Camping Awareness: Wildfire Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life

If you’re wondering what causes wildfires, read on. Here is your complete guide to understanding the most common causes and how campers can practice fire safety.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

—Bob Dylan

Yet, knowing which way the wind will be blowing will give you a massive advantage in understanding the behavior of wildfires.

It took only a handful of days between the disappearance of snow in the Santa Fe National Forest and the start of the Cerro Pelado fire, a growing blaze that has threatened two units of the National Park Service (NPS) in New Mexico in an early season signal that the coming summer months will be smoky in many parts west of the Rockies. 

Salt River Canyon Wilderness, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire restrictions, imposed county by county, appear to arise more often during the wildfire season. The days of explorers ambling into Colorado’s backcountry, gathering kindling, and sparking a fire for some supper and perhaps a s’more or two are gone. Long gone, the Denver Post recently (May 5, 2022) reported.

“The state’s too dry. Too warm. Wildfire risk is too high and the season lasts all year now. The danger of a camper accidentally sparking a devastating wildfire is too serious.”

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, the 2022 wildfire season is underway and it’s striking with a vengeance. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Fire near Santa Fe, New Mexico had burned more than 168,000 acres as of last Friday (May 7, 2022) and was only 20 percent contained. It had already destroyed at least 277 structures including 166 residential buildings and was threatening thousands more. So far, more than 300,000 acres had burned in the state more than all of last year.

Lynx Lake, Prescott National Forest, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, in Florida, more than 22,000 acres have burned in recent days. Both fires serve to remind us to check ahead where we’re headed with our RVs and to be extra careful with fire.

With the devastating destruction caused by wildfires, it’s hard to imagine that a single ember is all it can take to start an inferno. Yet, this is often the case—and in most cases humans are to blame. Wildfires are classified as either naturally occurring or human-caused. According to NPS, human-caused wildfires are significantly more common with human involvement triggering 85 percent to 90 percent of all wildfires.

The NPS also estimates that only about 10 percent of wildfires are started by natural causes such as lightning.

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

For any fire to occur, there are three elements needed—heat, fuel, and oxygen:

  • Heat: Many potential heat sources can create embers and ignite wildfires. Many of these are human-caused which I will cover in more detail below.
  • Fuel: An arid climate and abundant, bone dry vegetation provides copious amounts of fuel for wildfires.
  • Oxygen: California’s infamous Santa Ana winds produce gusts averaging 45-50 mph with record gusts clocked at over 160 mph. These winds fan the flames and spread embers, leading to truly devastating wildfires.
Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildfires can start in a variety of ways. A dry climate, abundant winds, and dried vegetation provide prime conditions for a wildfire—and it only takes a single ember to ignite and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres and place humans and personal belongs at risk.

Here’s a close look at the top four heat sources that are the most common cause of wildfires:

  • Burning debris: Embers from burning debris are one of the most common causes of wildfires. In windy weather, escaped embers can carry for miles without extinguishing.
  • Unattended campfires: We typically associate campfires with beautiful memories, like s’mores and stories with loved ones. However, despite a campfire’s summertime appeal, they are one of the leading causes of wildfires.  California’s Ham Lake Fire (2007) which destroyed 75,000 acres and hundreds of properties is just one example of the devastation that a single campfire can cause.
  • Power lines/electrical equipment: Electrical lines and related equipment can break in high winds and spark, igniting flames in tinder-dry vegetation that can spread quickly in high winds. Fallen power lines are the third most common cause of wildfires in California. In some cases, it only takes a branch falling from a tree and striking a power line to create sparks. Over the past six years, more than 1,500 Californian wildfires were caused by fallen power lines including the deadliest fire in history—the Camp Fire (2018) which razed 90 percent of the town of Paradise killing 86 people and destroying more than 13,900 homes. The lines malfunctioned on a dry hillside near a windy canyon.
  • Discarded cigarettes: One of the biggest causes of fires is discarded cigarette butts. In 1997, there were 130,000 cigarette related fires. In 2017 this problem resulted in over $2 billion in costs associated with putting these fires out and $6 billion in loss of property. In addition to causing fires, cigarette butts pose another risk: they are hazardous to the environment. Cigarette butts leach toxins into the water and kill or injure various forms of wildlife. The plastic parts of cigarette butts can be ingested by fish, birds, whales, and other marine animals and the toxicity can accumulate up the food chain.
Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Other common causes of wildfires include:

  • Equipment use and malfunctions: The fifth-largest fire in California history, the Zaca Fire (2007) was caused by sparks from a metal grinder.
  • Vehicle crashes and engine sparks: The Carr Fire (2018) was caused by sparks from a trailer’s faulty wheel rim creating sparks on the road.
  • Arson: Two Colorado residents face charges of felony arson for their roles in starting the Lake Christine Fire in 2018.
  • Lightning: Lightning caused the 2012 Rush Fire in Lassen County, California.
Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona

Regardless of how wildfires are started, they are highly unpredictable and can be deadly. With the severe heat, drought conditions, and wildfires burning across much of the western US states and Canada, those who are out adventuring need to be aware of wildfire conditions and what can be done to keep you and your family safe in the backcountry.

Know the current wildfire conditions and fire restrictions for the area you are traveling.

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

Check with the national forest, state, and county as individual governing entities may have different restrictions.  Driving routes may be impacted, so check your route for road closures and cautions. Also, keep in mind that fire conditions and restrictions can change often, so check frequently so that you know what is permitted or restricted. Closures and restrictions aren’t put in place to ruin your camping trip; they are put in place for safety reasons. Take them seriously.

Frances Beider Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose a campsite that has more than one escape route. 

Have more than one way that you can leave the area. You might be tempted to camp way up in that canyon near the end of the road but if your access is cut off from a fire, you will have no way to leave.

Park for a quick departure.

Back into the spot if you need to so that should you need to leave quickly, you don’t have to worry about jockeying around in the smoke to get out.

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

Do not start a wildfire. This involves knowing what is not allowed and being responsible for your actions. Make sure you don’t spill flammable liquids and ensure cook stoves, barbecues, and lanterns are cold to the touch before storing them. Seemingly innocuous things like smoking outside or mosquito candles may lead to fire danger under the right (or wrong) conditions. If you are permitted to have a campfire, be sure it is completely extinguished before you leave.

Wildfire smoke from across state lines obscured the skies over Gatlinburg, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you do see an unattended fire or out of control fire, contact the authorities by calling 911 or the forest service immediately.

The sooner a problem is reported, the faster people can start taking action to get it under control or extinguished.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t discard cigarettes, matches, or smoking materials on the ground. Drown them in a glass of water then put them in the trash. No one wants to see that litter anyhow.

If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately.

Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are camping in the backcountry, there is likely not going to be anyone to tell you that a fire is in the area, so be aware of conditions and get yourself out if you see or smell smoke. Do not be tempted to linger for photos. Don’t drive slowly looking at flames.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If everything has gone wrong, you are in trouble. Don’t try to outrun the fire. If possible, get yourself submerged in a body of water (pond, river) as fast as you can. If there is no water, find a depression (low area) with as little vegetation as possible. Lie low to the ground and cover yourself with wet clothing. Protect your lungs as best as you can and stay down until the fire passes.  

Remember: you are responsible for your safety and for the safety of those around you.

See also:

Worth Pondering…

Don’t forget what Smokey Bear says: Only YOU can prevent wildfires!

World Migratory Day: Texas Birding Trails

Texas has an extensive series of birding and wildlife trails covering scores of sites over the entire state

Birding is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the US. In celebration of World Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday of May (May 14, 2022), here is a look at the nine eco-regions and birding trails in Texas which hosts more bird-watching festivals than any other state.

Turkey vulture © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lone Star state is home to some of the most famous birding sites in the country: High Island, Bolivar Flats, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Big Bend National Park, and Lower Rio Grande Valley. The list could go on and on.

With 639 species of birds documented in Texas, things really are bigger and better in the Lone Star State. Birding in Texas is year-round thanks to its location and diverse eco-regions and can be rewarding in every corner of the state. 

Roseate spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is where it all started—where the birding trail concept was pioneered in the 1990s. Still luring birdwatchers from all over the world, the Great Texas Wildlife Trail offers good birding throughout the year but the upper coast is at its best in spring migration when songbirds crossing the Gulf of Mexico make landfall. When the timing is right, you’ll find trees filled with colorful congregations of warblers, orioles, tanagers, and buntings.

Reddish egret © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most famous for water birds, the central coast is highlighted by the wintering population of whooping cranes centered in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Now readily seen from November to March, the cranes are not the only spectacles here; you might also encounter shaggy-plumed reddish egrets, blazing pink roseate spoonbills, and beautifully patterned white-tailed hawks.

Ibis rookery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower coast trail takes in a magical region where dozens of species spill across the border from Mexico, enlivening the landscape with a mosaic of surprises—noisy ringed kingfishers like belted kingfishers on steroids, great kiskadees that seem too colorful for the flycatcher family, and green jays which provide a shocking departure from their relatives’ blue and gray tones.

Related Article: My Top 10 List of Texas Birds

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wildlife Trails make it easier than ever to find the best birding hot spots.

Pied-billed grebe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nine Interactive maps are available on their website:

  • Far West Texas
  • Upper Texas Coast
  • Central Texas Coast
  • Lower Texas Coast
  • Heart of Texas West
  • Heart of Texas East
  • Panhandle Plains
  • Prairies and Piney Woods West
  • Prairies and Piney Woods East

Whether you are a birder, a wildlife enthusiast, a photographer, or just want to see the wild side of Texas, these nine driving trail maps will lead you to the best spots to see birds, butterflies, bats, pronghorns, and more. What will you discover?

Greater roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far West Texas: Encompassing an area from El Paso to Midland-Odessa and down to the Rio Grande’s border with Mexico, the Far West Texas interactive map helps visitors discover a blend of natural and cultural resources such as historic structures, forts, and ancient pictographs as well as a chance to trek through the rugged outdoors. Watch for Montezuma quail, curved-bill thrasher, greater roadrunner, and ladder-backed woodpecker.

Recommended birding site: Big Bend National Park

Curv-billed thrasher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend ranks with America’s great birding destinations and if offers endless opportunities for hikers, geology buffs, photographers, history-lovers, and people who enjoy rugged landscapes.

Big Bend comprises three main ecosystems: Most of the park is Chihuahuan Desert, a terrain of cactus and shrubs. In the center, the Chisos Mountains rise to more than 7,000 feet with oak canyons and ponderosa pine. Along the Rio Grande is a lush green strip of cottonwoods and willows. All this contributes to Big Bend’s great diversity of birds.

Mexican jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds of the Chisos include acorn woodpecker, cordilleran flycatcher, Mexican jay, and painted redstart. More likely in lower elevations are such species as scaled quail, greater roadrunner, elf owl, vermilion flycatcher, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, pyrrhuloxia, and varied bunting.

Egret rookery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Texas Coast: The Upper Texas Coast region takes you close to the Louisiana border to Beaumont and Houston then along the coast from the birding hotspots of High Island and Bolivar Peninsula continuing down to Galveston and the Brazosport Area. Visit heron rookeries and be wowed by the number of egrets, herons, and Roseate Spoonbills visible from viewing platforms. You may even get a glimpse of an alligator (from a safe distance, of course!).

Recommended birding site: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Fulvous whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the must-visit sites of Texas, Anahuac protects 34,000 acres of marsh, prairie, and scattered woods. A small sampling of breeding-season birds found here includes black-bellied whistling duck, fulvous whistling duck, wood stork (post-breeding visitor), neotropic cormorant, least bittern, roseate spoonbill, clapper rail, purple gallinule, and black-necked stilt. 

Related Article: What Is Birding?

Black-necked stilt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Central Texas Coast: Explore well-known birding sites and hidden gems throughout the Coastal Bend from Kingsville and Corpus Christi up to Goliad and continuing through the coastal communities of Port Aransas, Rockport-Fulton, and on to Bay City. Observe vibrant migratory birds during spring and fall migration as well as over-wintering whooping cranes, all while enjoying year-round birding opportunities and events.

Recommended birding site: Brazos Bend State Park

Sites on the Texas Gulf Coast get most of the publicity but this state park 30 miles southwest of Houston is well worth a visit for its attractive scenery as well as its birds. Here, live oaks draped with Spanish moss and other hardwoods ensure a lush landscape along the Brazos River and its tributary Big Creek.

Anhinga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look on park lakes and wetlands for black-bellied whistling duck, pied-billed grebe, neotropic cormorant, anhinga, many species of waders including both night-herons and roseate spoonbill and Purple Gallinule. Some of the breeding birds here are least bittern, Mississippi kite, black-necked stilt, yellow-billed cuckoo, prothonotary warbler, and painted bunting.

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lower Texas Coast: Spend some time getting to know the diverse landscapes of the Valley from Brownsville and South Padre Island to Weslace, McAllen, all the way up to Rio Grande City and inland to Raymondville and more. See some of the south Texas specialties such as the green jay, great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, and plain chachalaca in addition to the occasional Mexican rarity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Recommended birding site: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Clay-colored thrush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So many wonderful birding sites are located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that it’s hard to single out one or even a handful. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge comprising 2,088 acres on the Rio Grande south of Alamo has long been a favorite destination of birders from around the world.

Altamira oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the region’s specialties are seen here including plain chachalaca, white-tipped dove, common pauraque, buff-bellied hummingbird, great kiskadee, green jay, clay-colored thrush, long-billed thrasher, and Altamira oriole, to name only a few of the most regular species.

Related Article: Discover Over 500 Bird Species in South Texas

Common pauraque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heart of Texas West: Covering an area from San Angelo and Sonora east to Junction and then over to Fredericksburg and Uvalde and down to Del Rio, this region offers the well-known central Texas while learning about cave formations.

Recommended birding site: Lost Maples State Natural Area

The beautiful Texas Hill Country is worth visiting for its scenery and rivers and it holds great rewards for birders. Lost Maples State Natural Area is one place that combines beauty and birds. Named for the bigtooth maples, it’s especially popular and crowded when the trees change color in fall.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nesting birds here include wild turkey, greater roadrunner, ruby-throated hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, Hutton’s vireo, western scrub jay, black-crested Titmouse, Louisiana water thrush, Rufous-crowned sparrow, painted bunting, Scott’s oriole, and lesser goldfinch.

Black-crested titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heart of Texas East: This region runs from Brownwood near the Panhandle down through Marble Falls and Johnson City before heading east to Austin and Bastrop and south to San Marcos and San Antonio. Tour native nature centers, private ranches, and state parks or go right into the heart of Austin, the state capitol to see the largest urban population of Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Head down to the South Texas brush country near Laredo for a more rugged terrain.

Recommended birding site: Mitchell Lake Audubon Center

Yellow warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An all-around birding site just south of downtown San Antonio, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center includes woodland, wetlands, and a 600-acre lake. At the center of the area are former wastewater-treatment ponds, now renowned for shorebirds from late summer through spring.

Some of the birds often seen on the lake and wetlands include black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, anhinga, American white pelican, and many species of wading birds.

Ladder-backed woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among nesting, birds are greater roadrunner, black-chinned hummingbird, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Ladder-backed woodpecker, crested caracara, scissor-tailed flycatcher, cave swallow, verdin, long-billed thrasher, painted bunting, orchard oriole, and Bullock’s oriole.

Sandhill cranes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panhandle Plains: Enjoy the expansive views available in the northern part of the state including Amarillo, Lubbock, and south to Abilene. Here, get a glimpse of scenic canyons, mesas, and river corridors and keep an eye out for coyote, pronghorn antelope, sandhill cranes, black-tailed prairie dogs, meadow larks, burrowing owls and more in the wide open spaces of Texas.

Recommended birding site: Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge 25 miles southwest of Amarillo protects a 175-acre tract of native shortgrass prairie of such quality that it has been designated a National Natural Landmark. It’s a good place to see many open-country birds as well as seasonal waterfowl and shorebirds.

Golden-fronted woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From fall through spring many species of ducks use these wetlands and some such as cinnamon teal and redhead remain to nest. Some of the nesting birds here are wild turkey, Mississippi kite, greater roadrunner, burrowing owl, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Ladder-backed woodpecker, Say’s phoebe, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Chihuahuan raven, rock wren, and Bullock’s Oriole.

Burrowing owl © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prairies and Piney Woods West: Extending from Wichita Falls in the north, down through the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, and into Waco and Temple before continuing to College Station. View some of the few remaining Blackland Prairies and experience the native habitat that once covered most of north Texas. Watch for grazing bison, caracaras, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and more. Also, reconnect with urban nature at a variety of Dallas and Fort Worth parks, zoos and nature centers.

Recommended birding site: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Five species of geese winter on this refuge, at times in enormous flocks—up to 10,000 have been estimated in one field, for example. Hagerman lies along the shore of the southern arm of Lake Texoma on the route of the Central Flyway so waterfowl find it a welcome rest stop on migration and a hospitable home in winter. A four-mile wildlife drive passes along the lakeshore and several hiking trails access woodland (including some bottomland forest), grassland, and ponds.

Tri-colored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hagerman’s bird list of 338 species includes more than 35 species of shorebirds that feed in shallow water and mudflats along with more than 15 species of wading birds attracted to the wetlands. Nesting birds at Hagerman include wood duck, Northern bobwhite, wild turkey, pied-billed grebe, tricolored Heron, common gallinule, black-necked stilt, least tern, greater roadrunner, red-headed woodpecker, loggerhead shrike, prothonotary warbler, and painted bunting.

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

Cooper’s hawk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prairies and Piney Woods East: Travel through a region that goes from Paris to Texarkana and down through Tyler, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Huntsville. Spend time in east Texas to explore the Big Thicket and hardwood forest for a variety of raptors, warblers, woodpeckers, and other woodland species. Or, take time to fish one of the many lakes, rivers and streams and maybe spot an eagle soaring above.

Recommended birding site: Lake Tawakoni

Crested caracara © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This reservoir northeast of Dallas is a favorite destination for local birders. On the west side, 376-acre Lake Tawakoni State Park is one spot from which to scan the lake for wintering waterfowl, loons, grebes, American white pelican, and bald eagle. Osprey is seen in migration. Neotropic cormorant is seen year round, and crested caracara is found regularly. Nesting birds include Cooper’s hawk, blue grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting, and orchard oriole.
A few miles southeast, Highway 47 crosses the dam for the lake. The woods below the dam along the Sabine River can be excellent for spring migrants. Nesting birds include wood duck, pileated woodpecker, prothonotary Warbler, painted bunting, and orchard oriole.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

Warning: Lots of Nuts Inside

This is one really big nut

Two of the largest pistachio tree groves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees.

The tree was introduced into Mediterranean Europe at about the beginning of the Christian era. The elevation and climate in the Tularosa Basin is almost identical to the pistachio producing areas of Iran and Turkey.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scientific name for the pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as the cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio nut trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

Related Article: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Although the pistachio was first introduced into California by the US Department of Agriculture about 1904, little interest was generated until the 1950s. Since that time pistachios have become a significant farm commodity in California.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plantings have also been made in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in those areas that meet the climate criteria. The tree flourishes and bears well in well-drained soils, but its root system will not tolerate prolonged wet conditions. It seems more tolerant to alkaline and saline conditions than most other commercial trees. The vigor and productive life of the tree is extremely long lasting. In the mid-East, there are trees on record of having productivity of several hundred years.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio is a small tree, reaching about 30 feet of height at full maturity. Usual commercial plantings are approximately 120 trees per acre. The trees begin to produce nuts in the fourth or fifth year after planting with good production taking 8 to 10 years and full bearing maturity occurring after 15 to 20 years. Average yield per tree is one-half pound the fifth year increasing to 20 pounds at maturity.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pistachio Trivia

  • Pistachios are called “smiling nut” in the Middle East
  • Pistachio shells usually split naturally when ripe
  • Pistachios are wind-pollinated and one male tree is required for up to 30 female trees
  • In China pistachios are called “happy nut”
  • Pistachios are said to have grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon and were a favorite of King Nebuchadnezzar
  • The Kerman variety is grown in the US
McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I think pistachios are delicious!

Read Next: The New Mexico Green Chile Peppers Guide

 Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

10 Tips for RV Travel: How to Make the Most of Your Road Trip

Nothing screams summer more than a good ole’ road trip and RV travel is perfect for summer travel. Here are few tips to make your road trip as smooth as possible.

Road trips are a quintessential form of modern travel giving people the freedom to choose their direction and schedule and take in some beautiful sights on the way. 

RVing is a marvelous way to experience the freedom and flexibility of travel. RV road trips are sure not to disappoint—from traveling across America or heading north to Canada.

Driving a motorhome on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-Requisite of Traveling

Traveling in an RV is a great potential way to see the country while still having all the comforts of home. However, it’s essential to be prepared before hitting the open road.

Choose the right RV. Not all RVs are created equal. Make sure to pick one that’s the right size for the underlying needs and that has all the features you require.

Get insurance. Just like with a car, one needs insurance for the RV. That will protect you and your passengers in case of any damage or accidents.

Related Article: Top 10 RV Travel Tips of All Time

Be Patient and enjoy the process.

Driving a motorhome on US Highway 89 south of Page, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best tips for RV travel

These 10 tips will help make the road trip as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. So, whether you’re a first-time RV traveler or a seasoned pro, be sure to check out these tips.

Driving a motorhome on Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #1: Plan, plan, and plan

While I do admit that spontaneous road trips can be as much fun as the ones you plan weeks or months in advance, some planning is required for even the most spur-of-the-moment trips. It’s always a good idea to at least have a sense of what direction you’re going and which major roads you’ll be taking in case something happens with your navigation. Several excellent online resources can help potential travelers plan the route, so check them out.

Utah’s Burr Trail is not suitable for most RVs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #2: Know the vehicle’s limitations

RVs are big and bulky making them a bit tricky to drive. That’s why it’s essential to know the vehicle’s limitations before hitting the open road. For example, the user will want to ensure that everyone is well aware of Row much weight the RV can safely carry. Users might also want to know the maximum speed limit of the vehicle and need to get familiarized with every one of the ins and outs of driving an RV before setting out on the trip.

This rest area west of Las Cruces (New Mexico) is a great stop to stretch your legs and snap a photo of the World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #3: Plan for rest stops

When driving an RV, it’s essential to plan for rest stops. That is especially true if traveling with children or pets. Ensure that the RV has plenty of food and water for the trip and schedule regular rest stops so that everyone can get a break from the road. It’s also important to plan your overnight stops and make reservations well in advance, especially in the busy summer travel season.

Related Article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

Be aware of overhanging branches before backing into a camping site; pictured above is Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #4: Be aware of your surroundings

When driving an RV, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for other vehicles, low-hanging branches, and tight curves. It’s also important to be mindful of the RV’s size to avoid driving into a tight space or hitting something with the vehicle.

Stay organized with a place for everything © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #5: Stay organized

One of the biggest challenges of RV travel is staying organized. There’s a lot of stuff to keep track of when on the road and it is pretty easy to lose track of things. That’s why it’s crucial to stay organized from the trip’s start. That means packing everything in an easy-to-access place.

Stopping at a roadside attraction on US Highway 191 in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to make some stops

As eager as you might be to reach your destination, the random stops you make along the way are what will make your trip truly memorable. Visiting local businesses will give you a truer sense of the area you’re traveling in and could point you in some directions you didn’t know about before. Not to mention that getting out of the RV to stretch your legs is essential to ensuring everyone’s comfort the entire way.

Camping at Colorado River RV Park at Columbus, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #7: Know the camping basics

If one is not familiar with camping basics, now is the time to learn. Camping can be fun, but it’s important to know what travelers are doing before hitting the open road. That ultimately means knowing how to set up the RV on a camping site and the correct way to hook up the utilities (electric, water, and sewer). It’s also essential to learn the first aid basics to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

Camping in bad weather at Capital City RV Park in Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #8: Be prepared for bad weather

No matter the time of year you’re traveling, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for bad weather. That means packing a few extra clothes and some camping gear that can help travelers stay warm and dry in case of a storm.

Related Article: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

All set up in a camping site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #9: Be aware of the fuel budget

RVs require a lot of fuel, so it’s essential to be aware of the designated fuel budget before going on the trip. That means knowing how many miles the RV can travel on a tank of fuel and being prepared for a higher cost in some areas (expect to pay more per gallon in California, for instance).

Having fun may mean enjoying the sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #10: Have fun!

The best thing about RV travel is that it’s all about having fun! So make sure to relax and enjoy the trip. That means taking time to explore the areas travelers are visiting and spending time with friends and family. Do not forget to capture plenty of moments in the photos to look back on the trip and remember all the good times one had.

Having fun may mean shopping at the local farmers’ market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other key guidelines

Here are some of my top-notch tips for a successful trip:

  • Create a packing list and stick to it
  • Check for traffic updates and plan the route accordingly
  • Find a storage location for all of the belongings
  • Stay safe on the road by following the rules of the road
  • Enjoy the journey and take in the sights and sounds of the open road
Walking the trails at Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final stance

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of RV travel, it’s time to start planning the trip. The initial step is to decide on a destination. Do some research and find destinations that interest everyone. Once travelers have a few ideas, start putting planning the route and put together an itinerary. That will help ensure that one covers all the bases during the trip.

Unexpected fun adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once the itinerary is in place, it’s time to start packing. Pack everything adventurers will need including clothes, RV supplies and camping gear, and food and drinks. And don’t forget to bring the camera so everybody can capture all the memories of the trip.

Related Article: How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

Welcome Centers are a great source of information about the local area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, stock up on fuel and supplies before hitting the open road. That will help ensure that you have everything needed for a fun and successful trip.

Follow these tips to make the most of the road trip.

Worth Pondering…

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Ultimate Guide to the Mighty 5

The national parks in Utah have long been the perfect playground for RVers. Connecting all five is a rite of passage for many travelers both here and abroad.

When it comes to natural beauty Utah is on the A-list of the most beautiful states in America. With varying landscapes like mountains and deserts, canyons and arches, it is easy to see why.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state of Utah is home to five of the most stunning national parks the US has to offer. Dubbed the “Mighty Five”, these national parks deliver towering canyon walls, out-of-this-world rock formations, and picture-perfect views. 

So what is the Mighty 5? They’re five parks stretching through the desert landscape of southern Utah and are perfect for a road trip. From east to west, the parks are: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the first time I heard about these five parks, I knew I needed to visit them, and I think you’ll want to too. We took a road trip through this area and visited these parks before heading into Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona. This is a trip everyone should put on their bucket list. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below I’ve compiled everything you need to know to plan your own Utah Mighty 5 road trip.

Plan your trip: The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

Each of the five Utah national parks has something unique to offer. From sweeping canyons, hoodoos, and natural amphitheaters to rugged orange cliffs that showcase the best of the Wild West. Whether you’re looking to explore them all or just one, my guide will take you through what makes each of Utah’s national parks so spectacular.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tip: Because the Mighty 5 sits in a desert environment, summer months can be sweltering hot and winters snowy and cold. I recommend doing this Utah Mighty 5 road trip in the late spring and early fall months. I’ve personally done this road trip in October and early November and found the weather to be perfectly nice and pleasantly cool.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches is classic Utah where jaw-dropping scenery comes standard. But what elevates Arches National Park to one of the best in the United States is its spellbinding collection of natural monuments. No place on earth has as many sandstone arches. In fact, you’ll find over 2,000 if you’re willing to put the steps in.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s name gives away the surprise. But to the glee of all travelers, the arches aren’t the only incredible geological wonders here. On the many hikes and along the scenic road, spot enormous boulders balancing on another and admire soaring fins and rock spires that stand like iconic statues and Romanesque churches.

The nature of Arches National Park means there is an abundance of short, family-friendly trails. But those chasing seclusion will be rewarded with a resplendent backcountry. The park also forms a part of the Spanish National Historic Trail.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Must Do: Hike the 3-mile round trip to Delicate Arch to see this famous beauty.

Plan your trip: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands 

Helpful Tip: Try to avoid the midday sun when hiking in Arches. Even in the cooler months, most hikes here offer zero shade and the sun can be brutal. Always pack a hiking hat when going out to explore.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get there:

  • Arches National Park is just outside of Moab in eastern Utah
  • From Moab: 5 miles
  • From Grand Junction: 109 miles
  • From Salt Lake City: 230 miles
Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance Fee:

  • Private Vehicle: $30 (<15 passengers)
  • Motorcycle: $25
  • Walk/Ride: $15
  • Southeast Utah Parks Pass: $55
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Utah’s largest national park, Canyonlands harbors some of the rawest and most inspiring landscapes in the American West. The park has been carved by the imposing Green River and Colorado River which converge in the heart of Canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the amazing Utah national parks, this may be the most untouched. It’s a veritable telescope showing travelers the true artistic qualities of Mother Nature. The park is split into several arresting districts such as the Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needles. But with no connecting scenic roads, you have to leave then re-enter to see them all.

This frustration is always eclipsed by the park’s stunning beauty. The grand expanse has relatively few visitors, so the backcountry is a tranquil yet rugged paradise. On the way, you may discover ruins from ancient Puebloans and long-gone explorers.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Must Do: Drive the main road in the Island in the Sky district to get to Grand View Point and enjoy the view. A lot of people recommend Mesa Arch as well. It’s popular for sunrise but you’ll be sharing the view with tons of people.

Plan your trip: Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

Helpful Tip: You have to leave the park to drive to each individual district. The Needles is about a two hour drive from the Island in the Sky entrance. The Maze is even more remote and offers only backcountry hiking and recreation. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get there:

  • Canyonlands is 40 minutes from Moab in eastern Utah
  • Moab: 32.5 miles
  • Grand Junction: 124 miles
  • Salt Lake City: 244 miles
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance Fee:

  • Private Vehicle: $30 (<15 passengers)
  • Motorcycle: $25
  • Walk/Ride: $15
  • Southeast Utah Pass: $55
Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

In south-central Utah, Capitol Reef National park exists in the shadows of other renowned Bryce Canyon and Zion. But if we’ve learned anything from the national parks in Utah, is that they’re all impressive in their own ways.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef is in the heart of red rock country, a treasure trove of domes, canyons, and cliffs. It’s a park that gets better the more you explore with a plethora of hiking trails, 4WD trails, scenic roads, and the fascinating Fruita district.

Without the popularity of other Utah national parks, you’ll contend with less traffic on the equally beautiful paths that take you to cathedral monoliths and endless desert views.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Must Do: Drive the scenic drive past the Fruita district to get pretty views. Back at the visitor center ask the rangers if any of the orchards are open so you can try the fruit. And don’t leave without stopping at the Gifford House to get some of the best pies around.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tip: If you’re able to snag a campsite at the Fruita campground, do it! The grass is super green and lush. Some of the best views in the park are located off of dirt roads, so bring a high clearance vehicle if you’re able to.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get there:

  • Capitol Reef is just outside of Torrey in Southern Utah
  • Grand Junction: 186 miles
  • Salt Lake City: 218 miles
  • Las Vegas: 327 miles
Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance Fee:

  • Private Vehicle: $20 (<15 passengers)
  • Motorcycle: $15
  • Walk/Ride: $10
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Rising like a church choir out of the red-orange dirt in southwestern Utah, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park have created a natural wonderland.

Plan your trip: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Delicately shaped by millions of years of wind, rain, and snow, Bryce Canyon is a paradise for hikers and photographers alike. The park has natural bridges and is teeming with rock spires that form spectacular amphitheaters. It’s like the park is an orchestra and we are the lucky audience.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout, you’ll find hiking trails that take you from the lowly Paria Valley to above 9,000 feet in the forests along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. In between are exceptional experiences, epic views, and some of the best rock climbing in the state.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Must Do: Watch the sunrise and sunset over the hoodoos at sunrise and sunset point, respectively. Hike down into the amphitheater on the Queens and Navajo Loop trails and look out for the hoodoo that looks like Queen Victoria.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tip: Pack a sweater, even if you’re visiting in the summer months. We visited in early November, and the temperatures at night dropped below freezing. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get there:

  • Bryce Canyon is south of Bryce in Southern Utah
  • Las Vegas: 260 miles
  • Salt Lake City: 268 miles
  • Zion National Park: 72 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance Fee:

  • Private Vehicle: $35 (<15 passengers)
  • Motorcycle: $30
  • Walk/Ride: $20
  • Bryce Canyon Annual Pass: $70
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

As Utah’s oldest national park, Zion has lost none of its grandiosity since its opening in 1919. It’s a place of wonderment, the crown jewel of Utah’s epic national park system. Located in Southern Utah, its esteem has been well earned because of its array of vast and narrow canyons, rainbow rock formations, natural monuments, and stunning vistas.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon discovery in 1863, Zion was labeled the Promised Land. It still rings true today, a place that promises (and delivers) spectacular hikes, some of the best canyoneering anywhere on earth punctuated by desert waterfalls that add extra life to the colorful but arid landscape.

Don’t pass up on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. In a state made for road trips, the short and sweet journey is the icing on the cake.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Must Do: Plan to spend at least half a day hiking the Narrows. Drive through the tunnel to get a stunning view of the canyon and head over to the Kolob Canyon entrance to enjoy the views without the crowds. The Pa’rus trail is super underrated but will give you beautiful views without much effort! 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tip: Try to get on the earliest shuttles to avoid crowds in the most popular hikes. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get there:

  • The national park is located in Springdale in southern Utah
  • From Las Vegas: 160 miles
  • From Salt Lake City: 308 miles
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance Fee:

  • Private Vehicle: $35 (<15 passengers)
  • Motorcycle: $30
  • Walk/Ride: $20
  • Zion Annual Pass: $70

Worth Pondering…

Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.

—Wendell Berry

“Howdy, y’all” to these Small Texas Towns

Looking for the best small towns to visit in the Lone Star State? We’ve got you covered.

These burgs might not be as flashy or as big as cities like Houston and San Antonio but the warm hospitality and eclectic attractions are found in the sparsely populated patches up in the hills, through the plains, and along the coast are well worth a trip to explore. So put on your boots, and hit the back roads. and get ready to say “Howdy, y’all” to these small Texas towns!

Here are a few suggestions for unique small towns in Texas to add to your next getaway in the Lone Star State. 

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad, Texas

The site of one of the most infamous battles of the Texas Revolution, Goliad, is a top spot for history buffs traveling through Texas. Goliad is the third oldest municipality in Texas and is the County Seat of Goliad County, which is one of the oldest counties in all of the state.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original name for Goliad was Santa Dorotea, noted by the Spaniards in the 16th century. It was then changed to Goliad in 1829 with religious origins. Places to visit include the Goliad State Park and the General Ignacio Zaragoza state park and historic site.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Related Article: The Spotlight Shines on Unique Small Texas Towns

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

It’s no secret that the Texas Gulf Coast is a fantastic destination for seaside fun. Port Lavaca is a place where you can enjoy all the sun, sand, and surf without bustling crowds and traffic jams. Nestled halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Port Lavaca is a spectacular place to go fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anglers have access to a number of public boat launches and fishing piers around town such as those at Bayfront Peninsula Park, Lighthouse Beach, and Magnolia Beach. Along with all the fishing, Port Lavaca is a bird watcher’s delight. Lighthouse Beach offers a birding tower and walkway for getting out among the wetlands creatures of the bird sanctuary, but it is just one of many places around town to bird watch.

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit.

Kenedy Ranch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers in the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. Population is up from 185 in 1993.

Related Article: 4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo, Texas

Alamo’s claim to fame as the “Refuge to the Valley” illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draw birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadees, and chachalacas.

Great kiskadee at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step. Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers outsized cultural attractions including spectacular painted churches, the Texas Polka Music Museum, and the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville, Texas

Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville stands as a gorgeous getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. From its many public parks to the picturesque Guadalupe River that runs right through downtown, Mother Nature is truly the star here. In short, finding enjoyable things to do in Kerrville is as simple as stepping outside. Visitors also travel to Kerrville for its music festivals, arts and crafts fairs, outdoor sports and activities, shopping, and world-class dining.

Black’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. 

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Stockton, Texas

Few Texas towns can claim a past as colorful or well preserved as Fort Stockton. The best way to experience these cultural treasures is to take a self-guided driving tour beginning at the Visitor Center inside the railway depot that was built in 1911. During the tour, you’ll pass more than a dozen legendary sites such as the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, the “Oldest House” that is believed to have been built as early as 1855, and the Comanche Springs Pool. Following this route takes you to some of Fort Stockton’s most fascinating places, a great way to get acquainted with this exceptional West Texas town.

Related Article: Explore the Funky Art Towns and Desert Beauty of West Texas

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the “Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast” for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing.

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, and the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Read Next: Texas Road Trips Sampler

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

How to Back up Your RV

RV back up tips and tricks

The idea of backing up and parking an RV can be intimidating—especially to new drivers or people in new rigs. These large vehicles provide a home away from home but you first have to maneuver them into place. Anyone can drive and park an RV with a little knowledge and some practice. Here are some tips to help you gain confidence in your backing up and parking skills.

A pull-through site at Arizona Oases RV Resort, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backing up basics

When driving a coach in reverse, turning the steering wheel to the left will turn the back of the rig to the left. Adjusting the wheel to the right will turn the rig to the right. When you’re backing up a coach with a boat or trailer behind it, however, it gets more complicated: the trailer will always move opposite of the way you turn the wheel.

Before you begin to back up, check that your side and rear mirrors are adjusted so you can see all around you.

A pull-through site at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go slow and stay calm

Driving slowly gives you more time to see how your vehicle moves and react appropriately. You’ll be better able to avoid accidents (like driving into a campsite electricity hookup pole) if you maneuver slowly. Plus, it’s easier to stay calm when your speedometer is below 5 miles an hour.

Related: Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

A back-in site at Pala Casino RV Resort, Pala, California© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use technology

Owners of some newer RVs have the advantage of cameras and video monitoring systems that make it easy to back up just about anywhere. Read your RV manual to learn about any onboard systems.

A back-in site at Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hit the road, check your backup camera. While they’re very sturdy when built-in to the coach, dust or other debris may sometimes obscure the view, so it’s a good idea to turn on the monitors and make sure you have a clear view behind you.

A backup camera is meant to enhance your parking skills and give you peace of mind. Use your mirrors as well plus any other cameras to make sure you have a clear view of your surroundings.

Back-in sites at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking and Maneuvering

Designate an RV parking helper

If possible, have a spotter outside of your coach to help guide you into the spot. They will have a better view of the ground and can watch for hazards that are difficult to spot from the driver’s seat.

Related: The Best RV Camping May 2022

If you’re driving solo, consider asking a fellow camper for assistance. Campsites are full of other RVers who have valuable experience that can help you. In most cases, other campers are eager to help.

A back-in site at Cajun Palms RV Resort, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let the spotter know how you want them to communicate. Which side of the rig do you want them on? Should they use gestures or words to explain how far you have to go and which direction to turn the RV?

Open the driver’s and front-seat passenger windows so it’s easy to hear the spotter. Most people prefer to have the helper stand behind the driver’s side of the RV where they are visible and have a good view of the situation. Never let the spotter out of your sight. If you can’t see them, they’re in danger.

Ensure they have a headlamp or bright flashlight if you’re backing up in the dark. This light will help you tell where the person is and serve as a tool to guide you into place.

Back-in sites at Seven Feathers Casino RV Resort, Canyonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose your spot wisely

Gas stations, rest stops, mobile home repair shops, and some campsites feature pull-through spots. RV drivers can cruise straight into the parking area or designated spot without backing up. At campsites and resorts, these spots are often highly sought-after especially by overnight campers and may be difficult to obtain without booking well in advance.

A back-in site at Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some places like big box stores have parking lots with two spots adjacent that you can treat as a pull-through parking area. Don’t hesitate to choose places with these wide-open parking areas especially if you’re not comfortable backing up your rig.

Select a parking spot that allows you to back up to the left whenever possible. This direction is easier to maneuver because your steering wheel is on the left and you can see easier than when backing up to the right.

Drive-in sites at Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Assess the RV parking site – G.O.A.L.

Many professional drivers follow an acronym called G.O.A.L., an acronym for Get Out And Look. When you reach a campground, pull over near your site and use your triangle blinkers to alert other drivers that you are stopped.

Related: 6 Essential Tips for the First Time RVer

Walk around the parking area or campsite to check for potential hazards. Look for low-hanging tree branches, rocks on the ground, and anything you could back into. If necessary, move potential obstacles like picnic tables in your way.

A back-in site at Goose Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know how many paces it takes to walk from the front of your RV to the back. Use this information to walk out your RV parking dimensions and understand how the rig will fit in the parking space. This quick step will also tell you how to aim your rig to back into the spot.

The right front corner of your RV is the most vulnerable to damage because it is a blind spot. Keep that in mind while envisioning how you will back into the space. Rely on your right convex mirror to watch for obstacles below your window sightline. Make sure your spotter pays special attention to this area.

A drive-in site at Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back up

With your spotter visible, pull your RV ahead of the parking spot at a ninety-degree angle to the spot so the closest edge of the parking spot is about three feet past the back wheels. The rear wheels are the pivot point for the rig, so getting the correct position with the back of the RV is critical.

Back-in sites at Bellingham RV Park, Bellingham, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slowly drive backward while turning the steering wheel so the RV aims directly into the spot while slowly continuing backward. While moving, straighten the vehicle and come to a stop when your spotter indicates to do so. Don’t hesitate to pull forward and realign to ensure you have plenty of space to open your RV doors and engage slide-out sections.

Related: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

Back-in site at Eagles Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backing up a large RV may be intimidating but practice makes perfect. Take some orange traffic cones to a large parking lot to practice on a day when there’s minimal traffic. Set up the cones to imitate parallel parking and backing up to a campsite waste station. Practice regularly until you’re confident in your skills. Eventually, it’ll become second nature and you’ll be confident maneuvering your rig into even the tightest of sites.

Worth Pondering…

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.
—Claude Bernard

Road Trippin’

It’s about the journey

From the coast to the desert, here are nine road trips that will have you road-tripping through America’s finest landscapes. Some are RV-friendly while others may require a smaller vehicle to navigate.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina Highway – Arizona

The Santa Catalinas crowned by 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon rise in ragged ridges at the northern edge of Tucson. Explore this rugged world with a scenic drive up the Catalina Highway also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 30-mile paved road winds up through dry desert terrain, past rocky outcroppings, pull-outs offering stunning vistas, and mid-level forests teaming with leafy oak trees. Don’t forget your jacket as temperatures can drop as much as 30-degrees from the bottom to the top of the road.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients – Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument.

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

You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods. Cross the San Juan River in the tiny one-horse town of Mexican Hat, gaze in wonder at the postcard-ready views of the Monument Valley, and finally end up at the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Northern Arizona.

Related Article: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Bayou Teche Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway – Louisiana

This Louisiana byway reaches through three of the state’s southern parishes—St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary—as it winds through Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin from Morgan City to Arnaudville. Travelers can make stops along the byways 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive – Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails. Warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.

If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24 – Utah

Starting near the City of Green River, Utah Route 24 creates a grand loop through the south-central slickrock desert and ends up back on I-70 to the west near Aurora. A section of this meandering drive between Loa and Hanksville turns the spotlight on Capitol Reef National Park. Here the scenic drive follows the Fremont River, an oasis in a parched environment.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 378 square mile Capitol Reef Park can be viewed as a northern extension of the huge Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, covering an additional 1.7 million acres. Capitol Reef is a sightseers and hikers’ paradise with deep red monoliths, sculpted spires, graceful arches, mesmerizing canyon mazes, and the imposing Waterpocket Fold.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Various side roads and unimproved roads have the tendency to turn this scenic drive into a weeklong adventure. With historic structures and plenty of grand views, this route earns plenty of raves from those who have gone before. Miles from any large city, this is a true off-the-beaten-path experience.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country – Texas

The Texas Hill Country, located west of Austin and north of San Antonio, features a landscape dotted with lush rolling green hills, spring-fed rivers, and charming small towns.

Related Article: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson who led a campaign to beautify American cities, vast swaths of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country and now their bright blue blooms signify the advent of the spring season.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet which is widely known as the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road – Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is split in two by a single major two-lane roadway that crosses through the heart of the park and over its highest mountain gap.

This scenic drive is known as the Newfound Gap Road or US Highway 441. The roadway follows rivers, climbs steep slopes, and offers incredible views.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the spring months, this route is awash with color as the wildflowers come alive and the trees begin to sport their bright green new leaves. A must-see are the rare Purple Catawba rhododendrons found only at high elevations that reach their peak of bloom along this well-known drive by early June.

I’ve put together my favorite itineraries to make it easy for you to explore your own backyard—wherever your backyard may be.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road – Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start 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.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Scenic Drive – Utah

Amidst the red rock of the Moab area, the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic byway leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Traversing across high sage plains, the route eventually leads to Indian Creek and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Utah Scenic Byway traverses a high altitude (6,000 feet) sage plain before plunging into Indian Creek Canyon on its way to Canyonlands National Park. Along the way it passes the Dugout Ranch, one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in southeast Utah. The byway accesses Newspaper Rock BLM Recreation Site and cuts through the Canyon Rims BLM Recreation Area, a vast landscape of desert and low elevation mountain terrain with hiking and four wheeling opportunities.

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the junction of US Highway 191, 14 miles north of Monticello, the paved Byway travels west across the sage plain and descends the switchbacks into Indian Creek Canyon. It follows the canyon until the landscape opens out into a broad valley at which point the Byway accesses a county road which leads to the Abajo Mountains and Beef Basin within the larger Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The byway terminates at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Related Article: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

What 2022 looks like for RVers

2022 is shaping up to be another strong year for camping

The RV market exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel restrictions remained in place, many craved any opportunity to get out of the house.

Camping at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result, recreational vehicles provided a glimmer of relief for those seeking safer travel. The demand for self-sustaining travel kicked the RV market into high gear in 2020 with record numbers of travelers buying or renting an RV.

But what about 2022? Will the trend continue?

Camping at Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite relaxations in COVID regulations for airlines and international travel, one phenomenon of the pandemic appears here to stay—campers are staying dedicated to the great outdoors. A new study from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) shows that camping and its many variations, particularly glamping and RVing, is quickly being embraced by the new leisure-seeking traveler and is becoming a part of travel culture faster than ever.

Camping at Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the past two years, the camping industry witnessed a growth of 36 percent with over 9.1 million first-time campers joining the scene just last year, the KOA survey showed.

While one-third of the newcomers said that COVID was their main catalyst to try camping, these numbers also come in tandem with the increased interest in leisure and wellness travel since the start of the pandemic. People are increasingly searching for quieter getaways, outdoor wellness retreats, and escapes into the wilderness.

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among all survey respondents, two-thirds reported regularly participating in some type of leisure travel whether it’s camping or other types of travel. In 2021, camping accounted for 40 percent of all leisure travel.

Related Article: Why are RVs So Popular?

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

The urban camper

Among regular and new campers, the urban resident is proving to be a rising star in the camping scene. In 2021, this type of camper emerged as “one of the most avid camping segments in terms of both trips and number of nights spent camping”, according to the KOA report. 

Camping at Poches RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping provides city residents a chance to find local or domestic activities that still offer a change of pace. The urban residents who intend to continue camping reported interests in a variety of camping categories starting from RVing and road trips to backpack camping and glamping.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While music festivals continue to be one of the urban resident’s most popular reasons to go outside they are still developing a new curiosity to the offerings of camping. In 2022, 44 percent of this group reported plans to replace a traditional leisure trip with a camping trip due to economic reasons and avoidance of crowds.

Camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glamping as leisure

Similar to the year prior, close to half of new campers said they tried glamping in their 2021 camping experiences. This interest is expected to grow in 2022 with 50 percent of respondents saying that they are also seeking a glamping experience.

Related Article: RV Sales Continue to Soar and Here Are the Reasons Why

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

While 40 percent of leisure trips result in camping, 80 percent of all leisure travelers chose camping or glamping for at least some of their trips. Due to the high level of interest in camping and glamping amongst the leisure traveler, many industry leaders are recognizing the importance of camping in the hospitality industry. 

Camping at Seven Feathers Casino RV Resort, Canyonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Our research shows that camping is one of the primary ways households prefer to travel and spend their leisure time because 75 percent of campers say it reduces stress and contributes to their emotional well-being,” said Whitney Scott, chief marketing officer of KOA. “Camping is driving leisure travel’s recovery and its benefits will fuel future market share.”

Camping at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Work life balance in the Great Outdoors

But, it’s not just leisure that new campers are seeking. 

Related Article: How to Choose the Perfect RV Park and Campsite?

Remote work is flipping the traditional ideals of workplace culture on its head inducing both support and concerns about the new normal. Many people aren’t exactly longing for a complete cut-off from work when they travel nor do they view it as completely realistic or possible. The distinction between leisure travel and remote work is being obscured and when it comes to camping behavior, 46 percent of campers said they worked remotely during at least some of their trips which an increase of 5 percent from 2020. 

Camping at Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result, close to half (48 percent) of campers list having Wi-Fi as a critical element to their camping experience impacting their ability to stay outdoors so they can stay connected to their work life. Providing connections to the digital world even when out of doors is becoming an important part of customer satisfaction with campgrounds.

Camping at Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV boom continues, but will it last?

In addition to glamorous camping, RVing is also recording an all-time peak with almost two million new RV renters in 2021 and 15 million households RVing at least once to explore the outdoors. In a profile of 2021’s New Camper in the KOA survey, RVing was the most popular form of camping that people wanted to try with a 57 percent response rate. It was quickly followed by tenting at 56 percent and glamping at 51 percent.

Camping at Goose Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the past, most RVers rented or borrowed RVs for their vacations but the results of the recent survey showed that they are displaying more permanent commitments to these mobile homes with 77 percent of RVers now owning their recreational vehicle. Interest in owning an RV is still present among the remaining non-RV owners with 32 percent saying they have intention to purchase an RV in 2022.  

Camping at Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, this spike in RV interest may soon hit a cap as soaring gas prices are prompting RVers to make a change of travel plans in 2022. Some are seeking to either change their RV or even consider selling or listing the RV. About half of new RVers say they are considering selling their RV this year while a fifth are downgrading their RV to lower payments and operating costs.

Camping at Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Increasing Fuel Efficiency

Currently the harsh reality is that fuel prices are higher than usual. So, whether you camp close to home or plan to travel farther away, you can avoid paying high gas prices by simply doing a few things that will make your RV more fuel efficient.

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

Keep your RV and tow vehicle tires inflated to their recommended tire pressure. Every five pounds per square inch (psi) of tire pressure you lose can translate into a 2 percent loss of fuel economy.

Related Article: Is This The Summer Of The RV?

Keep up with vehicle maintenance. Oil changes and tune-ups on your motorhome or tow vehicle can result in between 4 percent and 40 percent increase in fuel economy.

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

Don’t be a lead foot. Rapid accelerations and fast driving can quickly drain your tank. Keep your speed constant. Going slow and easy coming out of stops will really help decrease fuel use too. Speeding and rapid acceleration can decrease fuel economy by a whopping 15-30 percent. To avoid having to fill up as often be sure to maintain your speed a constant 55-60 miles per hour.

Use the air conditioner sparingly or not at all. Using the air conditioner in your RV or tow vehicle will reduce fuel economy as drastically as 5-25 percent. That’s a big drop. Traveling in the cooler early morning hours will help you avoid the heat of the day.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

Have you ever done a Georgia Coast road trip? No?! Well now’s your chance and you will love it!

From scenic beaches and wild marshes to quaint coastal towns and historic sites, the Georgia coast is a dreamy stretch of iconic Southern landscapes. Take it all in with this easy detour on your north-to-south I-95 road trip to the Golden Isles.

At the northern end of the Georgia coast, Savannah is a bustling city rich with historic charm, from its majestic antebellum architecture and cobblestoned streets to its mom-and-pop restaurants, and unique shops. Before hitting the road, stop for a bite to eat at one of the many must-try lunch spots. Then, make your way to I-95 and head south.

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exit 49: Scenic US-17 Bypass

Hop off I-95 to enjoy the low-country landscape and off-the-beaten-path towns along coastal highway U.S. Route 17 which winds through serene wetlands and thickets of trees draped in lacey Spanish moss. Along the way, stop in the town of Darien where you can take in sweeping marsh views and spot rows of shrimp boats docked along the waterfront.

Coastal Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue along US-17 for another 5 miles until you reach the sprawling Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, an antebellum rice plantation dating back to the early 1800s. Ophelia was the last heir to the rich traditions of her ancestors and she left the plantation to the State of Georgia in 1973.

Related: 10 of the Best Places to Visit in Georgia

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A museum features silver from the family collection and a model of Hofwyl-Broadfield during its heyday. A brief film on the plantation’s history is shown before visitors walk a short trail to the antebellum home. A guided tour allows visitors to see the home as Ophelia kept it with family heirlooms, 18th and 19th century furniture, and Cantonese china.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled amongst picturesque marshes along the Altamaha River, this historic estate is a stop along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail so stretch your legs with an easy hike to scout herons, painted buntings, egrets, wood stork, and other coastal birds along the way. More than 300 species of birds (75 percent of the total species of birds seen in Georgia) have been spotted at the 18 sites along the birding trail.

When you’re ready to continue your road trip, drive west on U.S. Hwy 99 and continue south on I-95.

Coastal Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exit 36: Explore Historic Downtown Brunswick

The mainland port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Docked at the wharf, the array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters—evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Watch the ocean vessels come into port, see the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street, and then sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants. 

Coastal Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After dinner, make your way to Mary Ross Waterfront Park on Bay Street (U.S. Highway 341) at the end of Gloucester Street. This waterfront park features The Liberty Ship Memorial Plaza where you can view a scale model of a Liberty Ship, similar to those built in Brunswick’s shipyards during World War II. Other attractions include an outdoor musical playscape, staged pavilion, amphitheater, and farmers market (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8 am to 5 pm).

Related: The Golden Isles of Georgia

This waterfront park is an enticing spot to view the sunset across the marshes. Huge oceangoing ships from around the world as well as picturesque shrimp boats may be seen along the waterfront docks.

St. Simon Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Afterward, head over to nearby St. Simons Island over the FJ Torras Causeway (about 7 miles away from Mary Ross Waterfront Park) and explore this quaint coastal community. Stop by the Welcome Center and grab a map of the mystifying Tree Spirits so you can participate in the scavenger hunt on St. Simons Island.

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons Island is dotted with exceptional historic sites and attractions from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site where in July 1742 British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve is not to be missed. This visitor favorite contains middens dating back to 2500 BCE. Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—are also located on the island’s north end.

Related: Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History and Beauty

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon Island

When you’re done exploring the area, hop back in the car, head over the FJ Torras Causeway, and meet up with US-17 south. Detour along GA-520 for one last stop along your I-95 road trip.

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you look south to the foot of Newcastle Street, you will see the Sidney Lanier Bridge, Georgia’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge which provides easy access to the Golden Isles from Interstate 95 (Exit 29). This beautiful structure is 7,780 feet long and 486 feet tall. It contains 95,283 cubic yards of concrete and 14,810,095 pounds of reinforcing steel. The current bridge was built as a replacement to the original lift bridge which was struck by ships twice. 

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge was named for Georgian poet Sidney Lanier who wrote the poem Marshes of Glynn about the beautiful marshes that surround the area. Each year in February, there is the annual 5k Bridge Run (February 17-18, 2022), sponsored by Southeast Georgia Health System when the south side of the bridge is closed to traffic and people register to run (or walk) the bridge.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GA-520: A Can’t-Miss I-95 Road Trip Detour

Take in the expansive marshes on State Route 520 detours to beautiful Jekyll Island. Just 20 minutes away from St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island was once a private island owned by ultra-rich families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Cranes, and Pulitzers. Today, the island is owned by the state of Georgia but remnants of the island’s glamorous past can be seen in its National Historic Landmark District where you’ll find opulent mansions and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, formerly the Jekyll Island Club House founded in 1886.

Want to stay off the highway a bit longer? Rent a bicycle and explore the island on two wheels by pedaling along with the Jekyll Island Trail System consisting of 25 miles of paved bike trails.

A parking fee of $8/day is required for all vehicles entering Jekyll Island.

Park your RV or camper under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites, from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet are free for registered guests.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Loop around the island to take in the views and head back to US-17 which will meet back up with I-95 south of Brunswick.

This is a great place to continue your road trip south to Florida (Jacksonville is only about an hour and a half south) or head north to your starting location (Savannah is only a little over an hour north!).

Get even more ideas on exciting places to explore and things to see along I-95.

Related: Georgia Is On My Mind

Safe travels!

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)