There are dozens of natural wonders around the country that are worthy of designation
Nothing epitomizes the natural splendor of America quite like a national park. The designation evokes images of quiet groves of towering trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, sweeping views of sun-drenched rock formations in Arches, or waves crashing against granite cliffs in Acadia (National Park).
Recently, though, national parks have become synonymous not with pastoral retreats but rather a decidedly less appealing phenomenon: crowds and more crowds.
More than 327 million people visited the public lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2019 and after a brief, pandemic-causing respite the system is again straining to accommodate the hordes yearning for a little fresh air after more than a year spent mostly indoors. Parks across the country are setting records for visits while landmarks like Old Faithful and Utah’s Delicate Arch have been swamped by picture-snapping visitors.
Going to a national park in 2021 doesn’t mean losing yourself in nature. It means inching along behind a long line of vehicles on the way to an already full parking lot.
Since last August, every month except one has been record-setting at Grand Teton National Park. More than three million people visited the park in 2019 and the total will likely reach four million this year.
Yellowstone, whose history as a national park predates the Park Service itself, registered its first month with over a million visitors in July. The park is grappling with the impact all those new guests are having on the park’s infrastructure. A million more people a year in Yellowstone mean you’re emptying 2,000 garbage cans five times a day instead of three. What is the impact of a million more people flushing toilets five times a day, do to wastewater?
So far, federal action on the matter has largely been restricted to last year’s Great American Outdoors Act which directed money to the NPS’s estimated $12 billion repair backlog as well as the President’s recently proposed budget which would increase the number of full-time Park Service employees considerably for the first time in two decades. But, the core issue remains: There are too many people concentrated in too few places.
But, how can we rebalance the scale? By adding more national parks!
After all, America has no shortage of sublime landscapes. The current assortment of national parks represents a narrow cross-section of the nation’s beauty.
The Grand Canyon and Yosemite are undeniably magnificent but so too are lesser-known landmarks. Valles Caldera is a dormant volcano in northern New Mexico whose 13.7-mile-wide crater is dotted by hot springs and streams. Joshua trees in Southern California’s Mojave National Preserve are no less mesmerizing than in their namesake national park. These are just two of the dozens of wilderness areas across the country that are already managed by the Park Service yet remain practically unknown. Redesignating them as national parks could change that overnight.
There is perceived credibility in the national park designation. Elevating a national preserve or national monument to national park status does increase visitation.
Headwaters Economics, a research group based in Montana, reported on the impact of the eight national monuments redesignated as national parks over the past two decades. Their research found that national parks overall have much greater visitation, overnight visits, spending per visitor, an economic impact than national monuments. Visits increased by 21 percent on average in the five years following redesignation compared to the five previous years.
Those findings are borne out by the New River Gorge in West Virginia which was redesignated last December. A spokesperson for the park estimates that visits have increased by 24 percent in the months since.
In the Intermountain West, from 2000 to 2016, recreation visits to national parks increased while visits to national monuments decreased. Importantly, national parks saw a greater increase in overnight visits which has a significant economic impact on the surrounding communities.
The most substantial difference between national parks and monuments is that the latter are created by presidential decree rather than congressional action; indeed, many national parks began as monuments and were only later elevated to their now rarefied status.
For many visitors, the word “monument” is something of a misnomer. It signals that maybe there’s one thing of interest there. That leads people unfamiliar with the region to think, “Let’s plan on a two-hour stop before we go on to a big-name national park.”
There is potential for a significant increase in visitation and economic impact for surrounding communities from redesigning a national monument as a national park. National monuments like Craters of the Moon (Idaho), Canyon de Chelly (Arizona), Organ Pipe (Arizona), Cedar Breaks (Utah), Natural Bridges (Utah), Mount St. Helens (Washington), Aztec Ruins (New Mexico), and El Malpais (New Mexico) come to mind.
How many of the six million annual Grand Canyon visitors might be enticed to go to Arizona’s similarly majestic Canyon de Chelly if it were a national park rather than a national monument? How many of the hundreds of thousands of eager hikers packing into Zion every month might take a chance on Cedar Breaks instead, especially given its crimson-striped cliffs and bristlecone forests are a mere hour’s drive further into the Utah desert?
Of course, many Westerners will shudder at the notion of under-the-radar gems like Craters of the Moon and the Valles Caldera becoming the next Bryce Canyon or Badlands. Which begs the question of how to alleviate crowding at some sites without overwhelming others?
Many national parks have already reached their limits, leaving less developed public lands vulnerable. Because Grand Teton can’t accommodate everyone who wants to stay there overnight, rangers from the surrounding Bridger-Teton National Forest have been scrambling to respond to the campers who want to camp there instead despite the area not having a comparable visitor infrastructure. And, therein may lay the answer for another viable alternative to the overcrowded national parks. Overshadowed by the NPS, the U.S National Forests offer some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the country.
The Forest Service offers a range of choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere. America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, and 122 wild and scenic rivers.
National Forests, then, represent an appealing in-between alternative: sites that many outdoors-minded travelers have never heard of that can still offer an experience every bit as memorable as a brand name park.
There’s a paradox in the national parks. They’re set aside as natural places to be protected forever; on the other hand, they’re for public enjoyment and experience. The current situation complicates both sides of that equation by compromising the Park Service’s conservation mission while also making parks less appealing places to visit. Creating more National Parks is part of the solution. If you’ve got a demand problem, you can solve it by increasing supply. That’s Economics 101.
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
Step back in time and discover a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House community
Pueblo people describe this site as part of their migration journey. Today you can follow their ancient passageways to a distant time. Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Look up and see original timbers holding up the roof. Search for the fingerprints of ancient workers in the mortar. Listen for an echo of ritual drums in the reconstructed Great Kiva.
Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called “great houses,” each with a “great kiva”—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. Excavation of the West Ruin in the 1900s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide a glimpse into the life of Ancestral Pueblo people connecting people of the past with people and traditions of today.
Many Southwestern American Indians today maintain deep spiritual ties with this ancestral site. Visitors today can learn about these remarkable people and their descendants and connect with the monument’s timeless landscape and stories. A short trail winds through this massive site offering an intimate experience. Along the way, visitors will discover original roofs, plaster walls, a reed mat left by the inhabitants, intriguing T-shaped doorways, and north-facing corner doors. The trail culminates with the reconstructed great kiva, a building that inherently inspires contemplation, wonder, and an ancient sense of sacredness.
A summer visit to the ruins is sure to be a hot one with temperatures ranging from 80 degrees to 100 degrees—and on some days reaching over 100. Fall brings pleasant days and crisp nights, while winter temperatures range between 20 degrees and 50 degrees with cold nights reaching 0. The most unpredictable season is spring with windy, cold, wet, or warm and dry weather.
See Earl’s house! The visitor center started as the home of pioneering archeologist Earl Morris. Here you receive an orientation to the archeological site and pick up a trail guide. See beautiful 900-year old artifacts in the museum. Watch the 15-minute video, Aztec Ruins: Footprints of the Past to hear diverse perspectives from Pueblo people, Navajo tribal members, and archeologists. The Visitor Center is open whenever the park is open except during after-hours outdoors programs (example: moon tours and solstice observations).
Explore the Aztec Ruins with a self-guided visitor trail. The half-mile trail winds through an ancestral Pueblo Great House, a reconstructed great kiva, and through original rooms with intact timber roofs. Help preserve the ruins—and stay safe—by remaining on the trail. Ranger-guided East Ruin Tours and Full Moon Walks are offered monthly from June through August and are weather-dependent.
Once you’ve visited the ruins, meander to the Animas River via a segment of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail or peruse museum exhibits and 900-year old artifacts. The Heritage Garden and Native Plants Walk are both located inside the historic picnic area. Park staff and volunteers grow traditional crops like corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and gourds. If you’re planning a summer visit, take a tour and see the wild plants that sustained folks in the Southwest for thousands of years.
Wildlife in the Park
Surprisingly, the park supports a wide variety of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. The riparian and pinon-juniper woodland areas, patches of abandoned farmlands, orchards, and desert scrubs all provide a habitat for 28 documented mammal species, at least 70 bird species, three amphibians, and 10 reptiles.
As surrounding residential developments expand, the ruins have become an increasingly important haven for species of concern despite the park’s relatively small size.
Aztec West Self-Guided Trail
Explore the ancestral Pueblo “Great House” that was the social, economic, and political center of the region after Chaco. A self-guided half-mile walk winds through original rooms. Along the way discover skillful stone masonry, remarkably well-preserved wood roofing, and original mortar in some walls. The interpretive trail guide combines modern archeological findings with traditional Native American perspectives. Enter the ceremonial Great Kiva. This awesome semi-subterranean structure over 40 feet in diameter is the oldest and largest reconstructed building of its kind.
Heritage Garden and Native Plants Walk
The Heritage Garden and the Native Plants Walk are both inside the shady and historic picnic area. Traditional crops like corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and gourds are grown by park staff and volunteers. Tours are offered in the summer. The Native Plants Walk is located on the west side of the picnic area near the parking lot. Take a quick stroll and see the wild plants that people in the Southwest have relied on for thousands of years.
Old Spanish National Historic Trail to Downtown Aztec
The Old Spanish Trail was the first recorded trade caravan from Santa Fe west to Los Angeles. The first journey was led by Antonio Armijo in 1829 and it was so difficult the traders never took that exact same route again. Since it is difficult to find the trail on the ground today no one can say with certainty how close the caravan actually came to Aztec Ruins. Today you can follow the nationally designated trail from the picnic area over the bridge across the Animas River (0.5 miles) and into historic downtown Aztec (1.5 miles) for shopping and dining.
Size: 318 acres
Date Established: January 24, 1923
Location: Northwestern New Mexico, 14 miles northeast of Farmington
Park Elevation: 5,600 feet
Park Entrance Fee: As of May 1, 2018, this is a fee-free park
Park Operating Hours: Daily 9:00 am-5:00 pm Mountain Time; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
Parking: RV and bus parking available
Weather Conditions: Summer high temperatures range from 80-100 degrees; Fall usually pleasant with mild days and crisp nights; Winter daytime temperatures range from 20-50 degrees with cold nights that can reach 0 degrees, snow is periodic but accumulations are typically only 1-2 inches; Spring is can be windy, cold, and wet, or still, warm, and dry.
Recreational visits in 2020: 30,223
What’s old collapses, times change, and new life blossoms in the ruins.
There are four things that absolutely kill all recreational vehicles: water damage, neglect, accidents, and severe hail
If you are a careful owner that follows preventive maintenance guidelines and takes measures to reduce humidity in your rig you are well on the way to maintaining your RV in good condition.
That will eliminate water damage and neglect as possible destroyers. But there’s not much you can do about the forces of nature when they strike.
Most forms of weather are not a problem while in your RV. People inside who aren’t touching anything conductive are safe. Lightning can damage wiring and electronics and even burn a small hole in the skin, but that is repairable. (So if you are in your RV and lightning is crashing down around you, stay put. You’re already in a good shelter.)
Heavy winds are likewise not usually a problem when situated in an RV park. If you are exceptionally concerned retract the slides.
But hail can be a killer. Hail can dimple the surface, rip holes in the skin, and destroy slide toppers.
Imagine a baseball dropped from an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. Now imagine that baseball reaching speeds of 120 mph as it falls to the ground—and imagine you’re under it!
Fortunately, most hail is small—usually less than 2 inches in diameter. The largest hailstone (nearly the size of a volleyball!) fell on July 23, 2010, in Vivian, South Dakota, and had a diameter of 8.0 inches, a circumference of 18.62 inches, and weighed just under 2 pounds.
Hail is a frequent occurrence through the nation’s heartland during spring and summer, especially the Plains states and Prairie provinces but it happen anywhere there’s a thunderstorm. The presence of large hail indicates very strong updrafts and downdrafts within the thunderstorm.
While most weather watchers had their eyes trained on the Gulf Coast, a severe thunderstorm swept through the Black Hills region in South Dakota, devastating much of the area’s campgrounds and leaving millions of dollars in damaged RVs and structures.
Hart Ranch Resort south of Rapid City was one of the parks hit hardest by the Monday, August 27, 2021 storm. Hail the size of baseballs destroyed vehicle windows and bodies as well as almost every RV skylight and vent. RV roofs also sustained significant damage. The storm hit suddenly just after 7 p.m. Many RVs at the park sustained interior damage when water poured through broken vents.
The storm also ravaged the Mount Rushmore KOA Resort, just six miles from the Mount Rushmore National Monument. Managers there reported most RVs and other vehicles sustained severe damage as did many of the roofed structures on the campground. About 90 percent of the roofs on their structures need to be replaced and about 80 percent of the vehicles on the park had broken windows. Most of the RVs parked sustained damage. Most of the roof vents on units were taken out.
There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way of avoiding hail damage other than keeping your RV parked undercover. Since that doesn’t work on the road or in an RV park, a few other strategies will help to reduce your risk.
Check the weather report along your route during the summer when thunderstorms are more likely. A good weather app on your phone or tablet that shows color radar will help you spot thunderstorm activity as it happens.
Tornado warnings are a major red flag since tornadoes are spawned from the same severe thunderstorms that produce hail. Consider altering your route to avoid the highest risk areas or delay departure to the following day.
Get off the road before the thunderstorm hits. There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many lightning deaths and injuries.
When lightning and hail start happening it’s usually too late to look for shelter. Driving into hail at highway speeds will result in the hail smashing on the RV even harder, which increases the chance of permanent surface damage.
Hail can exceed the size of softballs and fall at speeds of over 100 mph, seriously injuring or killing anyone in its path. Even small hail driven by the wind can cause severe injuries.
DO NOT park under large trees or power lines, since these are easily felled by straight-line winds, which would be even worse. DO NOT stop in the middle of a lane under an overpass.
Most of the time hail damage is strictly cosmetic. This brings up the issue of whether to fix it or live with it. Talk to your trusted RV dealer and/or manufacturer before making your decision. There are no shortcuts to a good repair, so be wary of anyone who offers to fix it cheaply.
You may eventually encounter some hail, but it likely won’t be large enough to result in permanent damage. Don’t let a minor risk overshadow your travels—you’ll be fine and your RV probably will be too.
The U.S. has more than 10,000 state park areas covering a total area of more than 18 million acres
The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, harsh deserts, and amazing RV and tent camping opportunities. Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks. What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure. Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.
Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.
Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in West Texas along the US/Mexico border. The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons. Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain. Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots.
Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving, and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 when a dam was constructed on the Rio Grande River. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah
Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area. On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.
Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. The park offers 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites.
Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania
The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.
Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups).
Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.
Located half an hour outside of Sarasota this verdant sanctuary is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. A popular destination for outdoor adventure, visitors can rent a kayak and paddle along the park’s waterways in search of alligators or choose from close to forty miles of hiking trails that snake through wetlands, pine forests, and dry prairie. Myakka River State Park is a renowned location for birding and for good reason—some truly fascinating avian species can be spotted searching for food along the river banks with the vibrant pink-colored roseate spoonbill standing out as one of the area’s most coveted sights.
The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.
Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona
Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds.
The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species. Nearby attractions include St George, Red Cliffs BLM Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.
Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. This sprawling 20,000-acre park offers three campground areas that range from full hookups to standard camping. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia
Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.
Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia
Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people.
One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.
However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.
If a crash with wildlife is inevitable, you should aim for the spot where the animal is coming from rather than where it is going
We’ve all been there. You’re on a wide, dry, empty country road, and you wonder “why does it have such a low-speed limit? I’m a good driver, I’ve got good tires, I can speed through here without any problems.”
But, maybe traffic engineers set the speed limit low not because of the road design but because this is an area where deer keep diving through windshields. That slow speed limit is there so you have enough time to scan the bushes for suicidal deer and stop in time if one wanders into the roadway.
Deer and moose will leap in front of your vehicle for seemingly no reason. Also, the faster your speed, the worse the collision!
In an earlier post, I reviewed what drivers can do to reduce the chances of having a wildlife-vehicle collision. Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.
Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. Reduce speed in wildlife zones. Drive defensibly and actively watch for wildlife movement or shining eyes on and beside the road. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife.
One deer means more deer. Deer travel in herds and if you see one, slow right down as there will be many more. Moose are less gregarious, so one moose may simply mean one moose but it is still suggestive that more moose are in the area. And cows are frequently with a calf.
What if a Wildlife Collision is Inevitable?
In certain situations, there is no real choice except to hit the wild animal. Diminish the impact if it is inevitable. If an accident with a deer, elk, or moose is inevitable, consider the following suggestions for lessening the impact.
If it appears impossible to avoid the animal, aim for the spot the animal came from, not where it is going. This may take you away from it and the animal is more likely to keep moving forward rather than backtracking. This will only work if there is one animal.
Shift your line of eyesight to where you want to go, not at the animal. You tend to drive where you look―if you are looking at the animal, that is where the vehicle tends to go.
Try to skim rather than fully impact the animal. If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit. Brake firmly and quickly, then look and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle. Take your foot off the brake as you impact. The release of the brake causes a slight lift of the front end of the vehicle and reduces the chances of the animal coming through your windshield if your vehicle is tall enough. The deer isn’t going to be okay, but you will.
If you’re heading into a collision, lean toward the door pillar. In the Mythbusters where they tested this, the center of the car was completely crushed in every impact but the triangle by the door pillar was intact in each accident. No guarantees are offered; you are far better off avoiding the collision.
What to do Following a Wildlife Collision?
This depends on the type and condition of the road, the amount of traffic, the type of animal, and the condition of the driver. Take care after a collision with a deer, elk, bear, or moose.
Check passengers for injuries and treat accordingly. Even if there are no injuries, shock may occur fairly quickly. Try to reassure one another and if it is cold, put on warmer clothing immediately as shock or fear increases the inability to ward off cold. If it is winter, stay in the car for warmth.
There are some important steps to take after assessing if everyone is relatively unharmed. Pull off the road if possible. Turn on hazard lights and if you can, illuminate the animal with your headlights. Use road flares or triangles if you have them. Warn other drivers if there is a carcass on the road which poses a hazard.
You may choose to carefully approach the animal to determine if it is dead or injured. If it is injured, back off. An injured animal can be very dangerous; it may kick or gore you from fear and pain.
You may choose to remove a dead animal from the road so that it does not present a hazard to other drivers. Quick removal prevents other animals from being attracted to the highway. Only attempt to remove the animal if you are 100 percent certain that it is dead, it is safe to do so, and you are physically capable of moving it.
Inspect your vehicle to see if it is safe to continue driving.
Call the police immediately or flag down help. Remember that most insurance companies won’t pay for the damages you suffer from hitting a deer or a moose if you don’t file a police report. Report vehicle damage to your insurance company.
Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.
Often overshadowed by the National Park Service, the national forests in the U.S. offer some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the country
The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.”
The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.
For those who prefer a somewhat remote setting to camp, the U.S. Forest Service offers a range of choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere. America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.
For starters, here’s a shortlist of some of the country’s most stunning national forests.
Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine-clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most are rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.
At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful lands in the country. The variety in vegetation and range in elevation—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forests.
The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.
Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.
White Mountain National Forest, Maine and New Hampshire
One of just two national forests in New England, the White Mountain National Forest is a year-round adventure destination. Crowned by the highest peaks in the region—the Presidential Range—the national forest includes the largest alpine zone in the Eastern U.S. For hikers, more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails wind through hardwood and conifer forests offering access to secluded waterfalls, glassy ponds, and ragged, granite peaks.
The White Mountain National Forest also harbors more than 160 miles of the Appalachian Trail including the footpath’s longest stretch above the tree line. In the fall, the national forest’s scenic roads including the 34.5-mile Kancamagus Scenic Byway provides some of the best leaf-peeping in New England.
Coronado National Forest, Arizona
Among the most biodiversity-rich national forests in the country, southeastern Arizona’s 1.78-million-acre Coronado National Forest spreads from saguaro-studded swathes of the desert to pine-oak woodlands to the high peaks of a dozen different sky mountain ranges harboring numerous species including black bears, screech owls, and javelina. The national forest’s craggy canyons are especially rich in birdlife—like Ramsey Canyon, a haven for species like blue-throated hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, and Montezuma quail.
For a unique overnight experience, the bunkhouses from a former mining camp in the national forest’s Santa Rita range have been transformed into cozy cabins (Kent Springs) in Madera Canyon; camping is available at Bog Springs Campground.
Sierra National Forest, California
Spread over the western slopes of the central portion of the Sierra Nevada, the 1.3-million-acre Sierra National Forest preserves some of California’s most iconic natural areas including portions of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness. The Sierra National Forest is the gateway to the Sierras including the intensely visited Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Stretching from the range’s sparsely forested lowlands to the glaciated granite spires of the high Sierras, the 1.3-million-acre protected area tops out at 13,900 feet and features a thousand-mile trail system that includes seven different National Recreation Trails. For backpackers, a 30-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the national forest—but there are plenty of shorter hikes, too, like the Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail which winds through a grove of giant sequoias.
Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
The Nantahala National Forest lies in the mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina. The largest of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Nantahala encompasses 531,148 acres with elevations ranging from 5,800 feet at Lone Bald to 1,200 feet along the Hiwassee River. The Forest is divided into three Districts, Cheoah in Robbinsville, Tusquitee in Murphy, and the Nantahala in Franklin. All district names come from the Cherokee language. “Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noonday sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge where the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday.
In the Nantahala National Forest, visitors enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities from whitewater rafting to camping. With over 600 miles of trails, opportunities exist for hikers, mountain bikers, horse-back riders, and off-highway vehicle riders. View some of the best mountain scenery from the 43-mile Cherohala Skyway through the and Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. This National Scenic Byway connects Robbinsville to Tellico Plains in southeast Tennessee.
Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
The Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota consists of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The Black Hills rise from the adjacent grasslands into a ponderosa pine forest. Described as an “Island in the Plains,” the Forest has diverse wildlife and plants reaching from the eastern forests to the western plains. This is a multiple-use Forest with activities ranging from timber production, grazing, to hiking, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mining, and wildlife viewing.
Amid the splendid scenery of the Black Hills National Forest are 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, 32 picnic areas, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, over 13,426 acres of wilderness, and 353 miles of trails. Every location in the Black Hills is a special place but there are hidden gems around every corner.
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, Georgia
The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide some of the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history, and culture.
Cool in the summer, mild in the winter, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and is surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. The drive is ideal for viewing colorful wildflowers or dazzling fall colors. Secluded valley views of Wilderness Areas abound along the way. The 40-mile loop follows State Highways 348, 180, and 17/75. Take in 360-degree views atop the 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s tallest mountain. At an elevation of 2,080 feet, on the banks of the Tallulah River, the Tallulah River Campground is a favorite. If you like hiking, the Coleman River Trail is there for you to enjoy the outdoors and nature.
Dixie National Forest, Utah
Dixie National Forest stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. It includes almost two million acres and is the largest national forest in Utah. The forest is adjacent to three national parks and two national monuments. The red sandstone formations in Red Canyon rival those of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hell’s Backbone Bridge and the view into Death Hollow are breathtaking. Boulder Mountain and its many small lakes provide opportunities for hiking, fishing, and viewing outstanding scenery.
Elevations in the forest vary from 2,800 feet near St. George to 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. High altitude forests in gently rolling hills characterize the Markagunt, Pansaugunt, and Aquarius plateaus. The vegetation changes from sparse, desert-type plants at the lower elevations to stands of low-growing pinyon pine and juniper dominating the mid-elevations. At the higher elevations, aspen and conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir predominate.
Lassen National Forest, California
Lassen National Forest is a United States national forest of 1,700 square miles in northeastern California. It is named after pioneer Peter Lassen who mined and ranched the area in the 1850s. Lassen National Forest is located about 80 miles east of Red Bluff. It is bounded by the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the south, the Modoc Plateau to the east, and California’s Central Valley to the west. The Forest surrounds Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Forest has two major river systems as well as many lakes, cinder cones, and lava flows.
In a scenic mountain setting, Lake Almanor is one of the largest man-made lakes in California at 75 square miles. It offers fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, camping, and picnicking. The Almanor Recreation Trail winds along the west side of Almanor providing views of the lake, the mountains, wildflowers, and wildlife. Family and group campgrounds, boat launch facilities, and private marinas are available.
Fishlake National Forest, Utah
Rising as a green oasis above the junction of I-15 and I-70 in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus that form Fishlake National Forest offer spectacular and widely varied scenery and cool climatic relief from the hot desert valleys. The namesake for the forest is Fish Lake, the largest freshwater mountain lake in the state.
Fishlake National Forest is a recreationalist’s paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic byways, motorized and non-motorized trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and trout fishing. Recreational opportunities include scenic drives, mountain biking, snowmobiling, ATV use, hiking, and camping. The Paiute ATV Trail winds through 250 miles of the forest’s most scenic terrain. For those who prefer the comfort of a car, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway travels along the beautiful Bear River lined by aspen, spruce, and fir trees. It ends at a lovely mountain lake.
I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.
Green chile season is heating up in New Mexico where the fiery peppers are an indispensable part of the local cuisine—and daily life
Hatch chiles grown today (in fact all New Mexican chile peppers) owe their genetic base from cultivars (cultivated variety) first developed by horticulturist Fabián Garcia at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as the New Mexico State University (NMSU). Starting in 1894, Fabián Garcia crossed several local pod types with the goal of improving them for the region. He sought larger, smoother peppers that were better for canning.
Following many years of crossing and growing, he released a variety called New Mexico No. 9 in 1913. All New Mexican chile peppers owe their genetic base to these peppers. Today, chile pepper studies continue at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, founded by Paul Bosland in order to study New Mexican peppers and others from around the world.
Hatch Chile Fever
To pay homage to the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to the river valley’s combination of nutrient-rich soil, intense sunlight, and cool desert nights.
Unlike other peppers, Hatch comes in different seed varieties that cover the full spectrum of heat levels. Typically, the mild to medium-hot varieties are more readily available. Then, there is red vs. green peppers. For those that didn’t know, red peppers are the same but have simply been left on the plant longer to ripen.
In preparing Hatch Valley’s famous peppers, a 40-pound burlap sack of green chiles is dropped into a gas-fired roaster. The flames roar as chiles tumble in the rotating wire cage and the thick, sharp scent permeates throughout the area. First, it’s high heat, then low!
These chiles are the centerpiece of the meal which is itself the pinnacle of New Mexico cuisine, a distinctive craft in which the Land of Enchantment takes such pride. The state has made chiles the “Official State Food” and designated “Red or Green?” the “official state question” referring to which kind of chile diners prefer on their enchiladas.
The harvest begins most years in late July and extends into October. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day festival. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.
For first-time visitors, it’s not a stretch to think the hot chiles the farmers grow in these fertile fields are hazardous (a sentiment first-time chile tasters often feel today). But I quickly grew to love the chiles and can’t imagine daily life without the fiery and tasty peppers.
Chiles of the World
Those first chiles were what are called landrace varieties, a term referring to crop types that people develop by saving seeds and adapting them to their specific growing area. Chiles and chile seeds were no doubt traded up and down the Rio Grande Valley for centuries among indigenous peoples, then Hispanic settlers. The distinctive chiles so familiar today date back to the early 20th century.
In the world, there are literally thousands of chile types. They originated in Mesoamerica and spread rapidly across the globe after Christopher Columbus brought New World foods back to Europe. In Africa, southern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, backyard growers did their own breeding, just as New Mexico growers did.
Of those thousands of chile types, the ones that form the backbone of Hatch pepper production are called—surprise—“New Mexican pod” varieties and the original types have been supplemented often with new cultivars developed at New Mexico State.
Chile farming today is vastly different from a century ago. Most of the fields have buried drip irrigation that feeds steady moisture to the plant roots. A six-year rotation schedule fends off soil-borne diseases; when they aren’t growing chiles, Hatch farmers produce alfalfa, onions, and cotton, among other crops.
The Hatch Chile Association has obtained a federal-type certificate and a trademark for chiles grown there. But there’s more than one kind of “Hatch chile” ranging from modern mild types to older, hotter varieties. Charger (hybrid Anaheim) chiles, a medium-hot favorite grown to be used green, can range from 500 to 3500 on the Scoville scale (which extends past 1 million for ghost peppers and such); Big Jims are milder, Anaheim-like; Sandias are hotter and grown for ripening; Lumbres is hotter still, and the list goes on.
And if the list of thousands of chile varieties, all with different shapes, colors, flavors, and levels of heat, isn’t complex enough, consider that all of those chile types produce fruits that vary from plant to plant—sometimes from pod to pod on the same plant.
Get to know the many varieties of Hatch chile peppers. Following are some of the most popular developed for and grown in the Hatch area.
NuMex Big Jim: This giant chili pepper was introduced by NMSU in the 1970s as a cross between a few different types of local chiles and a Peruvian chile. They measure 10-12 inches and mature to red but are usually harvested and used when green. The peppers have actually been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest chile ever grown. Big Jim chili peppers are about as hot as a milder jalapeno pepper (Scoville Heat Units: 2,500-3,000 SHU), so you’ll get a bit of heat, but not very much, depending on your heat tolerance and preference.
NuMex Sandia: Another hybrid chili pepper developed by the NMSU, the Sandia grows to 6-7 inches and is similar to the Anaheim pepper. They start green and ripen to red but are often used while green. Like so many other peppers from this region, the red ones can be dried to make decorative ristras. They are also great for roasting, making chiles Rellenos, or for use in salsas. Slightly hotter than a jalapeno (Scoville Heat Units: 5,000-7,000 SHU), it adds quite a kick to dishes and salsa but not overwhelming heat.
NuMex Joe E. Parker: This New Mexico variety was named after Mr. Joe E. Parker, a graduate of NMSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics who helped to evaluate this selection of chile. It originally came from one plant selected from a field of open-pollinated New Mexico 6-4 peppers. The chiles grow to about 8 inches in length and 1.8 inches in width and can be used either in their green or red stage. Although similar to the New Mexico 6-4 in flavor and heat (Scoville Heat Units: 1,500-3,000 SHU), green color, and size, it is generally preferable to the New Mexico 6-4 because of its higher chile yield, its thicker walls, and its ability to continue to produce red chiles after the initial green fruit harvest. The NuMex Joe E. Parker can be a great chile for canning whole and is excellent for chiles Rellenos or for grilling or roasting due to its thicker walls.
NuMex Heritage 6-4: The New Mexico 6-4 Heritage chile pepper was developed around 1998 from a seed bank of the original New Mexico 6-4. The original NM 6-4 which was released in 1957 had “run out” meaning that after so many years of commercial growing, it had lost much of its flavor and aroma and had increased its variability in heat levels, maturity date, and yield. Dr. Paul Bosland along with NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute and Biad Chili used seeds from the original NM 6-4 that had been frozen in a storage lab to create the new line of chile. Dr. Bosland grew the peppers for three years perfecting the line by selecting for more flavor and improved yield. The result was a chile (Scoville Heat Units: 3,000-5,000 SHU) with five times more flavor and aroma than the original and the flavor is even stronger and richer when it’s roasted. They grow to 5-8 inches in length.
Barker Extra Hot: The Barker’s Hot chili pepper is an extra-hot chile (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 15,000-30,000 SHU), the hottest of the Anaheim/New Mexico variety and it has great flavor. They grow to 5-7 inches in length and can be used just as you would use an Anaheim with an extra punch. This variety originally comes from a selection of native New Mexican chiles so it naturally grows well in very hot, dry climates. The peppers ripen from green to red with the red fruits growing hotter than the green ones. The fruits have thin skins making them great for roasting, frying whole, canning, or stuffing. They also make deliciously hot salsa.
How Hot is Hot?
Talk about heat! The 7 Pot Douglah is an extremely hot pepper (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 923,889 – 1,853,986 SHU) from Trinidad. Its skin is notably dark chocolate brown and somewhat pimpled. It starts off green but matures to a rich brown. It is one of the Hottest Peppers in the World. Aside from the color, it looks very much like other superhot chili peppers, roughly habanero shaped, about two inches long. The hottest 7 Pot Douglas is about 232 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno pepper and more than 5 times a very hot habanero pepper.
Hooked on the Heat
My introduction to green chile came long ago at a variety of restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla. My palate sizzled with capsaicin. Endorphins fizzed in my veins like butter. It was the start of a lifelong love affair and chiles have been a constant in my diet ever since. Once you get hooked, you can’t get unhooked. It’s an addiction, but it’s a good one.
Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.
Set in the mountain community of Williams—Gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is the ideal place to unwind and relax. The park has three types of RV spaces: select from pull-through, buddy spaces, or back-in sites. All spaces are 50-amp and large enough for big rigs. Each space comes with high definition digital TV provided by DirecTV, wireless Internet, and access to the indoor swimming pool and hot tub at the adjacent Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. The property has coin-operated laundry machines and a common picnic area with gas grills and a fire pit. Take the historic train from Williams into Grand Canyon National Park. Adjacent to the historic train depot, Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is just two blocks away from Route 66 and downtown Williams.
Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia
Coastal Georgia RV Resorts offer 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp service and tables. The Resort’s roads are all paved. Fire rings are available at the Pavilion. Amenities include a game room, conference room, two bathhouses, two laundromats, a dock, and a store where you can find RV supplies as well as LP gas. The resort also offers a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. A cable TV and Wi-Fi are included. From I-95 (exit 29) and US 17, go ½ mile west on SR-17, turn left onto US-17 south for ¼ mile, turn east onto Martin Palmer Dr for 1 mile and enter straight ahead.
Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas RV Resort is a 378 site RV park restricted to guests 18 years of age or older with a great location a short distance from the action of ‘The Strip’. The resort offers full hook-ups with back-in and pull-through sites available. Amenities include free Wi-Fi throughout the resort, pool and spa, fitness center, laundry facilities, pet area, picnic tables at every site, and 24-hour patrol.
Capital City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama
Approximately 6 miles north of I-85 (Exit 6), Capital City RV Park is a 5-star park located on the northeastern edge of Montgomery. The park offers clean and quiet sites at reasonable rates.
Capital City features full-hookup sites with 20/30/50 amp electric service, cable TV, high-speed wireless Internet, a complete laundry facility, and private bathrooms with showers. Our pull-through site was 70 feet long and 35 feet wide with centrally located utilities. Interior roads and individual sites are gravel. This is a well-designed and maintained RV park.
Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho
Ambassador RV Resort is a 5-star resort that is easy-on, easy-off (I-84 at Exit 29) with 188 full-service sites, pool, spa, sauna, and 5,000 square foot recreation hall. Features 30-foot x 85-foot short term pull-through sites, 35-foot x 75-foot long term pull-through sites, 45-foot x 60-foot back-in sites, and wide-paved streets. Pets are welcome if friendly and the owner is well trained.
Located near Idaho’s wine country and convenient to the Boise metro area, the Ambassador is the perfect home base for all your activities.
Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville, Kentucky
New in 2002 Grandma’s pull-through sites are in the 70-75 foot range. Back-in sites are also available. Easy-on, easy-off, the park is located off I-65 at Exit 116, an excellent location for touring Louisville, Bardstown, and Bourbon Country. Streets are paved and sites are gravel. With no one in the office, we picked a site and registered later. Since utilities are located near the rear of the site, the toad needs to be unhooked and parked at the front of the site.
Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Hacienda RV Resort is located off the I-10, exit 140, in Las Cruces, 1.5 miles from Historic Old Mesilla. Hacienda offers paved roads leading to 113 spacious RV sites with a variety of sizes and layouts with many boasting breathtaking views of the Organ Mountains. Relax in the large outdoor patio with a wood-burning fireplace or enjoy the comfortable southwestern community clubhouse with an indoor fireplace, workout facility, and gift shop. Park amenities include 30/50 amp service with full hookup (electric, water, and sewer), private showers/dressing rooms with hairdryers, free cable TV, high-speed Wi-Fi, and a large, enclosed dog run. Choose from pull-through sites (55– 59 feet), back-in sites (34–36 feet), extra-long back-in sites (52–53 feet), and extra-long, big-rig pull-through sites (69–130 feet).
RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino and Resort, Corning, California
The RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino is an easy-on, easy-off (I-5; Exit 628) 96-space RV park with long pull-through sites (up to 75 feet in length) with 30/50 amp electric service, water, and sewer conveniently located. All spaces are pull-through. Wi-Fi access is available over most of the park. The RV Park is within an easy walk of the Casino and golf course. Laundry facilities are available nearby at the Traveler’s Clubhouse. The site is safe and secure with a 24-hour patrol.
Galveston Island State Park, Galveston, Texas
With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes. Twenty camping sites are available on the bayside of the park. Each site offers 50/30 amp electricity, water, a picnic table, and nearby restrooms with showers. These sites are for RV camping only. Additionally, 10 sites are available for tent camping only.
Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington
Developed in 2006 by the present owners who are former RVers, Columbia Riverfront RV Park is a 5-star resort. A quiet getaway on ten acres of beautifully maintained property right on the sandy beach of the Columbia River, Columbia Riverfront is big-rig friendly. With a view of the Columbia River out of our windshield, our pull-in site was 45 feet in length with room for the toad. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable are centrally located. Pull-through sites in the 85-95 foot range are also available. Wi-Fi works well. Interior roads are paved and sites are crushed gravel and level. Columbia Riverfront is located 22 miles north of Portland, Oregon, in Woodland off I-5 (Exit 22); west 3.25 miles on Dike Access and Dike roads.
Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.
If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in September
Now that September is here, many RVers are looking to extend their summer fun as long as they can. Summer may officially end on September 23 but your vacation season is far from over. Whatever your September plans—quick trips, long weekends, a staycation, sitting by the pool, or one last big journey—we have gathered some great destinations and road trips to help you enjoy the season. Summer is calling . . . still!
September is the unsung hero of travel months: The busiest vacation season has come and gone and places are less crowded because kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time to pay a visit to locations that are usually swarming with tourists and enjoy some serious natural beauty, luxury RV resorts, outdoor adventures, and a few glasses of wine. So what are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in September, from Vermont to San Antonio.
It’s almost autumn and if you didn’t join the summer rush back to traveling it’s time to think about September when things calm down a bit. Crisp temperatures, fall colors, and fresh mountain air make Stowe, Vermont and the Blue Ridge Parkway perfect destinations where you can enjoy the scenery, hiking, and apple cider.
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in June, July, and August. Also, check out my recommendations from September 2020.
This classic New England village is known for skiing but it’s also one of the best places in the country to see stunning fall foliage. From early September through late October, the weather and colorful backdrop are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and scenic drives.
Zig and zag your way to the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest mountain—along the historic Toll Road where stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains await you. The road up Mount Mansfield is 4.5 miles of awe-inspiring natural beauty. You can park at 3,850 feet, relax and take it all in. RVs are not permitted on the toll road.
Or get on top of autumn splendor the easy way—in the refurbished Stowe Gondola SkyRide. From the top of Mount Mansfield, you can access hiking trails and a sweet treat at The Waffle. The Gondola SkyRide is open through October 17. And plan ahead for the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival in early October (38th annual; October 8-10, 2021).
Enjoy a Scenic Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway
America’s Favorite Scenic Drive winds its way through North Carolina and Virginia. The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are numerous entry points to the parkway (which is free to access) in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina but if you want to admire some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River you’ll want to traverse the parkway near Asheville.
Popular stops along the parkway include Craggy Gardens (known for its 360-degree views and abundance of wildflowers), Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), and Linville Falls (a three-tiered waterfall that cascades into the Linville Gorge). When you’re ready to stretch your legs, there are multiple hiking trails easily accessed off of the parkway including the family-friendly Graveyard Fields. This nearly 3-mile-long loop trail takes hikers to two waterfalls. If you’re up for the challenge there’s also the more strenuous 2.6-mile out and back Mount Pisgah Trail which features views of Cold Mountain from its 5,721-foot summit.
Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival: The sweetest time of year! The annual Hi Sugar festival in September in New Iberia is the place to be to satisfy your inner sweet tooth and child-like sugary desires. Offering a rich history of the sugar found in the area, entertainment, and lots of sugar-filled treats, you’ll soak up a sweet time!
What could be more fitting a cause for celebration than the tall, green, sweet sugar cane? And so it is that the last full weekend of September (79th annual; September 23-26, 2021) as the growth of the succulent sugar cane reaches its pinnacle, New Iberia hosts the twenty-four sugar producing parishes of Louisiana.
To the Jesuit Fathers goes the distinction of introducing sugar cane to Louisiana. Because of its rapid growth due to the semi-tropical climate and the ingenuity of a young Frenchman, Etienne De Bore who discovered the secret of granulated sugar, the economy of South Louisiana changed and the era of large plantations came into existence.
At the conclusion of a successful harvest, the planters rejoiced with a celebration called “apres la roulaison”, meaning to grind or to roll as in crushing the cane to extract the juices. In its infancy, the festival took place “after grinding” and although the celebration now comes at the end of September, the spirit of the occasion is the same…one of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of fun-filled, carefree days.
Chile Capital of the World
It’s been 100 years since horticulturist Fabián García publicly introduced his hybrid chile, “New Mexico No. 9,” the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers today. To pay homage, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to its unique terroir which includes fertile volcanic soil.
As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day celebration. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.
The scent of roasting chiles permeates the air in late summer and early fall along Hall Street, Hatch’s main thoroughfare where mom-and-pop shops sell chile peppers in all forms. Ristras—decorative dried chile pods that are both edible and a good luck symbol—hang on the patios and in doorways of places like Chile Fanatic and Hatch Chile Sales beckoning visitors to shop for chile powder, salsas, and ristras of their own.
Chile peppers keep their star status when it comes to dining, as well. For a quarter of a century, the family-owned Pepper Pot has been serving up Mexican American dishes like green chile stew and red chile enchiladas (a favorite of late food personality, Anthony Bourdain, who said that their red enchiladas were the best ever). Then there’s Sparky’s, a roadside eatery and attraction that’s known as much for the fiberglass statues dotting its rooftop and lining the street (including Ronald McDonald, Yogi Bear, a Roswell-inspired green alien, and a towering Uncle Sam) as it is for its cuisine. Sparky’s green chile cheeseburgers are a talked-about phenomenon though this beloved counter-service spot also whips up the wood-fired barbeque, espresso drinks, and a wide array of shakes.
Hatch is just nine miles north of the entrance to Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport on the planet and testing grounds for Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflights. Final Frontier Tours offers private pre-scheduled tours of the facility, including the chance to experience a rapidly accelerating G-shock simulator, comparable to what astronauts feel in flight.
Port Aransas, Texas
With 18 miles of beaches, Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island on the Gulf Coast, is a haven for anglers and beachgoers. Fishermen can cast a line from the surf, a public fishing pier, or take an off-shore excursion for various fish species. If you visit in the summer, you’re bound to see a fishing tournament or you can try surfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding with a local guide. Visit Farley Boat Works to partake in building a boat or head out on a bird-watching expedition—Port Aransas has six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail with hundreds of bird species frequenting the area. The arts community here is also thriving with numerous studios, galleries, the Port Aransas Art Center, and the Port Aransas Community Theatre. Nightlife is also popular, with numerous bars and restaurants regularly hosting artists.
Feel the Thunder
Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them. The bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.
Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.
St. Simons, Georgia
The largest barrier island in the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island lies across the immortalized Marshes of Glynn made famous by poet Sidney Lanier. Moss-draped oaks line the winding island streets creating a picture-perfect image worthy of a Faulkner tale.
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.
On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve contains middens dating back to 2500 BC. 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—is also located on the island’s north end. History buff or not, you won’t want to miss Christ Church’s picturesque and somewhat haunting grounds.
Watch hummingbirds in Patagonia
The Paton Center for Hummingbirds was closed due to the pandemic but has since reopened.
This birding hotspot captures the laidback charm of Patagonia. The Patons put out backyard feeders in the 1970s and hummingbirds swarmed the property. The family soon began welcoming strangers who came to enjoy the colorful show. After Marion Paton died in 2009, neighbors kept the feeders stocked until 2014 when the Tucson Audubon Society took over.
The place hasn’t changed much over the years. There are chairs beneath a shade awning and a big board to list recent sightings. Folks have come from all over the world just to sit quietly in a small Arizona yard and watch clouds of hummingbirds. Hummingbird visitors to the Paton Yard are at their highest numbers during spring (March-May) and fall (August-October) migrations. They also have many breeding hummingbird species throughout the summer. In the winter, hummingbird numbers are lower but you may still find rare species such as the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.
It’s a lovely carefree way to spend an hour and I hope to get to do it again soon.
Greenville’s River Walk
Greenville’s recent history is defined by a series of game-changing public access initiatives beginning with the formation of Falls Park on the Reedy, a 32-acre park in the heart of downtown. The signature waterfall is best viewed from the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge, a single-cable suspended path that extends 345 feet as it curves around the waterfall below.
Live music, delicious cuisine, and impressive outdoor art installations are just a few of the standout attractions along Greenville’s river walk. Check out Papi’s Tacos (300 River Street) and ask for the “Travelin’ Taco”—shredded chicken, lettuce, Pico De Gallo, Crema in a bag of Fritos corn chips, and a fork. It won’t disappoint and it’s only $4.25 or three for $12.
Next, stop at the picturesque Art Crossing. The Shoppes at Art Crossing, nestled in the lower level of Riverplace, house over a dozen local artists and offer the public a great variety of art in every medium. Here you will find local award-winning artists at work in their gallery/studio as they create realist and abstract paintings, photographic art, watercolors, illustrations, pottery, batik, and mixed media treasures. Art Crossing at Riverplace is in the heart of downtown Greenville right off South Main along the Reedy River and is open from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday.
Public space extends north and south along the Swamp Rabbit Trail that parallels the Reedy River as it rambles for 22 miles over the converted railway. The path moves south to the freshwater marsh at Lake Conestee Nature Preserve and north to Travelers Rest, a bedroom community where eateries like Upcountry Provisions offer a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Two miles north of downtown, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery marks an appealing waypoint with its park-like outdoor seating, sandwiches on house-baked stecca bread, and homemade pastries. Other fan-favorite eateries include UP on the Roof (250 Riverplace) and The Lazy Goat (170 Riverplace), both of which are perfect to pop in for a delicious meal.
San Antonio, Texas
The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is one of the city’s best-known attractions. Visitors can stroll along the walking path or cruise in a river barge to explore the 15-mile urban waterway. Shop at La Villita, Market Square, or the Shops at Rivercenter. The Alamo is another favorite with tours and exhibits of the complex that was the site of the Texas Revolution battle in 1836. Further south, immerse yourself in history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions along the Mission Reach. Families enjoy the San Antonio Zoo and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
Add a scenic road trip to the Texas Hill Country characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite. You’ll pass through small towns, boutique farms, Texas-sizes ranches, and refreshing swimming holes. Many towns also have monthly markets where you can buy everything from earrings to stained glass: Gruene Market Days (Gruene is at the edge of New Braunfels), Trade Days near Fredericksburg, Boerne Market Days, and Wimberley Market Days. Wildseed Farms is a haven for gardening accessories, seeds, and local specialty foods. Explore Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with a hike, picnic, or climb to enjoy the view.
We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.
A manufacturer recall can create a safety risk if not repaired
Your recreational vehicle may be involved in a safety recall and may create a safety risk for you or your passengers. Safety defects must be repaired by a certified dealer at no cost to you. However, if left unrepaired, a potential safety defect in your vehicle could lead to injury or even death.
What is a recall?
When a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a recreational vehicle or item of RV equipment creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle or equipment at no cost to the consumer.
NHTSA releases its most recent list of recalls each Monday.
It should be noted that RV recalls are related to vehicle safety and not product quality. NHTSA has no interest in an air conditioner failing to cool or slide out failing to extend or retract—unless they can be directly attributed to product safety.
NHTSA announced 14 recall notices during August 2021. These recalls involved 9 recreational vehicle manufacturers—Newmar (4 recalls), Forest River (3 recalls), Heartland (1 recall), Eclipse (1 recall), Newell (1 recall), Airstream (1 recall), Entegra (1 recall), Tiffin (1 recall), and Grand Design (1 recall).
Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Kountry Star and 2021 Ventana motorhomes. The tie rod clamps may be loose, which could result in loose tie rod ends that could break or detach.
Dealers will replace the tie rod clamp bolts and nuts, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 17, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is FL-888.
Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2019-2021 Bay Star, Ventana, New Aire, 2019-2020 Canyon Star, Bay Star Sport, Essex, King Aire, London Aire, Mountain Aire, 2018-2021 Dutch Star, 2020 Kountry Star, and 2019 Ventana LE recreational vehicles. The adhesive that bonds the vented portion of the window may fail.
Dealers will inspect the windows, and replace the vent if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 25, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is 21E 047.
Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Dutch Star, New Aire, and Ventana motorhomes equipped with Cummins L9 diesel engines. A fuel leak may occur from the fuel hose between the fuel pump and the remote fuel filter head.
Cummins will replace the fuel hoses, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on October 3, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar’s customer service at 1-800-731-8300. Newmar’s number for this recall is Cummins 21E-063.
Newmar Corporation (Newmar) is recalling certain 2021-2022 Dutch Star, New Aire, and Ventana vehicles equipped with Cummins L9 diesel engines. A fuel leak may occur from the fuel hose between the fuel pump and the remote fuel filter head.
Cummins will replace the fuel hoses, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on October 16, 2021. Owners may contact Newmar’s customer service at 1-800-731-8300 or Cummins’ customer service at 1-800-286-6467. Newmar’s number for this recall is DTNA #21V556/FL-897.
Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2021 Prime Time Tracer TRT22RBS recreational trailers. The tail light is located too close to the water heater exhaust, which may cause the tail light to become distorted and fail.
Dealers will install a new water heater, and replace the tail light if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 6, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1574-862-1025. Forest River’s number for this recall is 51-1389.
Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2019-2021 Salem, Wildwood, and 2020-2021 Stealth EVO travel trailers. The freshwater tank may not be properly secured to the vehicle’s frame.
Dealers will properly secure the holding tank, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 19, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-503-831-5410. Forest River’s number for this recall is 22-1400.
Forest River, Inc. (Forest River) is recalling certain 2017-2018 Starcraft Allstar XL transit buses equipped with Cummins B6.7 diesel engines. The electric fuel heater within the fuel module may overheat, causing plastic in the fuel heater to melt and potentially catch fire. It may also lead to engine stalling.
The remedy is still under development. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 19, 2021. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 1-800-348-7440. Forest River’s number for this recall is 05-1401.
Heartland Recreational Vehicles, LLC (Heartland) is recalling certain 2021 North Trail and Mallard recreational trailers. The refrigerator roof vents were not routed properly during production.
Dealers will inspect the roof vent, and repair the vent sleeve connection if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 16, 2021. Owners may contact Heartland customer service at 1-877-262-8032.
Eclipse Recreational Vehicles, Inc. (Eclipse) is recalling certain 2020-2021 Attitude, Stellar, and Iconic trailers equipped with Dometic S31, R731, and R2131 3-burner cooking stoves. The saddle valve securing bolt may be overtightened, possibly damaging the o-ring seal and causing a continuous gas leak.
Dometic service centers will install a remedy kit of gaskets, washers, thread locker bolts, and two round orange labels, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a schedule for recall notification. Owners may contact Eclipse customer service at 1-269-342-3184.
Newell Coach Corp. (Newell) is recalling certain 2008-2022 P50 vehicles. The adhesive that bonds the vented portion of the window may fail.
Newell will inspect the windows, and replace the vent if necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed in July 2021. Owners may contact Newell’s customer service at 1-888-363-9355.
Airstream, Inc. (Airstream) is recalling certain 2022 Interstate 24X recreational vehicles. The inverters may have been improperly wired with incorrectly sized wires and circuit breakers.
Dealers will install additional wiring and circuit breakers, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a schedule for recall notification. Owners may contact Airstream customer service at 1-877-596-6505 or 1-937-596-6111 ext. 7401 or 7411.
Entegra Coach (Entegra) is recalling certain 2018-2022 Anthem, Aspire, Insignia, and Reatta XL Class A vehicles. The sealing washer may not seat correctly in the pilot boreholes, allowing the high-pressure fuel rail assembly to leak.
Entegra will work with Spartan and Cummins to inspect the rail threads and fuel lines and replace the rail as necessary, free of charge. Cummins began to notify owners on July 30, 2021. Owners may contact Entegra Coach customer service at 1-800-517-9137.
Tiffin Motorhomes, Inc. (Tiffin) is recalling certain 2017-2022 Wayfarer motorhomes. Continuous stress on the frame rail hitch extensions may cause them to fail.
The remedy is still under development. Owner notification letters are expected to be mail October 4, 2021. Owners may contact Tiffin customer service at 1-256-356-8661. Tiffin’s number for this recall is WAY-101.
Grand Design RV, LLC (Grand Design) is recalling certain 2021 Imagine recreational trailers equipped with Dexter D30 axles. The axles may have been assembled with incorrect inner bearings.
Dealers will inspect the axles for incorrect bearings and replace the bearings as necessary, free of charge. Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on September 13, 2021. Owners may contact Grand Design customer service at 1-574-825-9679. Grand Design’s number for this recall is 910024.