Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Rover Roving with You?

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

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

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

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

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

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

A Great Migration: Bosque del Apache

The sound of the sandhill cranes and the scent of roasting green chile herald the arrival of autumn in the Rio Grande valley

It was a frigid November morning at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where we had joined dozens of ardent wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, lined up tripod-to-tripod and scope to scope, ready and waiting for the action to begin.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We were standing on an observation platform called Flight Deck overlooking a network of fields and marshes teeming with thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese that pause here to feed and rest during their annual migration south.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Talk about a great migration! Every year starting in early November, some 10-15,000 sandhill cranes, 20-30,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks, and even a few hawks and bald eagles migrate to the Bosque del Apache. This annual event also attracts birders, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds who also migrate to the Bosque to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Rio Grande just a few miles off Interstate 25 south of Socorro (between Albuquerque and Las Cruces) in the tiny town of San Antonio, the 57,000-acre refuge was established in the 1930s to protect the sandhill crane. The majestic 4-foot-tall crane had nearly vanished along the Intermountain West Corridor, a vital north-south flyway for migratory waterfowl and many other birds.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. As is a “fly in” at sunset when the flocks return to the shallow marshes after a day of feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They could go any minute now,” said the photographer next to us. An amateur wildlife photographer, here as a member of a photo tour group. “They take off all at once…thousands of them,” he adds, “and it’s really unbelievable.”

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we watched and waited, the sun inched over the eastern horizon illuminating a wispy fog rising from the marsh several hundred feet away. Then, without any discernible signal, it happened. In virtual unison thousands of snow geese erupted in a thunder of wings, and in a blur filled the sky as they flew low over head before soaring northward to spend the day feeding in the fields.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sandhill cranes then started to walk. Others lowered their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s unbelievable how they take off all at once, thousands of them. Nothing we’ve ever seen in nature compares to it. It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then in the late afternoon they streak the sky and return to the water to roost for the night. The afternoon fly-in is almost as enjoyable to observe as the morning fly-out.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sunrise had also made us forget for a time the freezing chill as we retreated to the warmth of our toad.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once warmed up, we drove the 15-mile one-way auto loop road and hiked the trails and observed large groups of snow geese and cranes, thousands of ducks of many varieties, hundreds of Canada geese, dozens of hawks, eagles, blackbirds, crows, roadrunners, sparrows, grebes, coots, and other birds along with occasional reptiles, amphibians and mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The one-day entry fee is $5 per vehicle including all occupants; an annual pass is $25. Golden Age and other federal passes are accepted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge hosts a number of special events, including the annual Festival of the Cranes, staged during the height of the fall migration. The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes is set for November 20-23, 2019. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

6 Great Destinations to Visit on Veterans Day

Honor the men and women of the armed forces at these special sites

From Boston, Massachusetts and Saratoga, New York to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Mobile, Alabama, our list of great destinations to visit on Veterans Day offer new perspectives on being a veteran and the opportunity to honor those, current and past, who have served in the US military.

In honor of Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, we’ve found some great destinations that are steeped in military history.

Veterans Day, first celebrated in 1919 under the proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was in honor of the end of hostilities at the end of World War I (which formally ended in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918). The holiday changed to its modern form in 1954.

Boston Freedom Trail

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, Granary Burying Ground, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution (Old Ironside). and Bunker Hill Monument.

Saratoga National Historical Park

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) ranks among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last war to be fought on American soil was the Civil War, and one of its most renowned battles was that of Gettysburg, where around 50,000 casualties were suffered. Now visitors can step back in time and stroll through the battlefields, see where Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, tour the museum and even horseback ride along the trails. For a war that was so long ago, Gettysburg is the place where it becomes real and the sacrifices soldiers made become tangible.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

USS Alabama National Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretching longer than two football fields, this World War II battleship today welcomes visitors to explore its deck, guns, machinery and bunks. Home to 2,500 sailors, it won numerous battle commendations, and led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay as the war ended. The park also has the World War II USS Drum submarine.

Alamo

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story is well known, passed down from one generation to the next. For nearly two weeks, 189 Texans stood tall against the assembled army of Mexican General Lopez de Santa Anna at a small mission and fortress compound in San Antonio. On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

Thank you veterans!

Worth Pondering…

While only one day of the year is dedicated solely to honoring our veterans, Americans must never forget the sacrifices that many of our fellow countrymen have made to defend our country and protect our freedoms.

—Randy Neugebaue

Death Knell of the Confederacy: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park commemorates the site of two seminal 1863 American Civil War battles, the Chattanooga Campaign and the Battle of Chickamauga

When the Civil War raged throughout the Union and Confederate lands from 1861 to 1865, it ranged to Tennessee, from the fields of Shiloh to the town of 5,545 citizens at the time of the Great Rebellion along the bend of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga, and into the state just south, at Chickamauga.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now interpreted at the national battlefield park that bears both names, the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, it almost seems fitting to twin these two names, the second of which stems from the first battle of Chattanooga when the branch of the Cherokee Indians, known as the Chickamaugua were moved west in the Trail of Tears from the area only two decades before.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest and largest of America’s Civil War military parks, Chickamauga and Chattanooga encompasses land in north Georgia and south Tennessee. 

In the fall of 1863, with the outcome of the Civil War still in doubt, more than 150,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought in a series of battles on the fields of this park. These battles were remembered as some of the hardest fighting of the war.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union campaign began in June and didn’t end until late November. When the battles were done, the Union had seized Chattanooga, and with it a gateway into the deep South. Chattanooga was a major railway center, and the following spring Sherman used it as his launching-pad to begin his march to Atlanta and the sea.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the Civil War, Chattanooga was considered to be an attractive area for its railroads and location, earning the title of the “Gateway of the Deep South.” In 1843, battles broke out in various areas in Chickamauga and Chattanooga with both the Union and Confederate troops experiencing victories and losses.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is headquartered at Chickamauga, Georgia, about 9 miles south of downtown Chattanooga. We were impressed by the preservation of the national park and appreciated the amount of information available to visitors, both laid throughout the park and within the visitors center, home to several museum exhibits about the Civil War and campaign for Chickamauga. Also, inside the visitor center is an Eastern National Park bookstore, and the Fuller Gun Collection, an impressive collection of military muskets and rifles from the colonial era through the early 20th century.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the seven-mile auto tour we saw monuments and memorials honoring those who fought there. We also noticed tablets, blue for Union and red for Confederate, that describe the soldier’s actions; they date from around 1890 when the U.S. Congress authorized Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the first such park in the United States.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll walk where Confederate and Union soldiers fought in the bloodiest two-day battle of the war on September 19-20, 1863.

In September 1863 the Union Army of the Cumberland was routed and the Battle of Chickamauga was over. In its wake were a broken Union army and 35,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The victorious Confederates controlled the field, and soon followed the Union Army to Chattanooga. Over the next two months Confederate forces besieged the trapped Union army. In November 1863 the Union Army, reinforced by Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, and Joseph Hooker, defeated the Confederates at Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union army may have lost the Battle of Chickamauga, but they won control of Chattanooga and drove the Confederates south into Georgia opening the war for union operations into the Deep South. As one Confederate soldier ominously wrote after the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, “This is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Park was the first Military Park of its kind. In 1888, former members of the Cumberland Army General H. V. Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer revisited the area, and were impressed to protect and commemorate the memory of the area. Two years later, this Park was established, and became the largest of the first four military parks, the others being Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.

The Chickamauga section of the park is free.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Top 12 Veterans Day Destinations

In honor of Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, we’ve found some great destinations that are steeped in military history

Veterans Day, first celebrated in 1919 under the proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was in honor of the end of hostilities at the end of World War I (which formally ended in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918). The holiday changed to its modern form in 1954.

USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the best places to visit for a sense of what a veteran has experienced are museum ships. You can visit the Midway in San Diego, California; the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas; the Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina; the Hornet in Alameda, California; the Intrepid in New York, New York; USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama; and USS Constitution (Old Ironside) in Boston, Massachusetts.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) in Boston, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 17, 1781, the Americans won a decisive battle against the better-trained British Army. The Battle of Cowpens (South Carolina) was over in less than an hour. This battle was the event which started British General Cornwallis on his march north to his eventual surrender at Yorktown just nine months later.

The Battle of Cowpens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was one of those special moments in time when destiny is forever changed. The march to Yorktown had begun.

Cowpens National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga ranks among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Battle of Sarasota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) marked the climax of the Saratoga campaign giving the Americans a decisive victory over the British forces. British General John Burgoyne led a large invasion army up the Champlain Valley from Canada, hoping to meet a similar force marching northward from New York City; the southern force never arrived, and Burgoyne was surrounded by American forces in upstate New York.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though all the survivors from the Civil War are now gone, it’s still a great way to honor veterans and learn some history at the same time. Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, is perhaps the epitome of Civil War battlefields. It was the largest, bloodiest battle of the Civil War with 50,000 casualties. Though the conflict took place more than 150 years ago, it’s still a powerful reminder of the sacrifice and strife that took place and that almost tore apart the nation.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battles of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the “Army of Northern Virginia”, led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appomattox Court House National Historic Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nation’s capital is teeming with monuments dedicated to the brave men and women who fought in wars both present and past. Some honor those who fell and some honor those who fought. Regardless, there are plenty of stunning monuments to see and places to visit. If you can, it’s a wonderful place to spend Veterans Day.

Thank you veterans!

Worth Pondering…

While only one day of the year is dedicated solely to honoring our veterans, Americans must never forget the sacrifices that many of our fellow countrymen have made to defend our country and protect our freedoms.

—Randy Neugebaue

Planning Your North-South Snowbird RV Route

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

Snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

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

Tennessee Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Kentucky Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Lewis Carrol

P.S. I Love You

Petite Sirah (aka. Durif, Petite Syrah) I Love You!

Developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Syrah, this grape variety is more commonly known by its slightly anglicized synonym, Petite Sirah—particularly in California. The “petite” refers to the size of its berries and leaves that look like its namesake.

Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Francois Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder at the University of Montpellier in Southern France, released this new variety that he named after himself. The result of a cross between the noble Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Durif was developed to resist mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, the tightly-bunched variety never really caught on because of gray rot or root rot in the humid Rhône region .

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, the grape has adapted well to the more arid climates of California and Australia (Victoria State). Petite Syrah has, in fact, succeeded better abroad than in its south of France birthplace, where it is now almost never grown. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The combination of Peloursin and Syrah results in fruit with saturated color and very dense fruit clusters. Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The grape’s similarity to parent Syrah became confusing for early planters in California. Starting in the 1880s, some of the original Durif vines were confused for a clone of Syrah and subsequently named Petite Sirah. DNA fingerprinting has shown that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Until the push for varietal-labeled wines came to the fore in the 1960s and ’70s, little thought was given to the actual name of this variety in California. It was often added to provide color and body to California’s bulk wine production, or used to add richness to North Coast Zinfandel and Barbera.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is nothing “petite” about this wine. This is one of the few wines that can often be identified by just looking at its beautiful deep black/purple color often described as inky. Petite Sirah is one of the dark grapes that are often referred to as “black grapes.” This is largely due to the dark skin of the grape itself. After you uncorked a bottle you can see exactly how inky and dark the end of the cork is. If you are not careful, you can stain a countertop, your clothes, or your hands. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines are relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel. Vintners will sometimes introduce a small amount of white wine into Petite Sirah to calm the intensity with little effect on color. The bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit especially blueberries, black fruit, plums. Petite Sirah wines that are very tannic have aging ability that can exceed 20 years.

When purchasing a bottle from the winery, ask the tasting room staff for the winemaker’s recommendation on bottle aging.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petite Sirah can sometimes be rather “short,” that is, the flavor does not linger in the mouth; hence, the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth will add length and elegance like a Zinfandel.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acreage for the grape has had its ups and downs over the years, reaching its heyday during the 1970s before plummeting to its lowest point of about 1,750 acres statewide in 1995. These days, almost 10,000 acres are planted to the variety, which is great news for fans of big, rich, hearty wines.

Cooper Vineyard Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Petite Sirah plantings in California date back to 1884 in Alameda County. But we have Concannon Vineyard in Livermore Valley to thank for Petite Sirah’s popularity. The winery was the first in the U.S. to call out Petite Sirah on the label—in 1964. Now it’s Concannon’s rock star grape.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines made from the Petite Sirah are not subtle, and provide a generous mouthful of juicy black fruit and grippy tannins. Some of the producers that are currently creating great Petite Sirah include David Bruce, Girard, and Michael David with their Earthquake series—one of our personal favorites.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pick up a bottle and find out why, despite the label, this wine is anything but “petite.”

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Mysterious Towers of Hovenweep Ruins

We know a bit about the people who built the Hovenweep Towers but much of their history remains unknown

In the high desert country which straddles the border between southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, the Hovenweep ruins with their mysterious towers induce a strange silence, something you cannot quite explain.

Walk in ancient footsteps. Soak in the silence. Marvel at a night sky overflowing with stars. Hear a lone coyote’s howl. Experience the past at Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In our experience at Hovenweep (a Ute word meaning “deserted valley”), you hear nothing at all for long periods. When you see the occasional visitors, they seem to walk along the trails and among the ruins in deliberate quietness. They seem to speak with hushed voices, as though they were exploring the sanctuaries of the great old European cathedrals, many constructed at about the same time the early Pueblo people called Anasazi built the Hovenweep villages.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep is one of those out of the way destinations that are easy to miss, especially in the midst of southeastern Utah where national parks such as Canyonlands and Arches, Monument Valley, the San Juan River, and Cedar Mesa offer a myriad of recreational options.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep preserves six villages once inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. The six Hovenweep site groups are located within a 20-mile drive of each other along the Utah-Colorado border.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These units vary greatly in size, the largest of which is the 400-acre Square Tower Group. Both this group, where the Ranger Station is located, and Cajon Ruins are located in Utah. The Colorado sites are Holly Ruins, Hackberry Canyon, Cutthroat Castle, and Goodman Point. Altogether, Hovenweep National Monument encompasses 785 acres.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor center contains exhibits and educational information for visitors. There is a small sales area with books specializing on the cultural and natural history of the area.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These structures evoke an ancient time—one filled with the sights and sounds of a vibrant and dynamic culture. Family groups built their homes at the heads of canyons, surrounding life-giving seep springs that provided water, cooler temperatures, and shade from the cottonwood and hackberry trees that grew there.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perched on the canyon rims, these villages have weathered the centuries, owing to their solid foundations and careful construction. The towers and rooms of Hovenweep are unique in the style and quality of their masonry. Stones are carefully shaped and small rocks and mortar fill the gaps between, keeping out sun, cold, wind, and any small creatures.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These structures at Hovenweep are numerous and varied. Some are square, some D-shaped, some round, some almost four stories tall. The exact purpose of the towers is uncertain, but possibilities include celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civil buildings, communications towers, and ceremonial buildings. Only limited archeological work has been done at Hovenweep. None of the structures have been rebuilt and remain standing after 700 years.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hovenweep people built increasingly larger and taller towers over time, an indication of the increasing importance of the structures. They built them (in cross section) in D-shaped, square, rectangular, circular, or irregular outlines. They located them, often with perilous entryways, on canyon ledges, canyon bottoms, even atop large boulders.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some of them, they built viewing ports, suggesting lookout or, possibly, defensive structures. In some, they left ceramic vessels, stone tools, stone grinding basins, and food plant traces, suggesting living, working, and storage areas. In some, they incorporated wall openings which admitted shafts of sun at summer solstice, suggesting solar calendars. For some, they constructed tunnels which led from the towers to kivas, suggesting a ceremonial function.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why did the Hovenweep people, unlike other Anasazi, concentrate on building increasingly large towering structures with various cross-sectional shapes, in differing (even dangerous) locations, for apparently diverse functions? Why did they hold the towers in such importance? No one can say for sure.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The towers remain one of the enduring mysteries of Southwestern archaeology.

Worth Pondering…

I hope you dance because…

Time.

Time is a wheel.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me, who wants to look back on their years and wonder where their years have gone.

—Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, I Hope You Dance

What to Pack for Extended RV Trips

Here are the essentials for an extended RV trip including snowbird travel

Over the course of 22 years of our snowbird RV lifestyle, we have learned what we really need to pack and what we can do without. Our list of “essentials” has changed over the years based on changing needs and available storage space.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving on our snowbird journey we go through the RV to determine the items needed and those no longer required.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following is a list of the items we currently pack into our RV for our snowbird travels to the U.S. Sunbelt. It should be noted that the majority of these items are never removed from the RV.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopefully, if you are new to the snowbird lifestyle the following list will provide some assistance on the essentials required when planning an extended RV trip.

It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside Items

  • Laptop computer, printer, camera, lens, and camera bag
  • Manuals for the motorhome and toad
  • Atlases and maps
  • Campground directories (Good Sam and Big Rigs)
  • Office supplies
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kitchen Stuff

  • Place setting for four people
  • Eating utensils
  • Coffee mugs and assorted glassware
  • Placemats
  • Small, medium, and large pots w/lids
  • Electric fry pan
  • Salad spinner
  • Roasting pans
  • Air tight plastic containers of various sizes for food storage
  • Toaster oven
  • Slow cooker
  • Kettle
  • Kitchen knives
  • Mixing bowls
  • Coffee maker
  • Cutting boards
  • Assorted utensils (spatula, ice cream scoop, can opener, measuring spoons, peeler, etc.)
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside Items

  • Camping chairs
  • Folding tables
  • Outside mat
  • Tire covers
  • Tarp
  • Jack pads
  • RV Leveling Blocks (plastic stacking blocks in carrying case)
  • 5 gallon bucket
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utility Hookups

  • Fresh water hoses
  • Water pressure regulators
  • Sewer hoses, connections including clear plastic elbow, and support
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Coaxial TV cable
  • Progressive Industries Electric Management System
  • 30-amp extension cord
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cleaners & Lubricants

  • Windex
  • 303 Aerospace Protectant
  • Meguires RV wash and wax
  • Long adjustable pole with attachments
  • Silicone and white lithium spray lubricants
  • WD-40
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tools & Maintenance Items

  • Basic tool kit (Screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, hammer, tape measure, etc.)
  • Assorted screws, nuts, bolts, and washers
  • Heavy duty tire pressure gauge
  • Folding shovel
  • Duct and Gorilla Tape
  • Spare oil, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid for motorhome
  • Distilled water
  • Funnels
  • Work gloves
  • Portable collapsible ladder
  • Heavy duty clippers with extendable handles
It all fits somewhere. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Safety & Emergency Items

  • 4 fire extinguishers—bedroom, entrance, storage, and toad
  • Emergency road side reflective triangles
  • First aid kit
  • Spare batteries for LED flashlights, CO, smoke, and LP gas detectors
  • Battery jumper cables
At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wow! When I actually sat down and listed our stuff and it sure adds up. It’s hard to believe it all fits in our rig, but it does. Fortunately, our Dutch Star diesel pusher’s ample storage space and a decent amount of extra cargo weight capacity.

At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with the reliability of Newmar motorhomes and the quality service provided by our dealer—Midtown RV in Penticton, British Columbia—the ample cargo carrying capacity was one of the reasons we chose it. Something to think about if you’re buying a rig for extended RV trips.

At the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Barn Quilt Trail: Folksy Phenomenon

Barn quilts are America, Mom, and apple pie

Today’s barn decorating revival became popular with a woman named Donna Sue Groves, from Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to honor her mother by hanging a colorful painted quilt square on her barn. 

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the start, the mother of the quilt-barn movement envisioned mile after mile of quilt trails throughout Appalachia, but the folksy phenomenon has exceeded her expectations.

“We’re celebrating quilting as an art form. We’re celebrating our agricultural heritage and supporting entrepreneurial opportunities,” Groves says.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of barn decoration dates back to the mid 1800s. Painting symbols on barns originated from traditional folk art passed along from the German and Swiss immigrants who settled the Pennsylvania Dutch region in southeastern Pennsylvania. Once these groups including Lutherans, Moravians, and Mennonites built their family farms and communities, they would paint small patterns on their barns to celebrate their heritage. Originally these patterns were simple stars, compass roses, or stylized birds from traditional folk art.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2000, when Donna Sue Groves set out to fulfill her promise to paint a quilt square on her mother’s tobacco barn, she decided to expand her folk art idea beyond their farm. As an Ohio Arts Council employee, she had a hunch that quilt squares painted on the sides of barns throughout Adams County would provide work for local artists and encourage visitors to travel through the countryside.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groves organized volunteers for the Adams County Quilt Barn Sampler committee as they established guidelines for the 8-foot-by-8-foot painted wooden squares called “barn quilts.” Her mother Maxine stitched a sampler quilt with 20 traditional patterns chosen by the group and in October 2001, they unveiled their first painted quilt square—an Ohio Star—on a barn during the Lewis Mountain Olde Thyme Herb Fair in Manchester, Ohio.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beginning tourists roamed the back roads of the county in search of the colorful quilt patterns, taking photographs, and visiting with barn owners.

As the folk art spread across the countryside, Donna Sue’s gift to her mother became a gift to rural America.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the start of the first quilt trail in America. Quilt trails have now being organized all across the country. Barn quilts are displayed around communities and then mapped out for tourists to follow these amazing works of art. They promote tourism and help draw visitors into rural communities.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditional stars and various quilt patterns are now being displayed on barns, homes, sheds, and sides of buildings. They are also put on posts and displayed in yards and parks. 

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, more than 4,000 quilt squares adorn barns and other buildings in 34 states, most situated along more than 120 designated barn-quilt trails.

“The trails are very localized. What’s going on is local pride,” says Suzi Parron, author of Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement, published in 2012.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parron, an English teacher from Stone Mountain, Georgia, became smitten with the folk art phenomenon after seeing a Flying Geese quilt square on a barn in Cadiz, Kentucky.

The quilt squares are painted by farm families, professional artists, high school art students, quilt guilds, 4-H groups, and other organizations.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each community organizes its own trail. Many groups seek art and tourism grants and donations to pay for paint, wood, and brochures. Local utility companies, fire departments, and building contractors often provide manpower and trucks with lifts to hang the wooden blocks. Sometimes, barn owners pay a few hundred dollars for their own barn quilts.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Morgan County, Colorado, quilting enthusiast Nancy Lauck has painted nearly 200 barn quilts since 2007 because she treasures the barns built by pioneering farmers.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another barn preservationist, Marcella Epperson in Johnson City, Tennessee, enjoys meeting visitors and sharing stories about her wooden-pegged barn built in 1898 by her grandfather. A combination of two quilt patterns—a LeMoyne Star set inside Swallows in the Window—decorates the barn.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barn quilts remind people of their agricultural roots, as Donna Sue Groves intended, and bring attention to the endangered status of century-old barns.

Worth Pondering…

A day patched with quilting seldom unravels.