Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

A sky island is an isolated mountain range that rises up out of the surrounding desert “sea”

Arizona truly is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary from place to place and even day to night. Few geographic formations in the world illustrate this stark climactic contrast—and its importance to biodiversity—better than Sky Islands.

Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Southern Arizona are often struck by these vast mountain ranges rising suddenly out of the desert and grasslands. Saguaro, prickly pear, and ocotillo rapidly give way to a coniferous  forest, and a much cooler climate. Usually 6,000–8,000 feet in elevation—sometimes exceeding 10,000—these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub and provide an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. These Sky Islands encompass some of the most rugged and remote lands in the Southwest and feature some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Hiking Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Sky Island is defined as a mountain that is separated from other mountains by distance and by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment. The result is a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. As the mountain goes up in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations.

Catalina State Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest protects the twelve Sky Islands of Southwestern Arizona which are the real treasure houses of the region.

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Sky Island ranges include the Chiricahua Mountains, Whetstone Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Galiuro Mountans, Dragoon Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Rincon Mountains, and Santa Rita Mountains. The tallest of these areas are the Pinaleño Mountains, rising to 10,720 feet above the Gila River near the town of Safford.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to their rapid gain in elevation, Sky Island peaks remain temperate even in the fiercest summer heat. When Tucson’s mercury climbs above 100 degrees in summer months, the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains offers respite to overheated fauna (including the human variety) with temperatures that rarely exceed 80 degrees.

Mount Lemmon Ski Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the winter, Mount Lemmon is the southernmost downhill ski area in the country. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the Sky Island Scenic Byway provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the meeting point between desert and forest, Sky Islands provide a variance of climate zones, including tropical and temperate climates, that supports a vast range of wildlife. The lower temperatures of the high elevations allow snow to accumulate, which melt into summer streams that feed to other riparian areas. The diversity of the region exceeds anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America and 104 species of mammals.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the valley floor one is surrounded by typical Sonoran desert—saguaro and cholla cactus, and ocotillo. Traveling toward the peak, one travels through eight distinct zones: desert, arid grassland, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodland, Madrean evergreen oak woodland, Ponderosa pine forest, mixed conifer stands of Douglas fir and white pine, and eventually a true spruce-fir forest with burbling creeks and quaking aspens. 

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Island idea was first published in 1943, in an article in Arizona Highways magazine called “Monument in the Mountain.” In the article, writer Natt N. Dodge referred to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona as a “mountain island in a desert sea.” 

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The term was later made popular by nature writer Weldon Heald, a resident of southeastern Arizona. In his 1967 book, Sky Island, he demonstrated the concept by describing a drive from the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, to a peak in the Chiricahua Mountains, 35 miles away and 5,600 feet higher in elevation. Ascending from the hot, arid desert, the environment transitions to grassland, then to oak-pine woodland, pine forest, and finally to spruce-fir-aspen forest.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the same time, the idea of mountains as islands of habitat took hold with scientists, and the idea was included in the study of island biogeography.  Although the name may have originated in Southern Arizona, Sky Islands are not limited to mountains of the Southwest, but can be applied to any geographic location where mountains are isolated from each other by lowland habitats.

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your next visit to a Sky Island, note how the vegetation changes from cactus to thornscrub to oak forest, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest as you ascend the slope.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Mobile Bay is an incredible gateway to the Delta, a bird sanctuary, and boating, fishing, and kayaking

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. Fishermen and sailboat enthusiasts relish the bay itself. On the south shore, where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, white sand beaches lure swimmers, shell hunters, and sunset photographers.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the wetlands of Mobile Bay near Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is a scenic 1,327-acre park offering facilities for both camping and day-use.

The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish, which makes Meaher State Park an fisherman’s dream.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 300-foot fishing pier with a 200 foot “T” and boat ramp make Meaher State Park an excellent location for fishing with Mobile Bay providing a productive estuary offering numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required; most common freshwater fish are abundant in the area. The boat ramp is located on the Blakeley River on the east end of the park. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Enjoy watching the abundant aquatic bird life as well as alligators.

The day-use area features a picnic area and comfort station for visitors. 

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly Meaher State Park offers 56 modern campsites with 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections. Semi-circle pull-through sites exceed 100 feet in length. Most back-in sites are in the 60-65 foot range. The campground also features a bathhouse with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. A tower is located on top of the bathhouse. There are also 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electric service. Current RV camping rate is $35/night; tent sites $22/night. Weekly rates for RV sites are $182. Monthly rates for RV sites from November through March only are $623. Reservations are available by contacting the state park.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also located near Meaher State Park, just north of Interstate 10, is the Five Rivers- Alabama’s Delta Resource Center which features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, and canoe rentals.

The 80-acre nature complex is the gateway to the Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland playground designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the more than 300 bird species, 126 fish species, and 500 plant species found there, the delta is the exclusive home of Alabama’s state reptile, the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin at the Shellbank Visitors Center, where movies preview this free facility’s recreational opportunities. A stroll across an observation deck brings you to a museum filled with artifacts and displays depicting the delta’s rich cultural, historical, and ecological heritage. Picnic facilities, nature trails, and a gift shop occupy the site, too.

For up-close explorations, you can rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own. Canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat tours are offered.

Mobile Bay at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While camping at Meaher State Park, take advantage of the abundant shopping and dining options in the Mobile metro area. The white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast are only an hour away. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum are also located nearby.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay a week or a month, the area’s welcoming hospitality, sun-drenched climate, sparkling waterways, and wide range of activities will have you describing Mobile Bay as “the place where fun floats”.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41 electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. 

Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations are available.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4 weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.

At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The Surfing Sands of Monohans

Amid an expanse of creosote bushes, the Monahans sand dunes are something you have to see to believe

A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of sand dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of these dunes are stabilized by vegetation, but the park is one area where many dunes are still active. Active dunes grow and change shape in response to seasonal, prevailing winds. At Monahans Sandhills State Park, the visitor will experience a dynamic landscape.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh water occurs at shallow depths within the dune field and sometimes stands in shallow ponds in low areas between dunes. A quiet vigil near such ponds at dusk or dawn is the best way to observe wildlife such as mule deer, gray fox, coyote, bobcat, opossum, wild hog, porcupine, skunk, ground squirrel, jackrabbit, and cottontail.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the state park, rent a sand saucer and head to the back of the park (1.8 miles from the visitor center) where you’ll find huge 30-foot-tall sand dunes reminiscent of the Sahara Desert. Your youngsters will have a blast surfing the big dunes and climbing the sand hills.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high, in West Texas, 38 miles southwest of Odessa on Interstate 20.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 400 years ago, Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to report the vast hills of sand. These sand hills once presented an enormous problem for pioneers and their wagon trains as they moved through the state.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native Americans were present in this area as far back as 12,000 years ago. Various Indian tribes used the area for temporary campgrounds and a meeting place, finding game, abundant fresh water beneath the sands, acorns, and mesquite beans for grinding into paste with their stone tools.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area remained a favorable environment for Indians until the 1880s, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad selected Monahans as a water stop between the Pecos River and the town of Big Spring. In the late 1920s, oil production began in the area, now commonly known as the Permian Basin, and today Monahans is a marketing center for more than 800 square miles of oil and cattle country.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This water has also been the source of nourishment for one of the largest oak forests in the country. However, the Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height, even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the silica dunes that gave Monohans Sandhills State Park its name.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name honors American botanist Valery Havard (1846-1927). The tallest Havard oaks makes it to only four feet, but even though short, it can live up to 300 years.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though most visitors come to the park to play on the Sahara-like dunes, the Harvard oak forest is readily accessible from the two-mile, paved roadway winding through the park. Though too small for climbing, swings, or a tree house, these little-known trees play a vital part in the park’s ecosystem, adding stability to the sand dunes that attract thousands of visitors annually.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dunagan Visitor Center features hands-on exhibits of the cultural and natural history of the Sandhills, including Dune Dynamics, Permian Basin Heritage, and Wildlife Habitat. Scenic windows offer spectacular viewing of birds and other wildlife as they come for food and water. Park orientation is available. Sand toboggans and disks, for “surfing” on the sand dunes, can be rented at park headquarters.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, what really makes this park special and sets it apart is the fun you can have on sand.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Color Your World at Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery

There is no shortage of locations in Arizona that could form a Red Rock State Park, but the chosen location is in Red Rock Country several miles southwest of Sedona along Oak Creek. Here the year-round stream meanders through a low valley creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. For most of the length of the park the creek is split into two channels, and running parallel to part of it is a third, a drainage ditch built early last century to irrigate a nearby ranch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heavy rains occasionally cause great floods down the valley. In January of 1993 a combination of several factors produced runoff that reached historically high levels. Heavy, unusually warm rains fell for several days on the deep snowpack in the high country of northern Arizona. Tremendous amounts of debris are washed downstream during these times of high water.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hillsides 50 feet above the creek are quite different, covered by bushes, cacti, and coarse grass. These hills afford good views of the much higher red rock cliffs to the north and east.

The area is home to Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash, and Arizona alder in the riparian areas. The uplands host velvet mesquite, netleaf hackberry, juniper, and a variety of smaller bushes and wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park facilities include a visitors center, classroom, theater, gift shop, picnic tables, 10 developed trails, restrooms, group area with Ramada and facilities, and the former home of Jack and Helen Frye, the House of Apache Fire. The restrooms are handicapped accessible. Camping facilities are not available at this park.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The House of Apache Fire was built by Jack and Helen Frye. Jack Frye was the president of Trans World Airlines and helped design several planes with Howard Hughes before Frye was killed in a 1959 auto crash. Helen kept the house until her death in 1979, when the house was passed on to the religious group Eckankar. The group sold the land and house to a mining company, which traded the land and house to the state in 1986 for another parcel of land. The state park opened in 1991.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Miller Visitor Center at Red Rock State Park includes an interpretive area, a gift shop, and restrooms. The Junior Ranger and Junior Buddy programs are available for children ages 4-12. There is also a movie theater at the park that shows “The Natural Wonders of Sedona: Timeless Beauty.” The 45-minute video plays on request and covers Sedona’s history and wildlife and takes you on a flying tour of the red rocks providing you with some phenomenal aerial scenes.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many educational opportunities are available in the Miller Visitor Center including hands-on exhibits based on a biotic communities theme. Panels bring to life the variety of habitats found within the park. Information is also available on the early human inhabitants of the area as well as roving displays showing a wide selection of the park’s wildlife.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main activity is hiking. Nine trails form a network of routes, mostly on the south side of Oak Creek. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is reached by a 7 mile loop road off US 89A, the middle part of which is unpaved though fine for all vehicles. Only the western entrance is signposted. The road curves around the south side of Scheurman Mountain, passing through bushy, red, rocky land that shelters a few houses, nestled in clearings in the trees or on top of small hills.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the park a short road leads past two picnic areas to the main parking lot and visitor facilities.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island is one of the few surviving unspoiled beach communities in the U.S.

Edisto Island, a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, lies only about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies. But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida. is a world apart.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a rustic world of majestic live oaks that are thickly draped with light-as-air beards of Spanish moss, salt marshes, meandering creeks, and historic plantations.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVers and other visitors to Edisto Island choose to come here—they don’t come by accident. And so it was with us.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using New Green Acres RV Park in Walterboro as our home base, we spent an enjoyable week exploring the Lowcountry. Known as The Front Porch of the Low Country, Walterboro, county seat of Colleton County, is situated just off of I-95 and is a popular stop for RVers.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was pleasant 75-degree day in early December that we toured Edisto Island: Edisto Island State Park, the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto River, named for the Edisto Indians (original inhabitants of the area), is the longest and largest river system completely within the state. It rises from springs 260 miles north, splits into North and South branches to flow around diamond-shaped Edisto Island (which is actually made up of numerous islands) and into the Atlantic.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

ACE Basin, an acronym for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and South Edisto rivers that arc through it, spans 350,000 acres, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. These many acres of diverse habitat include protected uplands and wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands and beaches, and a host of wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North and South Edisto branches flow into the ocean a little more than a dozen miles apart and roughly half way between the two is Botany Bay and Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, a near-wilderness that makes up nearly a fourth of Edisto Island.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto River is one of the most unique waterways in the world. It is the longest undammed or free flowing “black water” river, and takes up twelve counties in the state. It is the longest and the largest river completely within the borders of South Carolina.  The most interesting part of the Edisto River comes to fruition near Edisto Island. The consistent yet peaceful current makes it perfect for wildlife and for paddling enthusiasts. Floating the Edisto River will show you banks filled with ancient live oaks, Spanish moss, and many forms of wildlife.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop, Edisto Island State Park, includes an interpretive center and two campgrounds that offer 112 standard sites with water and electric hookups—ocean-side and near the salt marsh. 49 of the standard campsites offer 20/30/50 amp electrical service. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers. Reservations are recommended.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following our island drive with stops at several locations along the extensive beach, we toured Botany Bay Plantation, a South Carolina state historic site and wildlife management area, located off SC Highway 174 about 8.5 miles south of the McKinley Washington Bridge. You’ll follow the dirt road about 2 miles to near where the road dead-ends and turn left at the gate and into the property. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pure bliss. That’s the only way to describe Botany Bay Plantation. 
The 4,630-acre plantation on Edisto Island was a gift from the Margaret Pepper family. It was given to the state in 1977 by Mr. Pepper, but was only able to be used after his wife passed away so she would have the opportunity to continue her years on the land she loved. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land itself is full of nature’s rich beauty—from the sunflower fields to the salt marsh and fresh water ponds to the Spanish moss draped oaks to the miles of private beach; it is emblematic of Lowcountry’s unique environment and appeal. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The clearly marked driving tour showcases the features of the plantation including the archaeological structures of historical significance. Take a walk down any of the trails and absorb the unique beauty of this unspoiled land.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation provided us with a chance to step back in time and fall in love with the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. 

Worth Pondering…

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown. A pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
—Edith Durham

Rio Grande Valley: Birds, Birds, and More Birds

More than 500 bird species have been documented throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley offers the ultimate birder’s paradise.

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower Rio Grande Valley — the ancient delta of the river from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico — contains resacas or oxbow lakes, Tamaulipan thorn woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and forest. Thanks to these diverse habitats and the Valley’s location on the Central Flyway of migrating birds, more than 500 bird species have been recorded in this area, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay (pictured above), black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured below), roseate spoonbill, and the Altamira oriole (pictured below).

Altamira Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Less than 5 percent of the area’s natural habitat remains, however. In the late 1990s, that alarming fact spurred the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, six local communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch the creation of the World Birding Center. Today, the World Birding Center consists of nine individual sites, including three state parks: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, Estero Llano Grande, and Resaca de la Palma.

Yellow-rumped Warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Together, the parks safeguard nearly 2,200 acres that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife — places for visitors to experience nature and the landscape of the Valley close to its original state.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Green Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 355 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies that have been recorded there, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

Tufted Titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 798 acres once resembled the patchwork of many state parks, with tent and RV campers and day-trippers driving in and out. But its transformation to a World Birding Center site included elimination of all traffic except bicycles and a park tram that makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

Fulvous-whistling Duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking into Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park we’re serenaded to a cacophony of calls from trees lining the road — the loud and raucous clatter of plain chachalacas (pictured below), squawks of woodpeckers, and cooing of doves.

Plain Chachalacas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Clay-colored Robin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the park, bird feeders hang in open areas, mobbed by brilliantly colored green jays, golden-fronted woodpeckers, and great kiskadees with lemon-yellow bellies. Other birds sighted at the park include the eastern screech-owl and yellow-rumped warblers.

Great Kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Resaca Vieja Trail winds through trees and brush alive with cheeps, chirps, and squawks; the platform at Kingfisher Overlook surveys a large oxbow lake. On the far side of the park, the 1.8-mile Rio Grande Trail winds to the edge of the country, the Rio Grande, although it’s difficult to see through the thick brush.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the two-story-high Hawk Tower, though, there’s a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of nearby Mexico and the tree canopy. In addition to resident raptors such as white-tailed kites and gray hawks, many other species migrate past the tower during spring and fall, including Swainson’s and broad-winged hawks.

Black-vented Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

Chilly February is the perfect time to start daydreaming about warmer weather and weekend escapes

The newly published 2020 Guide to Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is a helpful resource for planning many kinds of trips. It’s filled with tips on the best hiking trails, favored spots, pet travel, golf courses, cabins, campsites, and glamping yurts.

Below are ten ideas for a memorable and affordable spring or summer getaway.

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Forty-one parks offer more than 2,700 campsites including tent-only areas, RV pull-through sites, primitive camping, and group camping areas. Rates average $30–$35 per night. Most state parks have laundry facilities and sell camping supplies. All campgrounds have water and electric hookups, hot showers, and site-specific reservations. For more information and to reserve a camping site visit GaStateParks.org/Camping.

Hiking at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike the Trails: Explore the trails and discover the wonders of nature. Georgia’s State Parks offer a variety of hiking and biking paths from easy paved loops to challenging backcountry trails. Families will experience Georgia’s diverse landscape as well with canyons and waterfalls, salt marshes and streams. Energetic explorers can join the Canyon Climbers Club or Muddy Spokes Club to earn a members-only t-shirt. Bring Fido along for a full circle adventure via the Georgia State Parks Tails on Trails Club. Learn more at GaStateParks.org/ParkActivities.

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

Glamping Yurts: For a unique and affordable getaway, book a “glamour camping” yurt. These funky wood and canvas structures are a blend between a tent and cabin with furniture inside and fire rings outside. Guests can even walk to nearby hot showers. Yurts are available at Cloudland Canyon, Red Top Mountain, High Falls, Fort Yargo, Sweetwater Creek, and Tugaloo state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/UniqueAccommodations.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junior Rangers: Explorers of any age will have fun learning in the outdoors as they work toward earning a Junior Ranger badge. By following guidelines in activity book or attending ranger-led camps, they will experience nature first-hand and delve into Georgia’s fascinating history. The experience builds as children earn 59 park-specific badges. Download the free book at GaStateParks.org/EducationalResources.

Exploring history at Fort Frederica National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geocache through History: Love a treasure hunt? Georgia’s revamped History Trail offers new challenges, new locations, and a new reward. This mystery tour offers geocachers of all levels a chance to travel back in time and earn an exclusive trackable coin. Answer questions about each historic site you visit and discover the code to unlock hidden caches. Download and print a Time Travel Ticket prior to participating. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Geocaching.

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

Go Fishing: Grab your rod and reel and head out for a day of fishing. For families who would like to take their adventure up a notch, many state parks rent boats by the hour. Great places to try include High Falls, Reed Bingham, and Seminole state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/ParkFishing.

Travel back in time at Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time: Step back in time at Georgia’s state historic sites. Explore colonial times at Fort Morris and Fort King George or Civil War bunkers at Fort McAllister. To learn about Native American history visit Kolomoki Mounds, New Echota, Chief Vann House, and Etowah Indian Mounds. Even more historic sites are listed on GaStateParks.org/History.

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

Go Paddling: Explore Georgia’s waterways through a variety of paddling adventures. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and aquacycles may be rented seasonally, or visitors may bring their own boats. Many parks offer guided tours including Stephen C. Foster’s tour of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp. For a challenge, join the Park Paddlers Club which takes explorers to six state parks as they show off their members-only t-shirt. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Paddling.

Canoeing at Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cozy Cabins: For an affordable and cozy staycation, book a cabin or cottage surrounded by beautiful scenery. Ranging from one to three bedrooms, state park cabins come with fully equipped kitchens, screened porches, and a wide range of activities right outside the door. Choose from mini golf, nature trails, ranger programs, archery, disc golf, and more. Bring the four-legged family members along when you reserve a dog-friendly cabin in advance. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Cottages.

Boating at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tee Off: Tee off at one of Georgia’s eight state park golf courses offering a family-friendly atmosphere surrounded by sparkling lakes and scenic forests. Lessons, putting greens, pro shops and cabin packages are available. Green fees are as low as $20. To learn more visit GaStateParks.org/Golfing.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Myakka River State Park: Place of Abundance Offering Varied Experiences

Myakka River State Park is a place of abundance. And from what I experienced during my visit, may have the most alligators

A place of abundance, Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or the wild and scenic river and lakes for kayaking.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites or book one of five rustic log cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences, centrally located so that it draws visitors from Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and snowbirds from throughout the U. S. and Canada.

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The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a short walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the main entrance the first key stops along the main road from south to north is the Log Pavilion. Built by the CCC in 1933, it is a beautiful building whose logs are palm-tree trunks. Park across the street behind the monument rock and explore the riverside and picnic area behind the pavilion too. There are benches overlooking the Myakka River, with oak trees arching their branches over the water. This a sure-fire place to spot alligators lounging across the river.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cross the bridge over the Myakka River and park on the north side. People gather on the bridge, watching birds or gators or appreciating the view. A beautiful short trail extends along the northern bank of the river through the woods.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canopy Walk, a narrow one-way “swinging” bridge, is quite short—a narrow passageway 100 feet long and 25 feet off the ground, connecting two wooden towers that overlook the forest top. It’s just as cool to look at it from below—the view of the tree branches and air plants isn’t all that different at ground level.

Canopy Walk, Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling northward, the Big Flats Marsh stretches to your left, with excellent birding opportunities. This is part of the Florida dry prairie habitat the park preserves and is restoring. Much of Central and Northern Florida were prairies like this—a vast plain covered with grasses, saw palmetto, and cabbage palms.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the right, watch for the gate with rustic sign “Meadow Sweet Pastures.” This is the beautiful Ranch House Road, easily biked. It leads to the site of buildings that were part of the ranch operated here by Chicago hotelier Bertha Palmer. Palmer donated much of the land that became Myakka River State Park. The ranch buildings are gone, but visitors have created a small pile of artifacts here.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you stay on the main road here, you’ll soon come to the Birdwalk, a boardwalk extending into Upper Myakka Lake. During the winter, friendly expert birders man this spot in the morning, locating birds in their scopes and helping visitors identify them. Near the end of the park, well off the main road on the right, is a particularly attractive picnic area along Clay Gully Creek.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your way back, take the road spur that goes to the bustling concession area. This is where you book a one-hour airboat ride ($20 + tax) or a one-hour tram tour (same price, but there’s a discount if you do both.)

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pink Gator café in the concession area offers counter service for a variety of sandwiches and has a variety of draft beers, including some locally brewed ones. The view off the café’s covered deck is excellent and it’s a great place to relax.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concession area also rents bikes, kayaks, and canoes.

This park is a hiker’s wonderland, with close to 39 miles of marked trails and six back-country camping sites.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With all its assets, it’s no surprise Myakka River State Park is a popular camping destination, particularly with snowbirds who reserve their two-week stint exactly 11 months in advance. There are three campground loops, lots of sites, and they all fill up on winter weekends.

Worth Pondering…

“I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”

This sentiment expressed by poet Joyce Kilmer shows the impact on a human being of one of nature’s delightful creations.