Joshua Tree National Park Turns 25. But what is a Joshua tree?

Joshua Tree National Park celebrates 25 years as a national park

It should come as no surprise that 3 million people visit Joshua Tree National Park each year. California’s High Desert is a veritable wonderland of unique desert plant life, beautifully bizarre rock formations, and dreamy views, after all.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the Greater Palm Springs area, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Diego, the park is best known for the oddly shaped Joshua trees which actually aren’t trees at all; they’re yucca plants.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve been itching to visit, now’s a great time. The park recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. According to the National Park Service, on October 31, 1994, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to national park status as part of the Desert Protection Bill. The bill also added 234,000 acres to the park, bringing the total acreage of the park to nearly 800,000. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees are rock stars in the plant world when it comes to their ability to survive in scorching heat, freezing cold, and environments with little water. They can be found in the Mojave Desert at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically, Joshua trees are not trees, but plants. In 2011, The American Journal of Botany published a report confirming that there are two distinct varieties of Joshua trees: brevifolia and a smaller plant, jaegeriana McKelvey. The plant is a member of the agave family.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s uncertain how the Joshua tree got its name though it is thought to have originated with the Mormon pioneers heading west. The strange, contorted branches, it is said, made the sojourners think of the Biblical figure Joshua pointing westward to the “promised land”. Native Americans call them “humwichawa,” among other names. They are also referred to as yucca palms, and in Spanish they are called izote de desierto, “desert dagger.”

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native Americans used the plants’ tough leaves to make baskets and sandals. They used flower buds and raw or roasted seeds for food.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the trees there’s so much to see including incredible sunsets and stellar views of the Milky Way. There are rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths. Huge, rounded boulders pile up on top of each other and rectangular blocks thrust up from the ground at sloping angles, forming steep precipices.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hiking is fantastic! There is a variety of self-guided nature trails and longer hikes that offer different perspectives of the park. The aptly named Jumbo Rocks has a half-mile nature walk to Skull Rock and the Barker Dam walk (1.1 mile loop) is interesting in terms of the cultural history of the area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, there’s no shortage of desert critters including 3-foot-long lizards called chuckwallas, bighorn sheep, leaf-nosed bats, and red-tailed hawks. Also keep an eye out for American kestrels, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, and black-tailed jack rabbits. It’s not uncommon to see coyotes, rattlesnakes (five types of them make their home in the desert), and tarantulas, too. If you’re really lucky, you may spot a desert tortoise or a bobcat.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With eight different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no

name, where the streets have no name…

—Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Rover Roving with You?

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

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

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

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

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

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

Planning Your North-South Snowbird RV Route

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

Snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

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

Tennessee Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you’re at it, be sure to account for the changing weather conditions you’ll encounter on your travels. If you haven’t given yourself enough time to avoid the first winter storm, plan accordingly. Allow yourself sufficient time for cold-weather driving, and bring ample warm-weather clothes to get you through the journey.

Since the Interstate highways in America are generally well-maintained and have priority for snow clearing and sanding, they’re a good bet for safe winter travel.

Kentucky Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With many Interstate highways, the price you pay for fast speed convenience is a lack of variation in the scenery along the route. North-south Interstates are different, partly because they are north-south routes and therefore pass through varying climatic conditions and elevation changes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstates 95 and 75 are the two preferred north-south travel routes from the northeast to Florida because they are direct and provide a wide range of service facilities.

“Along Interstate-95” and “Along Interstate-75” are two popular spiral-bound mile-by-mile guidebooks with practical information on these two major north-south routes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-95 is the longest north-south interstate in the US, traveling through 15 states. It is the main highway on the East Coast of the U. S., paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida and serving some of the best-known cities in the country including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

Every year, I-75 leads millions of snowbirds from Canada and the U.S. Midwest to the warmer South.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-75 is a perfect sample of America. It starts right at the Canadian border in Sault Ste. Marie, then down to Detroit and into the heart of the Midwest through Michigan and Ohio. From there, it makes its way through Kentucky and Tennessee, stopping near and in cities like Lexington, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, before entering Georgia. I-75 is a main route to Atlanta, and from Atlanta, it continues into Florida.

I-75 passes through Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you cruise the route past Tampa, take some time to enjoy the brief East-West stretch through the Everglades that’s known as Alligator Alley before ending just north of Miami. Whether you’re looking for the fastest route from the Midwest to Florida, or you happen to be enjoying the ride between some of America’s coolest cities, I-75 is loaded with plenty to see and do along the way.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along I-75, you can see Civil War, American Indian, and civil rights history. You can sample Southern BBQ and peach cobbler. You pass through crowded cities and shaded valleys, miles of tacky billboards, and pristine horse country.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky is best known for two things: horse-racing and bourbon. I-75 passes near some distilleries, but if you don’t have the time to spend fully exploring the Bourbon Trail, you can get some classic Kentucky vibes at the Kentucky Horse Park. A ticket gets you access to two super thoroughbred museums (including the Smithsonian’s International Museum of the Horse) and admission to their horse shows throughout the day, some of which feature retired racehorses. You can go for a horseback ride, tour the barns, and visit various halls of fame. Or, just stop in to enjoy the atmosphere and check out the statues of Man O’ War and other famous horses and jockeys.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park protects the land that saw some of the bloodiest, hardest-fought battles that turned the tide of the Civil War. In 1863, the Union and the Confederacy were fighting for control of Chattanooga, a railroad center that was known as the Gateway to the South. The Union Army suffered devastating losses at Chickamauga in Georgia, but ultimately defeated the Confederates and seized control of Chattanooga shortly after.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the location of the Chickamauga battlefield (all of the battlefields in the area are operated as various units in one park by the National Park Service). The visitor center is at the north end of the battlefield and contains the bookstore, museum exhibits, films, and visitor info that will guide you during your visit.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

Securing Your Home for Snowbird Travel

Here are some things you can do to help protect your home while you head for warmer weather.

If you’re planning for snowbird travel or other long-term RV adventure, you need to prepare your home to be unoccupied for months at a time. A key aspect of this preparation is making sure your home appears occupied.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Gila Bend KOA in Gila Bend, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop the Mail and Newspaper Deliveries

The mail is often a never-ending cascade of advertising and other solicitations—with bills and an occasional letter or card in-between. Left unchecked, mail will likely accumulate beyond your mail box capacity and potentially announce your absence. Thank you, junk mail.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Pala Casino RV Resort in Pala, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thankfully, stopping the mail is as easy as going onto USPS.com and requesting your mail to be held or forwarded. For $1 you can have your mail forwarded for as short as fifteen days or as long as one year. After the first six months, you can extend for another six months. Even better, you can adjust the amount of time your mail is forwarded online. You can shortened or extended mail forwarding based on changing road plans.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Jekyll Island Campground on Jekyll, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canadians have a similar mail forwarding system but pay a minimum of $52.95 for four months of mail forwarding within their province, $65.95 within Canada, and $152.95 to the U.S. For more information about mail forwarding in Canada visit CanadaPost.ca.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is A+ Motel and RV Park in Sulphur, Louisiana. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, there’s nothing better than reading a physical newspaper or magazine. Be sure to pause those newspaper drops while you’re away, or they may give your absence away.

Even if you have your newspapers stopped, circulars and phone books may be dropped at your house. Again, ask your neighbor to check for these. There is nothing that says, “no one at home” like an accumulation of newspapers on your front step or at the end of your driveway. 

Snow Removal

Sometimes you can’t escape the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrange with a neighbor, relative, or commercial service for snow removal. Depending on the season of your absence, and your home climate, it may also be necessary to have someone help with lawn maintenance, weed control, leaf raking and removal, and lawn and shrub watering.

Did someone say “snow”? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those with house plants should also make arrangements to have their plants watered and cared for.

Consider a Web Camera System

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Lake Osprey RV Resort in Elberta, Alabama. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With high-speed internet and a high quality camera, it’s possible to see a live video feed of your house and property from almost anywhere. That’s right, you can watch your house yourself when you’re away.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the internet and security system companies now sell and install web camera systems for a monthly fee. On the other hand, there are companies that sell do-it-yourself kits including the web cameras, digital hubs, and software that allows you to install, set-up, and use such a system. Be aware that these web camera kits are not for the technologically challenged, and likely require running wire and cables throughout your attic and crawl spaces.

Never Post Travel Plans or Events on Social Media

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Jamaica Beach RV Resort on Galveston Island, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s common sense that you don’t run around telling everyone that you’ll be away and your house will be unoccupied, but that’s exactly what you do by posting your trip plans and adventure to social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It’s also not a good idea to change your answering machine message to anything implying your absence.

Take Pictures

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Bentsen Palm Village in Mission, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naturally you might think taking pictures is what you do once you’re on the road and exploring new places. While this is certainly true, you also should take pictures of your home and possessions prior to leaving. In case of a fire, flood, or other disaster, these photographs will prove what you had, and in what overall condition it was in.

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is All About Relaxing RV Park in Theodore, Alabama. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may also consider photocopying your passport, credit cards, drivers license, and other important documents. Hopefully you will not need these images but having evidence of this information can make or break travel plans in case of an emergency.

The best part of the above recommendations is the peace of mind they’ll give you if you’re away from home. 

There are many alternatives to a northern winter. Pictured above is Rain Spirit RV Park in Clarkdale, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, 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.

The Snowbird Migration Is Underway

Winter is arriving faster than most of us would like which means it’s time to get in our RVs and fly south to warmer climates

The snowbird migration is underway.

The V-shaped flight pattern of geese heading south for the winter has become a symbolic image of frigid weather approaching. A similar phenomenon takes place with humans as thousands of Northerners flock south seeking refuge from the blistering cold.

Enjoy Oysters Supreme at Stingaree at Crystal Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From scenic views to five star dining and shopping, the US Sunbelt has become a major attraction for snowbirds—and the season is now in full swing.

Fledgling snowbirds often start as vacationers, but most evolve in flocks, following friends and family and regional or social enclaves into migratory communities. Snowbirds of a feather do tend to flock together.

Gila Bend KOA, a new snowbird roost in Southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They are gilded nomads, prosperous enough to at least afford a camper, trailer, or motorhome.

And most of them seem to like company. At journey’s end: Happy reunions and outdoor play under mostly sunny blue skies. That’s a slice of the good life that snowbirds relish. Between golf, pickleball, bocce, hiking and biking, going to the restaurants— and just enjoying the weather: it’s phenomenal.

Hiking at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather is a driving factor in pushing snowbirds from fleeing the falling temperatures and their cold-climate and snowy nests following the first winter blast of the season. Life is good here, pleasant, easy, fulfilling, sunny, warm. That most of all, warm.

The weather is consistently warm in Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climate is a major economic driver for Sunbelt states as winter visitors flee their homes in colder parts of the country. Many snowbirds fill up the RV parks, resulting in millions of dollars being dumped into local economies.

Enjoying Cajun Country at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time was when snowbirds adhered to the calendar as predictably as swallows return, each March 19, to Capistrano or Monarch butterflies, each October, to Mexico. The Season began on October 15 and ended on April 15.

Snowbirds tend to migrate in waves with the early birds arriving in October, and another flock after Thanksgiving with the final wave following Christmas and New Years. Then, in the shift of seasons, they go again returning north anytime between March and May.

Mesilla Valley near Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through both journeys, they change the lives of everyone else who comes, for however long, and of everyone who stays. Snowbirds create a demand for goods and services. They create additional jobs. The dollar impact of their presence is anyone’s guess.

Highland Hammocks State Park in Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No one tracks snowbirds in Florida. The chambers and tourist bureaus don’t.

It’s been ten years since a study has been done on the economic impact of winter visitors in Arizona, but at that time it was estimated that RV snowbirds injected more than $600 million into Arizona’s economy.

Relax in Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eyes of many year-round residents, snowbirds are somewhat akin to houseguests: Good to see them arrive, good to see them depart. Snowbird season means greater traffic volume, more crowded supermarket aisles, endless waits to snag a table at a favorite dining spot.

Not everyone loves snowbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although year-round residents occasionally whine about more-congested roads, most will agree: Snowbirds inject vitality and dollars into the region. Local businesses will enjoy the economic boost until late March when things really start to heat up in the Sunbelt states and snowbirds start the trek back to their northern homes.

Find perfect winter weather in Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, snowbirds don’t just play and pay in paradise: Many volunteer. Opportunities for volunteering are available at hospitals and nursing homes, amusement and theme parks, museums and art galleries, visitor information and welcome centers, and other outdoor recreation facilities and attractions. Numerous nonprofit agencies rely on snowbirds to play an important role during the winter months.

Enjoying bird life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For snowbirds that love recreational activities and enjoy interacting with other people, volunteering offers numerous opportunities for giving back to society.

If you choose to work while you play, enjoy your experience.

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…”

Southward Ho! Snowbird RV Tips for Migrating South

Learn the basics of RV snowbirding

As Neil Young once sang, “the summer ends and the winter winds begin to holler all around the bend…”

The snow doth fly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, it’s that time of year once again when the cooler weather sets in and the truly cold and snowy months of winter loom ever closer on the horizon. Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half.

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

Snowbirds are already preparing for the journey south for the annual escape to the sub-tropical climates in southern states that include Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California.

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

Following are several key tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your journey to gorgeous coastal regions, inland escapes, or breathtaking desert areas.

RV and Tow Vehicle/Toad Preparations

Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ensure that your RV and tow vehicle or toad are in top operating condition before leaving for your winter destination by following several practical tips:

  • Have a local auto shop inspect your tow vehicle/toad before departing; you never know if you may have missed something and it’s always a good precaution to take
  • Have a local RV service center inspect tires, brakes, axle bearings, and other moving parts
  • Check the air conditioning to ensure it is working properly. A broken air conditioner in a hotter climate makes for an uncomfortable snowbird experience
  • Add tank cleaner to your rig’s waste tanks

Winterize Your Home

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

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes.

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

Check with your insurance agency to determine how extended absences may affect coverage. Determine if your insurer requires a regular walk-through during your absence and if so, how frequently.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrange with a mail forwarding service to have your mail forwarded to your winter destinations.

Arrange with a neighbor, relative, friend, or snow removal service to keep your sidewalks clear of the white stuff that Northerners know all too well.

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

Ask a friend, neighbor, or relative to be the contact person for your home. The contact person should have access to your home. It’s important to have someone check your home on a regular basis, remove sales flyers, be available in emergency situations, and make repair appointments if necessary. Your home should look like someone is living there.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turn down the thermostat on your heating system.

Unplug lamps, TVs, radios, and all electric appliances.

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

Adjust the gas water heater thermostat to “pilot” or turn it off. Turn off the water supply at the main valve. Upon returning home, relight the pilot if you turned it off, and gradually turn the thermostat to the appropriate setting. Don’t forget to turn the water back on before restarting the water heater.

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

Check outdoor security lights to ensure the motion sensors are functioning correctly.

Finally, lock all windows and doors, and activate the alarm or security system.

Pack the RV

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

The best way to ensure you have stowed aboard you RV all the essential items is to use a checklist. Following is a starting point for creating your own personal checklist:

  • Clothing for all types of weather
  • Toiletries
  • Fully stocked first aid kit
  • Tool box (stow on curb side of RV)
  • Essential house wares (dishware and utensils, cooking supplies, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, fire extinguisher, batteries, LED flashlights)
  • Technology (smart phone, laptop, tablet, ebook reader, printer, camera, batteries, battery chargers)
  • Outdoor recreation/hobby items (hiking boots and poles, fishing poles, cameras and camera supplies and equipment, knitting/quilting/sewing supplies)

Canadian Snowbirds

Lake Osprey RV Resort, Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to all of the usual preparations, Canadian snowbirds must deal with extra details that include:

  • Passports and other travel documents
  • Extended health care insurance (Don’t leave home without it!)
  • Smart phone and internet service
  • Buying U.S. dollars/U.S. dollar credit card
Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I’ll take heat rash over frost bite any day.

—Ken Travous

Prepping For Snowbird Travel

Here are a few important things for snowbirds to remember before your trip south

Winter is a time for boots, snow shovels, and icy roads… unless you’re a snowbird who RVs to the Sun Belt. Snowbirds are typically retired seniors who have the desire and financial ability to be away from home for extended periods of time.

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

The snowbird lifestyle is to our liking because we can take our home with us when the cold weather arrives and snow begins to fall. For us the snowbird lifestyle is the best of both worlds.

But, there is more to leaving home than packing and locking up the doors. It takes planning to secure your home base and belongings and to make sure your abode is as welcoming upon your return as it was before you left.

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

As the annual migration begins, many homeowners set themselves up for potential disaster. Leaving a home unoccupied for an extended period of time can put homeowners at risk. Houses are a lot like teenagers, neither one should be left alone for very long. Snowbirds come home to problems because they failed to properly plan when they left in the fall.

Mount Lemmon Ski Area,Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning.  Before heading south, snowbirds need to take steps to secure and winterize their homes. Creating customized checklists is one way to stay organized when prepping for snowbird season. Consider the following tips as a starting point when creating your winter-ready checklist.

Quail Ridge RV Resort, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a snowbird, there are certain things you need do to protect your home before you hit the road. To be sure you don’t miss anything on this list of 10 essential ‘home-to-dos’ before you take flight.

Check the expiry dates of all personal identification, travel documents, RV and house insurance, passports, credit and debit cards, and driver’s license. Inform your bank and credit card companies of your departure and how long you’ll be out of the country. Consider setting up online banking and pre-authorized payments for bills.

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

Snowbirds should make copies of passport ID pages, planned itinerary, campground confirmations, driver’s license, insurance, and credit cards, stored separately from originals.

Place a temporary hold on your newspaper delivery, and arrange with your local postal office to have your mail forwarded to a reliable mail forwarding service or your winter address.

“I don’t do snow!” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Place all stay-at-home valuables in a safe deposit box.

Put indoor and outdoor lights on timers so they will turn on and off at appropriate times.

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

You are escaping the snow, but your home is not. Arrange with a neighbor, relative, friend, or snow removal service to keep sidewalks clear and your home secure.

Ask a friend, trustworthy neighbor, or relative to be the contact person for your home. It’s important to have someone check your home on a regular basis, remove sales flyers, and be available in emergency situations. Your home should look like someone is living there.

Bridgeview RV Park, Lethbridge, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have someone walk through your house at least once a week while you’re away. Not only is that a prudent thing to do, but your insurance company could void your coverage if you do not arrange for a regular walk-through. Check with your insurance provider to determine the frequency they require. It’s also a good idea to review your home insurance policy to be sure you’re adequately covered while you’re away.

Did someone say SNOW? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Disconnect all appliances and electrical devices, including microwave, washer and dryer, stove, refrigerator, coffee maker, televisions, entertainment centers, and lamps.

Make sure all smoke alarms are properly installed, in working order, and are equipped with fresh batteries.

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

Turn down thermostats to 50 degrees. Low heat will prevent a freeze-up.

Adjust the gas water heater thermostat to “pilot” or turn it off. Turn off the water supply at the main valve. Upon returning home, relight the pilot if you turned it off, and gradually turn the thermostat to the appropriate setting. Don’t forget to turn the water back on before restarting the water heater.

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

Check outdoor security lights to ensure the motion sensors are functioning correctly.

Finally, lock all windows and doors, and activate the alarm or security system.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, pack up the rig and head south.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

The Old Pueblo: Tucson

The Old Pueblo has attracted visitors for centuries

First occupied by ancient Paleo-Indians as far back as 12,000 years ago, Tucson, known as the Old Pueblo, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in America.

The ancients were followed by the Hohokam, then the Pima and Tohono ‘O’odham tribes. Next came the Spanish in search of gold. Missionaries followed in the early 1600s in search of natives to convert to Christianity.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tucson dates its official beginning to 1775 when an Irishman named Hugh O’Connor established the Presidio de San Agustin near present-day downtown Tucson. And then in 1854, the Gadsden Purchase brought Tucson under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today, snowbirds flock to Tucson. In late fall, when cold weather begins to settle across most of the nation, RVs in all sizes and vintages roll into Tucson. Drawn by the warm winter sun and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, these snowbirds become an active and vital part of the Tucson culture.

Tucson from the Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tucson is diverse in its geography as well as its history. While the area is well-known for its abundant saguaro cacti, a drive to the top of nearby Mount Lemmon offers a snow-covered peak with a pine forest and the southernmost ski area in the U.S.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arizona’s second-largest city is surrounded by five mountain ranges. The colorful landscape, rich history, and pleasant winter temperatures draw us to Tucson.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Having visited Tucson on numerous occasions, we have set up camp at a variety of area RV parks and campgrounds that include Tucson Lazydays KOA, Valley of the Sun RV Resort, Desert Trails RV Park, Catalina State Park, and Mission View RV Resort.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The giant saguaro cacti grows nowhere else. Growing very slowly, it may take 50 years or more for branching to begin. These symbols of the Southwest have lent their name to Saguaro National Park, its two units bracketing Tucson on the east and the west.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

North of Saguaro Park’s East Unit and part of Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon is a popular recreation area. Carved into the Santa Catalina Mountains by its namesake stream, the canyon is a desert oasis supporting riparian habitat including willow, ash, oak, and Arizona sycamore. A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Mission San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off at any of the stops along the way. Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends who starred in some of the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since 1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.

Titan Missile Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is just a few miles past Old Tucson. “Museum” is a bit of a misnomer; it’s as much zoo and botanical garden as it is natural history museum. About 85 percent of the museum is outdoors, with exhibits re-creating the natural landscape. Native plants and animals, including American black bears, mountain lions and endangered Mexican wolves, roam in enclosed desert habitats. The Earth Sciences Center houses a fascinating collection of minerals from the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, Sonora and Baja, California. The cool air in the center’s artificial cave offers a welcome respite from the warm desert temperatures.

Mission View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is a magnificent building that blends Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance architecture. In 1692 Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary, came to the area. Eight years later he laid the foundation for the first church. The current church, completed in 1797, serves an active parish. Standing in the plaza, I could imagine generations of baptisms, marriages, and funerals being performed there.

Western Way RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

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

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

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Stunning Papago Park: A World-Class Attraction

Papago Park features a wide variety of outdoor fun opportunities

Papago Park is located on the east-side of Phoenix, near the border of Tempe and South Scottsdale. The 1,200 acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is not the largest park in the city of Phoenix, a distinction that belongs to South Mountain Park. But Papago features the widest variety of outdoor fun and is home to some of the most visited attractions in the Phoenix area making it a popular destination for both residents and vacationers. 

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago’s desert trails are generally smooth, easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain biking skills. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Hole-in-the Rock Butte at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is also home to the Arizona Historical Society Museum and Hunt’s Tomb, the tomb of George W.P. Hunt (1859-1934), Arizona’s first governor. The Papago Golf Course is also located within the park. Oh, and did we mention it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Looking through the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But did you also know that its 1,200 acres were once known as Papago-Saguaro National Monument? Part of the homeland for the Hohokam, local tribes—the Maricopa and Akimel O’odham—and rich in petroglyphs, archaeological sites, desert plant life, and scenic qualities, this area stood out among many other spots in Phoenix for a national monument status.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1914, about 1,700 acres surrounding Hole-in-the-Rock butte was designated Papago-Saguaro National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson. The intention of this was to federally protect the archaeological sites, per the Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as create a scenic area for locals and tourism.

Desert Botanical at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Despite the lofty designation, however, Papago-Saguaro suffered from severe funding issues, something that many national park sites are still struggling with today.  Eventually, in 1930, Congress abolished Papago-Saguaro National Monument and transferred ownership to the state and local city governments.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During World War II, the area housed German prisoners of war from 1943 to 1946. After the war, the prisoner camp was converted to a Veterans Administration Hospital from 1947 to 1951. It became the District Headquarters for Arizona’s largest Army Reserve Unit from 1953 to 1966. In fact, today an “off-limits” portion of Papago Park is used for Arizona National Guard training.

The hole-in-the-rock is the most prominent icon in Papago Park and carries evidence that the prehistoric Hohokam Indians settled this area thousands of years ago. The red butte was created 6 to 15 million years ago and naturally formed with a series of openings caused by erosion.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The openings and chamber (hole) near the butte’s summit are easily accessed from the rear via a smooth, but somewhat steep path. Those that trek to the chamber hole-in-the-rock are rewarded with great views across the city.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ancient Hohokam People noticed that a hole in the ceiling in the chamber creates a ray of light that changes positions on the chamber’s floor during the year depending upon seasonal movements of the sun. They marked the occurrence of the summer solstice by grinding a bedrock “metate slick” at the location where the ray of light falls during the day at noontime.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The winter solstice is marked by the ray of light interaction with a natural seam in the bedrock. They also marked the equinoxes, the seasonal halfway point between the summer and winter solstices with a bedrock metate slick. The boulders near the hole-in-the-rock appear to provide other solstice and equinox markers.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While Papagp Park may not be part of the original vision when the area become a national monument, it is an area where a portion of Phoenix’s original natural beauty still manages to flourish.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park—nearly 800,000 acres of desert east of Los Angeles—rewards RVers with a full range of peculiar treasures: spiky yuccas, spiny cacti, spindly ocotillos, gangly Joshua trees, and dramatic geological formations, including Skull Rock and the elephantine Jumbo Rocks.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And they’re all easy to see in a day’s drive.

Arch Rock, 30 minutes from the park’s north entrance at Twentynine Palms, offers a fine opportunity to pose for a photo with one of those geologic marvels.

Joshua Tree National Park, Keys View © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

An even bigger wow can be had at Keys View on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. To the west, distant San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak— both topping 10,000 feet—scrape the sky. Looking south, you can spy the Salton Sea and, on a clear day, Mexico.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park. Few areas more vividly illustrate the contrast between “high” and “low” desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small stands of spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you might begin to question your map. Where are we anyway? In wonder, the traveler pulls over for a snapshot of this prickly oddity.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Known as the park namesake, the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family. (Until recently, it was considered a giant member of the Lily family, but DNA studies led to the division of that formerly huge family into 40 distinct plant families.) Like the California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, the Joshua tree is a monocot, in the subgroup of flowering plants that also includes grasses and orchids.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t confuse the Joshua tree with the Mojave yucca, Yucca schidigera. This close relative can be distinguished by its longer, wider leaves and fibrous threads curling along leaf margins. Both types of yuccas can be seen growing together in the park. The Joshua tree provides a good indicator that you are in the Mojave Desert, but you may also find it growing next to a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona or mixed with pines in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Years ago the Joshua tree was recognized by American Indians for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Concurrent with Mormon settlers, ranchers, and miners arrived in the high desert with high hopes of raising cattle and digging for gold. These homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals. Miners found a source of fuel for the steam engines used in processing ore.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.”

The tallest Joshua tree in the park looms forty feet high—a grand presence in the Queen Valley forest.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The trees bloom in spring between February and April, and they are pollinated by the yucca moth, which spreads pollen from tree to tree while laying her eggs in the flowers.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Judging the age of a Joshua tree is challenging: these “trees” do not have growth rings like you would find in an oak or pine. You can make a rough estimate based on height, as Joshua trees grow at rates of one-half inch to three inches per year. Some researchers think an average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years, but some of our largest trees may be much older than that.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

—Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987