Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.
Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.
Stephen C. Foster State Park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Though the park is only about 120 acres, it is a prime access point to the 700 square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and its most famous island―Billy’s Island. The name “Billy’s Island” has a bit of a legendary history. Some claim that it came from the famous Native American chief―Chief Billy Bowlegs―of the Seminole Indian wars. Others claim there was a man named “Indian Billy” that lived there in the early 1800s and was murdered by some cattleman.
That aside, the most famous residents of the island, which then and now is only accessible by boat, were the Lee’s. James Lee started living a self-sufficient lifestyle with his family in the 1860s. His family had livestock and crops and they hunted, fished, and had everything they needed.
As is the case in most American stories, modern technology comes in and completely uproots, literally in this case, the frontier way of life. In 1907, a logging company moved in and introduced modern society to this contented family. In the next two decades, the company would clear 425 million board feet, the vast majority being old growth cypress trees, all the while setting up a movie theater, a cafe, a whole little town on Billy’s Island to support the operation.
Think about what it was like being the Lee’s. You are living with nature, utilizing its resources and all of a sudden this company brings other people from other places and destroys your way of life. As most adaptable families do, sons and grandsons of James Lee worked for the logging company, helping the swamp-foreigners to navigate and survive in the hostile environment of the swamp.
When the logging company left, so did the town and the rest of civilization. As with all things in the swamp―the water, roots, and mud overtook the town and all that remains of its past is some rusty fences and a few gravestones. Descendants of the Lee’s still remain in the area, along with other swamp families.
Today, Billy’s Island, along with the swamp, is the way it has been for thousands of years―a black water reservoir, filled with islands, black bears, alligators, waterways, and little remnants of the people who try to survive there. As it is, what most would call, an undesirable place to live, there have always been outsiders and people seeking refuge from whatever is haunting or hunting them.
Escaped slaves have passed through as it is a great place to hide. Native Americans―the Seminole tribes―have made the swamp home at various times throughout history, most recently in an effort to escape forced exile in the 1800s.
Surely a place so rich in history and isolation has its share of ghost stories. There are various reports of mystical hazes, ghosts, bigfoot, and alien abductions that are easy to find and hard to substantiate, but there is an interesting story that come out of the swamp that, at least, comes from reliable resources.
The story is relatively recent and returns us to Billy’s Island. In 1996, a former park ranger from New York was visiting the swamp and disappeared. A search party looked for him for several days and weeks. Then, 41 days later, the ranger was found leaning against a tree with tattered clothes and bug bites everywhere. He claimed he got lost and survived on what the island gave him.
Some folks are skeptical of his story, due to Billy’s Island only being 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and there was no evidence of him trying to get help, however the facts of him being discovered 41 days after disappearing are true and the story was widely published at the time of it happening.
All the historical richness and vastness of the swamp is at the fingertips of Stephen C. Foster State Park. They have all sorts of activities―star-watching (and alligator watching!) at night, canoeing, hiking, movies, and more. Stephen C. Foster is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky.
The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest.
Way down upon the Swanee River, Far, far away That’s where my heart is turning ever That’s where the old folks stay All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam Still longing for the old plantation And for the old folks at home
There is this place that is for the birds and is all about the birds, where you will find some of the best birding while RVing
Good morning. It’s Saturday and you deserve some good news, so we’re pleased to inform you that a Laysan albatross named Wisdom has successively hatched yet another chick at Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. Discovered by biologists in 1956, Wisdom is at least 70 years old making her the world’s oldest known wild bird. She still flies as many as 1,000 miles in a single foraging expedition.
Wisdom’s latest chick successfully hatched in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in the Pacific Islands. Wisdom laid her egg sometime during the last few days of November according to the wildlife agency. Soon after, Wisdom returned to sea to forage and her mate Akeakamai took over incubation duties. The pair have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, the wildlife agency said.
In the past decade, Wisdom has been astounding researchers and winning fans with her longevity and devotion to raising her young. She has flown millions of miles in her life but returns to her same nest every year on Midway Atoll, the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. To feed her hatchlings, Wisdom and her mate take turns flying as much as 1,000 miles on a single outing spending days foraging for food along the ocean’s surface.
Every year, millions of albatrosses which normally have only one mate in their life, all come home to Midway around October. If all goes well couples reunite and then team up to incubate a single egg and feed their new chick. Midway’s two flat islands act as giant landing strips for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds which rely on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to raise their young. This year’s albatross chicks will make their first flights in early summer.
In the past, biologists have said Wisdom possesses a unique set of skills that have let her have a long and productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. When she was first banded, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency.
Her advice to the younger generation? Think before you tweet.
Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher that travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are. Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, I carry my mid-priced super-zoom camera and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color. That’s what draws me and many other snowbirds to South Texas.
Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured above), roseate spoonbill (pictured above), and the Altamira oriole (pictured above)
After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers and is located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.
Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.
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. The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.
Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley 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. As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca (see above), a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.
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.
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.
Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.
Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.
A golden-fronted woodpecker (see above) fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.
Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.
Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.
The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.
Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets
Located in south central Arizona 40 miles south of Tucson in a valley along the cottonwood-lined Santa Cruz River, Tubac describes itself as a place where “art and history meet.” This small community has an impressive collection of galleries, studios, one-of-a-kind shops, and dining options. Tubac was established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, the first colonial fortress in what is now Arizona.
Tubac started to develop as an art colony in the 1930s and ’40s. Dale Nichols, a painter and illustrator best known for his rural landscape paintings, played a significant role in shaping Tubac’s evolution into an art center. In 1948, he bought and restored a number of Tubac’s historic buildings and opened an art school.
Today, this village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high quality selection of art and artisan works that includes paintings, sculpture, pottery, metal work, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.
It’s not just the goods inside the shops that are beautiful. The village of restored buildings and landscaped walkways is a delight to walk through. Old, red brick buildings and adobes with wood beams jut out near the top. Wood pillars support terracotta-tiled roofs to create covered walkways in front of buildings. Pillars as well as door and window trim are painted in bright hues of blue, turquoise, yellow, or red. Mexican tiles decorate buildings. Hidden courtyards contain more shops or bits of historical information.
High-desert vistas and views of the Santa Rita Mountains form a backdrop. Scenic views to inspire the creative spirit! It is easy to see how artists would be drawn to Tubac’s combination of stunning landscape and history.
Tubac Festival of the Arts debuted in 1964. The annual five-day February event attracts thousands of visitors each day. The juried show features 150 to 200 artists from all over the country. Booths line village streets that are blocked to vehicular traffic. The festival also features musicians and roving entertainers. The festival is free but there is a charge for parking. Horse-drawn trolleys ferry people to and from parking lots and throughout the town.
Visiting and resident artists display their works in harmony. You can weave your way past temporary booths and into and out of permanent shops as you walk through the village but you may also want to consider visiting at another, quieter time to properly appreciate the resident galleries and shops.
The area around Tubac is believed to have been inhabited for over 11,000 years. The Spanish Colonial Era began when Jesuit missionary Father Kino came to the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691. By 1731, Tubac was a mission farm and ranch. The Spanish established a fort in 1752. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is located on the site of the former fort. This is Arizona’s first state park hosting a world class museum and bridging Tubac’s past life to its destiny as an artist colony.
Excavated portions of the walls, foundation, and floor of the Commandant’s quarters can be viewed from an underground archaeological exhibit. Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times. The Park is home to three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: an 1885 schoolhouse that is the third oldest in Arizona; Otero Hall, built as a community center in 1914 and now housing a collection of paintings; and a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house.
A Museum on the grounds showcases the timeline of human settlement with information about the Native American, Spanish Colonial, Mexican Republic, and Territorial Eras. Among the variety of artifacts, you’ll find ancient pottery, Spanish cookware, mining tools, nineteenth century costumes, and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859.
If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park reserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac.These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.
The mission San José de Tumacácori first was listed in 1691 as an outlying visita by Father Kino, and is one the oldest in Arizona. Tumacácori contributed a herd of cattle to the Anza expedition and Father Font, a member of Anza’s colony, stayed here while Anza marshaled his forces at Tubac. The mission San José de Tumacácori is open to the public. The other two mission ruins are much more fragile and are only accessible through special guided tours. The Park also offers a visitor center and museum.
Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.
With nearly three million acres there is so much to see and do
The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.
The park features convenient locations for exploring the region, as well as a clean, safe campground. The paved camping sites and handicap-accessible restrooms also make the park a good choice for people with physical limitations.
Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.
Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring, but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park—this is a great way to enjoy the park’s beauty while experiencing the famed Superstition Mountains.
For those who prefer a more remote setting, the U.S. Forest Service also offers a range of camping choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere.
The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.
National forests cover 15 percent of Arizona, mostly mountains or plateaus over 6,000 feet but also large areas of desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Besides the varied scenic landscapes within the forests, they provide many locations for camping when exploring Arizona’s national and state parks many of which are surrounded by these public lands.
Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most is rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.
At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest.
The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.
During winter months, snowbirds flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.
Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated by Congress as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.
Pack a first aid kit. Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting, or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen. Tailor your kit to your family’s special needs.
Bring emergency supplies. In addition to a first aid kit, you should also have a map of the area, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets, and insect repellant.
Remember: You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of those around you.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.
From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.
Arizona State Parks Dashboard
Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958
Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)
Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)
Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)
Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)
Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)
Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)
Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults.
As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.
Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance
Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.
Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson
Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.
The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.
Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.
Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma
Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.
Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood
Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Jerome State Historic Park
This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.
Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.
Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction
Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Patagonia Lake State Park
South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.
Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia
Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Where to Stay
You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.
Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.
Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.
Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.
Before You Go
Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area
The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.
Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia
Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.
Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone
Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.
Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac
Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.
Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
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.
Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point
The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.
The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The City of Yuma, through an Intergovernmental Agreement, supports operational costs at this Park. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.
Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.
Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.
Colorado River State Historic Park tells the history of the Crossing from prehistoric times until the present set in the backdrop of the old Quartermaster’s Depot. The area is also recognized as a key location in the cultural development of western history by the National Endowment for the Arts. Through the eyes of the Native Americans, entrepreneurs, steamboat captains, fortune seekers, and the military, it answers the questions of how the early emigrants survived or failed, living in one of the most rugged and isolated places in the world.
Hernando de Alarcon, who accompanied Coronado on his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, passed this site in 1540. Padre Kino saw the present location of the Quartermaster’s Depot in 1683, and Padre Graces established a mission directly across the river and was later killed there by the Indians in 1781.
Yuma began to experience the American westward surge when countless immigrants crossed by ferry from Yuma on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1850, a military post was established at Yuma, and when rich placer gold strikes on the Colorado River precipitated a gold rush in 1858, Yuma experienced a boom. In 1871 Yuma incorporated and became the county seat of Yuma County.
Major William B. Hooper established the Quartermaster Depot on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Supplies were brought from California by ocean-going vessels traveling around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and then north as far as the mouth of the Colorado River.
At this point supplies were transferred to river steamboats and brought up river to the Quartermaster Depot which served as a storage yard and a military supply center for fourteen military posts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Southern Utah, and West Texas. The Depot maintained a six months’ supply of ammunition, clothing, and food at all times.
The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.
Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems.
While visiting the park we found Back in Time, a delightful little pie shop and tea room tucked away in one of the buildings. We bought a whole pecan pie to enjoy back in the motorhome. The pie was incredible with an amazingly flakey crust. Sandwiches, a mixed greens salad, and three tier tea service are also available. The lady that runs the shop is very friendly and helpful, not to mention that she is also an excellent cook!
Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.
Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years
Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.
Life around Rockport-Fulton changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. Rockport’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey three years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and frequent festivals feels fresh again.
Three-hour whooping crane tours depart Fulton Harbor and motor eight miles across Aransas Bay to get a close-up view of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the centerpiece of Rockport-Fulton’s ecotourism offerings. The Aransas refuge is the winter home of the only remaining wild migratory flock of whooping cranes in the world, an endangered species with a local population of roughly 280. The flock’s numbers had dwindled to about 15 birds in the 1940s, but the refuge—created in 1937 as a haven for migratory birds—provided a patch of safe habitat for the cranes to recover.
During the summer when the whoopers are at their Northern Canadian breeding grounds, boat tours offer dolphin-watching and sunset cruises. There are plenty of birds to see in the summer as well. The tours also provide a thumbnail introduction to Coastal Bend ecology and industry.
A mixture of sand and pebbles that stretches for several hundred yards, Rockport Beach is a park set on a small peninsula next to Rockport Harbor. Thatch-roof umbrellas on wooden posts offer bits of shade and a grass lawn provides space for covered picnic tables and a playground.
Birding, history, kayaking, and hiking and biking trails come together at Pathways Center, the principal information center for the new Aransas Pathway projects. There is also a deck for relaxing and observing Tule Creek and the adjoining Shellcrete Birding and Nature site. A bridge connects the north and south sides of Tule Creek and the nature site. This facility functions as the trailhead for Pathways eco-tourism projects in the Aransas County.
For many visitors to Rockport-Fulton, the estuaries of Aransas and neighboring bays are most notable for their prime sportfishing and duck hunting. Sportsmen from Texas and beyond have made Rockport-Fulton a destination since the railroad arrived in 1888. Aransas and San Antonio bays, together covering more than 350 square miles, are famous for their redfish, trout, flounder, and drum.
Ironically, it was turf—not surf—that put the Rockport area on the map in the second half of the 19th Century. The Fulton Mansion State Historic Site recalls the region’s ranching history and tenure as a shipping center.
In pursuit of distant markets for their beef and cattle byproducts, George Fulton and his associates developed cutting-edge methods of refrigeration for meatpacking and shipping. The meatpacking industry fizzled in the 1880s when the railroad arrived and shippers found it cheaper to move live cattle by rail. However, the infrastructure continued to sustain a profitable but short-lived turtle meat industry, satisfying big-city demand for a delicacy of the time period—sea turtle soup.
Because the Fultons had lived in the eastern U.S. for a while, they knew about the latest innovations and conveniences you could have in a home, so they built it with three flush toilets, hot and cold running water, central heating, and gas lighting.
The Fulton Mansion is worth a stop to see the mansion’s stylish French Second Empire exterior and the verdant grounds shaded by large live oak trees. In fact, the majestic live oaks along this stretch of the Coastal Bend are a worthy attraction in and of themselves. Some are individually famous, such as the gnarly, millennium-old “Big Tree” at Goose Island State Park and the Zachary Taylor Oak where Taylor camped in 1845. Other stands of wind-sculpted oaks near the shoreline are remarkable for their shape—angled, twisted, and reaching inland from decades of prevailing winds and salt build-up on their seaward edge.
Come evening, after a day of exploring Rockport-Fulton’s coastal scene, a fitting way to reflect on the experience is from the shade of one of these magnificent live oaks. As the bright orange sun sinks into the horizon, a gentle breeze blows ashore, it’s simple to understand why Winter Texans love this stretch of the Gulf Coast.
The Sonoran Desert offers an impressive array of colorful flora and fauna, scenic drives, and outdoor recreation—all a stone’s throw from the urban sprawl of Phoenix
The central Arizona region of the Sonoran Desert is a lush landscape full of exotic vegetation, unusual wildlife, colorful wildflowers, and even a few rivers and lakes. Best of all, this natural beauty is very accessible for RVers staying within the Valley of the Sun. It is no wonder that snowbirds flock to Arizona every winter to escape the northern blizzards and enjoy the wonders of the desert.
Phoenix is the sixth largest city in America, and it sits on a massive, flat expanse of land that is dotted with ancient volcanic mountain peaks jutting up from the desert floor. Many of these areas have been set aside as recreation areas for the public and there are extensive hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trail systems in every direction from the heart of the city.
For decades, Phoenicians have taken to the outdoors on the popular trails at South Mountain, Camelback Mountain, Papago Park, and at the Maricopa County Regional Parks. These trails are wonderful places to commune with cactus wrens, cottontail rabbits, and the many species of cactus, especially the saguaro cactus that stand tall with their arms raised skyward.
For RVers wintering in the area these urban trails make for an ideal excursion but the real treasures of the Sonoran Desert are but a short drive and just a few miles farther east of the metro area. Many snowbirds use Mesa or Apache Junction as their home base for exploring the wild side of Arizona’s deserts and spend many a happy day discovering the gems of the Sonoran Desert that lay just beyond their RV site.
A favorite day trip is a drive along the Bush Highway which winds between state routes 87 and 202 northeast of Phoenix. This stunningly scenic drive follows the scenic Salt River through some of the most eye-popping landscapes in central Arizona. Although this state isn’t known for having four real seasons when autumn arrives in late November and December, the whole area erupts in vivid fall colors and nowhere are they more vibrant than along the Salt River.
A little farther east on the Bush Highway is an entirely different habitat where the Salt River was dammed to form lovely Saguaro Lake. With a marina at one end of the lake, the boating community is very active on weekends with locals in their small power and sailboats.
Tourists can enjoy the water aboard the Desert Belle, a double-decker boat that gives guided tours down the long, skinny lake into the canyons where the desert hillsides rise up from the shore. What an ideal place to take a selfie to send to friends back home who are shoveling snow!
For RVers who wish to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, there are four outstanding public campgrounds with paved loops, sites large enough for big rigs and electric and water hookups: McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Usery Mountain Regional Park, White Tank Mountains Regional Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park. Each has an RV dump station to empty the holding tanks at the end of your stay.
The beauty of staying in one of these parks is that there are great hiking trails and gorgeous Sonoran Desert scenery right outside your door. These are all popular spots for RVers during the winter months, and advanced reservations are highly recommended.
Located in Apache Junction, Lost Dutchman State Park marks the beginning of the incomparable Apache Trail (State Route 88), a scenic drive that goes through some of the most pristine and awe-inspiring Sonoran Desert terrain in the state. You’ll need to leave your RV at the campground and take your toad on this route. A significant portion of Apache Trail is unimproved though the first 20 miles of the byway is paved and winds between hills and valleys filled with saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla cactus. After passing the vivid blue waters of Canyon Lake, you’ll encounter the little town of Tortilla Flat, population 6. Shortly after leaving town, the road turns to gravel for the next 20 miles and continues its weaving path through exquisite desert landscapes and passes a breathtaking viewpoint high up on a plateau.
If the word “desert” has always evoked images of camels and vast sand dunes for you, take your RV to the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona and discover the color and vitality of this unique place.
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”.
The best parks for snowbirds to explore this winter
While the most familiar of America’s parks are the national parks and state parks, America’s parks operate under a variety of names including county parks, regional parks, metro parks, natural areas, national forests, national grasslands, national wildlife refuges, landmarks, monuments, historic sites, geologic sites, recreation trails, memorial sites, preserves, scenic rivers, and wildlife areas.
So it should not surprise anyone when I say that there are scores of incredible sites worth exploring in America.
Whether you’re looking to explore waterfalls or rivers, volcanoes or deserts, canyons or mountaintops, there’s a park for snowbirds to discover this winter.
The giant Saguaro cactus is the most distinct feature is this park that straddles the city of Tucson. The park, created to preserve the cacti, boasts some great hikes. Driving Saguaro will take you through a Western landscape that’s unmistakably Arizona.
The busiest time of the year is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the high-70s. Starting in late February and March, the park begins to get a variety of cactus and wildflower blooms. In late April, the iconic Saguaro begins to bloom.
Joshua Tree is a diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The park is home to two deserts: the Colorado which offers low desert formations and plant life, such as ocotillo and teddy bear cholla cactus; and the Mojave. This higher, cooler, wetter region is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.
Preserving the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S., Congaree National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on hiking trails and the Boardwalk Loop Trail.
The park is also one of the most diverse in the country—with dense forests giving way to massive expanses of swamplands. The forests are some of the biggest and oldest old-growth in America and offer great opportunities for recreation of all kinds.
Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. 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.
Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. Visits here can be as active or as relaxing as you like. Try exhilarating water sports, go fishing, learn about coastal creatures at the nature center or simply sprawl out on the sands.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.
Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, picnicking and camping, educational programs and guided hikes. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 11 parks in Maricopa County, which ring around the Phoenix metro area.
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.
This state park offers many opportunities to observe the Real Florida and its wildlife
Meet a manatee face-to-face without ever getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish as they swim by—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.
The Fish Bowl underwater observatory floats in the main spring and allows visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface and watch the manatees and an astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish swim about. A television screen with a viewing control is located on the sundeck allowing visitors in wheelchairs to appreciate a view out the underwater windows.
The park also features a variety of captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingoes, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity. The native wildlife that reside in the park serve as ambassadors for their species providing visitors face-to-face connections between the diverse Florida habitats and the animals that call those habitats home. Each with a unique life story, all of the animal inhabitants are here for the same reason: they are unable to survive in the wild on their own. Daily programs educate visitors about the various species and what can be done to protect Florida’s valuable natural resources.
Included in your admission, weather permitting, is a boat tour that transports visitors along Pepper Creek from the visitor center to the main entrance of the wildlife park. Rangers give an introduction to the park. Native wildlife is identified along the way. The pontoon boats are accessible with a ramp for wheelchairs. There is an elevator from the visitor center level to the boat dock for wheelchairs and strollers.
A 1.10-mile trail winds throughout the wildlife park including paved trails and elevated boardwalk systems. Benches and rain shelters are conveniently located along the trail. Bleachers are available at the Manatee Program area and at the Wildlife Encounters pavilion. The park offers many opportunities to observe and photograph the Real Florida and its wildlife.
Manatee programs are offered daily at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. From April 1 through November 15, the programs are presented alongside the main spring in the bleachers overlooking the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. From November 15 through March 31, the programs are presented alongside the in-ground manatee pool at the Manatee Care Center.
Pets are not allowed at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park because of the captive wildlife. The park provides kennels at the main entrance of the park on U.S. 19 for those visitors traveling with pets. The kennels are self-service and free. Service animals are welcome where the public is normally allowed.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park includes the Wildlife Walk and paved trails for wildlife viewing. The Wildlife Walk consists of elevated boardwalks that are accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. The boardwalk allows an elevated view into the natural habitats and provides rain shelters along the way.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an excellent site for birding. The Pepper Creek Birding Trail runs from the Visitor Center parking area along the tram road and loops through the parking areas at Fish Bowl Drive and returns via a boat ride along Pepper Creek. An information kiosk is located at the trailhead behind the parking area of the Visitor Center on U.S. 19.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring. The tracks ran alongside what is now Fishbowl Drive. While passengers enjoyed a view of Homosassa Spring and its myriad of fresh and saltwater fish, the train’s crew was busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar, and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.
The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres was purchased in the 1940s and was turned into a commercial attraction. At one point, a company called Ivan Tors Animal Actors housed some of its trained animals here in between their appearances in movies and TV shows (remember “Flipper” and “Sea Hunt”?). Lu the hippo was brought here through that company many years ago.
The park is located in Homosassa on the west side of U.S. 19/98. Admission is $13 for age 13 and older and $5 for children 6 to 12. Children 5 and under admitted free. The park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A string of counties studded with emerald-like gulf waters, deep springs and rivers….If you’re looking for a place of stunning natural beauty, undisturbed…habitats and silence, you’ve come to the right place.
—John Muir on his visit to the Nature Coast in 1867