The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam?

A delicious discussion

We’re about to enter the hustle and bustle of the holiday season with Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas right around the corner. When we think of these two holidays, the meal often shared with family is what comes to mind.

It’s turkey time! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The turkey, dressings, and cranberry sauce are the stars of these delicious holiday spreads but there is one sweet product that appears in several different courses especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This one vegetable is a must-have for a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to be complete.

Lettuce for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vegetable I am speaking of is the sweet potato. Just mentioning it now does your mouth start to water thinking about the sweet potato casseroles, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, and candied sweet potatoes (not yams)? Yams have starchy flesh and a bark-type skin compared to the sweet potato with reddish-brown skin and moist sweet flesh.

What makes the sweet potato so unique during these holidays is how it can appear in so many different courses. The sweet potato can be used in bread, casseroles, pies—the list goes on with so many different delicious recipes to showcase the sweet potato. 

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, shopping for sweet potatoes in some grocery stores can be a puzzling experience. These commonly seen orange tubers we know as sweet potatoes are occasionally labeled as yams.

Related: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

You might be thinking, “But I see yams at my grocery store all the time”…and you’d be right that they’re labeled that way. But this label is deceiving.

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You can find sweet potatoes at just about any grocery store. However, in North America and Europe, you will only find true yams stocked at international and specialty markets.

Sweet potato or yam? That is the question.

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Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes with a relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Yams and sweet potatoes are botanically unrelated. Yams are part of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family, closely related to grasses and lilies, and originate in Asia and Africa. The edible roots vary in size from a half-pound to a record 130 pounds. There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95 percent of these crops are grown in Africa.

Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are from the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. Their colors may be white, yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and even purple, both firm and soft varieties.

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Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potatoes used to make French fries or potato chips. Non-sweet potatoes (including red, white, and Yukon gold varieties) are part of the edible nightshade family. Other members include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, pimentos, and Goji berries.

Aside from growing similarly and looking alike, sweet potatoes and yams are often confused as the same vegetable. A true yam is a starchy edible root and imported to America from the Caribbean or Africa. Unfortunately, I can find none that are produced in North America.

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While the origin of the sweet potatoes has never been determined, many botanists think they originated in South America. The earliest cultivation records of the sweet potato date to 750 BCE (BC) in Peru although archeological evidence shows cultivation of the sweet potato might have begun around 2500-1850 BCE.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘New World’ in the late 15th century, sweet potatoes were well established as food plants in South and Central America.

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Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Spain, introducing them to the taste buds and gardens of Europe. Europeans referred to the sweet potato as the potato which often leads to confusion when searching for old sweet potato recipes. It wasn’t until after the 1740s that the term sweet potato began to be used by American colonists to distinguish it from the white (Irish) potato.

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The word yam is of West African origin. Two languages spoken there have similar versions of the word. In Fulani, the word is nyami and it means “to eat.”

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When colonists brought the sweet potato to North America, the Portuguese changed the word to inhame; the Spanish changed it to iñame; both are presumed derivations of the African words for yams due to their similar appearance. Its first usage in English was igname. By the mid-1600s, the English spelling had changed to y-a-m.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wherever and whenever they originated, and however they have traveled the globe, I’m incredibly thankful that most of us have sweet potatoes in our lives today especially as we approach Thanksgiving.

The yam is a major food source for millions of people in tropical and subtropical regions especially in West and Central Africa where at least 60 million people depend on it. More than 96 percent of the world’s production is grown in West Africa. However, 41 species of wild yams are becoming endangered and research is ongoing on how to preserve these essential plants.

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According to its latest publication, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, these species are principally those in the genus that are only found in Madagascar and southern Africa.

Yams are an important food in Madagascar. They are usually eaten boiled and provide an important source of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, and a range of micronutrients. While cultivated varieties are available, much of Madagascar’s rural community opt for eating wild yams.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worldwide sweet potato production and consumption are huge. All around the world people eat and use this food, its plant leaves, and roots. With a vast array of uses, sweet potatoes are among the world’s most important food crops. Annually, more than 130,000,000 tons (that’s 260,000,000,000 pounds) are produced around the world.

Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are primarily grown in tropical to subtropical regions since they prefer a daytime temperature of 75 degrees and warm nights. Sweet potatoes rank among the world’s seven most important food crops (along with wheat, rice, maize, potato, barley, and cassava). In over 50 countries, it’s one of the top five food crops grown with China producing over 90 percent of the total.

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Asia’s crop is used for both human consumption and animal feed. Yearly, China uses over 60,000,000,000 pounds of plant leaves as feed for pig stocks.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South America, the sweet potato’s original home, produces about 4,000,000,000 pounds yearly. North America produces about 1,200,000,000 pounds yearly. The top producing locations in the United States are North Carolina, followed by California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Significant numbers are grown in Texas, too.

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While most supermarkets carry one or two different types of sweet potatoes, about 25 varieties are available in the United States. And I was amazed to discover that this represents only a tiny fraction of the total diversity of sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato geeks of the world may be fascinated to know that the International Potato Center in Peru maintains a gene bank consisting of over 6,500 varieties of sweet potato. I don’t know about you, but personally, I wish I could try them all!

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Sweet potato varieties range in color from dark red to brown to purple to orange-yellow to white. They also have different tastes, sizes, shapes, and textures.

Here are just a few of the most popular types of sweet potatoes:

Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard sweet potatoes have reddish-orange skin and deep orange flesh. These are often the ones masquerading as yams at mainstream grocery stores. Who knew sweet potatoes could be so sneaky?

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White sweet potatoes are crumbly with white flesh and golden brown skin. They don’t contain as many antioxidants as orange varieties.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Okinawan sweet potatoes are also known as purple sweet potatoes because of their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, blue, and violet plant foods their beautiful colors. Anthocyanins are also what give Okinawan potatoes 150 percent more antioxidant power than blueberries. Despite their name, Okinawan potatoes are actually native to the Americas. They were brought over to Japan sometime in the 16th century where they grow well and have become a staple in Japanese dishes. In North America, you will most likely find true purple sweet potatoes in an Asian supermarket.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Japanese or Satsumaimo sweet potatoes are known for being sweeter than most other types. This is especially true when they start caramelizing in the oven.

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is a pigment and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also contain a modest but helpful amount of protein—around four grams per cup when cooked.

When compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and antioxidants. Surprisingly, considering their sweeter taste, they also have a mildly lower glycemic index score. This makes them slower to digest.

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But the greatest sweet potato nutritional glory of all may be its rich supply of vitamin A. A single sweet potato offers over double the daily value for vitamin A.

Next time you shop for sweet potatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind. When you pick one up, take a close look at its skin (no, you don’t have to pack your magnifying glass). It should all be mostly the same color without visible signs of decay or cracking. Give it a little squeeze. You don’t want your sweet potato to be squishy anywhere, as this could indicate rotting.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get your sweet potatoes home, make them a nice place to rest in a basket on your countertop or pantry. You should keep them dry and cool (room temperature, not refrigerated).

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Typically, you should use sweet potatoes within a few weeks of purchase.

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Sweet potatoes are affordable, easy to use and store, and available in many parts of the world all year long. Sounds pretty sweet to me!

Worth Pondering…

I don’t think; therefore, I yam!

Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Tips to make sure you’re safe on the road this holiday season

The latest numbers are in and according to AAA, the 2021 holiday travel season is in rebound mode with 53.4 million people expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday alone! That’s the highest single-year increase in travelers since 2005.

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And, the vast majority of those, 72 percent, will travel by car or recreational vehicle. Yet some may travel in a vehicle that isn’t ready for an extended road trip. The last thing you want to deal with on a road trip is to be faced with trying to repair a broken-down vehicle in an unfamiliar town.

Going on a winter road trip requires a little more planning than a road trip during the warmer months. You’ll need to consider the route and RV parks as well as factors such as potential road closures or snowy conditions.

No worries—I’ve compiled eight winter road trip tips that will get you on the right track for your holiday getaway! 

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1. Choosing A Route

Choosing a destination is no doubt one of the most fun and most important parts of any trip! The route you’re taking to get there, meanwhile, can be just as vital—while the destination might also count, the journey can be just as memorable.

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When planning a winter road trip, choosing a route can be even more vital. Even Interstates and well-traveled highways can experience closures due to weather conditions. Even if you’re escaping the cold to go somewhere warmer, you’ll likely need to travel in winter weather for at least part of your trip.

Related: Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

A couple of tips that can help: travel on major routes as much as possible especially when traveling in colder areas. While back roads and scenic routes can no doubt make for a memorable trip, they may also be less maintained in the winter and in some cases are closed to winter travel. They’re also traveled by fewer people meaning that if you should run into trouble, finding assistance could require a long wait.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Consider Your Vehicle

For travelers planning to drive over Thanksgiving, here’s one thing to put at the top of your to-do list: making sure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.

Skipping that task could mean waiting a while on the side of the road before help comes.

AAA estimates 400,000 Americans will need roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The three most common issues are dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most vehicle problems like these could be prevented with a pre-trip vehicle inspection. Before you hit the road this Thanksgiving, make sure to check everything from the battery to the tires. That could make the difference between spending Thanksgiving at the table or on the roadside.

Winter months can bring about all manner of difficult weather—rain, snow, ice, hail. When you’re planning a winter road trip, take into consideration the capabilities of the vehicle you’ll be taking when choosing a route. Cars with all-wheel or four-wheel drive may have an easier time driving in snowy conditions.

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You may be required to use winter tires (more commonly called “snow tires”) or to carry chains. Fitting a set of snow tires may be the best thing you can do to improve your safety margin and reduce your anxiety level on snow-covered roads. Proper winter tires provide far more traction in snow, slush, and ice than even the best set of all-season tires. Being aware of your vehicle’s capabilities will allow you to plan a trip that is both fun and safe! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Assemble a Winter Emergency Kit

If you’re traveling through any colder or snowy areas, you’ll need an emergency kit designed for cold weather. Your winter emergency kit should include basic survival supplies, safety items, car/RV maintenance tools, and winter clothing. These items will help you stay comfortable and hydrated if you ever get stuck on the side of the road or have to wait out a storm.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your general emergency kit supplies should include a first aid kit as well as supplies geared towards cold weather. Emergency blankets, for example, don’t take up much space to pack and can be incredibly helpful in staying warm should you be stranded. Other things to consider packing include flashlights and extra fresh batteries, snow shovel, cat litter (or sand), ice scraper, snow brush, triangular caution signs, jumper cables, toolkit, duct tape, smartphone charger, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for people and pets, paper towels, and gloves. 

Related: Prepping For Snowbird Travel

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Check Road Conditions Frequently

Related to the above tip—road conditions can change rapidly during winter. A clear road one day may experience snow or freezing rain overnight. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check road conditions as frequently as possible. Referencing closures from previous years when planning your route can also add an additional layer of assurance to your road trip.

Finally, check out what sources you can rely on for updates for the route you’re taking before you head out. This way, you won’t need to find a weather station on your radio or app for your smartphone while on the road. 

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Schedule Extra Time

This is a good idea for road trips any time of the year. Planning some extra time will create a helpful safety net should anything unexpected arise. Because there are several additional factors to consider in the winter such as potential snowfall or road closures, this becomes even more crucial when traveling in winter. Consider adding a few hours to your plan each day. Worst case scenario—everything does go according to plan and you end up with some extra time to explore a stop or enjoy your destination. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Have a Backup Plan

Most likely you’ll arrive at your destination with only minor setbacks if any. In the event that a setback delays your journey a backup plan will help ensure you still have a good trip, even if it’s not what you originally planned. Consider cancellation policies when booking an RV park or other lodging as well as the potential for extending your stay if weather or road conditions require it. Also, consider an alternative route as well some activities or stops along this route.

Related: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. On Packing

Packing for any trip can be difficult! There’s always the question of what to bring. While you have some more freedom packing for a road trip over a plane trip, it’s still important to pack efficiently. For a winter road trip, this means that you’ll want to keep cold-weather clothes easily accessible. The last thing you’ll want to have to do is unpack a full suitcase to find a pair of gloves at the bottom.

Consider bringing a bag or bin for shoes/outerwear as well. If you’ve been walking through snow or slush, this is a great way to make sure any runoff won’t result in a puddle on your car or RV floor. Finally, make sure to bring a blanket or two to stay cozy on the trip. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Winter Driving Tips

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work and allow extra time to reach your destination.
If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is prepared and that you know how to handle road conditions. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Resort near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks (and never, never on the right).

Related: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Keep your lights and windshield clean. Replace windshield wiper blades. Make sure your windshield washer system works and is full of an anti-icing fluid. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Brake gently to avoid skidding. Learn how to get maximum efficiency from your brakes before you need them in an emergency situation.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch carefully for black ice. If the road looks slick, it probably is. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads as these will freeze first.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads. 

Worth Pondering…

And finally, Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

Selecting Camera Mode: Manual, Aperture Priority & Shutter Priority

Use the mode that helps you capture the image you want

Are the settings on your camera really so hard to understand? Of course not, but it can seem that way at the start, especially if they are not explained to you in simple terms you can understand.

Great white egret at Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some photography snobs, shooting in manual mode is a badge of honor, shunning any other mode as something akin to cheating. I do shoot in manual mode, but I use Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority as my preferred modes of choice.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typically represented by a capital A (or sometimes Av, short for Aperture Value) on the camera mode dial, aperture priority allows the photographer to dial in this specific exposure setting—the ƒ-stop—and asks the camera to calculate the correct corresponding shutter speed in the instant before the shutter is released. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back up just a moment for a better understanding of how aperture priority mode works.

Related: 10 Essential Photography Tips Every Photographer Needs to Remember

Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A camera has three primary exposure modifiers: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The aperture (also called ƒ-stop) is the size of the opening in the lens which modifies the amount of light that’s let into the camera.

The shutter speed modifies the duration that light is let into the camera.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And the ISO (or film speed, back in the old days) represents how sensitive to light the sensor will be. A higher ISO is more sensitive to light (and produces more noise) while a lower ISO is less light sensitive but produces a cleaner signal and better image quality. These days, though, sensor technology is so good that even high ISOs still look great.

Related: Photography: The Geometry of Nature

One of many frog murals in Rayne, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s by adjusting these three settings in combination that proper exposure is established. If you allow in less light with a smaller aperture, you’ll need to balance it with more light from a longer shutter speed. Add to one, take away from the other. Simple, right?

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well, sometimes it’s not so simple, particularly in situations in which the light is changing. This could be when I’m photographing in full sun then moments later in shade. These changing situations make automatic exposure modes more convenient than continuously recalculating the correct manual exposure.

Sandhill cranes in Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But rather than turning over all the control to the camera, modes such as Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority allow the photographer to retain manual control over one specific setting. In this case, it’s Aperture Priority, where the photographer sets the ƒ-stop and the camera calculates the correct shutter speed to accompany it.

Hoover Dam and Colorado River, Nevada/Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aperture Priority mode is particularly helpful in situations where the photographer wants to set a specific depth of field and have that setting take priority over the shutter speed.

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aperture Priority is my mode of choice with landscape photography. To create a sharp image area through greater depth of field the photographer can dial in a tiny aperture such as ƒ/22, and in Aperture Priority the camera will determine which shutter speed will produce the correct exposure. Be warned, though, that in this case, a tripod may be necessary if low light requires a long shutter speed that’s too long to handhold.

Related: Travel Photography Tips You Don’t Usually Hear

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we understand the way Aperture Priority mode works, we’ll look at its counterpart on the automatic exposure spectrum: Shutter Priority exposure mode.

Often represented by an S or Sv on the camera mode dial, Shutter Priority mode sees the photographer dialing in a manual shutter speed and leaving the selection of the appropriate aperture to the camera’s brain.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with any automatic exposure mode, Shutter Priority is particularly helpful in changing light situations, though it’s useful in any situation in which it’s the shutter speed you primarily want to control.

Ladybird Wildlife Center in Austin, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, when I’m shooting birds I want at least 1/500th, I can set the shutter speed in Shutter Priority and let the camera pick the correct aperture to accompany it.

Related: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Moose Farms Maple Sugarworks, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware though if your shutter speed is too fast for the available light you may end up with underexposed images. This can be corrected by dialing in a higher ISO.

Worth Pondering…

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.

—Peter Adams

California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

This desert escape never goes out of style

Before you even finish this sentence, I’m guessing you can name the number one reason why everyone loves Palm Springs.

Somewhere in the Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather! That’s right, Palm Springs averages 350 sunny days per year; its temperate winter climate complements the sunlight to keep you pleasantly warm. The forecast calls for fun, so explore all that Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley have to offer…

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between the mesmerizing San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park on either side, the Coachella Valley is like no other place on earth. Some might even say it’s magical. Health-seekers, adventurers, artists, and more have flocked here since the early 1900s in search of inspiration, solitude, and serenity. Here, there’s room to breathe and just be, frolicking among the palm oases and hidden waterfalls beneath sun-kissed skies.

El Paseo, Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nine cities in the Coachella Valley—Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella—have distinct histories and personalities. Visit the infamous San Andreas Fault and its twisted desert canyons.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soak in the healing hot mineral springs, some of the purest in the world. Tee off at a championship golf course where the likes of Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods have played. Or simply bask in the sunshine. Regardless of where your Coachella Valley journey begins, you’re guaranteed to experience that same magic in the air that keeps snowbirds coming back, time and time again.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

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Palm Springs

The desert cities, especially Palm Springs, are particularly well-suited for the outdoor lifestyle that has become requisite within the past year with popular brunch spots along the palm-tree-lined main drag offering sprawling shaded patios perfect for people watching and sipping mimosas.

Palm Springs has been a hideaway for Angelenos since the Rat Pack days and it’s no wonder. This colorful, chic desert escape offers everything you need to unwind and it’s less than a two-hour journey from the city center of L.A.

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The main draw for snowbirds is the year-round sunshine, but modern art and architecture buffs are attracted to the works of the architects who put their mark on the town including Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William Krisel. Frey designed Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center. Given its residents’ penchant for art and design, the area is also home to some of the state’s best vintage shops.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride. You can go from t-shirt, to coat, back to swimsuit in a fall afternoon. Only in Palm Springs!

Related: The Amazing Story of Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike at one of the convenient trails located near the heart of town. Andreas Canyon is a cradle of cultural finds, showcasing irrigation and artistic achievements of the Cahuilla indigenous people. It’s one of the three canyons in Indian Canyons and offers beautiful views meandering along a natural creek.

Palm Springs from Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more challenging hike, consider the trailhead tucked fashionably behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. While you’re there, visit one of the many fascinating design and architecture attractions that make the city famous.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your hike continues from manmade wonders to natural spectacles. The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will you be in town Thursday night? If not, rearrange those plans! VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. Nosh on finger foods from area restaurants, gaze at visionary pieces by local artists and shop to the max at a bevy of business stands. The only thing missing is you!

Related: Desert Star: Palm Springs

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Hot Springs

Located in Coachella Valley, Desert Hot Springs is known internationally for its vast underground aquifers of pure cold water and soothing natural hot mineral water. Situated high overlooking the Palm Springs area, the hotels and spas are known for natural, healing, hot mineral waters.

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Not only can you soak in the water; you can drink it too. That’s because the underground cold water springs are just as pure as the hot water springs. Think of it as hot and cold running water. Instead of turning a faucet, though, the water is pumped directly out of the earth.

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hot or cold, the mineral water is unique. It has no smell, unlike lots of other mineral waters. It’s crystal clear too, never discolored like many other waters.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the Sand to Snow National Monument, outdoor enthusiasts will find creosote-strewn hillsides at Mission Creek Preserve or can opt for a hike into the diverse Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Once a Native American village and later a cattle ranch, this preserve is a serene oasis around a natural spring generated by snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. Big Morongo attracts all manner of birds and animals to riparian woodland filled with cottonwoods and willows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a slice of history, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a marvel of engineering and design made from recycled desert materials. The home was built beginning in 1941. The Hopi-inspired building is hand-made and created from reclaimed and found materials from throughout the Coachella Valley. The Pueblo has four stories, is 5,000 square feet, and includes 35 rooms, 150 windows, 30 rooflines, and 65 doors.

Related: Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Desert

Situated in the heart of Coachella Valley, Palm Desert has metamorphosed from a sandy cove at the foot of the Santa Rosas into a sprawling shopping, entertainment, and recreation mecca.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catch a show at the McCallum Theatre, a state-of-the-art performance venue that has hosted some of the world’s top entertainers and touring Broadway acts. Feed a giraffe at the wonderfully wild Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, ranked one of the top zoos in the country.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let inspiration strike while exploring public art along the city’s famed shopping district, El Paseo. Kick it into high gear on the Bump and Grind Trail (the 1,000-foot elevation gain pays off in breathtaking panoramic views) or play a round on an award-winning golf course.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and several palm oases including the biggie: the Thousand Palm Oasis. These stay full of water thanks to water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault. The hike from the visitor center to the McCallum Pond at the Thousand Palms Oasis is a fairly easy one, mostly flat, and about a mile.

Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral City

Though home to its fair share of lush country clubs and exceptional hotels, Cathedral City shines as a haven for the arts. Thanks to a recent Public Arts Initiative, visitors can discover several works on display throughout the city including the whimsical, mosaic-tiled Fountain of Lifestatue that proudly claims the heart of downtown. Feel free to splash around in the cooling waters … we won’t judge.

Related: Good for What Ages You: Palm Springs

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get to know local talent by attending a gallery opening on Perez Road, the city’s art and design district, or hunt for one-of-a-kind treasures and vintage furniture finds in the district’s eclectic warehouse-style shops.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rancho Mirage

A luxurious lifestyle meets a playful landscape in Rancho Mirage. Several past U.S. Presidents, including Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, have unplugged here, finding peace amid the palm trees and earning the city the nickname “playground of presidents.” 

Families can shop, dine, and catch a flick all in the same day at Greater Palm Springs’ only waterfront shopping and entertainment hub, The River.

Stroll the historic 200-acre estate at Sunnylands Gardens and marvel at the 70-some odd species of arid-adapted plants suited to the desertscape or wander labyrinths and gaze in reflecting pools.

Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quinta

This “gem in the desert” embraces the outdoors and the arts. Spend the day romanticizing and wandering through Old Town, La Quinta’s main street with cobblestone sidewalks, whitewashed adobe walls, and bougainvillea galore. The quaint thoroughfare provides the perfect storybook-like setting for an afternoon of shopping and alfresco dining.

Related: Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sip on a seasonal IPA at La Quinta Brewing Company (their outdoor patio is great for people-watching). Browse local artists’ wares, ranging from paintings to ceramics to jewelry during Art on Main Street, held on select Saturdays throughout the year. Shop for fresh fare and flowers at the Old Town Farmers Market.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience art and learn a new skill at Old Town Artisan Studios. Or rent a beach cruiser through Old Town Peddler to explore more of the surrounding cottage-filled neighborhoods that make up La Quinta Cove where hikers enjoy easy access to trails that traverse beautiful desert mountains and canyons.

Shield’s Date Garden, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio

Dubbed the City of Festivals, Indio has become a favorite destination for foodies and music lovers attracting nearly 1.4 million people each year for its multiple mainstream events including the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (April 15-17 and 22-24, 2022) and Stagecoach Country Music Festival (April 29-May 1, 2022).

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For an authentic taste of the valley, don’t miss the Indio International Tamale Festival (29th annual; December 4-5, 2021) where dozens of homemade tamales with creative flavors (hello pumpkin, vegan green chile, and chocolate cherry!) delight.

Shield’s Date Garen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And of course, there’s the date shake. Many local eateries serve up creamy, ice-cold shakes made with the Coachella Valley’s favorite fruit—our preferred way to chill on a warm desert day. Sip yours while strolling through the date groves and citrus trees at Shields Date Garden & Café, an Indio mainstay since 1924.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella

Color comes alive in the City of Eternal Sunshine whose rich Hispanic heritage shines through in community events like Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and authentic Mexican cuisine you won’t find anywhere else in Coachella Valley. Choices range from Jalisco, a landmark Coachella restaurant that has been a favorite of many since 1980 to El Tranvia, owned by Oscar Ventura, whose grandparents once sold tacos out of a pushcart in their native Zamora, Mexico.

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is said that the tacos here will change your life. Take a trip down the street and you’ll find Las Tres Conchitas, Coachella’s very first bakery where you can purchase authentic Mexican sweet bread and baked goods. 

Shield’s Date Garden, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Die-hard foodies can even book an agri-tour to get an up-close look at the fields of brightly hued fruits and vegetables that surround the city. Learn how growers cultivate their crops, many of which end up on your plate at some of the area’s finest restaurants.

Indian Waters RV Park, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Equally colorful—and perhaps one of the area’s best-kept secrets—is the Coachella Walls, beautiful murals painted by local artists throughout downtown that celebrate the city’s people and history. Stroll the historic sidewalks with a self-guided tour and admire their artistry.

Worth Pondering…

You don’t go to Palm Springs in the summer unless you’re building a golf course.

—Arnold Palmer

10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

In the Lone Star State, find natural springs, granite batholiths, and even gypsum sand dunes

Texas is known for big skies, wide-open spaces, and starry nights. Parts of it bristle with cacti. Others glisten with swampy, tea-colored water. Along the coast, endangered sea turtles nest along sandy beaches, towering cypress trees lean over cool green rivers, and fossilized dinosaur bones poke out of dry creek beds.

Every corner of the Lone Star State serves up its own version of Texas terrain, from mountains to beaches and well beyond. And less than five percent of its land is publicly owned. In all, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees nearly 100 parks, historic sites, and natural areas across the state. The National Parks Service operates 16 more public spaces including national parks, monuments, recreation areas, preserves, trails, and memorials. Below, I’ve picked 10 of my favorite state and national parks in Texas to plan a trip around.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale

It’s hard to imagine finding a giant blue-green swimming hole swirling with fish in the middle of a desert but that’s what beckons at Balmorhea State Park where more than 15 million gallons of water flow daily from San Solomon Springs into a 25-foot deep pool with a natural bottom. Native Americans, early explorers, and passing U.S. soldiers have all watered up here and in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, it’s popular with land-locked scuba divers, swimmers, and anyone looking to take a flying leap off a 7-foot 3-inch-high diving board. It’s also home to two small endangered species of fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and Pecos gambusia.

Related: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, far West Texas

At first blush, Big Bend National Park in far West Texas looks desolate and uninviting. But get out and hike its prickly folds, armed with plants that poke, scrape, and stab, and you’ll discover spectacular geologic formations and a diverse range of inhabitants from javelina to tarantulas, black bear, snakes, and mountain lions.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backpack the South Rim high in the Chisos Mountains at the center of the park, raft the café-au-lait-colored water of the Rio Grande or explore the desert floor and the old farming and ranching ruins it holds. The largest of the national parks in Texas, Big Bend sprawls over 801,100 acres, so one thing you won’t find is big crowds. Peak season is November through April—no surprise, as temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees in summer.

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, near Beaumont

Four types of carnivorous plants live in the Big Thicket and chances are you’ll be able to watch one of them turn an unsuspecting insect into a slow-cooked meal if you visit. But first, stop by the preserve’s visitor center to get the lay of the land at this diverse park which is made up of non-contiguous units that cover 113,114 acres of land and water in seven counties.

Related: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find sections of longleaf pine forest, swampy bayous, and wetland savannas, crisscrossed by about 40 miles of hiking trails including a few wooden boardwalks that take you past carnivorous pitcher plants. Paddlers can explore the waterways by kayak or canoe, too. Just remember to bring the bug spray.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg

Enchanted Rock looms like a giant pink onion, half-buried in the Hill Country scrub. It formed a billion years ago when a pool of magma pushed up through the earth’s surface and hardened into a granite batholith. Most visitors make the 30- or 45-minute beeline to the top of the 425-foot dome passing fragile vernal pools where water collects in shallow pits providing a home for freshwater shrimp.

Enchanted Rock State Enchanted Area© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But don’t miss the loop trail that encircles the main attraction. Pitch a tent in the primitive sites alongside Moss Lake and watch the sun cast a rosy glow on the rock—and maybe catch the eerie creaking and groaning that some report hearing at night.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, near Rockport

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related: Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

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

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Johnson City, and Stonewall

If you’re looking for a history lesson during your next park outing, consider Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park a two-in-one immersion into rural Texas life in the 1950s. First, tour the grounds of President Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City then drive 14 miles to the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House where you can drive past his birthplace, a show barn, a small schoolhouse, and the Texas White House (which is temporarily closed to indoor tours due to structural issues).

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

As you make the rounds, imagine the former president known for pulling pranks on his guests—like the time he loaded dignitaries into a vehicle, rolled it down a hill, and into a pond, hollering that the brakes had given out. He didn’t tell them it was an amphibious vehicle designed to drive on roads and float in the water. Time your visit for early spring to coincide with the annual bluebonnet display.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, near Mission

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi

Grab your swimsuit and aim for Padre Island National Seashore which hugs 70 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast on the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Related: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Splash in the ocean, admire birds (including the Pepto Bismol-colored Roseate spoonbill), sail, fish, and, during the summer, watch Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings dash across the sand as scientists release them into the wild. Many a Spanish ship met its fate off the coastline here and visitors can park an RV or pitch a tent on the beach.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; we’re just 13 miles from the state capitol. Here you can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, near Pecos

A mystical place where the wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys, Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. These natural sand dunes are ever-changing and worth stomping around after a few hours behind the wheel.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop here for a picnic or sled down the swirling dunes on rentable plastic lids if you’re so inclined. Entry is $4. And spend the night at one of the 26 camping sites with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and shelter. Camping is $15 nightly plus the entry fee.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Holly Jolly Jekyll

Discover holiday lights and magical sights on Jekyll Island

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, it sits a short drive from Savannah with more than 10 miles of beaches, a historic landmark district, golf courses, and state park-protected land that includes a campground.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island was named Money Magazine’s #1 Place to Go in the U.S. in 2019. It also houses a sea turtle rescue center and has been the filming location for films like X-Men: First Class, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Walking Dead.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island packs a lot of action into its small seven-by-two-mile border. One of the four Barrier Islands that are accessible by car, this tucked-away gem off the coast of Georgia is a favorite vacationing spot. Plus it offers the best of nearby historic Savannah (1½ hours away) and Florida beaches (one hour away).

duBignon Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature lovers will feel right at home with eight miles of beaches, 20 miles of hiking trails, and a flat landscape all well within reach, making the area ideal for casual walking and biking. The Historic District surrounding the Jekyll Island Club—featuring 200 acres of buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the town was developed—helped it join the ranks of the most beautiful small towns in America, according to Architectural Digest.

GoodyearCottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to take in the lights from the comfort of your own vehicle? Follow Jekyll Island’s Self-Guided Light Tour map to see some of the island’s best light displays. (Be sure to follow traffic patterns and tour signs and remain in your vehicle while snapping photos of your favorite twinkling lights.)

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tap into your competitive spirit while celebrating the holiday season at Peppermint Land at Jekyll Island Mini Golf. Take a walk down peppermint lane and enjoy one or both of the 18-hole courses while surrounded by life-size gumdrops, peppermint sticks, gingerbread friends, and more.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

(Pro tip: If you play into the evening, you can also enjoy all the twinkling holiday lights!)  Or round up your group for the free Holly Jolly Drive-in Movie (December 12 and 19) to enjoy a special screening of the original “Frosty the Snowman” movie in the Jekyll Island Convention Center parking lot. Find your spot, wave hello to Santa on his big red fire truck, and tune in to the movie using your car radio. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, need to pick up some last-minute gifts? For holiday shopping, stroll through the beautifully decorated historic Goodyear Cottage which transforms into the Merry Artists Holiday Market showcasing one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces by local artists and makers—perfect for one-of-a-kind presents. Gift certificates are available for purchase.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or pop into the Holly Jolly Trading Post to pick up your Holly Jolly Jekyll season novelties and collectibles and enjoy Christmas candies and warm holiday beverages while you stroll.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a joyous parade. During the Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade (December 4), find your spot in the beachfront spectator areas to watch as Santa and his friends make their way beachside in a variety of golf carts and vintage vehicles—all lit up in their holiday best. 
For a nighttime celebration, ooh and aah at holiday fireworks (December 11 and 18) launching near Beach Village. Park beachside and watch the free show from your car to stay warm and cozy while taking in the spectacular sights. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If adventure is calling your name, infuse some excitement into your holiday vacation with outdoor activities on Jekyll Island’s beaches. 

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Show your daring side during the new Cold-Stunned Plunge (November 27) as you run into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. This fun (and frigid) fundraising event benefits the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on behalf of the Jekyll Island Foundation. Many sea turtles get caught in hypothermic water temperatures during winter months and your support assists cold-stun rehabilitation and recovery. Mascot Scute C. Turtle and friends will cheer on participants and hang around for festive photos. Take the plunge, raise some funds, and receive a commemorative T-shirt for your good deed. 

Related: 10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride into this holiday season with a one-hour horse ride on the beach (November 26-January 2)! The horses will be decked out for Christmas in Santa hats and jingle bells and ready for their photo-op. Come enjoy some holiday tunes while sharing a candy cane treat with them!

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Enthusiasts are drawn to their colorful culinary potential—or simply the thrill of the challenge

Grab a glistening, hot chile pepper—one jewel-toned beauty with a volcanic pedigree—and take the dare. Just know that once you pop that capsicum into your mouth, there is no turning back. No amount of water, beer, milk, or bread can fully put out the flame. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, for every coughing and gasping amateur daredevil, there are dozens of die-hard chile-heads for whom the pain of eating hot peppers is all pleasure. The seared taste buds, watery eyes, and sinus-clearing fumes are part of the attraction, along with the hunt for evermore pungent pepper thrills. 

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bringing the Heat

Humans have been eating peppers for at least 9,000 years. While archaeologists pinpoint the eastern coast of Mexico as the cradle of cultivation, there’s evidence that around the same time, indigenous peoples were harvesting and eating wild peppers from what is now the southwestern United States through Mexico and south to Peru. 

Pecans, pistachios, and chiles at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch, Almagardo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nobody knows exactly why humans crave the culinary drama of hot peppers, but scientists have come up with a few theories. The word addiction has been bandied about, in part because capsaicin, the substance that gives chiles their signature punch, causes pain followed by an immediate release of endorphins. Endorphins floating around the brain trigger a sense of euphoria. In addition, capsaicin releases chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain (which is why it is a popular ingredient in topical pain relievers). 

Related: Chile Peppers 101

Red chiles at Farmers and Craft Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot Is Hot?

In 1912, Parke-Davis Co. pharmacist Wilbur Scoville began exploring the capsaicin kick of different types of peppers. He wasn’t aiming for chile-head immortality but for a more efficient way to produce a capsaicin-laced liniment. He crushed chiles combined them with sugar water and had a panel of taste-testers take sips. Over time, Scoville diluted the chiles with more and more water until the tasters could no longer detect any heat in their cups. The pharmacist rated different chiles based on how much water was required to negate the capsaicin. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scoville called his process the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Today, in his honor, pepper punch is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) arranged on the Scoville Scale. No taste-tester tongues were harmed in the ranking process. Now, SHUs are measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a process that measures the heat-generating chemicals in chiles.

Hot sauces at Billy’s Boudin, Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For context, pure capsaicin ranks at 15 to 16 million SHUs, and sweet bell peppers come in at 0. In between is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million, orange habaneros at 150,000 to 325,000, cayenne peppers at 30,000 to 50,000, and jalapeños at 2,500 to 8,000.

Related: Feel the Burn

Pepper growers continue to try to out-spice each other with new tongue-searing cultivars. At any given time, a new hybrid could explode to the top of the scale.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sensory Perception

What are the mechanisms through which the human body responds to the varying degree of heat in chile peppers? As it turns out we didn’t know until very recently. In fact, in 1997, Dr. David Julius discovered the neural pathway that gets activated by capsaicin, causing spicy foods to feel “hot” when consumed.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, on October 4, 2021, David Julius, a physiologist, and Ardem Patapoutian, a molecular biologist and neuroscientist, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The men were honored for their research into human sensory perception; each had, independently of the other, discovered mechanisms through which human bodies respond to touch and temperature.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The importance of the five senses cannot be understated. They are mediums through which we experience and understand the world around us, transforming external stimuli into electrical signals that our brain translate into the sensations of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. How exactly this transformation works out on a molecular level, however, was long unclear and still remains one of the most elusive questions in modern science.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius currently serves as the chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California in San Francisco. In 1997, his team of researchers compiled a library of neural pathways that are activated by capsaicin, a compound that gives spicy foods like chile peppers their burning sensation when consumed. Along the way, Dr. Julius discovered TRPV1, the ion channel that acts as our primary capsaicin receptor.

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico

In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up a tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers (and wasabi) give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius answered this question by showing us that TRPV1 is responsible for keeping our bodies safe from high temperatures. The channel responds not only to capsaicin but also to temperatures that are greater than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. TRPV1 also acts up when we are injured or sunburned, causing damaged tissue to feel hot to the touch. In all cases, the channel transmits a signal that our brains turn into the sensation of heat.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Matter of Taste

Chile aficionados know their way around the Scoville Scale but they also insist that chile varieties like grape varieties and wines have terroir. Put simply, terroir is a subtle turn of flavor based on the location where a pepper is grown. By this measure, a Hatch green chile from New Mexico will taste distinctly different from the same variety grown in California. 

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Likewise, different peppers carry different signature taste prints. Habaneros are known for their fruity, floral flavors; jalapeños tend to be herbaceous; Thai chiles have an earthy flavor; Tabasco peppers have a slightly smoky taste. 

Experimenting with chiles of different pedigrees and forms—fresh, dried, crushed, powdered—could become a lifelong obsession. At what point does the chile overpower the food? What blends work together? What chile paste perfectly accentuates a stew, a kebab, barbecued ribs, or a block of tofu?

La Posta Restaurant, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, while you’re pondering, shopping, and cooking remember one thing: capsaicin, the thing that brings the truth-or-dare pleasure and pain to hot peppers has exactly no flavor. None! So if you’re expecting to add a sweet, tart, or vegetal aura to your food, start with a pepper you can actually taste before moving up the scale. 

Red chile flavored pistachios at Eagle Ranch, Almadargo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Hot Pepper Sauces

Chile-heads love to sample and collect hot sauces for the flavor and potency of the specific elixirs as well as for the opportunity to grab a portable pepper fix. For most, the hot sauce hobby has the makings of a lifelong obsession simply because there are so, so many different commercially produced sauces to try.

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Market researchers quantify the U.S. hot pepper sauce market at around $1.2 billion as of 2018 with the spicy condiment snaring more than $2.3 globally. At any given time, more than 100 major brands are vying for a share of that pie.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The invention of hot sauce is credited to the ancient Aztecs who cultivated chili peppers to add some flavor and nutritional value to their limited food choices. By the time the conquistadors arrived, the Aztecs were already mixing peppers, herbs, and water into sauces and serving them on ancient versions of the corn tortilla.

Fast forward several hundred years and hot sauces have spread from their birthplace in Central America to North America, Europe, Asia, and outer space. Walk into your average grocery store and you’ll be confronted with a dazzling array of hot sauce bottles filled with liquids in red, green, yellow, and orange. Different brands come with different types of peppers, ingredients, spice levels, and suggested food pairings—and not all are created equal.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edmund McIlhenny, a banker from Avery Island, Louisiana, founded Tabasco in 1868. The recipe evolved over time. A soldier returning from Mexico in 1840 gave McIlhenny, a known gardener, seeds from wild peppers he had collected. McIlhenny planted the seeds and the peppers that grew became the basis for Tabasco sauce. McIlhenny named the unique Mexican pepper strain for the sauce which he had already named for a region in Mexico. 

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To this day, Tabasco is made from the McIlhenny family’s original recipe: Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt aged in oak barrels for up to three years. Tabasco peppers are handpicked when they turn a deep red, which apparently signifies optimal flavor and heat.

Related: Avery Island: Touring Tabasco & Jungle Gardens

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco has many competitors including regional hot sauces, sauces with international pedigrees, and sauces created for different cooking techniques. I’ve tried many of them including:

  • Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce which was engineered in New Iberia
  • Tapatío, a popular Mexico hot sauce with a guy with a sombrero on it that’s not actually a Mexican hot sauce but made in California
  • Cholula (Choe-loo-la), named for a 2,500-year-old city in Mexico but actually manufactured in Chapala in the Mexican state of Jalisco—not Cholula—and instantly identifiable by its signature wooden bottle cap
  • Crystal Hot Sauce, the best-selling Louisiana hot sauce that has been in New Orleans since 1923 and popular around the world
  • Frank’s Hot Sauce, a Louisiana-born sauce made from Cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

The Power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can improve both mental and physical health

Mindfulness is a key component of many meditative and contemplative practices and it can also be an illuminating approach to everyday life. To be mindful is to focus our awareness and attention on the experience of the present moment. We can be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions; the natural world and our immediate environment; the people around us; and other parts of our lives.

On the road to Peralta Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A huge body of research now shows that mindfulness can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It improves our focus, resilience, and memory, and it has a whole host of health benefits including increased immune function and powerful anti-aging properties.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

On the trail at Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices encourage us to slow down and notice what we can be directly aware of at any given moment. A recommended way to begin is to sit in a quiet place and notice the movement of our breathing. By bringing mindfulness to this one simple and flowing experience, we may be able to temporarily let go of our habitual thinking, daily narratives, and worries.

On the trail in Lake County, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with formal meditation practices, we can be mindful in our everyday lives. Eating a meal, walking, driving, and other seemingly mundane tasks are all opportunities for mindfulness. The more we ground ourselves in the present, the more fully we can experience being alive.

Related: Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

On the Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why is mindfulness so effective? In a world that’s hectic and fast-paced, it’s beneficial to stop and re-center by noticing what’s around you.

Hiking the lava fields, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I often find myself stuck in one of two places. I am either ruminating on a past—perhaps revising what I had seen and done and trails hiked on past snowbird travels before COVID. Or I am desperately concerned about and planning the future—what if I’m no longer able to drive my motorhome or what if someone I love gets really sick?

Relaxing at Racoon State Recreation Area, Indiana

It’s easy to spend the majority of a day doing what’s been described as “rehashing the past” or “rehearsing the future.”

Related: Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

The biggest problem with rehashing or rehearsing is that those thoughts are often a source of stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness can become a powerful antidote. Spending time each day meditating and grounding ourselves in the present has been tied to less stress, fewer unwanted thoughts, heightening creativity, encouraging appreciation, and combating overall mental and emotional fatigue.

Along the byways of Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices have also been found to reduce stress, boost immune systems, and improve brain functions.

How could simply tuning into your thoughts and feelings lead to so many positive outcomes throughout the body? Researchers believe the benefits of mindfulness are related to its ability to dial down the body’s response to stress.

Along the boardwalk at Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chronic stress can impair the body’s immune system and make many other health problems worse. By lowering the stress response, mindfulness may have downstream effects throughout the body.

On a Hyannis Harbor Cruise, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because mindfulness is so helpful at easing negative and stressful feelings, it can contribute towards us living healthier, happier lives. It may even slow down the aging process because while stress has the side-effect of speeding up our biological clock, mindfulness can help to slow it down.

Related: Camping Benefits Mind and Body…Here Is How

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study from Stanford University, a 90-minute walk in a natural area was shown to lower the risk of depression and one survey found that 65 percent of people who put away digital devices while on vacation enjoyed their way more (not surprising, right?). But where can you go to truly unplug? Turns out, that’s the easy part. I’ve got some ideas to get you started. Stay tuned for a follow-up article.

Relaxing at Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the quotes below, practitioners discuss the essence of mindfulness and its myriad benefits.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
—Henry Miller, writer

Walking the trails at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness… It [is] the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought.
—Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk

Exploring Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
—Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist monk and author

Along Champlain Canal, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are… It is called mindfulness.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher

Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Busy cities and desolate washes, low deserts to high pine-filled mountains, black lava flows to red rocks and pastel deserts, ancient ruins to thriving modern Native American communities

Driving around Arizona, the sixth largest state in the US, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of nowhere, or even onto another planet—in one moment you’re surrounded by rocky red buttes, the next saguaro-speckled desert-scapes and then, ponderosa forests.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is what road-trip daydreams are made of. But this is a destination that also richly rewards those who linger a little and set off on foot to explore spectacular hiking trails and quirky desert towns.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to the Grand Canyon in the northwest of the state is an adventure no traveler can forget. The Colorado River snakes through a vast gorge that plummets to depths of more than 5,200 feet and is 18 miles across at its widest.

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Navajos herding sheep in Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of a flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park contains one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation, portions of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.

Verde Valley between Cottonwood and Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The Spanish word verde means “green” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. The valley encompasses red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.

Peralta Canyon trail head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ninety minutes south explore the Superstitions Wilderness Area with dramatic views along the Peralta Canyon Trail and the Pass Mountain Trail. The Peralta Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Superstition Wilderness outside of Phoenix and for good reason. This hike is one of the gateways into the 160,000-acre wilderness and offers spectacular scenery for the day hiker.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have an opportunity to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Related: Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s called a museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson—is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you’ll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The facility’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum’s trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life.

Presidio Old Town Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as well as the outdoor splendors, Arizona has many ways to reward you for a day’s adventure, with luxurious resorts/ spas, top restaurants, and an increasingly exciting wine scene.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers

10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Consider this list your reason for an epic cross-country road trip

As we travel around the United States, we observe fantastic buildings that adorn the country’s cities and towns. These incredible structures all have a story to tell and have been built to honor culture, challenge mankind’s abilities, and represent a time and place that is meaningful to its residents.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You learn a lot about a society from its buildings. Are they beautiful? Do they serve the people who live in them? Do they last? You could ask the same questions of civilization.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By those measures, the British Empire fares well. The English, like them or not, planted pretty buildings around the world. It may be the most unusual thing they did. Certainly, no one has done it since. Not only are these buildings interesting to look at, but they’re also full of fascinating history. Most cities (including Washington) haven’t constructed a graceful building in over 50 years. It makes me wonder about our civilization.

We’ve rounded up the most interesting structures in a variety of states. Let’s take a cross-country road trip as we explore nine of the coolest buildings in America.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona – Chapel of the Holy Cross

This cool chapel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students—Marguerite Brunswig Staude. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is 4 miles south of Sedona. It juts out from the colorful red cliffs and the large stained-glass windows overlook the Verde Valley.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia – Jekyll Island Club

The Club officially opened in 1888, quickly becoming a retreat for families that represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Pulitzers, and Rockefellers. Over time the Clubhouse with its elegant spire expanded to include the Annex and accommodations for the Member’s Guests, or “Strangers” as they were affectionately called, and a few Members even built their own Cottage.

Related: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky – Boone Tavern Hotel

A historic Berea hotel, Boone Tavern was built in 1909 at the suggestion of Nellie Frost, the wife of the College president, William G. Frost. Boone Tavern Hotel—named for Appalachian hero Daniel Boone—has been hosting visitors of Berea ever since including the Dalai Lama, Henry Ford, President Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost.

Cathedral of St. Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana – Cathedral of St. Helena

The Cathedral of Saint Helena was modeled by architect A.O. Von Herbulis after Vienna’s neo-Gothic church, Votivkirche. Construction began in 1908 and the church held its first mass in 1914. The impressive spires rise 230 feet above the street and can be seen from all parts of Helena. The stained-glass windows were made in Bavaria and shipped to Helena.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico – Loretto Chapel

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small-sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder. When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion

By any standard, past or present, this property—with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains—would be considered prime real estate. A series of fine homes have stood on the tract since about 1764, and in 1847 the estate was called “one of the finest specimens of the modern style of Landscape Gardening in America.”

Related: 7 of the Most Visited National Historic Sites (NHS) in America

Vanderbilt Mansion gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Such superlatives attracted the attention of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who had built a fortune from shipping, ferries, and the New York Central Railroad. One of Frederick’s brothers, George Washington Vanderbilt, is perhaps best-known for his Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina. The Vanderbilts were known as the richest—and the most powerful—family in America in the late 1800s.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota – The World’s Only Corn Palace

The World’s Only Corn Palace or the Mitchell Corn Palace is a quirky, but cool multi-purpose arena in Mitchell. It was built in the Moorish Revival style and is adorned with crop art made from corn and other grain that features a constantly-evolving design.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corn Palace hosts concerts, sports events, exhibits, and other community events like the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas – Mission San Jose

If you visit Texas, expect to see a lot of missions. But if you want to see the coolest one, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio missions—Mission San Jose. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San Jose attracted people from all over the area. The church, which still stands, was built in 1768.

Related: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire – Castle in the Clouds

Built on a mountainside overlooking New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, the Moultonborough mansion originally named Lucknow has aptly been called Castle in the Clouds since it opened to the public in 1957. The beautiful Arts and Crafts–style home was built in 1913 as the luxury Ossipee Mountain retreat of Thomas Plant, a millionaire shoe-manufacturing mogul.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island – The Breakers

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of mega-mansions in Newport. The coolest of the over-the-top palatial “summer cottages” is the Breakers. This home symbolizes the social and financial preeminence of the Vanderbilt family who built the mansion.

Related: Jacksonville: The Historic Small Town That Never Gets Old

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Architects were tasked with designing an Italian Renaissance-style palace inspired by the 16th-century palazzos of Genoa and Turin. The manor was completed in 1895 and after the death of the last remaining Vanderbilt associated with the Breakers, it’s now in the hands of the Preservation Society and is the most visited attraction in Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes