Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

The diverse regions and terrain of Texas are nature made for sampling a wide variety of outdoor experiences

Outdoor recreation options in Texas are as big and wide as the state, thanks to a mind-boggling mix of landscapes. There are desert, rugged mountains, and wind-sculpted sand dunes in the far west; beaches, marshes, piney woods, and swamps in the east; and prairies, plains, plateaus, and rolling hills in between. Texas also has at least 3,000 caves and sinkholes, some of which, such as the Caverns of Sonora west of San Antonio, are open for tours.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add abundant sunshine and temperate weather conditions into the equation and Texas is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure. So, whether you want to embrace your inner cowboy at Bandara, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, or try something new like camping in the sand dunes, Texas has you covered. Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite Texas destinations where you can explore and relax outdoors.

Scenic State Parks

The 95 Texas State Parks protect invaluable natural resources and offer an array of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, and no-license fishing. Most parks charge a nominal entrance fee, well worth the price for access to the state’s natural wonders.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life seldom seen almost anywhere else in Texas. This 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.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Visitors engage in a variety of activities including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Goose Island State Park is also known for the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes.

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad State Park is a chance for a history lesson if you choose. The main attraction here is the Spanish colonial-era mission which dates back to the 1700s. But Goliad is also a hot spot for camping, kayaking, canoes, and river activities.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top but an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to a 40-story building.

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall.

McKinney Falls State Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urban Green Spaces

Nature is woven into the fabric of Texas’ biggest cities. Land conservation, public-private partnerships, and eco-friendly urban planning have created easy-access green spaces inside the city limits of places like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

Lady Johnson Bird Park neat Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has a lake, water gardens, tree-shaded walks, grassy areas, and 100-year-old oak trees. Try out the new jogging trail that surrounds the park or splash around The Model Boat Pond.

In San Antonio, Emilie and Albert Friedrich Wilderness Park feature 600 acres of undeveloped Hill Country terrain with over 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Try the park’s rugged Vista Loop for clear-day vistas of the downtown skyline.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin regularly ranks among the greenest urban areas in the U.S. The city, which manages more than 300 parks, is also home to McKinney Falls State Park, a limestone-and-waterfall wonderland. 284-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the state botanic garden and arboretum of Texas. The center is home to the most diverse collection of native plants in the state with more than 800 species represented from many of the major eco-regions of Texas.

Connecting many of Austin’s green spaces is a network of natural greenways including South Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt. The roughly eight-mile-long greenbelt is a popular jumping-off point for outdoor adventures like bouldering, biking, hiking, rock climbing, and soaking in an old-fashioned Texas swimming hole.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas-style Bike Trails

Biking in Texas is whatever you want it to be. The state’s wildly diverse topography means there are plenty of options for leisurely pedaling, adrenaline-pumping mountain biking, and everything in between. For a uniquely Texan experience, tackle the mountain biking trails at Flat Rock Ranch, a Hill Country cattle ranch-mountain biking venue 5 miles northeast of Comfort (50 miles northwest of San Antonio). Ease into the action on the meandering Green Loop before tackling challenging uphill climbs, steep descents, and big-thrill enduro runs (a type of mountain bike racing where only the downhill is timed).

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks offer an unparalleled world of fun for bicyclists of all stripes. From the massive Franklin Mountains in El Paso to the wildlife-rich Copper Breaks, the scenery and terrain in Texas’ State Parks offer something for everyone —whether you’re a self-proclaimed “mountain bike maniac” or simply looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors. The parks offer many opportunities to choose from—including road rides near some parks, rails-to-trails conversions where you can travel for miles along former railroad beds, and off-road experiences.

Driving Park Road 1C between Bastrop and Buescher state parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling in the Hill Country is a Lone Star treat. This challenging-yet-scenic ride through the shady Lost Pines of Central Texas is featured as part of the MS 150 benefit (first Saturday in May), a fundraising ride sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that runs from Houston to Austin. The 12.5-mile stretch of Park Road 1C between these Bastrop and Buescher state parks offers a taste of what road riding has to offer and serious roadies can be combined with other area rides for longer routes. The road is open to vehicle traffic.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Historic Sites

Hike, pedal, or paddle through Texas history at a state historic site. Rising above the Aransas Bay and surrounded by stately live oaks, Fulton Mansion State Historic Site is located in Rockport-Fulton. The house must have appeared incredible in 1877 as it does today with its mansard roof and ornate trim. Interior gaslighting, flush-toilets and other refinements were progressive and luxurious elements for this period of Texas history.

Ruins of the Kreische brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische purchased 172 acres of land including the Dawson/Mier tomb, now known as Monument Hill. In the 1860s, he utilized the spring water from the ravine below his house and started one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. Walk the ruins of this once bustling brewery and envision how Fayette County citizens would enjoy a pint of Kreische’s Bluff Beer.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The six-acre campus in the heart of Fredericksburg includes exhibits and memorial areas. Artifacts from the war, both large and small, shape the exhibits which feature ships and planes, weapons, helmets, and uniforms of those who served.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

it has inner light, even from a distance.

—signage at Lady Bird Wildflower Center

Las Cruces: Outdoor Adventure & Rich History

From national parks and monuments to one of the top-rated farmer’s markets in the country, Las Cruces offers a world filled with natural wonder, endless sunshine, and historic proportions of fun

From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment and home to an exceptional variety of activities throughout the state. 

Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque, is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Mesilla Valley and Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch, which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Valley Chile Festival takes place in early September (September 4-5, 2021) and visitors can taste delicacies that range from hot to scalding to molten lava. For a fun souvenir, pick up a chile ristra which is rumored to bring extra good health when hung outside a house—or RV. 

Las Cruces has a rich history with American Indian tribes and Spanish conquistadors claiming the area as their own. Billy the Kid, a famous American outlaw, was sentenced to death just outside of the city in a town called Old Mesilla. The courtroom and jail that held him are still standing.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quaint little community, Old Mesilla is home to dozens of art galleries and souvenir stores. The town square is the site of the very last stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. In fact, the building that served weary travelers back then is still standing. Today, La Posta de Mesilla is a 10,000-square-foot restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces is home to some of the largest dairy farms in America where they’re milking thousands of cows twice a day. If agriculture is of interest to you, be sure to check out the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The 47-acre site consists of 24,000-square feet of exhibit space including a working farm where people can see cows being milked and a blacksmith tending to his duties.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is New Mexico State University a vibrant educational center with a plethora of ongoing cultural, social, and athletic events, it is home to the Zuhl Collection, which is a part art gallery and part natural history museum. Sponsored by Herb and Joan Zuhl, New York business people who made their living collecting fossils, minerals, and rocks, they retired to New Mexico and donated more than 2,000 of their best exhibits to the university.

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday morning on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring historic downtown Las Cruces, be sure to stop in the Amaro Winery. Established just a few years ago, it has become a favorite stop among wine connoisseurs. All the grapes are grown in the fertile lands of southern New Mexico. The same soil that produces mouth-watering chilis also nurtures fine wine.

Las Cruces’ neighbor to the south, historic El Paso, Texas, is just 45 minutes south and features its own assortment of fun activities including a casino, museums, historic monuments, and zoo. It’s a fun and scenic day trip, especially the scenic route that goes around the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains for fabulous views of El Paso and neighboring Juarez, Mexico.

Along the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another scenic route is the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road that connects east El Paso to the west. In nearby Franklin Mountains State Park, visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenic views aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway, an enclosed gondola that makes a four-minute trip to Ranger Peak. There, you’ll have an eagle’s view of 7,000 square miles of land that encompasses three states and two nations.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Every destination has a story, no matter how small

Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, the city of St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s idyllic seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, wild horses, and dining venues.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to recreation, the bulk of activities are centered around the city’s namesake: the St. Marys River. Measuring 126 miles long, this waterway stretches from the depths of Okefenokee Swamp into the Atlantic Ocean serving as a prominent recreation site for those who live along its banks. Upon arrival, visitors should take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Waterfront Park

Also called Howard Gilman Memorial Park, it’s the ideal spot to watch the shrimp boats come in, take a stroll along the boardwalks and piers, have a picnic, or witness a stunning sunset. Community activities take place throughout the year in the park.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys History Walk

The city of St. Marys was officially founded in 1787. Due to its strategic location, St. Marys has played a prominent role in Georgia’s development over the centuries making it a fascinating destination for history buffs. For some insight into the city’s storied past visit the St. Marys History Walk, a 600-foot walking trail where 24 interpretive panels outline the history of the area. The History Walk highlights a wealth of bygone eras ranging from the development of St. Marys’ shipbuilding industry to its role in the War of 1812. The History Walk is located at the corner of Bartlett Street and West St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Self-Guided History Tour

Pick up a Self-Guided Tour brochure at the welcome center and experience the St. Marys Historic District through fun and historical facts about its various locations. It’s a great way to soak in the small-town atmosphere.  

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Submarine Museum

For those interested in the city’s maritime history the St. Marys Submarine Museum is home to a plethora of educational exhibits related to the US Navy. It is the largest museum of its kind in the south and the fifth largest in the country with nearly 5,000 square feet of space with exhibits and displays on two floors. Use the working periscope, view uniforms, and models, and watch a movie on submarines. The Submarine Museum is located on the waterfront at 102 St. Marys Street West. Adult admission is $5 and seniors $4.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland)

The nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland) houses a collection of artifacts from Cumberland Island including remembrances of the famed Carnegie lifestyle and remnants of the Timucuan Indians who once inhabited the island. A moving exhibit of the “Forgotten Battle” demonstrates the dramatic events from one of the last battles of the War of 1812 that was fought at St. Marys’ Point Peter area.   

Ferry to Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland)

The Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland) is the primary information point for the National Seashore and where visitors come to check-in for their ferry reservations. It is a replica of Miller’s Dock, an old St. Marys Landmark. The center features an exhibit depicting glimpses back in time to the Carnegie family life at the turn of the century. Other exhibits tell a story of the Timucuan Indians, the life of saltwater marshes, the primary and secondary dune systems, and the barrier ecosystem of the island. 

The return ferry ride to St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is home to pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island offers a rustic getaway with over 50 miles of trails and roads and 18 miles of undeveloped beaches. You may find yourself hiking, biking, tent camping, and beachcombing after disembarking from the ferry.

Preserved and protected for future generations, Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated wilderness area, historic sites, cultural ruins, undeveloped beaches, critical habitat, and nesting areas as well as numerous plant and animal communities.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Ferry

Cumberland Island is only accessible by boat and is located seven miles east of St. Marys. The 45-minute ferry ride makes for a scenic and pleasant form of transportation to the island. The concession-operated passenger ferry departs from downtown St. Marys throughout the day and provides round-trip transportation services to Cumberland Island year-round. 

Note: Construction is completed on the ferry dock adjacent to the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor Center in Saint Marys. Ferry operation to and from the dock has resumed. The ferry will no longer be located two blocks east of the visitor center at the end of St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Coastal Railway

Depart from Historic St. Marys and ride the rails through scenic woodlands and marshlands. The 1 hour and 15-minute excursion bring you face to face with yesteryear, nature, and some great entertainment. Grab the opportunity to sit in the locomotive or try your hand at running it with special ticket options. Ride on the open-air rail cars or back in the caboose. You never know what you’ll discover along the way. Special themes also available include Murder Mystery Express, Great Gatsby Getaway, Pizza Express, and Halloween Train. The depot is located at 1000 Osborne Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Tabby Trail (Bike & Multi-use Path)

An 11-mile bike and multi-use path from St. Marys Waterfront Park to Crooked River State Park. Comfort stations are located at Sweetwater Park on Pt. Peter Road and at the McIntosh Sugar Mill Ruins on Georgia Spur 40 (across from the Stimson Gate of NSB Kings Bay). Restrooms and a Bike Repair Station are located at St. Marys Waterfront Park. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crooked River State Park

Located 7 miles north of St. Marys, Crooked River State Park is the perfect spot for enjoying the Intracoastal Waterway and maritime forest. The park offers cozy facilities in a beautiful setting. Campsites are surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oaks while most cottages overlook the river. 63 camping sites with water and 30/50 amp electric hookups are available for RV camping. Hikers can explore the nature trails which wind through maritime forests and salt marsh. A boat ramp is popular with anglers who often take to the water before sunrise. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Culinary Scene

St. Marys’ seaside location has fostered a booming seafood scene though that’s far from the only cuisine available around town. For a waterfront restaurant head to 401 West, a venue that offers an amazing view of the downtown waterfront and a menu that focuses on fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors with some staple favorites. If your craving seafood served in a casual setting, nearby Lang’s Marina Restaurant is an ideal destination for shrimp and grits, crab cakes, calamari, and other shellfish dishes.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adorned with license plates from across the nation, Brackish Beer Company’s cozy microbrewery is a must-visit for any beer enthusiasts visiting coastal Georgia. While the Brackyard Ale is a local favorite, Brackish Beer’s draft menu rotates throughout the year offering visitors brews that range from pecan porter to pineapple sour ale. This endearing venue is roughly one mile north of the riverfront in an unassuming abode on the edge of Dilworth Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though small in stature, what St. Marys lacks in size it makes up for in rustic charm and beautiful riverside views. Planning a trip along the South Atlantic coast? Be sure to save a spot on the itinerary for St. Marys and neighboring Cumberland Island. Whether you’re heading south or driving north, this underrated gem of the Georgia coast should not be missed.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Camp. Hike. Explore.

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Quail Creek, Sand Hollow, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These parks are great alternatives to the busier national park particularly on weekends and during Zion’s high season. Expect low entrance fees, uncrowded trails, plenty of wet and wild water sports, starlit campgrounds, and breathtaking scenery. Here’s just a taste of what you can expect.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well. Filled from the Virgin River the lake is home to some of Utah’s warmest water making it a paradise for water lovers and fishermen. Quail Lake is also surrounded by reefs of tilted sandstone, flat-topped mesas, and the towering Pine Valley Mountains. You’ll have breathtaking views in every direction.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet so the deeper water stays cool 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 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.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Powerboats and jet skis zoom across the water, making waves and pulling water skiers. The lake is a perfect destination for paddle craft with kayakers and stand-up paddlers gliding across the glassy water in the early morning. If you want to get in on the fun, you can rent a paddleboard or kayak at the park. Swimmers find coarse sand beaches along the lake’s edge but don’t forget water shoes or sandals for beach walking.

There are also a few solid mountain biking trails south of the lake including Rhythm and Blues, a 2.5-mile roller coaster, and the Boy Scout Loops.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Equal parts refreshing and beautiful, clear, green water dominates Quail Creek State Park. Red, white, and orange cliffs surround the shore and are set against the powerful Pine Valley Mountains as a backdrop. Greater Zion offers a long season for playing on or in the water with high temperatures in the 80s or above from May to October. Couple that with 320 days of sun each year and you’ve got the perfect recipe for lake-focused adventure!

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to Do

Paddleboarding and kayaking on a peaceful lake like Quail Creek Reservoir are easy activities to pick up without much experience. And they make great transportation for exploring the little coves and corners of the lake while soaking in the sun. DIG Paddlesports offers rentals at the beachfront or bring your own water toys.

Quail Creek’s size accommodates speed boats, tubes, and wakeboards with ease. An easy access boat launch accompanies ample parking for trucks and trailers. Boat rentals can be obtained from local shops.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jump into the no-wake zone of the lake and swim, splash, and play to your heart’s content. Relax on the beachfront that offers shade and picnic tables and shade trees. It’s perfect for a day outing with friends or family.

And if speed isn’t your game, try your luck at catching some of the largemouth bass using a fishing boat. Mornings and evenings are best for fishing especially when the water is calm. A Utah fishing license is required. Try using power bait and worms and look for shady areas in which to cast.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Date Established: 1986

Location: Southwest Utah

Park Elevation: 3,300 feet

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surface Water: 600 acres

Park Entrance Fee: $10-$20

Campsite Rates: $25-$35

Worth Pondering…

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.

—E. O. Wilson, biologist

Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

It’s a state of friendly burros, cosmic vortexes, and living history

In its not-so-ancient past, Arizona’s dusty desert expanses were home to Indigenous tribes, headstrong cowboys, and hopeful miners looking to strike gold. But despite its Old Western roots and relatively recent statehood, Arizona has become one of the country’s fastest-growing states with its capital of Phoenix firmly planted as the United States’ fifth largest city attracting nearly 50 million tourists each year to trek the Grand Canyon, see a Spring Training game, or party at the Phoenix Open.

Arizona’s small towns are wildly different, yet it’s here that Arizona’s legendary past meets its bright future as ancient civilizations and experimental communities coexist. From ghost towns and gunfight reenactment sites to vortex centers, the unconventional can be explored in the state’s least-populated cities. Arizona has always been prime road-trip country—and these are the towns that deserve a spot on any itinerary.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome 

A scenic hillside village in Verde Valley, Jerome was once a vibrant copper-mining town. Today, it’s famous for its rampant ghost stories, many of which revolve around historic hospital-turned inn―Jerome Grand Inn. While the city’s decline in residents following the mining rush earned it a reputation as a “ghost town,” it’s really anything but. Its popularity as a tourist destination has grown in recent years and it’s now home to eateries like the Haunted Hamburger, art galleries, and, of course, ghost tours for more adventurous visitors. It’s also growing as an Arizona wine hotspot thanks to spots like Caduceus Cellars.

Route 66 near Winslow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winslow

Winslow was notably immortalized in The Eagles’ hit song “Take it Easy,” but the northeastern town of roughly 10,000 has deep roots in Arizona history beyond rock. It began as a railroad hub before reinventing itself as a tourist stop along the iconic Route 66. Today, a visit to Winslow isn’t complete without paying homage to the aforementioned Standin’ on the Corner Park and statue commemorating the song reference, souvenir shopping at the Western-themed Arizona 66 Trading Company, or strolling through the Old Trails Museum. For something more adventurous, hit the nearby Meteor Crater site, the haunted Apache Death Cave, and several ancient Native American ruins.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee 

Nestled among rolling hills just 11 miles from the Mexican border, Bisbee is another mining town-turned-tourist destination—but its knack for kitsch and bright colors easily makes it a favorite eclectic desert town. Its free-spirited nature and unusual architecture have even earned it the moniker “Mayberry on Acid.” Bisbee has been gaining popularity with Arizona locals and out-of-state tourists alike since the’ 90s thanks to its array of art galleries, antique shops, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. However, it’s also worth going back in time to the town’s roots by checking out sites like the Queen Mine—where visitors can don a miner’s outfit and head 1,500 feet underground—and the Mining & Historical Museum.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone 

Like many other Old West relics, Tombstone which refers to itself as “the town too tough to die” predates Arizona’s statehood having carried the spirit of the Wild West for approximately 150 years. It’s so well preserved that the ghost of Wyatt Earp could roll in and feel like nothing has changed. And, you can safely relive the town’s rowdy roots with daily gunfight reenactments, a trip to the former bar and brothel at The Bird Cage Theater, or an illuminating trek through the Goodenough Mine that skyrocketed the town to Southern Arizona fame.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood

Jerome may be emerging as a mini wine destination but nearby Cottonwood is the capital of Verde Valley’s fast-growing wine scene. Home to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, colorful and quirky Old Town Cottonwood has established itself as an off-the-beaten-path food and drink destination thanks to places like Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room. Its proximity to the hiking trails of Coconino National Forest offers an added bonus. Here, you can eat and sip wine then walk it off in one of the most gorgeous patches of forest in the US.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets. The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with a main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona 

While Sedona’s popularity with tourists has been on a steep incline, it still has a relatively small year-round population which clears it for a spot on this list. It’s a must-visit thanks to its stunning red rocks and outdoor activities, a culinary scene that’s blossomed thanks to restaurants like the award-winning Mariposa, and the legendary mystical properties that have earned it a reputation as an energy vortex. And if you’re feeling really daring, you can even slide down the town’s 80-foot long natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

As Arizona’s original capital, this haven in the pine forests between Phoenix and Flagstaff has more than earned its spot among Arizona’s most captivating towns. While it retains a bit of Western charm like many of the state’s other small towns, it also offers a unique, laid-back atmosphere featuring events like art fairs at the Courthouse Plaza and shows at the historic Elks Theatre. It’s also the perfect town if you’re in the mood to explore a great beer scene. Hit the ever popular Prescott Brewing Company or The Palace, an iconic saloon that’s been slinging drinks since 1877. Plus, just a few miles away from downtown, visitors can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities—from fishing to kayaking—at scenic Watson Lake and Lynx Lake.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Why RV?

Why RV vacations are the best

Do you want to live life on your own schedule in your own way? Do you want to be part of the landscapes you’ve only looked at in photos? Then you will love the RV lifestyle. Millions of folks have opted to live out their dreams and adventures in a recreational vehicle. Here is why you should too.

Spending time outdoors in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 1: Convenient Travel

The RV lifestyle is exploding due to COVID. The uptick in the number of camping trips Americans and Canadians are taking is not exactly a surprise given that it allows people to change their surroundings without greatly increasing the risk of contracting COVID. One thing we’ve been reminded of is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. Medical professionals advise us to socially distance from one another and tell us that when we spend time with others, it’s preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle.

Going for a hike in Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 2: Connect With Nature

A dose of nature does wonders for one’s well being. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in the forest or dipped a toe in a lake or creek likely knows this but nature is a happy-maker. A walk outdoors is more than just a great pick-me-up. It can be a calming and regenerative exercise improving your mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression. Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides! With an RV, the whole world is right outside your front door, ready to be explored.

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

Reason # 3: Common Bond

When you RV, you’re never alone. From families to couples to solo travelers, all RVers have one thing in common: an urge to see the world on their own terms. When you pull into a campground or RV park, you know you’ll be surrounded by likeminded people who make up one of the most tight-knit communities around.

Freightliner Club Rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 4: Join a Community

RV memberships and clubs provide numerous services including a community for RVers. One reason for selecting an RV club is for cost savings and discounts on various RV parks. The discounts can vary from 10 to 50 percent and have restrictions on when they are valid. The choice of RV clubs also depends on the location of the campgrounds where the discounts are available and your current and future travel plans.

Staying active while camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 5: Travel with Comfort

Your home comes with you. A comfortable bed. A full kitchen. A restroom. A shower. An entertainment center. In an RV, it’s all with you. And the open road is yours for the taking. And when you RV, you can tailor your adventures from where you go to how and where you sleep to how you keep everyone active and entertained. RVing lets you make every adventure completely your own. It’s your schedule, your wish list, your road map, and your world to explore. Hike, bike, climb, kayak, ride horses, swim, and make the world your playground.

Everything you need is here © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 6: Everything you Need is with You

A pile of books. Your favorite coffee mug. Board games and video games. A cabinet packed with snacks. RV travel allows you to bring the comforts of home anywhere you go which is a relief for people who struggle to fit the essentials into an airplane carry-on. Just be aware that packing too much stuff into your RV can be a safety hazard. Every RV has a cargo carrying capacity—you can find this number on a label typically inside a cabinet or closet. The cargo carrying capacity is the weight of everything—people and stuff—you can safely carry in your RV. Exceeding capacity is dangerous, as it can strain your brakes, axles and tires, and potentially cause an accident.

Enjoying a sunset at Two Rivers Landing, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 7: Family Togetherness

Nothing bonds families together like being together. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same sunrises and sunsets. Bringing on landscapes and campfire stories, not TV shows. RVing brings you closer to natural beauty. And to those you love.

Zip line adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 8: Retire in Style

Your time. Your way. Make the road your new home. Best estimates indicate 750,000 to one million seniors call their RV home—and the ranks are growing. Go anywhere you want. Stay as long as you like. The possibilities are endless and the choices are all yours. So whether you become a full-time RVer, a snowbird, or simply travel from time to time, RVing is a great way to design your own life and your own adventures. Live your dream.

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

Reason # 9: Simply the Best Way to Travel

Anywhere the road takes you, you can go. Travel by RV allows you to fully appreciate the country around you and the people you meet on the way. If you’re not a fan of meeting people, there’s opportunity to avoid them as well. Never before has a vacation method been so affordable, yet so flexible. If you haven’t looked into RV camping you’re missing out on a great thing. RVs are simply the best way to vacation.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Now is the Time to Discover Madera Canyon, a Hiking and Birding Paradise

Madera Canyon is a retreat for birds and humans alike with cooler weather, extensive trail systems, and mountainous scenery

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains east of Green Valley and 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. Its higher elevation offers relief to desert dwellers during the hot summer months and allows access to snow during the winter.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Madera Canyon has a long and colorful history. The Friends of Madera Canyon, a cooperating volunteer group, helps the Forest Service maintain recreation sites and provides brochures and education programs.

Mount Wrightson, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, originally known as White House Canyon, is one of the largest of the deep, wooded ravines in the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s sky islands—isolated high elevation regions surrounded on all sides by much lower land. Orientated approximately north-south, towards its upper end the canyon splits into several tributaries that drain the slopes of 9,453 foot Mount Wrightson, the highest peak in the range. The canyon contains a shallow but permanent creek fed by springs along tributary streams.

There is no gate or sign indicating you are in the Canyon, except for a sign on a right-hand turn to the Visitor Information Station. Brochures and information (but not passes) are available here.

Proctor Parking Area, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is also the entrance to the Proctor parking area, handicap accessible trail, and beginning of the Bud Gode Interpretive Nature Trail.

Continuing up the paved road will bring you first to the Whitehouse parking and picnic area. The next parking area is the Madera parking area with picnic sites on both sides of the road. Next is the Santa Rita Lodge on the right where you can park to look at birds at the many feeders.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the road at an elevation of about 5,000 feet is the Amphitheater parking area with access to the Nature Trail. Continuing up the canyon you’ll find the Madera Kubo Cabins, another bridge, the Chuparosa Inn B & B, and the large Mount Wrightson Picnic Area and trail heads with parking, numerous picnic sites, and rest rooms.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both the riparian valley floor and the thickly vegetated slopes are home to a large variety of plants, reflecting the crossroads location between the Sonoran Desert and the mountains. As a result the canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds including hummingbirds, owls, sulphur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.

A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads. Nearly 100 miles of paths climb the valley sides to springs, viewpoints, old mines, and summits including Mount Wrightson. Apart from the creekside path all trails are lightly used. Most visitors are here for picnics, splashing in the stream, and short walks along the canyon floor where the most fruitful bird-watching locations are found.

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

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight. The vertical climb covers 4,013 feet from the Mount Wrightson Picnic/Trailhead Parking Lot. For these trails, hiking boots and layered clothing for temperature change are recommended. Always bring drinking water and stay on the trails. Hiking brochures with detailed trail maps are available at each trail head and the Santa Rita Lodge.

Madera Creek along a Proctor Area trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Proctor area, a paved loop trail suitable for wheelchairs and walkers offers occasional benches for resting. The trail follows Madera Creek and provides access to the beauty of the lower canyon. Another paved loop trail at Whitehouse is often used by visitors requiring wheelchairs.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach Madera Canyon from Tucson, take the I-19 south towards Nogales and use the Continental Exit 63. Then, follow the Whitehouse Canyon Road east towards the Santa Rita Mountains. The strange elephant-head-shaped mountain located to your right indicates you are on the correct road.

A Coronado National Forest or Interagency (America the Beautiful) pass must be displayed.  Day use passes can be purchased at the site for $8. 

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

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Saguaro-speckled Desertscapes of Cave Creek Regional Park

The unspoiled Sonoran Desert vegetation of Cave Creek Regional Park invites visitors to become enveloped in a tranquil, largely undisturbed natural world

Solitude and sweeping views in all directions reward those willing to make a relatively short hike in this 2,922-acre park. Cave Creek Regional Park has more than 11-miles of joint-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In additional campsites with excellent facilities along with individual picnic sites beckon the whole family.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek which is located north of Phoenix became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1963.The park sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. This desert oasis offers hikers, bikers, and equestrian majestic views. The Go John Trail loops around a mountain to provide the illusion of being miles away from civilization. In the 1870s, fever stricken gold seekers staked their dreams on the jasper-studded hills. Guided trails to these sites give visitors an opportunity to travel back in time.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek was named for the small stream that rises in the hills to the northeast and flows southwesterly for 25 miles before reaching Paradise Valley. The stream, in turn, was named from a high, overhanging bluff along its west bank that forms a wide, open cavern about two miles north of the present day Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek History

The Cave Creek area has a rich archeological foundation. Ancient Hohokam Indians stayed in the area from around 800 A.D. until 1400 A.D. Many reminders of their living in the area still remain. Stone huts, pit houses, terraced field, and irrigation ditches were left behind. There are also many petroglyphs that were carved by the Hohokam and others.

During the 1400s, bands of Apache Indians began drifting into the area. They brought with them a different lifestyle than the Hohokams. Instead of farming, the Apaches lived by hunting, gathering, and raiding. The 1500s saw the arrival of Spanish explorers. The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.”

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mining began to become a focal point in central Arizona history in 1863. The call “Gold in the Bradshaws” rang out. Fabulous rich gold outcroppings were found in high peaks such as Antelope Hill. In 1864, Henry Wickenburg uncovered the richest strike, the Vulture Mine. Miners were sure that the Aqua Fria River, New River, Cave Creek, and the stream of the Tonto were also rich with gold.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miners tried to find the treasures but the Apaches ran them out of the area. Ranchers and farmers followed lured by reports of mild climate, plentiful water, tall timbers, and lush grass. All of the reports failed to mention that hostile Indians surrounded the area. Of all the tribes in the area, the Apaches were the most feared. They were highly mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to capture.

Newcomers to the State appealed to the Federal Government for assistance. The Civil War was demanding the need for every soldier. Washington leaders decided they did not want to lose the potential gold production capabilities of Arizona. In 1863, Arizona was declared a new and separate territory, splitting off from the territory of New Mexico.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Governor was sent to Arizona along with a small force of troops to Fort Whipple in Prescott. In 1865, the army sent a small force of 300 volunteers from California to establish Fort McDowell. Fort McDowell was located 18 miles east of Cave Creek. One year after the Californians arrived, a regular army infantry unit settled into Fort McDowell. For 15 more years, skirmishes, ambushes, and bloody confrontations raged between the soldiers and the Apaches.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just North of Cave Creek, the area of Bloody Basin was the site of a bitter skirmish on March 27, 1873. Army scouts trailed a group of Apaches to the top of Turret Peak. The scouts crept up the peak during the night. At dawn they captured or killed nearly all of the Apaches. The pressure on the Apaches began to have its effects. With the army destroying any discovered food storage areas, the Apaches were beginning to suffer. Hunger drove the Apaches to surrender. By 1877 about 5,000 Indians from various tribes shared the San Carlos Reservation. The time of the Apaches along Cave Creek was over and a new era of mining was coming to Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Hiking Trails

Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 11-miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to 5.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike the Slate Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a longer, more difficult hike, try the 5.8-mile Go John Trail. The trails within the Cave Creek Regional Park are very popular with dramatic elevations and spectacular views of the surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Picnic Areas

Cave Creek Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The day use picnic area has 51 individual picnic sites, each providing a table and barbecue grill. Drinking water and restrooms are available in the Day-Use Area and sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada. Cave Creek Regional Park has four large ramada areas with picnic tables, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, and a nearby playground.

These ramadas can be reserved for a fee in four-hour increments. If not marked as reserved, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Cave Creek

The campground consists of 55 campsites for RV camping. The average site size is 40 feet; however, pull through sites may accommodate up to a 60-foot RV with water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. Cave Creek Regional Park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. A dump station is available for use by registered campers at no additional cost. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Hwy (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel east to 32nd St. (7 miles). Turn north on 32nd St. to the Cave Creek Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Schulenburg: Dance Halls, Painted Churches & Good Eats

Settlers immigrated to Schulenburg in the 1800s and brought with them culture, food, and faith which you can experience today in rural Texas

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884. With 2,852 residents in 2018, the town is still rich with the German/Czech culture.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. You can take the tour through the Chamber of Commerce or take a self-guided tour which is what we did. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Four of the fifteen historical churches can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. Potter Country Store has been operating since 2001 when they had a small store about 6 miles south of Schulenburg on Highway 77. They soon outgrew that store and opened a new location in 2007 at I-10 and Highway 77 in Schulenburg.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They provide fresh in-shell, cracked, and shelled pecans that come from their own Potter Pecan Orchards. They also have a variety of gourmet roasted pecans that are made in-house using their own recipes. A few of their favorites include Cinnamon Sugar, Carmel, Red Velvet, Sweet Heat, Salted, Blackberry, Hot Chili Spice, and Chocolate dipped. Other popular treats are their homemade pecan pies, pecan Roca, and fudge. They also carry unique gifts and personal items such as jewelry, purses, home décor, boutique clothing, and lots more.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. The Polka Museum highlights the history of this area’s unique German and Czech-style polka music. You can learn about the music that immigrants brought to the area in the 1880s and how it inspired later generations of country artists and even rock and roll music. If your feet aren’t tapping by the time you leave, then “Czech” your pulse.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is dedicated to local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Victor Stanzel started carving balsa wood into model airplanes in 1929. Joined by his brother Joe, the brothers turned the hobby turned into a thriving business. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Exploring Historic Denham Springs and Livingston Parish

Livingston Parish is filled with things to do, places to see, and a treasure trove of Southern Louisiana charm and culture

Shortly after settling into Lakeside RV Park we oriented ourselves to the area (Livingston Parish) with a day trip to Denham Springs. Livingston Parish is located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Lakeside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy-on, easy-off (I-12; Exit 22), Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with back-in and pull-through sites. Our back-in site is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. No cable TV. Wi-Fi worked well from our site; no problem locating satellite. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Denham Springs is located just a few miles east of Baton Rouge and is easily accessible via I-12 (Exit 10). At Denham Springs we wandered the Historic Downtown/Antiques Village and stopped at Mr. McDavid’s Specialty Meats to purchase pork boudin and smoked boudin.

Mineral Springs near the Amite River about one-half mile west of the present historic downtown drew settlers to the area. The springs attracted visitors who came to bathe in the reportedly-therapeutic mineral waters, and a resort developed around them.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The settlement was known at different times as Benton’s Ferry, Amite Springs, Hill’s Springs, and lastly, Denham Springs. The name came from William Denham, a Mississippi native who moved to the area and married Mercy Houge, daughter of Alexander Houge, one of the two original landholders.

By the 1960s-70s, commerce stagnated and businesses closed. Denham Springs became a bedroom community as many residents commuted to Baton Rouge to work and shop. Downtown buildings were shuttered for many years until the 1980s when first one and then another and then more antique stores and other shops opened for business. Today the downtown is a designated Main Street Community and is known throughout the South for its antiques, arts, and specialty shopping.

Denham Springs City Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop on the walking tour was the Old City Hall in the heart of the downtown historic district. This historic building currently houses the Welcome Center, a small museum, and serves as a civic gathering place. This stately building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1940, this building is constructed of poured concrete and includes two stories and a basement—a unique feature in this part of the country.

Driggers Park mural, Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benches in Driggers Park, a small “pocket” park in the heart of the historic downtown district, allow visitors to rest a few minutes as they explore and shop the Antiques Village. We took time to admire the beautiful mural painting of the historic Springs Hotel and the mineral springs which drew settlers to the area in the early 1900s. A photograph of this hotel was the inspiration for the painting of the mural in 2014. The photograph currently hangs in the Old City Hall.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest continuously operated business in the historic downtown district is the Benton Brothers. The business was established in 1938 by brothers Leslie, Edwin, and Robert Benton, one of the oldest families in this area. The three buildings on this site once housed an appliance/furniture business.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General building deterioration caused the three buildings to be demolished. A new store was built in 1973 and a brick facade was added in 1986. It is still owned by the Benton family and now operates as an antiques mall.

The first moving picture to be shown in Denham Springs was screened in the Farmers Association Building (circa 1917) in 1923. Later, Savoy’s Grocery operated in this building.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Livingston Parish was one of the hardest hit areas in the catastrophic flood of August 2016 with an estimated 75 percent of the homes a total loss. A low-pressure front remained nearly stationary over the area for days with rainfall rates of up to 2-3 inches an hour resulting in a total rainfall of 25-30 inches. The storm dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, enough to fill Lake Pontchartrain about four times. Eight rivers reached record levels including the Amite River which crested at nearly 5 feet above the previous record in Denham Springs. The Historic District was under water. At one point, a 62-mile section of Interstate 12 was closed because of flooding. Lakeside RV Park escaped flooding since it is located on higher ground.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.