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

4 Small Town Gems in Arizona

Arizona is blessed with small town gems you’re sure to enjoy

Arizona is blessed with small towns that beg to be explored. But no matter how many times you may have visited, here are things you probably didn’t know about them.

Visiting small towns is one of the great joys of travel. Combine scenic beauty, easy access, and welcoming main street businesses and you’ve got all the makings of a memorable day trip.

We’ve explored Arizona and found these four small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bisbee

Two- and three-story buildings built of brick and stone line Main Street as if holding back the canyon walls rising sharply along its length. Bisbee’s slopes display a century’s worth of architecture, from historic inns to refurbished, modern-looking former miners’ shacks.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bisbee thrives on a laid-back foundation of artists, entrepreneurs, and free thinkers. Whether you’re exploring the shops downtown, the drinking establishments of Brewery Gulch, or the town’s dizzying network of concrete stairs, you’ll be welcomed with a smile. 

Copper Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: Put on a yellow rain slicker, climb aboard a rail car, and rumble into the heart of a mountain. The Copper Queen Mine Tour follows what was once one of Bisbee’s richest veins, mapped by men with no fear of dark, enclosed spaces.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Prescott

On sunny, mild weekends—and so many of them are—residents and tourists flock to the grassy square at the heart of downtown. In view of the Yavapai County Courthouse, a four-story granite structure looming like a castle, many stake claims to shady spots under spreading elms, or people-watch from the courthouse steps.

Sharlott Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Others browse the shops, restaurants and bars that box in the 4-acre plaza, a design that’s as perfect today as it was in 1864 when the town was laid out. Founders couldn’t have envisioned the role the plaza now plays, hosting more than 100 festivals and events annually. The square is not just Prescott’s heart, but its soul.

Granite Cliffs and Watson Lake, Prescott

Claim to fame: Step back in time at the Palace Restaurant Saloon and Restaurant. Opened in 1877, the state’s oldest bar is one of the most popular stops on Whiskey Row and once hosted Doc Holliday as well as Wyatt and Virgil Earp. The Palace burned to the ground in 1900 but not before patrons carried the bar itself to safety. That original Brunswick bar remains, polished smooth over more than a century of use. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Jerome

The way buildings cling precariously to the side of Cleopatra Hill, it’s as if gravity has been suspended in this former mining town. Jerome is laid out vertically, with Arizona 89A switchbacking through it. The Verde Valley spreads out below in one of the most accessible vistas in Arizona. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

With few signs of the mine shafts that run through Cleopatra Hill like a honeycomb, Jerome now thrives on tourism, enhanced by a welcoming vibe exuded by artists and small-business owners.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: The town may be Arizona’s most haunted. Many visitors hoping for a spontaneous outbreak of spirits can play it by eerie at the Jerome Grand Hotel. The building opened in 1927 as the United Verde Hospital and since then guests and staff have reported all sorts of unearthly activity, from apparitions and flickering lights to disembodied voices. The hotel looms over Jerome and even appears menacing at sunset. That’s a great time to duck into its bar, The Asylum, where spirits of a different kind are served.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sedona

The first glimpse of Sedona is one of awe. Towers and walls of red rock surround the hamlet like a fortress. But rather than keep visitors out, the surreal landscape attracts tourists by the thousands. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: Many come to Sedona to experience the spiritual energy said to emanate from vortexes. Those open to the possibilities may feel psychic forces energize and heal them, per adherents. Even if you don’t believe, it’s worth visiting the vortexes because they happen to be in some of Sedona’s most scenic spots, such as Bell Rock and Airport Mesa. 

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers

Fields of Poppies Adorn Picacho Peak (State Park)

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak receives a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state

It’s no secret that Arizona is currently experiencing what may be the best wildflower bloom in possibly two decades. Mexican poppies, purple lupine, brittlebush, scorpion weed, and globe mallows (among others) are blanketing the desert as they put on a vivid and virtually unforgettable springtime display.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Central and southern state parks are in the midst of prime time, and the blooms will increase with intensity northward as summer draws closer. Right now, Picacho Peak, Alamo, and Catalina state parks are great places to stretch the legs, take some pics, and enjoy Mother Nature’s show. Oracle State Park should be coming on strong very soon as well! 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The old saying goes “April showers bring May flowers,” but Arizona operates on its own timetable!

March is peak wildflower season, and with the rain and snow the state is alive with color. Wildflower season is upon us.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers in Arizona, with bushels of incredible golden blooms around the base of the mountain and campgrounds. The desert wildflowers of the park offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert destination.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Experience the trails as they wind through a carpet of yellow, meandering through the desert exposing new beautiful sights each step along the way. Plants, shrubs, and cacti are all abloom—as if for your pleasure.

Springtime weather is perfect for a desert camping experience, book a site and expose yourself to the beauty that spring-time Arizona so selflessly shares with you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ephemeral Mexican gold poppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. And this is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom! Everywhere we look, we see pops of colors. 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located some 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t think you have to climb the centerpiece spire for the best views (been there, done that in my younger years). Just the opposite, as most poppies, brittlebush, lupines, and globemallows flourish on the lower slopes. You will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park road and adjacent picnic tables. Come early as parking spaces fill quickly.

We found amazing showings of color on the easy Nature Trail (0.5 miles) and the moderate Calloway Trail (0.7 miles).

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Annuals—like poppies and lupines—germinate in the fall with enough rain. Then, throughout the winter, they need consistent rain every two or three weeks to keep growing. Perennials like brittlebush and globemallows don’t need that initial rain and are better able to endure rising temperatures.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. The presence of poppies usually indicates that there has been normal to above-normal rainfall the winter previous. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

Know the cardinal rules of wildflower viewing: Stay on trails, park in designated areas, take your trash home and don’t pick flowers. Some other things to keep in mind: Be prepared with essentials such as water, food, sunscreen, extra layers of clothing, and a trail map that will work even if your cellphone doesn’t.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Picacho Peak State Park Is Alive With Color

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the best places to see the spring yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple desert blooms

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park.

Except for the saguaros, Picacho Peak looks like it could have been plucked from the hills of Ireland. The thrust of mountain rising from the desert floor is luxuriantly green. Sitting 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The mountain looks like it is grass all the way up the sides. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak is known for fields of poppies in spring, blanketing the mountain slopes. This is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I’m crouched down.

Eye level with the poppy.

I’m feeling lucent.

Even a little lightheaded!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Maybe it’s the poppy—that master of color, refraction, and mind-altering chemistry.

Then again, maybe I’m just not as good at contorting myself into a poppy-level crouch as I was in my younger days.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Either way, the poppies have returned—fulfilling their ancient, flashy promise.

They pretty much skipped 2018—the year with no winter.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But spring seekers and flower junkies have been waiting this spring with trembling anticipation—having noted the steady succession of wet Pacific storms in December and January and on through February.

As a result the flowers have emerged on the slopes of Picacho Peak.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I love all the flowers—the lupine and globemellow and the yellow brittle brush. But the poppies have my heart.

Those dreamlike petals are only three cells thick. The cells on the top and bottom are loaded with pigments. The botanists—who printed their results in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A—said they could find no other reports of a greater concentration of pigment in the natural world.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And those cells are folded and fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This creates a whole network of little air spaces built into the flower.

As a result of this remarkable structure, the light comes in through that top layer of folded cells and then bounces around inside the cells—passing back and forth through the pigment. The rays of light refract, a sunset in a layer of cells.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All of this brilliant manipulation of color has everything to do with the insect pollinators the poppies are working to attract. Bear in mind, in a good wildflower year those pollinators have a whole hillside of clamoring flowers to choose from.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Poppies have evolved to produce different colors, depending on their pollinators. This enables them to attract a wide variety of pollinators.

Other researchers have come up with some intriguing theories on the extreme adaptability of poppies, which have adapted to different conditions all over the world. The University of York scientists were mostly focused on trying to figure out the evolution of poppy chemistry, which produces things like opium and painkillers.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies have been up to this for the past 100 million years or so and likely accounts for the ability of the Golden California and Mexican poppies to cope with the extremes of the Sonoran Desert climate in Arizona and southern California.

All I know is I can’t get enough of poppies. Call it addiction.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But excuse me for now—the poppies have fully opened to the light of another day. The flowers only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

So I must enjoy the glorious poppies.

golden Mexican poppies

And hope—at my age—that I can still stand up when I’m done.

Worth Pondering…

Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze, most softly lulling to my soul.

—John Keats