The Beating Heart of Yuma

Discovering the beating heart of Yuma

I did not like Yuma in the least.

We first showed up here in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. We had a hard time finding our way to the banks of the Colorado River—even though it was the river that put Yuma on the map.

Colorado River in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a dumpsite. I revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

OMG! What a difference. The transformation amazed me. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma!

West Wetlands Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark downtown development.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Native American tribes to Spanish explorers to gold-seekers, travelers found their way to Yuma for hundreds of years because this was the safest place to cross the mighty Colorado before dams tamed it.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as Yuma exploded in the mid-20th century, it turned its back to the river. With 90 percent of the water diverted further upstream and its banks overgrown with invasive vegetation, the Colorado River was a shadow of its former self as was Yuma’s historic downtown. The closing of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge in 1988 could have been the death knell for both.

Yuma Historic Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a dedicated group of Yumans was determined to reconnect the community to its literal lifeline. Despite fits and starts they had a vision for this desert town to “rediscover the river” —and through it, Yuma’s historic roots.

Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000. The result has been an investment of nearly $100 million in Yuma’s riverfront over the last 18 years. That includes about $40 million from the feds, state, city, and foundations plus $30 million in private investment for construction of the Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic significance aside, all that investment and hard work has also yielded numerous ways to discover the Colorado River and the Yuma Crossing. Here are a few suggestions to add to your Yuma bucket list:

  • Pedal away – Explore paved trails along the river and East Main Canal
  • Take a dip – Make a splash at three beaches (one at Gateway, two at West Wetlands)
  • Go fish – Drop a line at the West Wetlands pond, along the river, or in the back channel through the East Wetlands
  • Linger and learn – Get a capsule lesson in local history at Pivot Point Plaza
  • Bird’s eye view – Wildlife watching opportunities abound along the river
  • Tip your hat – Leaders of Yuma’s riverfront revival are recognized at Founders’ Plaza at Yuma Quartermaster Depot
  • Get the big picture – Enjoy a panoramic view atop the guard tower at the Territorial Prison
Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems like we never run out of things to see and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be back in Yuma.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Out and About In Southern California

Start your Southern California journey in the Coachella Valley

Southern California boasts a diverse geographical terrain—you can experience the desert, sandy beaches, and snow-capped mountains all within just a few hours drive.

Shields Date Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your Southern California journey with something sweet by visiting Shields Date Garden in Indio and you’ll find yourself in a date oasis where the Shields have been growing their own since 1924. Enjoy a date milkshake, a variety of date-centric dishes in the garden café, or educate yourself by viewing a short documentary on the cultivation of this exotic fruit. Be sure to also take a stroll through the garden in the back.

Shields Date Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1970, The Living Desert started as a nature trail and preserve dedicated to preserving desert flora and fauna. Now a remarkable zoo and botanical garden representing desert environments around the world, The Living Desert contains lush botanical gardens representing 10 different desert ecosystems. Located in Palm Desert, the Living Desert showcases more than 430 desert animals from the deserts of four continents with appropriate dry climate landscape.

Coachella Valley Nature Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, and their neighboring desert cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California. An escape from winter’s chill, it is also a destination filled with plenty of places to visit and things to see and do. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, biking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are so many great trails from which to choose—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs. Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, at 500 West Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive, offers exhibits, an observation deck, and a theatre room for viewing a video that narrates the legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of the desert cities, Joshua Tree National Park protects two unique desert climates. In the eastern part of the park, the low altitude Colorado Desert features natural gardens of creosote bush, cholla, and other cactus. The higher, moister, and cooler Mojave Desert is the home of the Joshua tree, a unique desert plant with beautiful white spring blossoms. A third type of environment can be seen at the six palm oases in the park, where water occurs naturally at the surface and creates a whole new ecosystem.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to desert flora and fauna, the western part of Joshua Tree National Park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and owners of high-clearance vehicles can explore these craggy formations on a series of signed dirt roads that penetrate the park.

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

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

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

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards. Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall, when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit to Julian, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

7 Confessions of a Snowbird Living the RV Lifestyle

Confessions that stem from 23+ years of living the Snowbird Lifestyle

I have a confession to make. Actually seven of them. Seven confessions about our lifestyle as a snowbird. Seven confessions about how I view my snowbird lifestyle and the things I enjoy doing.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is not a how-to article, nor does it contain wisdom pertaining to snowbirding and the RV lifestyle. You won’t find bits of advice on sharing a condo-on-wheels with your spouse, successfully dumping your black tank without gagging, or backing into a campsite that is clearly too small for your RV.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Eagles Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What you will find are my heartfelt confessions that stem from 23+ years of snowbird living and traveling in a variety of RVs including a smallish fifth wheel trailer to our present 38-foot diesel pusher. 

1. This is Not Camping

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Eagle’s Landing RV Park, Holt, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our version of snowbirding is not camping—it’s living. In other words, we don’t consider our snowbird lifestyle to be one big camping trip. We don’t eat s’mores every night, nor do we sit around the campfire or the picnic table playing board games by lantern. (Although now that I think about it, s’mores every night does sound good).

Yes, we live in a campground, but not the same one for six months, and for the most part we are not camping.

2. We Find Weekends, Especially Holiday Weekends, a Drag

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As anyone who has ever visited a campground on a weekend and especially on a holiday weekend knows, this is prime camping time. Which makes it a complete drag for those of us who rely on campgrounds as a place to live for a month or more.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimer, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While I’m pleased to see so many families enjoying nature and each other’s company, an overflowing campground jam-packed with kids on bikes and billows of campfire smoke floating in my windows is not my idea of a fun time.

3. We Always Prefer Our Condo-On-Wheels Over Your Guest Bedroom

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Terre Haute KOA, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we park in your driveway (which is really appreciated), we will say thanks but no thanks when you offer up your guest room. You see, the thing is that our motorhome with our cozy bed has everything we need within reach.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We travel in an RV because we enjoy the convenience of always having our motorhome with us. So it’s not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but we really would prefer to sleep in our own bed.

4. This is Not a Permanent Vacation

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Las Vegas RV Park, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a hard one for non-snowbirds to grasp. So you live in an RV and you get to travel to any warm place you want, yet you don’t consider yourself to be on vacation? No, not even a little bit.

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Columbia Sun RV Park, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We don’t consider this a vacation because we are retired and maintain a regular routine. For us, snowbirding in an RV is a lifestyle choice, not a vacation.

5. I Sometimes Forget That I’m Not “Normal”

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I sometimes forget that our chosen lifestyle is considered out of the ordinary. Especially when spending months at a time in the Sunbelt with other snowbirds who view living in a tiny house on wheels as commonplace. It usually takes an encounter with the “normal” folks to remind me that how we live is fascinating and envy-worthy.

6. We Have No Idea When We’ll “Be Done” Snowbirding

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at Irwins RV Park, Valemont, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why would we willingly choose an end a lifestyle that brings us joy and happiness and takes us away from a frigid and snowy northern winter? Why would I want to be done with all that?

7. We Will Never See Everything

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at La Quintas RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We could travel round and round the country for a lifetime and still not see everything. There is always more to see.

And we love that! We love discovering more things to do, to see, and to explore than we could possibly hope to accomplish in any amount of time. We love that America is incredibly diverse and filled with such an array of landscapes, communities, and people that even if we traveled for many more decades could never see, do, or explore it all.

Seven Confessions…

Enjoying the RV snowbird lifestyle at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So there you have it. Seven confessions of a snowbird living and enjoying the RV lifestyle! Agree or disagree, these are the realities of our life. A life that we love and couldn’t imagine changing in any way!

Worth Pondering…

What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah, and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.

Birding in Arizona

Come along as we take a tour through some of Arizona’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona

The birds of Arizona are diverse and live in amazingly beautiful areas throughout the state from the deserts of southern Arizona, to the high country.

Locating birds in Arizona is relatively easy if you set afield with the right tools and mindset. Optics are a handy item in the field, some even deem them necessary equipment for birders of all levels. Eight power binoculars are popular and provide users ample magnification and a large field of view.

Scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, pick a spot and go!

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located four miles southwest of the town of McNeal, Whitewater Draw is former ranchland, now managed as a wildlife area. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has set up viewing platforms and built trails for better visitor access.

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

This is one of the best locations in Arizona to observe Sandhill cranes. As many as 15,000 cranes can be present from October into March, though the number varies depending on the amount of water present. More than 280 species of birds have been recorded including the snow goose (with some Ross’s) and more than 15 species of ducks.

Snow geese at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is also known for wintering raptors including golden eagle, Cooper’s hawk, bald eagle, ferruginous hawk, peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, and American kestrel.

Sora at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout much of the year visitors can see waders including American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and White-faced Ibis, along with Virginia Rail, Sora, and a variety of shorebirds. Other regulars at Whitewater Draw include scaled quail, Gambel’s quail, roadrunner, vermilion flycatcher, curve-billed thrasher, and yellow-headed blackbird.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This “site” actually comprises a riparian corridor around 40 miles long, following the San Pedro River as it flows north from Mexico to join the Gila River. The line of trees creates a lush ribbon of green in an arid environment.

Lesser Goldfinch at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop first at San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista on Highway 90 where trails wind through the riparian corridor. Another popular access point is not far away, east of the town of Hereford.

Gambel’s quail at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nesting birds along the San Pedro River include Gambel’s quail, gray hawk, green kingfisher, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, vermilion flycatcher, Cassin’s kingbird, curve-billed thrasher, yellow warbler, Abert’s towhee, and lesser goldfinch.

Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park

Pied-billed grebe at Sierra Vista Environmental Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you’re in the area, consider a visit to the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park, a water-treatment site with wetlands and a wildlife-viewing area. It’s located just north of Highway 90, three miles east of Sierra Vista. This oasis in the desert has attracted more than 240 bird species, including 20 species of ducks, pied-billed grebe, several wading birds including white-faced ibis, Virginia rail, sora, common gallinule, and 24 species of shorebirds. Land birds include black phoebe, vermilion flycatcher, Bell’s vireo, Chihuahuan raven, and Lucy’s warbler.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Gilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park is in a gorgeous Sonoran Desert setting northeast of Mesa. On the south side of the mountain, the word Phoenix with a giant arrow pointing west has been spelled out in enormous letters made of white rocks. It’s visible for miles. For me, Usery Mountain has an iconic status because it’s here I first fell in love with the Sonoran Desert over 40 years ago.

Cactus wren at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dawn chorus here is raucous with cactus wrens, curve-billed thrashers, Gila woodpeckers, guilded flicker, verdin, Gambel’s quail, house finch, rosy-faced lovebirds, and phainopepla, to name just a few.

House finch at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

Best Places for RV Travel this January

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

The period after the holidays can be a bit of a letdown. The presents have all been opened, the Champagne corked, and the weather probably makes you want to just crawl back in bed and pull the covers over your head. After all you’ve spent—your wallet is probably quite a bit lighter too.

Native palm grove in Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the good news is that January is a great time to travel and if you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sun there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.

Fulton Mansion in Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But first, we say the names of months all of the time, but frankly, some of them are a little weird. There are a lot of month names that have similar endings, like -ary and -ber, and then there are the wild card month names that don’t have anything in common.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s not even get into how strange it is that some months have 30 days, some have 31, and then there’s February standing out from the crowd on the calendar with 28 or 29 days. Believe it or not, there is a rhyme and a reason to why the months are named what they are, and like many words that we use today, it all goes back to the Greeks and the Romans.

Green Jay in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January is Roman in origin, and it begins the calendar year because the Roman god Janus is the god of beginnings and endings. This makes perfect sense for a month that people see as an ending of the previous year and the troubles it may have brought, plus the beginning as people look forward to a fresh start to a whole new year. Visually, Janus is a perfect representation of the past and the future, because he has two faces. One looks backwards into the past and what was while the other looks forward into the future and what it has to bring.

Also check out our recommendations from January 2019.

Palm Springs

Coachella Valley near Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs is a Southern California city set in the Sonoran Desert. The city is best known for its hot spring, posh hotels, spa resorts, and golf courses. Those interested in architecture will also find many interesting examples of mid-century modern homes here.

El Paseo shopping area in Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shopping district has plenty of shops to keep you browsing for hours with vintage items and interior design shops being especially noteworthy here. The valley surrounding Palm Springs offers a wealth of outdoors activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. January is a great time to visit the desert with perfect temperatures for enjoying outdoor activities.

Rockport-Fulton

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for years. Rockport’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey two years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bucolic bay setting, and frequent festivals feels fresh again.

Rockport=Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 2,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even though they’re the literal emblem of the American desert, saguaro cacti are only found in small parts of the country, and this 71,000-acre stretch of desert serves as their sanctuary. Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections: The Tucson Mountain District and Rincon Mountain District. Between the two districts, there are more than 165 miles of hiking trails, a large petroglyph site, a cactus garden, and epic desert sunsets.

Naples

Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples is a city located along the southwestern Florida coast on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is known best for its high-end shops and world-class golfing. Naples Pier has become an icon of the city and is a popular spot for fishing and dolphin watching. On both sides of the pier you’ll find beautiful beaches with white sand and calm waves. At nearby Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary outdoor enthusiasts will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Gilbert Riparian Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This 110-acre oasis in Gilbert is a great place to watch wildlife (especially birds), catch and release fish, learn a few things and just kick back. The lake and seven ponds are for groundwater recharge and recreation. Horses are allowed on some trails, bikes are allowed on trails and sidewalks and leashed dogs can accompany walkers in all pedestrian areas.

Rio Grande Valley

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rio Grande Valley, on the southernmost tip of Texas, is a semi-tropical paradise that borders Mexico and includes the Gulf Coast shores. Palm trees and orchards of citrus trees line the roads. Luscious, locally grown citrus fruit and vegetables are readily available.

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

The area’s year-round pleasant weather brings flocks of Winter Texans escaping the Northern cold. It also brings flocks of birds. The Valley is a flyway between North and South America creating some of the best birding and butterflying opportunities in the country. To keep these populations healthy and coming, National Wildlife Refuges and state parks have been established throughout the region.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is more than just 6-ton gigantic cacti (though it has those, too)

Yearning to see towering, giant saguaros in their native environment? Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor near Tucson, Arizona.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique to the Sonoran Desert the park’s giant saguaro has a slow growth cycle and long lifespan. The cactus grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years, flowers begin production at 35 years of age and branches, or arms, normally appear at 50 to 70 years of age. An adult saguaro is considered to be about 125 years of age and may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. A saguaro’s lifespan can be up to 250 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the saguaro is merely the headliner for a roster of desert vegetation to be seen as you hike or drive through the park. You’ll also spot spiny ocotillo, huge clumps of prickly pear, and the tiny hedgehog and stubby barrel cactus, as well as spiky mesquite and palo verde trees.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First designated as Saguaro National Monument in 1933, the area received national park status in 1994. It is also the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham people who today continue to play a role in the park’s culture visiting every year in the early summer to pick saguaro fruit.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, the giant saguaro cactus silhouetted by the setting sun is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the U.S. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants. Saguaro is actually two parks separated by a metropolis of 1 million residents: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. In 2018, the park drew 1,229,594 recreational visitors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is located within a desert but contrary to what you might expect there is an abundance of life. Plants here are adapted to drought, so during long dry periods they are able to go dormant conserving their water. At these times many plants appear lifeless but shortly after a rainfall they’re able to come to life sprouting new green leaves. Within just 48 hours after a rainfall, the ocotillo plant is able to change from what appeared to be a handful of dead sticks into a cheerful shrub with tall green branches, covered in new leaves.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to a broad expanse of desert, Saguaro National Park features mountainous regions. These varied landscapes provide ideal habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna. Current research indicates there are approximately 400 species in the Tucson Mountain District and approximately 1,200 species in the Rincon Mountain District.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tucson Mountain District ranges from an elevation of 2,180 feet to 4,687 feet and contains two biotic communities—desert scrub and desert grassland. Average annual precipitation is approximately 10.27 inches. Common wildlife include Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, greater roadrunner, Gila woodpeckers, desert tortoise, and coyote.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park ranges from an elevation of 2,670 feet to 8,666 feet and contains six biotic communities. The biotic communities (starting from the lowest elevation) include desert scrub, desert grassland, oak woodland, pine-oak woodland, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest. Average annual precipitation is approximately 12.30 inches.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountains peak at a considerably higher elevation than the Tucson Mountains, therefore there are more biotic communities and increased plant and wildlife diversity. Because of the higher elevation in the Rincons, animals like the black bear, Mexican spotted owl, Arizona mountain king snake, and white-tailed deer live in this district.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While each season has its draw, spring, when the desert blooms with yellow, orange, and purple wildflowers, is hands-down its most beautiful and busiest time of year. Fall is similarly temperate and winter offers the chance to see the water flowing in the washes. Arizona’s merciless heat makes summer significantly less popular.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is a major lure

The park’s name was derived from that of an early Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who came through in 1774 in search of a land route from Sonora, Mexico, to Spanish settlements along the California coast. The explorer’s name is combined with Borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep that live in the rocky hillsides of this desert.

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

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

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

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.

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

Early American history holds a prominent place in the Anza-Borrego story; between the years 1848 and 1880, a steady stream of California-bound travelers crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert along the Southern Immigrant Trail or by way of the Butterfield Stage Line on their way west from Missouri. This was the only all-weather road overland route across the American continent at that time. Thousands of sheep and cattle also made the arduous journey as Arizona ranchers drove their herds across the desert to feed the hungry miners in California gold fields.

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

Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our own journey took us along Interstate 10, then south on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on County Highway 22, which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo, with their graceful wands richly tipped in deep scarlet-red blossoms.

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

Driving to the state park visitor center we were momentarily confused. Walking up the trail there were no buildings in sight. Then we realized that the visitor center had been built underground with a desert garden covering it. The 7,000 square-foot building houses exhibits, a small theater, and bookstore. Park rangers were helpful in answering our queries and directing us to interesting scenic drives and hikes.

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

Later in the day we drove our four-wheel-drive dinghy up the sandy wash to Fonts Point, where the Borrego Badlands spread out to the southeast. Deep chocolate ridges twisted and turned in convoluted patterns of crumbling sandstone where thick layers of fossilized shellfish and coral told the story of an ancient sea that covered the area millions of years ago.

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

Driving southwest of Borrego Springs to Ocotillo Wells we drove south on Split Mountain Road to Split Mountain where tremendous geological pressure had rolled a sandstone cliff into a spectacular, spiral rock face. The road wound through the middle of a sandy wash, and we held our breath a couple of time when our tires started to spin in the deep sand.

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

Farther along Split Mountain Road we parked and hiked back to see rare elephant trees with their thick, stubby trunks, free-form limbs and peeling yellowish bark. Early Native Americans used the reddish-colored sap of the tree as a dye. Near the end of the road we hiked the steep but easy trail up to the wind caves which as strange sandstone formations from an ancient seabed. From there, we had a splendid view out over the Carrizo Badlands and the unique Elephant Knees formation.

Palm Canyon Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet another dinghy side trip, this time following County Highway 2 took us southeast along the Old Southern Immigrant Trail as it wound in and out of the park boundary. Reaching the Blair Valley area, we pulled off and hiked the short 0.25-mile Morteros Trail to a boulder-strewn area where a Kumeyaay village stood centuries ago, leaving their story behind in the agave cooking pits and metates that are still found there. Unique pictographs tell more of their story to those who may have any idea how to decipher them.

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

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is quite a lure. And there’s so much more to discover on our next visit.

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

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Matching Your Snowbirds Destinations with Your Lifestyle

We’ve made the snowbird trek to southern California and Arizona numerous times

Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, is not only a “fine sight to see”, it’s a stepping stone to adventure. And yes, we did stand on the corner in Winslow, referencing the lyrics from Eagles’ Take It Easy. No one in a flatbed Ford was turning round to look, though.

There are vortexes in Sedona and you’re supposed to feel some New Age energy. We didn’t feel it—but this Red Rock country is beautiful.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbirds want to leave Minnesota during the worst of the winter. January, February, and March are the prime months. They leave after the holidays and return in April. Others head out as soon as the first frost hits the pumpkins in October coming back when they can plant their geraniums outside.

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those Northern locales, of course, are Canada and various states in the Northeastern U.S., Upper Midwest, and Northwest. Snowbirds start arriving in late fall, stay for months while it’s frigid back home, and depart before students fill the beaches for spring break.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve made the snowbird trek to southern California and Arizona numerous times. But searching for new ways to “take it easy” pursued other southern climes. Our snowbird travels have now included all the Sunbelt states.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular snowbird destinations is Quartzsite. Not far from the Colorado River, this dusty Arizona outpost expands to hundreds of thousands as RV folks arrive every winter for the largest rock hound exposition in the United States and free camping.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At its core, Quartzsite is a boondocker’s paradise. There is every type of camper from weekenders to full-timers and from small trailers to tag axle diesel pushers. It’s a friendly atmosphere with many Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping areas available. Free is a great camping word, right? In as much, you don’t hear it very often. Keep in mind that this is dry camping and your rig must be fully self-contained.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the BLM areas, you can camp for free for up to 14 days. If you are a long-term camper, the cost is $180 to stay from September through April. There are no assigned spaces, no hookups, and hardly any roads. For your money you get access to potable water, sparsely scattered pit toilets, a dump station, and trash bins. Pick a site from the 11,400 acres of open land and you’re home.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV camping.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago when this village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway destination.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 100 miles east of Tinseltown, it was an easy drive, even in the days before freeways. And even though Hollywood’s winter climate was mild, the celebrities of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s headed to the desert for weekends of poolside relaxation.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Hiking Indian Canyons, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But to accomplish snowbird status you really need to do some serious planning. If you want to be a snowbird there truly is more to it than just forwarding your mail. It is not easy to pack it up and leave for three months or more. Some people have trouble with a two week vacation.

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

RVing for an extended period so far from home during the long winter months isn’t all sun and fun, especially if you don’t prepare properly. Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes.

Desert wildflowers near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

Why You Need to RV in the South This Winter

Here’s how (and where) to migrate to warmer weather this winter

Summer has technically been over for a while now, but does it really have to end? The answer is “no.” If you’re one of the many who love summer, why not continue to chase it and enjoy an endless summer in the South?

You may have some hesitations about packing up and heading south during the winter, but there are a number of reasons why you’re going to love hooking up in the southern half of the states when the weather up north takes a turn for the worse.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s start with the obvious. The weather down south is a dream in the winter. During the heat of summer, much of Arizona and Texas may be less than ideal, but when the winter storms hit elsewhere in the country, you’ll be comfortable walking around in shorts and a t-shirt.

Riviera Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you aren’t looking for summer-like weather, heading just a bit south in the winter will give you much more bearable weather than up north. Imagine stepping outside of your RV in the morning to sunshine as opposed to snow. You don’t have to ask us twice which one we’d rather have.

Folly Beach, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As much as we love summer, we cannot bring ourselves to love the mosquitoes that come along with it. Enter: winter camping in the south. For the most part, it’s bye-bye to mosquitoes except for some parts of southern Florida but you will definitely see relief from the summer swarms.

Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While flocking to the south isn’t a rare thing (the term snowbird certainly is a real thing), you’ll find there are still not nearly as many travelers at some of the southern states hot spots as there are during summer. Think places like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Alabama Gulf Coast. While you may find some crowds, you won’t be dealing with the massive numbers of people that you will in the summer.

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

Some RV parks and campgrounds are only able to operate part of the year due to the restrictions that weather places on their usability. However, thanks to the great weather down south you’ll find that all the parks are open. And, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be a lot less crowded than during the summer, so chances are good you’ll have the opportunity to pick your favorite camping spot.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You need more gear to camp in the winter than the summer. However, if you’re camping down south in the winter, it’s essentially the same as camping up north in the summer, so you won’t need a bunch of extra gear.

Lovers Key State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sounds like a win-win, right? In case you need more convincing that a southern camping trip this winter is the right thing to do, here are some great spots that may sway you.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as one of the top 10 places in the world to get in some seriously good stargazing, Big Bend National Park in Texas is a great place to escape to in the winter. But the night skies aren’t all there is to see here. You’ve got everything from hiking to birding, canoeing to hot spring soaking in Big Bend. This is a great place to see some beautiful desert scenery that will have you forgetting winter exists.

Albuquerque

Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As New Mexico’s biggest city and one that you’ve certainly heard a lot about, there is a lot to explore in this city. The museums here are among some of the country’s best, and the shopping is great if you’re in the market for some beautiful Native American crafts.

However, if you’re more into outdoor exploration, then you’ll want to head just outside the city where you can hike, bike, and climb to your heart’s content.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona is a must. This species of cacti is native to Mexico but exists in the United States just here at the monument. Winter is an ideal to visit when the temperatures are moderate and you’ll catch some stunning photos. The warm temperatures make for ideal camping conditions.

Anza Borrego State Park

Anza Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert is the palm oases which you come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty. Anza Borrego State Park has a plethora of camping options, with four established campgrounds and 175 total campsites.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Christmas 2019 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re back in the Great State of Texas enjoying the Southern sunshine and warmth, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty Texas BBQ, fruit and cream kolaches, and pralines—and pecan pie with Blue Bell icecream.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Reveille to my numb mind.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!