Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Arizona is home to some amazing state parks

A certain large national park may come to mind when most people think of outdoor spaces in the Grand Canyon State. But Arizona boasts 29 state parks, too, and new data show a slight uptick in visits to those lands over the past year.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birders, campers, boaters, hikers, and others made 3.2 million visits to Arizona state parks during the Fiscal Year (FY) that ended in June, an increase of about 1 percent over the previous 12 months, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That’s up from nearly 2.7 million visits about three years ago. But 1 percent suggests the growth in visitors is leveling off after years of 8 and 9 percent increases.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wet, cool, and windy winter weather likely affected the crowds at Lake Havasu, the state’s most popular state park where the number of visits declined about 10 percent to around 500,000 over the previous year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park saw visitation drop, also, by around 19 percent following the closure of a pedestrian walkway. The state plans to rebuild it next year. The number of visitors also decreased at historic sites including Tubac Presidio, Fort Verde, McFarland Historic Park (original Pinal County Courthouse in Florence.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert wildflowers that followed the damp and cool winter resulted in a boost for parks in the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande saw a 46 percent increase in visitors during the last fiscal year, tallying 121,000 visits. And yes, we were there. Oracle and Catalina state parks in Southern Arizona also saw increases in visitors. The increase in visitation at these parks raises concerns about how best to balance the park’s popularity with the rustic feel of the site.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park with the biggest increase in visitors in proportion to the previous year was Lyman Lake State Park, where attendance nearly doubled reaching 31,100. That’s still not many people compared to other locations. Situated on the Little Colorado River east of Show Low, the park is secluded. The water is higher than it has been in years and has no size restrictions on boats.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1) Lake Havasu

Visitors during FY 2019: 504,000 (down 10.6%)

It should be no surprise that the most popular state parks in Arizona are situated on water. This park is an oasis on the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, boasting beaches, boat ramps and campsites.

Sonaota Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Slide Rock State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 434,400 (down 5.5%)

This 43-acre historic homestead near Sedona used to be an apple farm. But visitors don’t just come for the agricultural history, as they flock to the park in Oak Creek Canyon for its namesake slide.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Catalina State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 251,100 (up 18.2%)

Catalina includes 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams outside Tucson. Oh, and it has nearly 5,000 saguaros and awesome sunsets.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s least-visited state parks

1) McFarland State Historic Park

Visitors during FY2019: 6,800 (down 13.9%)

The original Pinal County courthouse in downtown Florence offers a glimpse into the past. Built in 1878, it’s an architectural showcase, demonstrating the incorporation of Spanish design into the style of Anglo settlers.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Tubac Presidio

Visitors during FY2019: 7,900 (down 11.2%)

This park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752. The presidio was outpost of the Spanish empire, a base for troops and a station for further exploration of what would become the American Southwest.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Fort Verde

Visitors during FY2019: 10,700 (down 17.1%)

When troops left this Apache Wars-era fort, the premises was divided up and sold at auction. This small state park attempts to preserve some of the structures and give the public a look at life at mid-19th century Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers

Round ‘Em Up: The Ground Rumbles & The Dust Flies

Feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

Feel the earth tremble as the hooves of more than 1,300 American buffalo pound through the valley in Custer State Park. At the annual Buffalo Roundup in the Black Hills of South Dakota, herdsmen on horseback spur them over the ridge, down the hill and into corrals for sorting.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each fall, the ground rumbles and the dust flies as cowboys, cowgirls, and park crews drive the thundering herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo (number of animals vary depending on rangeland conditions). Up to 20 volunteer cowboys and cowgirls are selected each year through an application process.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clouds of dust and flying turf envelopes the 1-ton animals as they come running by, a mass of horns, hooves, and muscle on the move. You would think such large, lumbering animals would be slow, but they can stop on a dime and easily jump a 5- or 6-foot fence. Your jaw will drop at their speed and agility.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riding herd on the stampede takes both organization and an understanding of bison intellect. The herd moves easily from prairie grasses to asphalt and into the holding pen. Over the years, there had been numerous runaways trying to turn back.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The big bull bison are not included in the Roundup because they are more aggressive and are simply hard to round up. Because of this, visitors may see them scattered throughout the park during the Roundup weekend.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also part of the park’s management plan to maintain a healthy balance between the number of bison and the available rangeland forage. The park can only sustain a certain number of bison, based on the condition of the grassland and how much food is available.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Buffalo Roundup also allows for some of the animals to be sorted out of the herd. The excess animals are then auctioned off to buyers in November wanting to supplement their herds or start new ones elsewhere in the country.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is open to the public. In 2019, the 54th  annual Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 27.

Wild burros also via for attention © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no admission fee for the event and a park entrance fee is not required the day of the Buffalo Roundup. Parking lots open at 6:15 a.m. (but be prepared to wait in line). Visitors who are in the park by 7:00 a.m. will have plenty of time to get to the viewing areas. The Roundup does not start until 9:30 a.m.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pancakes, sausages, and beverages are available at 6:15 a.m., in both viewing areas. Lunch is served, until 2:00 p.m., at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals.

Pronghorn antelope share the range with the buffal0 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both viewing areas have unique vantage points and visitors get great views from either location. Visitors may not move between viewing areas.

Wild burros also via for attention © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roundup is generally over by 11:30 a.m., but visitors need to be prepared to stay in the viewing areas until the bison are safely in the corrals. Shuttles are available after the Roundup for visitors wishing to visit the corral area.

Fun activities continue the entire weekend following the Roundup. The Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, with up to 150 vendors, is held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday near the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center. Saturday features the annual Cabela’s Challenge Dutch Oven Cook-off.

Pronghorn antelope share the range with the buffal0 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not in the mood to browse or buy and you want to escape the crowds, there’s plenty of daytime wildlife viewing along Wildlife Loop Road and other scenic byways. September is the rut season for the elk and the pronghorn antelope. With the elks’ mating calls and sparring, along with the antelope racing after each other, wildlife watching is quite entertaining.

The spectacle of these animals moving across the plains is a thrill rarely seen elsewhere. So is the silence that shrouded the hills once the beasts are corralled.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once placed in the corrals, park staff sorts out approximately 200 animals to be sold, vaccinates the new members of the herd, brands the new calves, and checks the cows for pregnancy. It takes about four days to work the entire herd.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where never is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Here are 10 state parks you may not know about—but should

While national parks are touted as the crown jewels of America, it is also time to recognize and celebrate America’s less crowded but just as fulfilling state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Texas, there is Galveston Island State Park with numerous activities on land and water. In Arizona, check out Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve located near Sedona. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina offers a lighthouse, swimming, birding, fishing, and camping.

Make plans now to visit these spectacular state parks.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Come to the island to stroll the beach, splash in the waves, fish, or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax.

Meaher State Park, Alabama

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Alligators, turtles, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers make their homes in this refuge.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

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 numerous opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hike the canyon rim trails above the Colorado River or mountain bike over 16 miles of high desert terrain on the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. Go geocaching, stop by the visitor center to learn about the Native American history of the region, and linger as the sun sets to enjoy the spectacular star show at this International Dark Sky Park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour.

Worth Pondering…
To travel is to live.

—Hans Christian Andersen

Immense Cliffs and Stunning Overlooks: Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park is perhaps Utah’s most spectacular state park

The park lies on the same broad mesa as The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Featuring immense cliffs carved by the elements and stunning overlooks, Dead Horse Point State Park draws you in with its breathtaking landscapes, dark starlit skies, and rich history.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles. The peninsula is connected to the 8umesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Millions of years of geologic activity created the spectacular views from Dead Horse Point State Park. Deposition of sediments by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams, and windblown sand dunes created the rock layers of canyon country. Igneous activity formed the high mountains that rise like cool blue islands out of the hot, dry desert.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This desert gem sports a visitor center, a 21-site campground with flush toilets and shade ramadas, a group campsite, picnic area, and a nine-mile hiking trail loop.

Water is limited. Visitors should fill their recreation vehicle water tanks before coming to the park. This campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those seeking an extra special overnight experience, the park also offers yurts that sleep six and feature a propane fireplace, kitchen area, outside grill, lighting, and electricity.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plants and animals of Dead Horse Point have adapted to a land of scarce water and extreme temperatures. Plants grow very slowly here. Trees 15 feet tall may be hundreds of years old. Leaves of most plants are small, and some have a waxy coating to reduce evaporation.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most desert animals are nocturnal, active only during cooler evenings and mornings. Some have large ears to dissipate heat while others metabolize water from food.

With Moab nearby, mountain bikers visiting the park can rest assured their bikes are permitted on the park’s paved roads.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more adventurous biking experience, bikers can also test their skills down the Intrepid Trail located near the park’s visitor center. With slickrock sections, looping singletrack, sandy washes, and incredible scenery, the Intrepid Trail System provides a great taste of what Moab mountain biking is all about. This is the perfect ride for families and offers spectacular views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Intrepid Trail System has three hiking and biking loops ranging from one to nine miles with varying degrees of difficulty. The easiest and shortest loop is Intrepid, followed by Great Pyramid, with Big Chief as the most challenging. The nested loop trails will offer opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities, and provide breathtaking views.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to one legend, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top around the turn of the century. Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is best photographed at sunrise. For the warmest light, shoot between May 1 and mid-August, when the sun rises north of the La Sals, or from late October to mid-February, when it rises to the south.

Four view areas, ideal for photography stops, are located along the highway.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is reached by following the same route as the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It is 23 miles from U.S. Highway 191 to Dead Horse Point State Park via Utah Highway 313.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.

—Margaret Lee Runbeck

A Cool Oasis in the West Texas Desert

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool

In July, on a 100-degree day in the desert, 562 miles west of Houston, the San Solomon Springs Pool at Balmorhea State Park in Far West Texas, is a favorite place for many RVers and other travelers searching for respite from the hot Texas sun.

The water is so clear it’s like jumping into a dream. The water temperature hovers around 75 degrees, refreshingly cool in the heat of the summer and comfortably warm in winter. It is, in the opinion of many, the best swimming hole on Earth.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Davis Mountains where the Chihuahuan Desert transitions into the low, flat Permian Basin, the San Solomon complex of springs gush out 15 million gallons of artesian water every day, feeding a canal system that runs to nearby farms and the town of Balmorhea, 4 miles away.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built walls around the desert marsh to create the pool. Today, more than 200,000 people stop by every year to swim with fish, waterfowl, and amphibians.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The CCC-era structure is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day, gushing from the San Solomon Springs. The 1.3- acre pool is up to 25 feet deep, holds 3.5 million gallons of water with the temperature 72 to 76 degrees year-round.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several years ago when we stopped by in early spring on our route west to Arizona, we had the park to ourselves. But on summer weekends so many people cram into the park that volunteers improvise parking in open fields.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I always figured Balmorhea was too far away from major population centers, too in the middle of nowhere, to get overrun. I was wrong. In recent years, visitation has surged. For families between Van Horn and Odessa, Balmorhea is the one affordable place within 100 miles to cool off and picnic.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scuba clubs from as far away as Kansas and Arkansas explore the springs on weekends year-round. Fitness buffs motoring coast to coast make detours for a swim.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For almost three months, during the peak summer season, the pool was closed as staff figured out how to fix a collapsed retaining wall below the diving boards.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closing was sudden and unplanned. During the annual cleaning in early May (2018), Abel Baeza, the manager of the local water district, was directing workers to make repairs in a nearby canal when he heard a noise, then turned around to see the underwater concrete skirting cracking off below the high dive.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 80-year-old pool, like the nearby adobe San Solomon Springs Motor Courts which are closed during a planned restoration, requires constant upkeep. The concrete repairs were an even bigger deal. A dam had to be constructed to hold back water around the damage during the painstaking process.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There are five endangered species in the pool, and this is the only population left of this species of black catfish,” said Mark Lockwood, the West Texas regional director for Texas state parks.

“We can’t just open up the gates, let the water dry up everywhere, build a wall, and put it back together.”

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early August, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) announced that pool repairs would begin imminently, with the cash-strapped agency forced to find creative ways to pay the estimated $2 million bill. Apache Corporation, the company doing most of the fracking exploration around Balmorhea, which some locals and environmentalists believe caused the damage, offered a $1 million matching grant through the nonprofit Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.

The Garrison Brothers Distillery pledged a portion of proceeds from its small-batch, $59-a-bottle Balmorhea whiskey. Even for a park as popular as Balmorhea, getting things done these days requires the governmental equivalent of a GoFundMe campaign.

This project is only one of the three major developments underway at Balmorhea State Park. Renovations to the San Solomon Springs Courts and campgrounds have been ongoing since 2017. Once these projects have completed, visitors to Balmorhea will have an enhanced park experience at West Texas’ most treasured oasis.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has established a fund to accept donations towards the structural repairs that are needed to reopen the pool. These donations will help ensure that Texans can continue to enjoy this historic spring-fed swimming pool and unique West Texas destination for generations to come.

The park remains open for day-use only with limited facilities.

The restoration of the San Solomon Springs Motor Courts should be finished by spring. The fallen wall in the pool should be repaired any day now. I’m standing by.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another sunny 70 degree fall or spring day with little wind will do just fine. Odds are, we’ll have the park all to ourselves.

If you wait until next summer, y’all will be waiting in line with the rest of y’all.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Discover these lesser-known natural wonders

America’s state parks may keep a lower profile than the renowned national parks but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a worthwhile destination. With 8,565 designated areas spanning over 18 million acres of land, there’s an incredible range of outdoor experiences to explore—including some real standouts that deserve to be on your RV travel radar.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This state park in southeast Utah has drawn comparisons to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool, and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Rustic, modern, and full service sites are available.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Boasting South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse, Hunting Island is a popular stop on the coast. It has five miles of beaches, a saltwater lagoon, and 5,000 acres of marshland and maritime forest, plus one hundred campsites. Local wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, which nest in the summer, alligators, and hundreds of bird species.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites. Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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 kayaking on the scenic river. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.
—Robin Sharma

Fields of Poppies Adorn Picacho Peak (State Park)

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Picacho Peak State Park Is Alive With Color

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

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I’m crouched down.

Eye level with the poppy.

I’m feeling lucent.

Even a little lightheaded!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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

So I must enjoy the glorious poppies.

golden Mexican poppies

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Keats