Most Beautiful Towns in Arizona

From former mining town gems, to desert beauties and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in Arizona

Located in the Southwest, Arizona is steeped in history and beautifully diverse landscapes found throughout the state in the form of historical, scenic towns that truly impress. With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful towns in Arizona.

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine, becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.

Globe

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo, along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques, while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Page

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat power boat, or kayak.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian is well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round

Julian is a year-round getaway for the day, a weekend, or longer. Julian is also well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round.

Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall, when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit to Julian, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. They’re all so good I’ve been unable to identify a favorite.

Julian Pie Company

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using apples from their own apple tree farm (which boasts over 17,000 apple trees), Julian Pie Company crafts apple pies with moist centers and flaky or crumb crusts.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company became a reality for Liz Smothers in September of 1986. It all started when she and a neighbor began peeling apples for a local pie shop where she was soon employed to bake and sell pies. Tim, her son worked after school rolling dough.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recognizing her expertise, two other pie shops hired her to bake for them. While Liz enjoyed the activity and baking for the pie shops, she had a desire to be creative on her own and not merely bake someone else’s pie. With the assistance of a friend and emphasis on quality control and clean, neat surroundings, the Julian Pie Company began.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a growing demand for pies in local markets, the need to expand the production resulted in the opening of the Santa Ysabel facility in 1992. They now deliver pies to San Diego and Riverside counties as well as ship pies throughout the U.S.

Julian Pie Company  is located at 2225 Main Street in Julian and 21976 Highway 79 in Santa Ysabel; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Mom’s Pie House

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. All the pies at Mom’s are baked fresh. The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb, which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through the front window, watch Mom’s bakers prepare pies and other baked goods. Steaming soups and sandwiches are served on freshly baked whole-wheat buns.

Mom’s Pie House is located at 2119 Main Street in Julian; open Sunday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Julian Café and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken, followed by a slice of pie. Or, just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery also serves up other variations including apple crumb, apple pastry, and apple boysenberry pies—all available year-round.

Julian Café and Bakery is located at 2112 Main Street in Julian; open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday, 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Apple Alley Bakery is located at 2122 Main Street in Julian; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

A Quirky Gambling Town

How Vegas used to be

Here’s the craziest thing about Laughlin, Nevada: It didn’t even exist 55 years ago. In 1964, pilot Don Laughlin was cashing in as the owner of the 101 Club in North Las Vegas and, while flying his plane over the Colorado River, saw a world of potential in a strip of Nevada land across the river from Arizona’s Bullhead City. At the time, the area was home to less than a thousand people. He took a big risk invested it into an old boarded-up eight-room motel. From there, success took over.

Laughlin with Bullhead City across the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That motel added casino games and eventually evolved into the Riverside Resort with two massive towers. The town itself—about a 90-minute drive from Las Vegas—became official when postal services were established. (You can’t have a post office without having a town name) The postmaster at the time was of Irish heritage and liked the name Laughlin, so all the stars seemed to align.

Laughlin along the Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Don was just getting started. Over the years, his civic projects would include an airport expansion, flood control work, and the opening of a ranch that provided beef to Laughlin’s restaurants. He even financed a bridge that crossed the water between Nevada and Arizona—right next to the Riverside Resort, of course. 

Laughlin and the bridge across the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In case you’re wondering, Don Laughlin is still going strong at 88 years and living in a penthouse at the top of his resort. The town that shares his name is now home to nine casino hotels, 10 if you include the Avi Resort about 15 miles south on Native American land. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laughlin’s population is approximately 10,000 while Bullhead City and its unincorporated area boast a population of about 42,000 permanent residents. An estimated 14,000 Nevada and Arizona residents currently work in Laughlin’s hotels and casinos. Multi-million dollar Laughlin housing developments have rushed into construction to keep pace with the business boom.

Looking across the Colorado River from the Laughlin Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stretch your legs while exploring Laughlin on foot at the Riverwalk. Well maintained and offering fantastic views of the city and the Colorado River, the Laughlin Riverwalk is a great way to get from one casino to the other while soaking up sights like Don Laughlin’s Riverside to the boats sailing by.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try walking along the Riverwalk in the evening to enjoy the live bands that play on various sections of the walkway. If you’re not sure about what you want to do taking a stroll along this stretch of pathway is a great way to see what the city has to offer on any given day as well.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The coolest way to get around town is by water taxi. These small boats piloted by certified captains zip around on the river from one property to another. Most casinos have their own dock and if you stand around on one, a water taxi will show up fairly quick. A single ride is $5, although wristband deals are available for unlimited rides.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The kitschy casino hotels might be the best part. Laughlin’s signature casino, Riverside Resort, feels pretty old-school and is almost always going through renovations. A rooftop pool deck has been updated with cabanas and a modern circular bar. The classic car collection in the lobby adds to the 1960s ambiance.  

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those drawn to the spirit of the Old West, New Pioneer has a Tombstone-like facade and a gift shop full of kitsch items like goat’s milk soap and cowboy hats. It also has River Rick—a double of Vegas Vic, the iconic neon smoking cowboy that once stood outside the original Pioneer Club in Vegas.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aquarius is the largest resort with 1,900 rooms and a centralized casino with restaurants around the perimeter.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado Belle looks exactly like a vintage paddlewheel riverboat, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere. The casino floor has a classic old-school style that wouldn’t look out of place in Mississippi or New Orleans. The koi fish in the front moat are a nice touch. 

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated across the Colorado River and up the hill from Laughlin is the small but historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Famed for being a living ghost town, Oatman was once a bustling community of over 10,000 people but has now dwindled down to a population of just over 100 people.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being just a whisper of what it once was, Oatman is still a fantastic place for history buffs to visit thanks to its many historical buildings. There are also fantastic photo opportunities to be had in Oatman as well as exciting shows to catch, like those of the Ghost Rider Gunfighters, who perform gunfight recreations daily.

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase

Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Venture off the beaten path to take in Arizona’s diverse topography

Many of the Grand Canyon State’s most interesting and beautiful roadways unwind after a short detour off the busier roads and Interstate highways. So take the exit ramp to experience four of Arizona’s scenic drives and byways.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Officially Arizona Highway 179, this byway is only 14.5 miles long. But you could spend a whole day exploring the spectacular red rock formations, shops, galleries, restaurants, and other attractions that line this link between Interstate 17 and Sedona.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get oriented at the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center. Then head to the Village of Oak Creek (about five miles south of Sedona) to pick up picnic supplies on the way to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. These two beloved and much-photographed landmarks are ringed by hiking and biking trails.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing to Sedona, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude’s Chapel of the Holy Cross is a meditative and powerful retreat, with windows framing buttes and rock outcroppings. At the northern end of the drive, stroll around Tlaquepaque, an architecturally authentic Spanish Colonial village that houses galleries, retailers, and restaurants.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road tip: A Red Rock Pass ($5/day) is required for vehicles parked on National Forest land around Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. If you plan to park and explore on foot, pick up a pass and display it on the dash of your RV or toad.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail Historic Road

On this winding 41.5-mile road, just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part paved and part well-graded gravel, Arizona Highway 88 was an old stagecoach route that shuttled in supplies for Roosevelt Dam’s construction in the early 1900s. It begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. You’ll pass Canyon Lake, where you can cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road tip: Due to its narrow width and tight turns, this route is not recommended for larger vehicles including RVs.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita to Patagonia

Starting near Vail on Interstate 10, pick up this 52-mile drive south on State Route 83 through the Santa Cruz River Basin of southeastern Arizona.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Sonoita, visit the nearby wineries of Arizona’s burgeoning wine country. Then connect back with State Route 82 heading south and watch the landscape morph from rolling grasslands to cottonwood stands and juniper forests.

Bird watching at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Patagonia, wander the town’s charming coffee shops and retailers. Or bring your binoculars to spot wildlife at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, a popular birding spot that’s home to more than 300 species of birds. Continue on to Patagonia Lake State Park where visitors hike, swim, fish, and camp while taking in the lush landscape of the surrounding hills.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kingman to Oatman (Route 66)

A visit to the old powerhouse which has been converted to a Route 66 Museum and visitor’s center is a must when in Kingman. The Powerhouse Building is also home to Arizona’s Route 66 Association.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Kingman, take the 28-mile scenic drive through the Black Mountains to Oatman. Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains. Rising above town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A shadow of its former self this living ghost town offers a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities, costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping carrots sold by the local shop owners.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Discovering a Hidden Gem: Parker Canyon Lake

Stopped by to hike and take photos and found a hidden gem

We’re always on the lookout for new adventures and hidden gems, places that are interesting but few people know about, even locals.

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

It was somewhat by chance that we discovered Parker Canyon Lake. While touring Coronado National Memorial on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona, we drove a winding mountain road that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) close to the western edge of the memorial. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado Pass looking southeast to the San Pedro Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Arizona’s most breathtaking overlooks, the pass offers sweeping views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast (see above) and the San Raphael Valley to the west (see below) . Interpretive signs highlight the major landscape features looking east and west. On clear days, Baboquivari Peak, at an elevation of 7,720 feet, on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, can be seen 80 miles to the west beyond the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains.

Coronado Pass looking west to the San Raphael Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass we continued west along the unpaved and often rough forestry road that leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles).

Traveling west from Coronado National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This medium-sized 132 acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. Locals say the temperature in the area, which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level, generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species, including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake, as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle and worms, or rent a boat.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake has a number of side canyons, inlets, and coves that stretch back from the main body of the lake, creating a surprising amount of shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Shoreline Trail is a fairly level dirt pathway that, for the most part, stays within a few yards of the water. There are a couple of places, however, where the route climbs rather steeply over high rocky bluffs and the trail becomes a slightly exposed, narrow passage 50 or 60 feet above the lake’s surface.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Lakeshore Trail offers excellent vantage points from which to enjoy the ducks and other waterfowl that are invariably bobbing on the lake’s clear waters. Some of those points even have benches and interpretive signs. Bald eagles, herons, and osprey are regularly sighted in this area, as are spring warblers and hummingbirds in season.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the terrestrial side, Coues whitetail deer can be seen browsing among the oaks and grasses that surround the lake and in the two campgrounds near its shores. Coatimundi, javelina, and roadrunners, three animals that are about as southwestern as you can get, make occasional appearances as well.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The easiest place to start this hike is from the parking area near the store and boat launch on the southeast shore of the lake; go counterclockwise. (However, if you just want to go to the dam and back, it’s shorter to go clockwise.) The first 300 yards is a paved, shoreline sidewalk that passes a couple of rest benches—fine places to sit and enjoy the serenity of the area.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the trail bends west, then north, around the Lakeview Campground area, you’re almost directly across from the dam. Allow more than 2 hours for the fairly easy 4.5-mile loop around the lake. 

Leaving Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Parker Canyon Lake the road continues on to Sonoita (30 miles) or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Worth Pondering…

Exploring the roads less traveled…America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

Unusual Travel Photography Tips

Slightly unusual tips for travel photography you don’t usually hear

You may have seen countless posts about travel photography tips online. Most of them touch on more or less the same stuff, which is fairly obvious or pretty commonplace.

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

In this post I’ll discuss travel photography tips that I would consider fairly unusual. They aren’t something you commonly hear and they’re focused on RV travel. The tips come from years of my own experiences combining photography with the RV lifestyle.

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

I try to create photos that are unique to the place but different from the masses of images out there in cyberspace and elsewhere. I’d say that the knowledge I’ve accumulated from years of RV travel has helped. And, these tips may help you too.

The main “event” is often not the main thing photographically

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

The main event can be a festival, an RV rally, a bird sanctuary, a special event, even a market day. Sometimes these main events are amazing, but other times shooting “around” them and without the crowds makes for much more interesting and engaging photos. The above photo is just one example.

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

It was taken at 6 a.m.—before the major events of the annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge started. Just the sunrise, the sandhill cranes as they prepare for flight and a few avid photographers that brave an early morning November chill.

There won’t be a next time

Rocky Mountain sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m sure I’m not the only one who says “That’s a great scene, but I’m just too tired, or I’m in a hurry. I’ll return later when there’s improved quality of light or come back another day.” There’s rarely a next time—and if there is, conditions have changed.

Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I photographed this Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park one afternoon while traveling on the Yellowhead Highway to points west. I saw the goats while driving our motorhome—a rare sighting as these sure-footed beasts are more commonly seen at precipitous heights in alpine regions. I took advantage of the opportunity right there and then. I’ve driven this route dozens of times over the years and have seen wapiti (elk) and Rocky Mountain sheep without another sighting of goats.

Try a new perspective

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This tip involves putting yourself into interesting positions. Sometimes eye level is boring and switching things up can help dramatically—get high, get low, or get sideways. 

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try actually lying on the ground and taking some photos. The world looks really different from down there and your photos will be completely different too. Really intrigued by an insect pollinating a wildflower? Get down on the ground and shoot from their level as I did in the above photo of Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway near Coolidge, Arizona.

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Going high and low is a fun way to photograph any scene. Yes, you may get some strange looks but who cares—you’re the one with the memorable photo.

Aim to have the action on your doorstep

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By action, I mean whatever you came to photograph. Desert flora and fauna? Early morning or late day light? National or state park? Whatever that is, you want to be close to it—and you can be by careful and insightful choice of campgrounds or RV resort.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The photo I’ve included is of early morning light at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona. Camping in the park enabled me to shoot early every morning when the place was buzzing with energy.

When the weather is bad, run for the camera

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

When we think RV travel photography we anticipate sunny blue skies and dread dark, cloudy skies and grey, wet scenes. An unanticipated snowfall along the road or at your camping site can provide some great photo opportunities which aren’t your typical post card shots. The above photo at Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada is an example.

Rainbow over Irwins RV Park in Valemount, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be prepared regardless of the weather.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want.

—Ken Rockwell

Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground juts from the mouth of Mobile Bay into the Gulf of Mexico

Near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island, provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. Graced with all the necessities, Dauphin Island allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of more developed areas.

Causeway and bridge to Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in 1699 the French explorer Le Moyne d’Iberville landed on the island and started a settlement called Massacre Island, which was later more tastefully renamed Port Dauphine. It served briefly as the capital of the French Louisiana Territory in the early 1700s. During the War of 1812, American forces captured it. The historic Fort Gaines, on the eastern end of the island, was built to protect Mobile Bay.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, head over to nearby Fort Gaines, with its 22-foot-tall exterior brick walls and storied military heritage that spans 1821 to 1946. The fort is most highly recognized for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, a famed Civil War naval conflict.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was during this three-week battle that Union rear admiral David Farragut roared the command, “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” (It’s interesting to note that the word “torpedoes” in this case referred to hidden enemy mines and not submarine weapons.)

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your self-guided tour by picking up a map at the gift shop. The comprehensive guide includes 26 points of interest along with facts about the fort’s tunnels, bastions, blacksmith shop, and disappearing gun mounts, among dozens of other features.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can examine the huge anchor of Farragut’s flagship, gaze toward Sand Island lighthouse from atop the southeast bastion, or browse the museum. Fort Gaines numbers among the best-preserved 19th-century brick seacoast fortifications in the East.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located nearby, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a quick sampling of the sanctuary’s flora and fauna, you can hike the 0.6-mile interpretive loop trail that winds through the maritime forest where the dominant plants are loblolly and slash pines, live oak, southern magnolia, and Tupelo gum. It leads by slightly elevated boardwalk from the parking lot to Gaillard Lake. The wharf overlooking the lake is a favorite site for observing egrets, herons, blue-winged teals, pond turtles, and pig frogs.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other trails include the 0.3-mile Dune Edge Trail, 0.8-mile Swamp Overlook Trail, 1.7-mile Upper Woodlands Trail; a 0.4-mile trail leads to Dauphin Island Campground and 0.5-mile trail leads to Fort Gaines.

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab is a public aquarium and exhibit facility that allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico. Its features include a large exhibit hall, featuring aquariums swimming with local water life, and a living marsh boardwalk along the bay.

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors begin their self-guided tour by watching a video titled “A World of Water”. It explains water’s journey from the delta through the 35-mile-long estuary to the Gulf. The estuary is so abundant that fishery scientists labeled the north-central Gulf of Mexico the “fertile crescent.”

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlights in the 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall include live snakes, baby alligators, and aquariums containing sharks and other exotic sea creatures. At a touching table, you can stroke the spiny shell of a horseshoe crab, a prehistoric species more closely related to scorpions than to crabs. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

4 Ecosystems Meet at Coronado National Memorial

The park was established to commemorate the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and the lasting legacies of the first interaction between American Indians and Europeans in the American Southwest and northwest Mexico

Take Montezuma Canyon Road to the scenic Montezuma Pass Overlook where you can reflect of the impact of the European arrival in this region.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four major ecosystems meet in Southeastern Arizona: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Madre. This is a beautiful natural area with an unlimited supply of interesting sights to visit.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro River valley attracts hikers and birders because of the variety of species that live there. Bisbee is a friendly, funky place to wander and explore. Tombstone trades on a Wild West image. And there are the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that gather each winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Arizona is an incredible blend of sky mountains and grasslands and desert, hot and cold, and Coronado National Memorial is a great place to learn about it. Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the significance of Coronado’s expedition and the resulting cultural influences of 16th century Spanish colonial exploration in the Americas.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the early 1500s, Spain established a rich colonial empire in the New World. From Mexico to Peru, gold poured into her treasury and new lands were opened for settlement. The northern frontier lay only a few hundred miles north of Mexico City; and beyond that was a land unknown. Tales of unimaginable riches in this land had fired the Spanish imagination ever since Spain’s discovery of the “New World”.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 6, 1540, the Spanish government commissioned Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (1510-1554) to command an expedition to find the rumored seven “large cities, with streets lined with goldsmith shops, houses of many stories, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise!”

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have no way of knowing Coronado’s exact route, but historians believe he followed the San Pedro River when he passed through southeastern Arizona in 1540 with about 2,000 men, an army of 336 Spanish soldiers, and hundreds of Mexican-Indian allies. The journey was fueled by more than 1,500 stock animals and blind ambition.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was a fool’s errand. Coronado died in relative obscurity, his mission a failure. But as we look back his journey seems remarkable, if only because it was so long. He traveled from Mexico City to what is now Kansas on horseback, and was one of the first Europeans to see this part of the country.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The location was chosen for the panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, the route believed to have been taken by Coronado. The creation of the Memorial was not to protect any tangible artifacts related to the expedition, but rather to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect upon the impact the Coronado Expedition had in shaping the history, culture, and environment of the southwestern United States and its ties to Mexico and Spain.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated in oak woodlands on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains, the 4,750-acre park offers a visitors center, Coronado Cave, hiking trails, and a scenic drive that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) with breathtaking views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast and the San Raphael Valley to the west. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short trail leads to the top of Coronado Peak (6,864 feet) with even better views, including south to distant mountains in Mexico. The panoramic view is breathtaking.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass the unpaved and often rough forestry road leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles) and on to Patagonia or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters,
the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

Across the Lone Star State, these small towns brim with new energy and welcome retreat from the city

There was a time when most Texans lived over yonder. But over the past century, the percentage of Texans living in rural areas versus urban areas flipped. Today, 85 percent live in cities while only 15 percent live in the country according to the Texas Demographic Center. It’s an understandable trend. With booming job markets, diverse cultural offerings, and fast-paced living, Texas’ major cities project a magnetism that leads to ever-expanding urbanization.

Here we chronicle four such towns that are thriving—places to visit now for both escape and discovery.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton

Pop. 10,759

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The quaint fishing village of Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and Winter Texan roost for years. The town’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey two years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and festivals feels fresh again.

Fulton Mansion Historic State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 1,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

Pop. 4,673

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.

Kaloches at Weikel’s Bakery…um, delicious!! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis

Pop. 1,201

Fort Davis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis started as a military post on the turbulent Texas frontier, but nowadays you’ll find a decidedly laid-back town. Some streets remain unpaved, cell phones tend to fall silent, and folks still wave to each other on the street.

McDonald Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a quiet little town that doesn’t have a lot of tourist infrastructure. It has the essentials, though, and attractions such as the recently made-over Indian Lodge and the nearby McDonald Observatory, which last year overhauled the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and George T. Abell Gallery. Be sure to visit Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bonus: 5,050 feet of elevation makes Fort Davis the highest town in Texas and, on summer nights, one of the coolest.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

Pop. 2,012

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco calls itself the “Lavender Capital of Texas” as home of Hill Country Lavender farm and the annual Lavender Festival in June, complete with tours of lavender crops, growing tips, and music. If swimming or fishing’s your thing, head to Blanco State Park, where you can hook up your RV or pitch a tent and stretch your legs along the Blanco River.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Real Ale Brewing Company sip an unfiltered beer and toss washers. Each spring the brewery hosts the popular Real Ale Ride with Hill Country routes ranging from 15 to 80 miles and beer at the finish line.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Las Cruces: Rugged Beauty, Endless Sunshine, History & More

Outdoor adventure. Unique culinary experiences. Vibrant culture. Rich history.

Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality.

La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Centuries ago, Spanish explorers brought their faith, culture, language, and way of life to this land. Today, over four hundred years later, the past is a great treasure that can be found in everything from traditional architecture to the spicy cuisine and unique art.

Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals. There is national park and two national monuments less than an hour’s drive: White Sands National Park, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. All three offer outdoor recreation opportunities from a simple hike to sand dune surfing and backcountry camping.

White Sands Missile Range Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Military buffs will enjoy touring the White Sands Missile Range Museum, located about 25 miles northeast of Las Cruces. Featuring more than 50 different missiles and rockets tested at the top secret facility over the years, the museum is open Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).

Main Street Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can experience the city’s culture, heritage, and hospitality through events such as the annual Las Cruces Country Music Festival which is a multi-day celebration of country music, or Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall.

Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Branigan Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area is also home to the Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Art Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. All are part of the City of Las Cruces museum system and are free to the public.

Museum of Nature & Science © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other area museums include the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum which offers a glimpse into the 3,000-year-old agricultural history, heritage, and science of New Mexico. The New Mexico State University Museum is home to the largest collection of Mexican retablos in the United States.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most authentic Mexican food north of the border can be found in Las Cruces. Visitors can explore the Salsa Trail or the Green Chile Walk of Flame and sample authentic as well as unique cuisine only found here. The Salsa Trail included 26 restaurants whose salsa was recommend by locals and the Walk of Flame features 28 stops where explorers can try everything from a green chile sundae, to green chile wontons, to green chile sushi and margaritas. The Walk even includes a stop at the Double Eagle restaurant for a bite of the world’s largest green chile cheeseburger.

Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the land fill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest area along Interstate 10, just west of the city.

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

Signs around the sculpture warn of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

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

Don’t just take our word for how great Las Cruces is. Las Cruces has received several awards including rankings by Money Magazine, Forbes, AARP, Sunset, and many others, as one of the best places to visit.

Haucienda RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find numerous RV parks and campgrounds in the area including a nearby state park and a BLM campground. We have stayed at Hacienda RV Resort and Sunny Acres RV Park, both excellent parks.

Sunny Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located off I-10 near Mesilla, Hacienda offers first-class accommodations including fast high-speed Internet and paved interior roads. Situated near downtown Las Cruces, Sunny Acres caters to adults although children are also welcome as visitors.

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence