The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

HGTV Home Town Takeover showcases Wetumpka

Known as “The City of Natural Beauty,” Wetumpka, Alabama is located just northeast of Montgomery on the banks of the Coosa River. The name Wetumpka is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters,” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city, dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart.  Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Designed by state bridge engineer Edward Houk and named after Governor Bibb Graves, it is reputed to be one of two bridges in Alabama to be suspended by reinforced concrete.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has a population of 8,371 and has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride of late. An ambitious downtown revitalization effort was started about three years ago. Then in January of 2019, a powerful tornado swept through the historic downtown area causing widespread damage but thankfully no deaths. The tornado damaged 35 homes throughout Elmore County and destroyed or damaged multiple buildings in the city’s downtown including the police station and Wetumpka’s celebrated First Presbyterian Church. The city completed the revitalization a year ago to rave reviews.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was 14 months before the tornado ripped through the town that we visited Wetumpka. Proceeding across Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely residential west side, we first stopped on West Bridge Street, across from the First Presbyterian Church organized in 1834. It was the site of the gathering of the Wetumpka Light Guard as they departed their families when they went to do battle in the Civil War on April 16, 1861. We discovered a number of historic and beautiful homes within a five block area mainly on Tuskeena Street (one block north on West Bridge and to the left down Tuskeena). 

First United Methodist Church, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our next stop was the First United Methodist Church at 306 West Tuskeena Street. The building was completed 1854. In 1845, an historic session of the Alabama Conference delegates voted to become part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and so it remained until 1939.

Wetumpka L & N Depot© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directly behind the church we noted the L & N Depot. Established in 1906 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the station served as a passenger and freight depot until 1973. Used for several years as the first home of the Wetumpka Depot Players, at the time of our visit it was used as a place of worship and for youth activities and owned by First United Methodist Church. Next door to the Methodist Church stands a house built by Benjamin Fitzpatrick, a local attorney and circuit solicitor and son of 9th Governor of Alabama, Benjamin Fitzpatrick.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely historic business district east side we wandered this area before proceeding to the Wind Creek Casino. Overlooking the beautiful Coosa River, Wind Creek is the home of a new hotel.

In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s Home Town, reported that they were taking over the entire town of Wetumpka for their home-renovation show. As a spinoff of the network’s popular home renovation show “Home Town,” which features Ben and Erin Napier renovating old and sometimes neglected homes for new owners, “Takeover” is also focused on renovations but this time the couple revamps a town. When it airs later this spring, “Home Town Takeover” will showcase 12 renovation and upgrade projects in and around Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district. Viewing dates are yet to be announced.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka was selected from among 2,600 entries to be the subject of the new HGTV cable TV program called “Home Town Takeover.” The six-part documentary will show Ben and Erin Napier leading a team of renovation pros to breathe new life into Wetumpka including several homes as well as some locally grown businesses and historic treasures unique to the city.

The experience was special for the film crew. Producers, directors, camera operators, audio, and lighting specialists and others spent six months in Wetumpka not just working but living there from August 2020 through January. Months on-site is nothing new for them, but many were surprised by what they found when they arrived in Wetumpka.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“You never know what to expect, but right when I got to town, it was so pretty,” Carissa Sison, line producer for the show, told Alabama Newscenter. “Our offices had the Coosa River right behind them and it was such a tranquil setting. But the best thing was the people. They were so happy to meet us. I’ve never experienced that kind of friendliness in my life and definitely not in my career.”

Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer, agrees, saying the residents’ community spirit added an extra layer of charm to a city that had already impressed her. “Looking at photos, I knew the town was adorable,” she said. “But a city can look one way and then feel different. Not here. The good vibes just make Wetumpka even cuter.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan was taken aback by leaders’ open arms and residents’ desire to pitch in. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” she said. “It was actually an emotional experience. Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

Sison stressed that the city’s reaction inspired her and the rest of the show’s team to get more invested than normal. “Their outpouring of love motivated us to really want to help this town,” she said. “We’re always passionate about our work but this was different. I don’t think I speak for just myself when I say we felt like we were a part of Wetumpka.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan and Sison hope the emotion evoked in the show’s creation comes through TV screens and that viewers get a sense of the Wetumpka they came to know and that interest in the city keeps rising. “It’s going to be great when the show airs. I hope even more people fall in love with Wetumpka, Sison added.”

But it’s also part of the show’s wider vision, Kerrigan said. “The entire intention behind this series was to create forward momentum for change, to be a catalyst for an even bigger transition,” she said. “The desire was that the city would take this ball and run with it. What’s so awesome is after being there we know that Wetumpka will do just that. They will build on this and take it 1 million steps farther. Seeing what we imagined fulfilled is really rewarding.”

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if watching Wetumpka’s journey on “Home Town Takeover” spurs other small towns to pursue their own progress, that’s the ultimate prize. “We’re showing how positive change in small towns everywhere is possible,” Kerrigan said. “We hope this causes a national movement for small towns across America to come together and do the same thing, even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

But this spring, eyes will be focused on one specific small town and while Wetumpka leaders and residents have made their enthusiasm obvious, the show’s team seems every bit as excited as the city.

“We just feel so lucky to be able to shine a light on the people and the places of Wetumpka,” Kerrigan said. “We want a huge spotlight on them.”

Coosa River, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the summer, you can visit the city’s River and Blues Music & Arts Festival. In the winter, bundle up and gawk at its New Year’s Eve “Asteroid Drop” (via The City of Wetumpka). If you have a thing for golf clubs, granaries, barbecue places, nature trails, and botanical gardens—or if you need to visit the place that the Hollywood epics Big Fish and The Rosa Parks Story were filmed—Wetumpka, Alabama is your place. And it’s exactly this small-town magic that drew the Napiers to Wetumpka in the first place.

Wind Creek Casino Hotel, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

The 10 Best Road Trip Routes in America

America has some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth and there are plenty of scenic drives around the country that show off dramatic landscapes and dreamy sunsets

With spring officially here and warmer, longer days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan a spring road trip. Nothing beats packing up the RV, making some new playlists, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 10 of my favorites from sea to shining sea.

Hit the road!

Galleta Meadows sculptors, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park

As biomes go, deserts often get a bad rap but taking a 225-mile spin from the sandy shores of San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is anything but dry. This Southern California road trip is spiritual, stylish, and outdoorsy. The first stop as you head east over the San Jacinto Range is Julian, a nostalgic town with u-pick apple orchards and the famous Julian Pie Company.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Press on through vista-filled mountain passes to Anza-Borrego Desert, California’s largest state park. Every spring it’s one of the most reliable spots to peep a super bloom. It has great hiking with chances to see 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs or bighorn sheep. Nearby Galleta Meadows contains 130 mammoth steel sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. Borrego Springs, an artist colony, is a good place to stop for lunch and gallery hopping. The Salton Sea has excellent birding as it sits along the Pacific Flyway.

Palm Springs reveres its mid-century modern architecture and Rat Pack roots but embraces its natural environment at the Coachella Valley Preserve and the Living Desert. Spend a day opting outside at Joshua Tree National Park, slightly larger than Rhode Island and full of strange Seussian trees and don’t leave before the stars come out as it’s a certified dark skies park.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway

The Trail of the Ancients which traverses Colorado and Utah is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country including Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde National Park. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one very long day but following a seven-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved, save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway as it descends to the Valley of the Gods offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile drive connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—and it is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. This journey is epic at any time of year but in autumn when the colors begin to change and the trees glow with vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive and road trip destination in North America.

Giant sequoias © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California’s Giant Sequoias

When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! The giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base and this differentiates them from coastal redwoods which are typically measured in height.

This specific journey north from San Francisco spans 900 miles and it will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s and should the weather permit give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it.

Bourbon Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail (with a designated driver)

Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can take three days or three weeks. It is whatever you make of it so stop by the gift shops, take distillery tours, and soak up the history lessons, and the tasty beverages. Having a designated driver each day of your road trip makes all of this possible and safe.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

True to its name the 130-mile-long Alabama’s Coastal Connection connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. The scenic byway features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. In addition to beach access points to uncrowded sands, there are hiking trails through a maritime forest and coastal dune habitats with views of saltwater lagoons, freshwater lakes, the beach, the bay and the chance to see wildlife. A number of waterfront towns line the coast. The artsy Eastern Shore enclave of Fairhope has a pier jutting a quarter-mile into the bay with an adjacent beach park and shady areas for a quiet picnic.

Bayou Teche at Breau Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Deep Bayou Drive from NOLA

You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west (in your RV, of course) to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The area is known for its swampland dotted with moss-draped cypress trees teeming with wildlife which makes it the perfect destination for bird watching, paddling, fishing, and numerous other outdoor activities.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best road to drive is Highway 31 which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with garlands of moody Spanish moss that dangle from oaks and cypress trees while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons. Nature watchers and photographers have immediate access to some of the best birding sites in North America including Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge) with its expansive shoreline and bottomland hardwood forest. At last count, birders have spotted 240 species here. In the evenings, snowy, great and cattle egrets, little blue herons, green herons and yellow-crowed night herons gather to roost. Be sure to tour the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site where you’ll learn about the area’s Creole and Cajun history and culture.

RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstate 90

Not for the faint of heart, I-90 spans from sea to shining sea. From Boston to Seattle, this 3,024-mile highway travels through 13 states and features niche attractions like the Jell-O Gallery Museum in Le Roy, New York, the birthplace of Superman in Cleveland, and the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana. Some larger attractions not far from I-90 include Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, and national parks including Yellowstone and the Badlands.

Chippewa Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Atlantic Coast

America’s longest north-south interstate, I-95 stretches for more than 1,900 miles down the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Miami with plenty to see and do along the way. Road trippers can kick off their journey with a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine followed by a stop in Boston to explore the cobblestone streets and the city’s waterfront neighborhood. Further adventure await in New York City with endless sights to see, things to do, and places to eat before venturing on to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Continue down the coast to the scenic shores of Outer Banks in North Carolina then explore historic downtown Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Daytona Beach before reaching your final destination in Miami.

Mississippi River near Memphis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great River Road

The Great River Road has been dubbed “The Best Drive in America,” covering 3,000 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. While it would take about 36 hours to drive this entire route, travelers can make a spring (or summer) vacation out of this journey that follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. Starting in Minneapolis road trippers can visit the famed Mall of America or one of Minnesota’s 11,842 lakes before heading south to Wisconsin. This historic route also features iconic monuments like Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, and streets like Beale Street—otherwise known as “Home of the Blues” —in Memphis and the French Quarter in New Orleans. Road trippers can rest and recharge at numerous campgrounds and RV parks along the way.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

10 Amazing Places to RV in April

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

April is when many RV destinations begin to bloom. Deserts of the Southwest bask in perfect temperatures, the calm before the summer sizzle. Elsewhere, there are springtime celebrations to mark the joy of a new season. It’s shoulder season at beach escapes everywhere from Florida to Southern California.

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and continues to impact travel. Canadian snowbirds didn’t flock south this winter. Naturally, RVers are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2020.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

A perennial stopover between Charlotte and Atlanta as well as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Greenville has become a destination in its own right. The walkable downtown, Instagrammable Main Street, and culinary scene are easy draws. Foodies can choose from cuisines reflecting a variety of cultures, authentic barbecue, and James Beard Award-nominated dishes. Greenville’s thriving arts community includes public sculptures and murals, the Peace Center (home to Greenville Symphony Orchestra), and the annual Artisphere which showcases 135 artists. Don’t miss 26-acre Falls Park on the Reedy. Plan to spend a day exploring the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail. Walk, run, or bike this 22-mile trail system which tracks along the Reedy River, an old railroad corridor, and city parks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona

The Grand Canyon and Sedona— when paired together—provide a magical landscape overload.

In the case of Sedona that landscape may literally be magical as the town is home to so-called vortexes where various energies align to create spaces for communing with, well, whatever intangible thing it is you’re seeking. But don’t let that distract you from the red rock buttes and cliffs that jut out of the ground at most every turn. The Grand Canyon, of course, needs no introduction and the popular South Rim entryway is a scenic two-hour drive from Sedona. Sedona itself has numerous hiking trails for every skill level and you should also make time to visit Red Rock State Park and Oak Creek Canyon.

Louisiana swamp tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana Swamp Tours

Louisiana serves up a lot more memorable experiences than just bowls of its famed gumbo.

To experience an indelible part of the state’s past, present, and future visit the mysterious and exquisite swamps throughout south Louisiana, home to one of the planet’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Perceived as beautiful and menacing, south Louisiana’s ancient swamps have long captivated writers, historians, and travelers. Just the name “Louisiana” brings to mind images of moss-draped oak trees, bald cypresses with massive, bottle-like trunks, and flat-bottom boats effortlessly gliding through waters populated with alligators. On a south Louisiana swamp tour, you’re likely to see all of those plus some unexpected surprises. All swamps have their own stories to tell and with the help of expert local guides you’re guaranteed to have the kind of adventure you’ll only find in Louisiana.

Chattanooga Choo Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Tennessee

To save Chattanooga’s Terminal Station (the first railway station in the south when it opened in 1909) from being demolished in the 1970s, a group of businessmen invested approximately $4 million into turning the Beaux Arts structure into a vacation destination. In addition to hotel rooms, the terminal complex also has retail shops, a comedy club, and a stunning rose garden. Recently procured by hospitality brand Life House Hotels, the property has debuted a new look with a new wine bar, 40-seat cinema, a recording studio, and revamped suites inside historic Pullman train cars.

Blue Bell Vreamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington County, Texas

Have you seen those iconic photos of a lone live oak tree on a small rise overlooking an endless field of bluebonnets? It may well have been snapped in Washington County. With old courthouse squares alive with shops and cafes, frequent town festivals, and historic Texas-independence sites, you can’t get more stereotypically small-town Texas than this. Sitting equal distance from Houston and Austin (about 70 miles from either), Washington County makes an easy country escape from the city. No town is more than 40 miles from the region’s main center, Brenham, home of Blue Bell ice cream.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Worth a visit any season of the year, Natural Bridges is particularly spectacular and enjoyable in spring. Take in the three towering natural bridges (Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu) from overlooks along Bridge View Drive, a paved 9-mile loop road, or by short hikes from each trailhead. For those who are looking for a longer hike, an 8.6-mile loop trail will take you past and/or under all three bridges.

And don’t hurry back; after dark, the skies around Natural Bridges provide a breathtakingly celestial view with thousands of stars visible. You’ll camp in solitude among the juniper trees at the Natural Bridges campground. The campground is conveniently located next to the visitor center off the main park road. Campsites are first-come, first-served and open year-round. Each site has a fire grill, picnic table, and tent pad but no running water, electricity, or hookups. Ranger-led Dark Sky Astronomy Programs are offered spring through fall. Call ahead for details.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road, Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start out a mile high, finish a mile high and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls. Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of culture in the loudest, brightest, and most exuberant sense. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. (San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.)

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Site, Arizona

The rich history of Tombstone has been celebrated time and again by Hollywood because of the interesting characters and rough tendencies of this once thriving Arizona town. A well curated display at the courthouse gives visitors an insider look into the life and times of the Earp family and their exploits during their time in Tombstone. While in Tombstone, don’t forget to stop by the OK Corral, the site of a famous gun battle that helped shape the history of the town. 

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

March 2021 RV Manufacturer Recalls

A manufacturer recall can create a safety risk if not repaired

Your recreational vehicle may be involved in a safety recall and may create a safety risk for you or your passengers. Safety defects must be repaired by a certified dealer at no cost to you. However, if left unrepaired, a potential safety defect in your vehicle could lead to injury or even death.

What is a recall?

When a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a recreational vehicle or item of RV equipment creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle or equipment at no cost to the consumer.

NHTSA releases its most recent list of recalls each Monday.

It should be noted that RV recalls are related to vehicle safety and not product quality. NHTSA has no interest in an air conditioner failing to cool or slide out failing to extend or retract—unless they can be directly attributed to product safety.

NHTSA announced 12 recall notices during March 2021. These recalls involved 6 recreational vehicle manufacturers—Forest River (4 recalls), Newmar (3 recalls), Jayco (2 recalls), Keystone (1 recall), Highland Ridge (1 recall), and Airstream (1 recall).

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Catalina 184BHS and 184 BHS-W travel trailer recreational vehicles. The interior plates that clamp the slide-mechanism to the interior wall were installed incorrectly, which may cause the slide-room to partially detach during transit.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will reinstall the interior plates for the slide-room, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 9, 2021. Owners may contact Catalina customer service at 1-574-825-4995. Forest River’s number for this recall is 203-1300.

Pala Casino RV Resort, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Cardinal CAF345RLX, CAF366DVLE, CAF390BX and 2021 Wildcat WCF336RLS, WCF368MB vehicles. The furnace flue may become misaligned due to insufficient furnace hold screws that allow movement during travel.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will secure the furnace and align the flue, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 14, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-574-296-7700. Forest River’s number for this recall is 15-1302.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Cardinal and Wildcat Fifth Wheels trailers. The spare tire carrier may be installed incorrectly, allowing it to detach from the vehicle.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will secure the spare tire carrier, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 17, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River Customer Service at 1-574-296-7700. Forest River’s number for this recall is 15-1304.

Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest River

Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Coachmen Viking and Clipper Travel Trailers. The cooktop may not be isolated properly from the furnace return air, which can cause the flame to become inverted.

Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will install a panel and seal it, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 21, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-269-467-4600. Forest River’s number for this recall is 121-1305.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar

Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2021 Kountry Star and 2017-2021 Dutch Star motorhomes. The brake light switch may chafe against the windshield wiper mechanism, which could damage the brake light switch or it’s wiring, and cause the brake lights to not illuminate.

Newmar will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the brake light switch and replace it as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 18, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300.

Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar

Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2020-2022 Dutch Star, King Aire, Essex, London Aire, and Mountain Aire motorhomes. The steering gear mounting bolts may become loose and back out, resulting in difficulty steering.

On behalf of Newmar, Shyft Group Inc. will coordinate the recall repair and notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering gear mounting bolts and washers, free of charge. The recall is expected to began April 19, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is 21V 041.

The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newmar

Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2021 Dutch Star, New Aire, and Ventana motorhomes. The adjustable brake pedal assembly may be missing a return spring. This may cause the brake lights to stay illuminated after the brake pedal is released. Also, in certain towed vehicles, the brakes may stay engaged after the brake pedal is released.

Newmar will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the brake pedal assembly, and install a return spring if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 16, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is 21V 108.

Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2021 Jayco Embark, and Entegra Reatta Class A Motorhomes. The LP furnace hose may be routed incorrectly, which could restrict the gas flow, or cause chafing against surrounding components, resulting in a gas leak.

Jayco will notify owners, and dealers will remove the existing LP line, and install a new extended gas manifold, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 16, 2021. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-517-9137. Jayco’s number for this recall is 9903565.

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimer, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jayco

Jayco, Inc. (Jayco) is recalling certain 2019-2020 Jayco White Hawk, Jay Flight SLX, Jay Feather, and Jay Flight travel trailers equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the o-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

Jayco will notify owners, and Dometic service centers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 30, 2021. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 1-800-283-8267. Jayco’s number for this recall is 9901566.

Smokiam RV Park, Soap Lake, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone

Keystone RV Company (Keystone) is recalling certain 2021 Cougar 29MBS, 30RLS, 315RLS, 316RLS, 32BHS, 353SRX, 364BHL, and 368MBI trailers equipped with the Off the Grid (OTG) Solar package. The inverter may have been incorrectly wired, causing power to energize the shore power connection, when in use.

Keystone will notify owners, and dealers will test the inverter function, and rewire it if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 11, 2021. Owners may contact Keystone customer service at 1-866-425-4369. Keystone’s number for this recall is 21-403.

Rapid City RV Park, Rapid City, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highland Ridge

Highland Ridge RV (Highland Ridge) is recalling certain 2019-2020 Open Range, Mesa Ridge, Highlander, Silverstar fifth wheels, and 2019-2020 Open Range, Mesa Ridge and Silverstar travel trailers equipped with Dometic 3 burner cooking stoves. The saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the O-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.

Highland Ridge will notify owners, and dealers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 16, 2021. Owners may contact Highland Ridge customer service at 1-800-283-8267. Highland Ridge’s number for this recall is 9904564.

Edisto Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airstream

Airstream, Inc. (Airstream) is recalling certain 2017-2020 Basecamp travel trailers. The mounting bolts that secure the air conditioner to the roof may loosen or break, allowing the air conditioner to separate from the trailer.

The remedy is currently under development. The recall is expected to begin May 18, 2021. Owners may contact Airstream customer service at 1-877-596-6505 or 1-937-596-6111 ext. 7401 or 7411.

Please Note: This is the 26th in a series of posts relating to RV Manufacturers Recalls

Worth Pondering…

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.

—Martin Van Buren

10 National Parks to Visit during Wildflower Season

These parks are home to the country’s most vivid blooms from late March through August

Spring has sprung and brilliant pops of wildflowers are covering hillsides throughout the country—and, to no surprise, some of the best blooms are on display right in the heart of national parks. If you’re hoping to see them, it’s time to start planning.

We’ve rounded up the best national parks for wildflower lovers whether you’re an avid hiker or devout photographer focused on getting the perfect shot.

Before you head out, make sure to check local park and state travel restrictions and remember the principles of Leave No Trace: Do not pick or take home anything you find within protected park boundaries and always hike and take pictures from the main trail.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic offers spectacular opportunities for wildflower viewing from late May through September. Blooming times vary each year and are greatly affected by the winter’s snowpack. Blooming time also varies with each wildflower species. For example, mountain mules ear, snow plant, and western wallflower bloom earlier in the season while California corn lily and silverleaf lupine tend to bloom later.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

As one of the most biologically diverse national parks (the area boasts over 1,500 species of flowering plants), the Smokies come alive each spring with a colorful carpet of thyme-leaved bluets (four blue petals surrounding a yellow spot). Plus, as one of the lower elevation parks on this list, the blossoming season starts early. Peak bloom occurs from late March through July, with the park’s annual Wildflower Pilgrimage landing in mid-May. Make sure to check out the ¾-mile Cove Hardwood Nature Trail or push bigger miles and chase a couple of waterfalls on the Deep Creek Trail.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Over 80 percent of the plants in Pinnacles are in bloom from March through May when afternoon temps hover between 65 to 78 degrees, perfect for hiking. Radiant orange bush poppies, playful monkeyflowers, and brilliant blue larkspur go on full display at this hidden gem in central California. The 2.4-mile Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop is full of rainbow-hued blooms while the more strenuous 8.4-mile High Peaks-Balconies Loop tacks on the possibility of spotting an endangered California condor.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In addition to abundant wildlife, there are no fewer than 860 species of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park, about 20 percent of which are aster species. Other common Shenandoah wildflowers include lilies, flowers of the pea family, mint, and mustard.

Simply put, wildflowers thrive in Shenandoah which is one of the best places to see national parks wildflowers. This enormous diversity is especially noticeable in spring at the park’s lower elevations along South River and Rose River which are two of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah. Through summer and fall, you can see wildflowers showing off their colors all along Skyline Drive and in Big Meadows.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Protecting areas of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree National Park is spread out across various elevations. This, of course, comes with a huge variety of desert plants and wildflowers. The blooming season, however, depends greatly on winter precipitation and spring temperatures. Generally speaking, you’ll see the first wildflowera in the Pinto Basin as early as February and March. As the months go on, the colors creep upward to higher elevations. It’s not uncommon to still have abundant wildflowers as late as June in desert areas higher than 5,000 feet. Flowers to look for include desert paintbrush, beavertail cactus, Utah firecracker, Mojave aster, California barrel cactus, prickly pear cactus, and the Joshua trees themselves

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park, California

Due to its large range of elevations (1,360 to 14,505 feet), the blooming season in Sequoia is long and verdant with marigold fiddlenecks bursting in the foothills while corn lilies and paintbrush dot higher altitudes like Alta Meadow. April and May are best for spring wildflower hunting at lower elevations while the alpine environment really comes to life from July through August.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Wildflowers are common throughout Bryce Canyon, primarily growing in meadows or along trails. Many wildflowers in the park are adapted to the rocky soil including columbines and the Rocky Mountain paintbrush. Bryce Canyon wildflowers can be found in every color and range in size from tiny to almost three feet tall. They can be found at all elevations, flowering in the summer especially from May to July. A particularly interesting plant native to the area is the paintbrush several species of which can be found in Bryce Canyon including the Wyoming Paintbrush and Bryce Canyon Paintbrush.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

The high temperatures, limited rain, and drying winds of the desert can present a harsh environment for wildflowers. These unforgiving conditions make the abundance of Zion’s wildflowers seem even more spectacular set against a backdrop of towering sandstone cliffs.

In the early spring, many plants take advantage of the seasonal rains to flower and reproduce quickly before the precious water is gone. Zion’s many springs and seeps also provide micro-habitats where temperatures are cooler and water is available year round. Throughout the summer on the Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, and Riverside Walk trails you may see “hanging gardens” where flowers cling to the cliff walls.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is home to hundreds of flowering plants. There are approximately 650 herbaceous (having little or no woody stem) wildflowers in the park. Some of the common species displaying a white flower are the sacred datura, evening primrose, tidy fleabane, yarrow, baby white aster, and white violet. Some common yellow flowering wildflowers are broom snakeweed, yellow ragweed, Hooker’s primrose, and blanket flower. Red or orange flowered plants include the globe mallow, red columbine, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and crimson monkeyflower. Pink and purple wildflowers include the Rocky Mountain bee plant, fleabane, Palmer lupine, Grand Canyon phacelia, and Rocky Mountain iris.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Visitors to the Sonoran Desert are eager to view hillsides covered in flowers as they may have seen on postcards and calendars. Those famous photos are taken during years when rainfall, temperature, and timing are favorable. Since soils and terrain are also an important factor there is no way to predict any year’s bloom. Saguaro National Park has some flowers in bloom virtually every month of the year and visitors can expect to see at least three flowering seasons: Spring wildflower (March-April), cactus flower (April-May), and summer flower (June-September).

Worth Pondering…

To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

—William Blake

Photographing Wading Birds

Wading birds are excellent photo subjects; they are large, have striking plumage, and often permit you to approach them, or they may even approach you

Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona are meccas for bird photographers. Not only are the birds numerous, but they are also surprisingly easy to approach.

Little blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wading birds are interesting subjects for nature photographers. They have tall spindly legs like stilts that keep their bodies high above the waters in which they fish. They also have pointy beaks that they use like harpoons to impale their dinner prior to eating it.

They bear the names of herons, egrets, ibis, storks, bitterns, and spoonbills. They are attractive birds, big, dramatic as they search for food or take flight; they are stealthy hunters of small animals ranging from fish to crabs, frogs and salamanders, crayfish and tadpoles.

Roseate spoonbills and white ibis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watching a heron stalk its dinner is an amazing sight. Their searches and hunts provide epic photos for beginners and pros and every nature photographer in between.

In general, wading birds are patient while hunting and may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, often appearing frozen in time.

Great blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wading birds provide photographers with a variety of colors and body styles with a common interest in shallow water and the foods the shallows provide. They have long legs and long toes, with an elongated neck and bill. You can usually find at least one wading bird in action any time you visit a wetland area, ranging from coastal shores and marshes, to rivers and creeks, lakes, and shallow wetlands.

Wood stork © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The size of their spread wings, while gliding, flapping, or landing offer dramatic photo opportunities that test your ability to follow the bird’s wing actions. If you take a continuous series of photos as a wading bird passes, or as it takes off, or lands, you can pick the best of the best or series of three or more images that show the action in stages.

Black-necked stilt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the birds themselves, wading bird photos often include water—water colored varied shades of blue, gray, green, or sunset hues. Calm water permits you to compose photos with a reflected image which can create exceptional photographs. Plants, especially water plants, are common elements in wading bird photography too, and you can compose your photos to include the bird as a part of the greenery, or as the subject next to, among, or surrounded by plants.

Green heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like any bird, if you are close enough, you can compose a portrait of a wading bird, which can be especially dramatic when the bird has plumes or colorful facial skin during the nesting season. Some wading birds also feature colorful, if not unusual, eyes that can dominate a portrait.

Redish egret © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Techniques to keep in mind in the heat of wading bird photography include a fast shutter speed for stop-action photos. Because wading birds tend to be tall rather than long, consider turning your camera 90 degrees to utilize a vertical frame while still keeping some space in front of the bird so it has a space to look into comfortably, or wade into, or run into or fly toward. As always, be ready for action, try to predict a dramatic movement, and enjoy the process when you have an active subject like a hunting Snowy Egret or a “dancing” Reddish Egret.

Tri-colored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone enjoys seeing wading birds, and attempting to photograph storks, herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, and others can be a great way to improve your bird photography and add new drama to your library of nature photography.

White ibis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.

—Arnold Newman

Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

The colorful charm and lively style of Texas’ most storied city

For over 300 years, the San Antonio River has nurtured this city with headwaters just north of town flowing through it all the way down to join the Guadalupe River just shy of the Gulf of Mexico. Long before Texans took hold of the land, Spaniards erected San Antonio’s five historic missions near the river. Before that, Native Americans relied on this waterway for sustenance and safety. When the Rough Riders barreled through town on their horses over a hundred years ago, they ducked into a dark bar that still stands steps away from the banks. The river was here before all of it and holds everything you need to know about San Antonio.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. Don’t let the colorful umbrellas and shiny tourist bric-à-brac distract you. Just keep following the River Walk and pay attention.

The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meet the Neighborhood

Blessed with a prime spot in the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio has more adjacent natural beauty than most urban landscapes. Outdoor wonders like popular swim spot Hamilton Pool Preserve are at your fingertips while one neighboring small town, Fredericksburg features the country’s largest wildflower farm (Wildseed Farms) and gorgeous wineries. The city itself, however, has much to offer beyond its famous puffy tacos and annual celebration, Fiesta San Antonio—though, neither of those should be missed.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key is the River Walk which seems as if it has been organized specifically for the visitor’s enjoyment. On the northernmost end, enjoy spring at family-friendly sites such as the San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. Slightly south, you’ll find a livelier jam at the Pearl District with plenty of art installations and riverside amenities to keep you entertained on the trek there. Folks are drawn to this part of town by the varied restaurants and shops surrounding an open green space that sees plenty of guests. The Pearl’s Bottling Department, San Antonio’s first food hall has dining options that run the full gamut.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This multiuse district is located on the site of the old Pearl Brewery founded back in 1883. Hotel Emma built inside the old brewhouse is a five-star-service ode to the Pearl’s history and also to Emma Koehler who took over in 1914 after her husband died. She weathered Prohibition without having to lay off any workers—an impressive feat for anybody anytime but especially for a woman in the 1920s.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parades and Pan Dulce

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of the city’s culture. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 by a group of women (now a formal association) to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, floats covered in a rainbow of lush paper blooms make their procession in front of The Alamo amid colorful flying confetti from cracked cascarones (hand-decorated, hollowed-out eggshells filled with confetti).

No visitor can leave San Antonio without tasting the town dessert—and what a glorious task! For that, the river leads you to Mi Tierra Café y Panadería, an 80-year-old family bakery and Tex-Mex restaurant that’s known for offering over a dozen different kinds of pan dulce, a traditional Mexican sweet bread. Waitresses dressed in brightly colored garb serve up treats of all flavors and sizes, while the restaurant’s famous floor-to-ceiling American Dream mural depicts inspirational people from the local community and beyond.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll just a few blocks away to the La Villita neighborhood where you’ll find charming bridges that cozy up to a historic arts village (the former barracks for Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo). Located on the southern bank of the River Walk, La Villita now occupies one artsy square block in the heart of downtown San Antonio. The Artisan village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places featuring architectural styles that range from adobe structures to early Victorian and Texas vernacular limestone buildings. Today, La Villita is a treasured Artisan and Entrepreneur district with over 25 shops and galleries that showcase local handmade goods and home to over 200 events a year.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Star Arts Complex

Once all the mandatory tourist stops have been made, balance out your trip in Alamo City at the trendy Blue Star Arts Complex. Located in the eclectic Southtown neighborhood, this pioneering mixed-use development is the heart of the city’s vibrant arts scene. The anchor of the complex is Blue Star Contemporary, a nonprofit institute for some of the area’s emerging artists but smaller galleries and studios are sprinkled throughout.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then pedal around the adjacent King William neighborhood and embark on the about-7-mile Mission Reach trail that connects four of San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions. The area serves as your starting point for this popular path.

Along the San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The perfect way to end a day spent wandering down the river’s winding path is with an iced-down tequila soda—add splashes of orange and grapefruit to make it a proper sunset—and good times with your new Texas buds. You know the river will always show you the way home.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

The Best RV Camping April 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in April camping across America

Because it comes after a dark, cold winter, spring break is one of the most anticipated weeks of the year. In a way, it restores our spirits and ties us over until summer. That’s because spring break is more than just a few bolded dates on the calendar. It looks like deserts blanketed in vibrant wildflowers, all-you-can-watch MLB baseball—in person, and mountains turning brilliant shades of green. This year, spring started on Tuesday, March 20, Easter fallows on the heels of April Fool’s Day, and National Park Week (when entry fees to national parks are waived) runs from April 21-29.

Regardless of when you take your spring break or when your child’s school (if, in fact your child’s school has in-person learning) decides you take your spring break, there’s plenty to celebrate. Here are 10 campgrounds and RV parks I recommend keeping on your radar as you plan your post-winter travels for 2021. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in February and March.

The Lakes and Golf Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lakes RV and Golf Resort, Chowchilla, California

Big-rig friendly, The Lakes RV and Golf Resort is a well-maintained facility with 87 sites including 18 pull-though and 19 lakeside (drive-in), paved streets, and concrete sites and patios. Our pull-through site (#46) approached 80 feet with ample room to park the toad/tow vehicle at either the front or rear of the site. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located with the electric/water/cable back of center and sewer front of center. This 5-star resort is an ownership park that is part of a larger complex that includes a Par 72 Championship Pheasant Run Golf Club. Other amenities include clubhouse, heated pool, spa, pet area, and 24/7 security gates.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Bentonville, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona

Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and Internet. Amenities include private restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Buckhorn Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buckhorn Lake RV Resort, Kerrville, Texas

This upscale resort makes for a perfect home base to explore the Texas Hill Country. All sites are paved, have a paved patio and offer satellite TV, Wi-Fi, and instant-on phone. Relax around the two heated swimming pools/spas. Tennis courts. Adult fitness center overlooking the creek.

While staying in the park, make it a point to see the “Club” section, a unique approach to the RV lifestyle. You’ll definitely want to make this resort a repeat stop on your RVing agenda. On I-10, Exit 501 (Highway 1338), turn left and scoot down a few hundred yards to the park on the left.

Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort, Salem, Oregon

With a combination of 24 back-in sites (35 feet long x 20 feet wide) and 115 pull-through sites (75 feet long x 14 feet wide) available year round even the biggest rigs will have no issue finding a suitable spot. All sites include electric (20, 30, and 50 amp), water, sewer, wired and wireless Internet, and coax television hookups along with a picnic table. Park amenities include fitness room, seasonal pool and year-round spa, laundry facility, secure showers/bathrooms, and library. The resort is located a short distance off Interstate 5 at Exit 258.

Capitol City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capital City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama

Approximately 6 miles north of I-85 (Exit 6), Capital City RV Park is a 5-star park located on the northeastern edge of Montgomery. The park offers clean and quiet sites at reasonable rates.

Capital City features full-hookup sites with 20/30/50 amp electric service, cable TV, high speed Wireless Internet, complete laundry facility, and private bathrooms with showers. Our pull-through site was 70 feet long and 35 feet wide with centrally located utilities. Interior roads and individual sites are gravel. This is a well designed and maintained RV park with very reasonable rates.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia

Coastal Georgia RV Resorts offer 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp service and picnic table. The Resort’s roads are all paved. Fire rings are available at the Pavilion. Amenities include a game room, conference room, two bath houses, two laundromats, a dock, and a store where you can find RV supplies as well as LP gas. The resort also offers a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. Cable TV and Wi-Fi is included. From I-95 (exit 29) and US 17, go ½ mile west on SR-17, turn left onto US-17 south for ¼ mile, turn east onto Martin Palmer Dr for 1 mile and enter straight ahead.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house was originally named “Federal Hill” by its first owner Judge John Rowan. Located near Bardstown, the mansion and farm was the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. Tour the historic mansion, enjoy a round of golf, camp at the campground, stroll the grounds and explore the interpretive panels, and see the Stephen Foster Story in the summer months. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station.

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Poche’s RV Park is a Cajun campground located approximately 5 miles north of Breaux Bridge.  Poche’s sits on 93 beautiful acres and has 85 full concrete slab RV sites with full hookups which include electric (30 and 50 amp at each site), water, sewer, and Wi-Fi. Most sites back up to a pond to where you can walk out of your RV and start fishing within a few feet. Poche’s also has five different size cabins for rent to accommodate any size family. Located throughout the property are five different fishing ponds which total roughly 51 acres of water. Within the ponds you can catch largemouth bass, bream, white perch, and several different types of catfish. You can also rent a paddle boat or single and tandem kayak to explore the ponds or bring your own.

The clubhouse is a 5,000 square feet recreation building with a complete wrap-around porch over the water on Pond 3. 

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Sevierville, Tennessee

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort is a luxury RV Resort nestled along the banks of the beautiful French Broad River. A 5-star resort with 25 river front (drive-in sites) and 30 river view (back-in sites), Two Rivers Landing offers 30/50-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV conveniently located centrally. Interior roads are paved; individual sites are concrete, 70 feet in length and 22 feet wide. All sites surrounded by beautiful landscaping. Our drive-in site faced the river. Wi-Fi worked well. A beautiful sunset looking out our front window. This is resort living at its best.

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

The Top 10 National Parks to Discover this Spring

Spring is the best time to visit some of America’s most beautiful national parks

Deserts ablaze with lupine and paintbrush, rivers surging with snowmelt, high meadows lush with columbine and alpine sunflower, elk and deer venturing out of their winter hideaways with new babies in tow are a few of the many reasons to make a springtime pilgrimage to one—or many—of America’s national parks. Here we highlight 10 national parks that are particularly special to visit this spring.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park, California

Spring is the perfect time to head to the national parks. One park that’s awesome in spring is Sequoia, home to some of the largest trees in the world. It offers a beautiful forest where you can camp, hike, and explore all the awesome nature around. It is home to General Sherman, the largest tree by volume which you can take a short hike see along with several other cool tree stops along the way.

Due to its large range of elevations (1,360 to 14,505 feet), the blooming season in Sequoia is long and verdant with marigold fiddlenecks bursting in the foothills while corn lilies and paintbrush dot higher altitudes like Alta Meadow. April and May are best for spring wildflower hunting at lower elevations while the alpine environment really comes to life from July through August. Sequoia is definitely one not to be missed in spring!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

For many, springtime offers an opportunity for a first trip of the year. And if you are just getting back out there, the last thing you want is a crowded park. This spring, avoid the crowds and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a unique and exciting adventure.  This park allows visitors to explore a world over 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Famous for protecting the third and seventh largest cave chambers in the world, Carlsbad Caverns holds a total of 116 caves—offers rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes.

Spring is a great time to visit Carlsbad Caverns as the bat population makes its presence known. Seventeen species of bats live in the park and many are present in April and May including Mexican Free-tailed Bats who emerge from caves in groups flying up and counter-clockwise for three hours. It’s an incredible sight.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Temperatures start to rise, flowers begin to bloom, and as the snow melts, hikers across the country begin to plan their first hikes of the season. Look no further than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

With over 800 miles of trails, the park offers beauty everywhere you look. Trails are available for walking, hiking, and mountain biking and lead to other fun activities like fishing and camping. During spring, trails are surrounded by blooming wildflowers—over 1,660 varieties, more than any other national park in North America. A group of flowers known as spring ephemerals appear in early spring, flower, bear fruit, and die within a short two-month period. These flowers include trilliums, orchids, violets, and iris and will bloom during March and April.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is at its best in spring as there is a minimal chance of thunderstorms that are present in the other seasons. The beauty of this spot is unparalleled as it has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are the beautiful, irregular, colorful rock columns you’ll see throughout the park. The main viewpoints are Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.

Wildflowers are common throughout Bryce Canyon, primarily growing in meadows or along trails. Many wildflowers in the park are adapted to the rocky soil including columbines and the Rocky Mountain paintbrush. Bryce Canyon wildflowers can be found in every color and range in size from tiny to almost three feet tall.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few national parks strut their stuff as showily as Joshua Tree in spring when the park’s namesake trees send their enormous, space-age blossoms reaching for the sky. Those aren’t the only blooms, of course—visitors pour into the park to see the desert sands awash with colors so bright you’ll have trouble putting away your camera to explore.

But explore you must, because Joshua Tree’s otherworldly rock formations must be seen to be believed; there’s a reason Hollywood directors have set everything from westerns to sci-fi classics in these eerie landscapes. Joshua Tree can be accessed from two directions: Coachella Valley to the south and from the adjacent towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree to the north.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Photographers know to visit Arches National Park in spring when the ochre and vermillion formations of eroded sandstone appear more vivid by the surrounding greenery. Temperature is another reason to visit now as summer can be brutal in the southern Utah desert with temperatures heading north of 100 degrees starting in late May.

At just 80,000 acres, Arches is one of the most manageable of the southwestern red rock parks with its most popular features such as Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and the Windows Section accessible from the park’s main road. Temperatures in the spring are pleasant enough to make longer hikes like the 2-mile out-and-back to the rock towers of Park Avenue and the 7.2 Devils Garden Primitive Loop perfectly comfortable. For those who can’t get enough of red rock country, Canyonlands National Park, Arches’ larger but less-visited sister is just 40 minutes south of Moab.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In Shenandoah National Park the spring bloom is not limited to the slopes and meadows but paints the forests with watercolors as well with azaleas, trilliums, and wild geraniums blanketing the forest floor. The earliest blooms tend to be along the lower-elevation valleys of the Rose, South, and Hughes rivers and along Mill Prong while May is peak time for pink azaleas and June sees the arrival of mountain laurel. Further south, head for Linville Falls or hike the Linville Gorge Trail to fully immerse yourself in nature’s rhododendron garden.

The spring bird migration brings its fans looking for scarlet tanagers, cerulean warblers, and other colorful transients along Pocosin Trail. The Passamaquoddy Trail and Lewis Mountain are other popular spots for flowers, birds, and wildlife.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Spring is waterfall season in Zion when the Virgin River roars through the canyon and seasonal tributaries tumble down the canyon walls. The famed Emerald Pools are a wonder at any time of year but in spring the misty 110 foot cascade widens into a curtain of water that catches the light in a halo of rainbows. More waterfalls plunge from the 1,000-foot walls of Parunuweap Canyon.

Hiking is ideal this time of year when temperatures are in the 70s and the ochre and crimson cliffs are particularly photogenic against the bright green foliage of freshly green cottonwoods.

Just north of St. George, don’t miss the lava flows and Snow Canyon State Park where you’ll see the desert painted with wildflowers like desert chickweed, buttercup, and sand verbena.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Yellowstone isn’t the only national park where you can watch baby bison wobble along on their spindly new legs; Theodore Roosevelt National Park is bison central, charged with the mission to protect one of America’s most beloved—and most hunted—species from going extinct.

In addition to bison and other wildlife sightings the park celebrates all aspects of prairie life including the prairie crocus, abundant across these high plains just after snowmelt. And don’t forget the prairie dog—these highly social animals have their own gigantic “town” sprawling across acres of the park where they pop from their burrows to look curiously at visitors and call to their neighbors with dog-like barks. Late May and early June is when prairie dog babies first come out to play in the springtime sun.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

The cactus that gives Saguaro National Park its name has long been recognized as a symbol of American West but these giant plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. They are more than massive cacti but also shelters and reserves of water for much of the wildlife that calls this park home. And what season do these giant centerpieces bloom? You guessed it: spring!

Springtime brings with it the beauty of flowers. Deserts and saguaro forests burst with colors from blooming wildflowers like the gold Mexican poppy, red penstemons, and desert marigolds. Even trees, shrubs, and other cacti are in bloom including creosote bushes, chollas, and hedgehogs.

Bottom line

You’ll find plenty of the three W’s—wildflowers, wildlife, and water—when you visit these national parks in spring.

Worth Pondering…

To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

—William Blake

Spotlight on Alabama: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Known for its beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains, meandering blackwater rivers, and pristine white Gulf beaches, Alabama has become a popular vacation destination

This Southeastern state bordered by Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida is often overlooked as a travel destination in favor of its more crowd-pleasing neighbors but that’s what makes it so special. It has a raw and authentic edge which lacking in some states and is also home to some gorgeous scenery too. Known as “Heart of Dixie” and being synonymous with the American Civil Rights movement, Alabama packs a punch with its collection of proud historic buildings, Franco-Caribbean architecture, stunning forests, and lakes, and jaw-dropping beautiful coastlines and beaches.

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Alabama. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

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

Mobile Bay

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is a perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Everyone loves a good long drive and there is nothing like a spellbinding and coastal route. For these reasons the Alabama Coastal Connection is one of the treasured places to tour not just in Alabama but in the whole of the US. A National Scenic Byway the Coastal Connection connects the places and people of the Baldwin and coastal Mobile counties. It is also a true testimony to the diverse and rich culture of the state’s Gulf Coast region.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A stunning place to visit, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Beach

Orange Beach is a small and stunning coastal city located on the Gulf. Nicknamed as the water sports hub, it has a huge fishing pier and several picnic areas. The scenic coastal city has a museum named Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum and you can explore the history of Native Americans and fishing. A mesmerizing vacation is on your cards, if you choose this stellar place. Some other places if you wish to look around Orange Beach are Backcountry Trails, Canoe Trail, Waterfront Park, Public Boat Launches, and Disc Golf Course Park.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile

Mobile is more than 300 years old and from that fact alone there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Mobile is the home to the oldest carnival or Mardi Gras in the United States.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small town ambience with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores

As it goes by the obvious name, the city is located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast and all you beach lovers, this is your chance. Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.
Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism. Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area.

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you