching heritage.

Take a drive west to visit the ruins of Mission Rosario. Stop by El Camino Real de Los Tejas Visitors Center which features exhibits on the historic Spanish “King’s Road.” Just a short walk south on the Angel of Goliad Trail, you’ll learn the story of Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza, the hero of the Battle of Puebla at the Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set up camp at Goliad. Located toward the front of the park near the Mission, the Karankawa camping area offers 20 pull-through sites with enough space to accommodate most large RVs. All sites offer full hookups with 20/30/50 amp electric service, a picnic table, a lantern post, and a fire ring with a removable grill. Restrooms with showers are located nearby.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jacales Camping Area located near the Group Hall offers 14 sites with 20/30/50 amp electricity and water. These sites are suitable both tent and RV camping. Restrooms with showers are located nearby.

Also, there are 14 sites are in the Vaquero and Longhorn tent camping areas along the banks of San Antonio River and 10 walk-in tent sites in the Jacales Camping Area. 

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Spend a relaxing night camping under the stars. Tee off on the historic golf course built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago. Look for geocaches and wildlife while exploring the hiking trails. Stroll the easy Clear Fork Trail for views of the creek, plants, wild­life, and check dams built by the CCC to create fishing holes. Or hike the short but challenging Persimmon Trail. Try your luck fishing in Clear Fork Creek year-round and swimming in the pool in summer. Pick up a souvenir at our park store. Drive into Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserve a campsite with water and electricity or full hookups. Eight full hookup sites with 30/50-am electricity are available. These sites can now accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and are in the Fairway View Camping Area. Eight sites with 30-amp electric and water are also available. These sites are in a wooded area with large trees along a creek and are in the Clear Fork Creek Camping Area. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring, upright grill, and washroom with showers nearby. A dump station is located nearby.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Canoe the San Marcos River. The river has a steady current but no rapids; check river conditions at the park. Bring your canoe and arrange your shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose one of our 19 tent sites or 17 RV sites. The RV sites are long back-ins and offer a 30/50 amp electric and water hookup, picnic table, outdoor grill, fire ring, and lantern post. Restrooms with showers are located nearby. The maximum length of the vehicle is 65 feet. The tenting sites have enough space for families with multiple tents or families camping together. Or rent the air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people). The cabin is next to the San Marcos River near the small fishing pond and four-acre lake with a pathway down to the river for fishing and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Related article: The Absolutely Best State Park for RVers

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller-compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome