Flash Bucket List of Cool End-of-Summer Activities

What’s still left on your end-of-summer bucket list?

Memorial Day is but a faint memory. Independence Day came and went. Now, with Labor Day looming, you’re wondering where the heck summer went—exactly. But don’t stop yet. You can curl up in a blanket on the couch in January and February, promise—unless, you’re a snowbird basking in the sunshine and warm temperatures of a Sunbelt state.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to fret, it’s not too late for a last-hurrah to close the summer out right.

There is no shortage of must-see destinations throughout the U.S., and late summer is an opportunity to witness America’s beauty at its best.

But where to go? A flash bucket list of Great American Summer activities follow. So hop in the RV for one final road trip and head to the one nearest you, or get inspired to recreate some of this summer magic in a state park or local recreation area near your own fair city. Either way, you’ve got a few final weeks of heat and sun to make this summer one for the books. Don’t waste it.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This austere landscape is home to a surprisingly dense population of wildlife. Bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, wild horses, and bighorn sheep inhabit the park, as do numerous smaller mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And perhaps best of all is the shortage of human beings. This relatively isolated park is hardly ever crowded (753,880 visitors in 2016), so you can experience the gorgeous loneliness of the badlands much the way Roosevelt did more than a hundred years ago.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, nearly 1,300 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, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Adairsville, Georgia

Adairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to this Norman Rockwell kind of town is a must for anyone who loves history, antiquing, and good food.

Adairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adairsville, nestled in the Oothcalooga Valley, is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 130 homes and businesses are designated as historic properties. Adairsville still has its 1847 frame depot and many historic homes and old business blocks. The depot displays over 100 years of history.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga lies in a valley in southeastern Tennessee between the Appalachian and the Cumberland mountains. Chattanooga sits on both banks of the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend and is bordered by Signal Mountain on the north and Lookout Mountain to the south which shelters the city from major weather systems.

Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee’s fourth largest city with a population of 175,000, Chattanooga has a downtown elevation of 680 feet; Lookout Mountain is 2,388 feet in height. The city is a great family destination with lots of things to do and see.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks National Monument looks down into a majestic geologic amphitheater, a three-mile long cirque of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is known for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin. Take the scenic drive, wander among timeless bristlecone pines, ponder crystal-clear night skies, experience the richness of a subalpine forest.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects these sites, some of the most notable and best preserved in the U.S.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 4,000 archaeological sites have been preserved, including hundreds of homes and villages that date back to the 12th century.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries

When visitors come to Moab they usually search out the famous arches of Arches National Park, the world-renowned mountain biking, or the amazing river rafting. Canyonlands National Park seems to be an afterthought to many people. “Oh, there’s another national park here? Cool, let’s drive out there for a couple of hours to check it out.” 

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located to the west of the town of Moab and a short distance from Arches, Canyonlands National Park is wild and wonderful and diverse in its landscapes and travel opportunities. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing, photography, and adventure.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires stretching across 527 square miles. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers. Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West’s most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Canyonlands, opportunities abound for day hiking and backpacking. Mountain bikers can tackle challenging dirt roads that lead through the heart of the park. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts. In addition, this area is, in general, set up and managed for hikers with lots of loop trails and a good selection of easy or moderate hiking options as well as backpacking opportunities. Most trails have sections of slickrock, so get used to following cairns.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands National Park is also a great place to view incredible scenery from the paved roads that lead to awe-inspiring viewpoints. The well-marked turnoff for the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is on the left at Highway 313, 6 miles north of the Arches turnoff on U.S. 191 north of Moab. A few miles along Highway 313, note on the right Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, looking like their namesake Civil War ships.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Eventually you come to a prominent fork: left it is 4 miles to Dead Horse State Park, straight is 4.5 miles to Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Dead Horse Point is, like Island in the Sky, an isolated promontory of stone jutting out over the deep gorge of the Colorado River. The overlook provides some of the most famous views in the region, especially of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. It is well worth a side trip.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park has about 10 miles of paved roads. The longest branch of the paved road leads to Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Along the way are several stops at man-made or geological points of interest. You will drive in on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway; make sure you stop at Newspaper Rock before you get to Canyonlands. It is one of the better roadside rock-art viewing sites in the Southwest. A 50-foot-high sandstone face is covered with a variety of fine petroglyphs from several periods.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For those staying overnight, Canyonlands offers some of the most peaceful campgrounds you will ever find.

Camping in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to enjoy a fun family vacation and share an intimate experience with the landscape. Plus you’ll be out there in the early morning and late evening when the light is amazing, especially for photography enthusiasts.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Squaw Flat Campground is located 3 miles west of the Needles entrance station. The campground here has 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for $15 per night. The campground has electrical hookups, drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, ADA sites, and flush and vault toilets.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The smaller Willow Flat Campground is located about 9 miles southwest of the Island in the Sky entrance station. Willow Flat has no water, so come prepared. There are 12 basic sites (first-come, first-served, $10 per night) with fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, and vault toilets. Junipers and piñon pines decorate this small campground, which is a good place from which to explore the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. A number of trails lead to striking vistas, arches, and other geologic wonders.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is also a campground at Dead Horse Point State Park, reached by turning east of UT 313 before you enter Canyonlands northern entrance. The campground here has electrical hookups and water, and, unlike the first-come-first-served national park campgrounds, you can use your credit card to reserve a site.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Do yourself a favor and don’t hurry through the park. Instead, take your time and let the nature of Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

More Under-the-radar Gems to Discover

Don’t miss these eight underrated travel spots

From sleepy small towns with loads of culture and character to natural wonders, be sure to check out these secret travel spots before they blow up. And be sure to catch up on our under-the-radar gems from an earlier post.

Mississippi: Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis, which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. The arts, sense of community, unique dining opportunities, local downtown shops, beautiful sprawling beaches, and stunning bay views all make for a highly desirable destination, which is reflected in the decision to include Bay St. Louis in this list of under-the-radar gems to discover.

Alberta: Writing-on-Stone

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For color—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Georgia: Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors. The stories of the people weave a captivating tale of wealth, poverty, privilege, and sacrifice.

British Columbia: Okanagan Wine Country

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where can you drink great wines amid breathtaking natural beauty without blowing out a couple of credit cards (think Napa)? Easy: go to Canada to the Okanagan wine region in British Columbia. It’s possibly the most scenic wine region in North America, and a place where RVers and other normal people can afford to taste wine. Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver and Osoyoos. Together they boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.

New Hampshire: Castle in the Clouds

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

New Mexico: Mesilla

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Kentucky: My Old Kentucky Home State Park

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park honors the home that was the symbol of Stephen Foster’s most endearing song, the stately mansion on the Rowan Estate known as Federal Hill. Tour the estate and admire the beautiful grounds from the 39-site campground near Bardstown.

Indiana: Shipshewana

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Shipshewana area is celebrated for being home to the third largest Amish community in the United States, for having the Midwest’s largest flea market, and for its reputation of hand-crafted wares. Enjoy buggy rides, visit an Amish working dairy farm, and experience delicious Amish cooking in beautiful Northern Indiana-Amish/Mennonite Country.

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, experience the freedom of the open road, and discover under-the-radar hidden gems.

Gettysburg National Military Park: A New Birth of Freedom

Gettysburg National Military Park offers a variety of experiences including opportunities to explore the battlefield

The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s largest battle. It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line. It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The cemetery contains more than 7,000 interments including over 3,500 from the Civil War. 

The National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center is the place to begin your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. Here visitors will find information on how to visit the park and what to see around Gettysburg.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, with 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, features relics of the Battle of Gettysburg and personalities who served in the Civil War, inter-active exhibits, and multi-media presentations that cover the conflict from beginning to end as well as describe the Battle of Gettysburg and its terrible aftermath.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The center also hosts the film, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by award winning actor Morgan Freeman and the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts the final fury of Gettysburg―”Pickett’s Charge”.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center is owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation in cooperation with the National Park Service. Entry to the center is free. There is a fee for the film experience, cyclorama program, and access to the museum exhibit hall. The center hosts a massive book and gift store operated by Events Network as well as a “Soldier’s Rest” saloon that offers a full menu throughout the day.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Battlefield tours on your own, on a bus, or with a Licensed Battlefield Guide can be arranged at the Center.

The Soldier’s National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery), the final resting place of the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address, is also located in the park and is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Battle of Gettysburg

Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the “Army of Northern Virginia”, led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, bringing the war directly into northern territory.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Union “Army of the Potomac”, commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade, met the Confederate invasion near the Pennsylvania crossroads town of Gettysburg, and what began as a chance encounter quickly turned into a desperate, ferocious battle. Despite initial Confederate successes, the battle turned against Lee on July 3rd, and with few options remaining, he ordered his army to return to Virginia.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain―that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

―Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Here are 10 state parks you may not know about—but should

While national parks are touted as the crown jewels of America, it is also time to recognize and celebrate America’s less crowded but just as fulfilling state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Texas, there is Galveston Island State Park with numerous activities on land and water. In Arizona, check out Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve located near Sedona. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina offers a lighthouse, swimming, birding, fishing, and camping.

Make plans now to visit these spectacular state parks.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Come to the island to stroll the beach, splash in the waves, fish, or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax.

Meaher State Park, Alabama

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Alligators, turtles, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers make their homes in this refuge.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with numerous opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hike the canyon rim trails above the Colorado River or mountain bike over 16 miles of high desert terrain on the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. Go geocaching, stop by the visitor center to learn about the Native American history of the region, and linger as the sun sets to enjoy the spectacular star show at this International Dark Sky Park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

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

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour.

Worth Pondering…
To travel is to live.

—Hans Christian Andersen

Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges

Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef’s sense of expansiveness, of broad, sweeping vistas, of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape or of limitless sky and desert rock.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Bryce and Zion are like enveloped fantasy lands of colored stone and soaring cliffs, the less-visited Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park is an expressive world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion in a less crowded park that offers a more relaxing experience than either of those more-traveled Utah attractions.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface with colorful canyons, tortured desert, and numerous bridges and arches (“waterpocket” refers to the potholes that dot the sandstone and fill with rainwater). The park’s name combines the popular term for an uplifted landmass, “reef,” with a visual resemblance of the park’s many white Navajo Sandstone domes to that of the nation’s Capitol Building.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some parks you really need to get away from the road to find the best scenery, but in Capitol Reef there is a plentitude of beauty that can be accessed by vehicle. Views in Capitol Reef are considerably more “open” than those in Zion, which is rather confined by the narrow canyons.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A logical place to start is the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, a 25-mile round trip paved road that is lined with pullouts that allow you to stop and take it all in. One highly recommended stop is the Panorama Point/ Goosenecks view area on the park’s west end.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From this scenic drive several short side drives on well-maintained dirt/gravel roads can be negotiated in virtually any vehicle. The first of these, Grand Wash, is sort of like taking a Disneyland ride in your own car. The hike through the Narrows, from the trailhead at the end of the Grand Wash drive is recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take the entire 2.5-mile walk which ends at Highway 24, or just go about 0.25 mile to a cutback trail (somewhat steep) on the left to visit Cassidy Arch, where Butch is said to have hung out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You should definitely drive out to the end of the unpaved but well-maintained 2.2-mile Capitol Gorge spur, a few miles farther along the scenic drive. It is hard to imagine a more unusual driving experience: The gorge ends in a narrow channel carved between sheer cliffs.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a visit to Capitol Reef’s rocky wilderness, the green groves and fruit orchards around the intersection of Highway 24 and the park scenic drive are a cool and welcome sight. Just after the turn of the century, the Mormon community of Fruita, nestled in the shaded canyon formed by the Fremont River, was a lively, vibrant town of nearly 50. Though most of Fruita’s residents gradually moved away after Capitol Reef’s establishment as a national monument, the fields and orchards remained.

Visitors may even pick small quantities of fruit: cherries in June, apricots in July, pears in August, and apples in September. Look for U-Pick signs and be prepared to pay a small donation for any fruit you take with you. The money, collected on an honor system, goes to maintain the orchards—a very worthy cause.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in the Fruita area check out other historic attractions including the Fruita Schoolhouse, old Blacksmith Shop, the Fremont petroglyphs, and the Gifford Homestead, which in addition to offering a snapshot of pioneer life, bakes the harvest of the season into incredible pies. The one-room schoolhouse built in 1896 remained in use until 1941.

Past the old schoolhouse the petroglyph trail continues for a mile to to Hickman Natural Bridge. This is perhaps one of the best park walks in all of Utah with scenic views and glimpses of Fremont Culture ruins. In this lightly traveled part of the world you will probably have this highly recommended walk mostly to yourself.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Most Scenic Road Trips in America

These drives aren’t just a road to someplace scenic they are jaw-dropping on their own and will have you constantly looking for places to pull over so you can take more photos

These drives aren’t just a road to something beautiful, they are jaw-dropping on their own.

“To everyone in this country, the car represents freedom, mobility, and the control you feel over your destiny/destination,” said Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louise.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the dramatic California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts. We’ve picked the routes with heart-stopping vistas. For example, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, now over 75 years old, winds its way past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty.

So round up the family, prep the RV, and hit the road. In Khouri’s words—go see what America tastes like.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearly 500 miles of blacktop twisting through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks was built for travelers seeking Appalachian overlooks. It’s a panoramic drive for all seasons, with undulating slopes of color in autumn, a bounty of forest canopy in summer, and hot-cider ski resorts in winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: In the mines of the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains, visitors can pan for emeralds, amethyst, rubies, topaz, and even gold at Emerald Village (Milepost 334).

Route 12, Utah

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The red rock majesty of Utah is on triumphant display on State Route 12 winding between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks. The 124-mile strip has funky small towns and very few entry points, so it takes a map and determination to witness the steep sandstone canyons and bluffs of purple sage, and to tackle the narrow cliff-hanging ridgeline road called The Hogback.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The log-and-sandstone Kiva Koffeehouse in Escalante supplies travelers with art, coffee, and views of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.

Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota

Iron Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What seems like a long bike ride is actually one of the most picturesque portions of pavement in the country and it’s surrounded by fun things to do. Officially known as US Route 16A the Iron Mountain Road twists and turns through a portion of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Iron Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the crown-jewel of an Iron Mountain Road trip.

Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 10-mile coastal route packs in historic mansions and spectacular views over Narragansett Bay. The Gilded Age “cottages” of Ocean Drive compete with maritime scenery for jaw-dropping splendor, including opulent homes built for titans of industry, the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans.

The Breakers on Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: War buffs can visit historic Fort Adams which garrisoned soldiers for more than 125 years.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel the Cherohala Skyway and enjoy panoramic vistas as you wind through the Southern Appalachian high country. It winds up and over 5,400 foot mountains for 18 miles in North Carolina and descend another 23 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee. The road crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name “Chero…hala”.Peak colors typically occur during the last two weeks in October.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains is a “must stop” before starting up the Skyway. Stop by for free maps, Skyway driving conditions and local area souvenirs and gifts.

Gold Rush Trail, California

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Gold Rush expended 125 million troy ounces of gold, worth more than $50 billion by today’s standards. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the gold in the Mother Lode is still in the ground. Many of the historic and picturesque towns that developed in the area still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: Hangtown, which has since been renamed Placerville, is where the famous “Hangtown Fry” was invented and is still featured on many local menus. An omelet with cheese, bacon, onions, and oysters, the first Hangtown Fry was whipped up during the height of the Gold Rush when a suddenly successful miner demanded, “the most expensive food you’ve got!”

Worth Pondering…

Nothing says summer travel like a road trip, whether you’re venturing to a nearby favorite spot or setting out in search of distant adventures.

4 Pacific Northwest RV Travel Gems

The Pacific Northwest possesses an abundance of natural wonders. Here are four completely unique places you don’t want to miss.

Owning a recreational vehicle is the greatest way to explore all of the natural beauty, unique architecture, and diverse culture that exists throughout this magnificent world of ours. It’s a freedom unlike anything other, providing you and your family with countless opportunities for learning and growth.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, after several years of traveling, it can be difficult to branch out and identify new roads you’ve yet to discover. That’s why RVing with Rex is posting a series of blog articles—each one focusing on a different region or state. 

In today’s post we’ll focus on four favorite “lesser-known” travel locations in the Pacific Northwest including recommended RV parks. All selected parks have been personally visited.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

Toutle River Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The eruption of Mount St. Helens caused the largest landslide in recorded history, sweeping through the Toutle River Valley and removing 1,306 feet from the top of the volcano.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The powerful lava flow, savage winds, and deadly heat destroyed much of the previous landscape. What the mountain left behind is the history of a violent eruption that shook the surrounding region on the tumultuous day of May 18, 1980.

Where to Stay: Toutle River RV Resort, Castle Rock

Toutle River RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Toutle River RV Resort is a 5-star resort built in 2009. The utility hookups are centrally located with 80-90 foot sites and adequate Wi-Fi. No large trees to obstruct satellite. The only negative is the park is located near train tracks and trains run all day and night. Toutle River RV Resort is located off I-5 at Exit 52, easy-on, easy-off.

La Conner, Washington

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Where to Stay: Mount Vernon RV Park

Mount Vernon RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Full-service RV park with 30/50-amp electric service. 81 spaces including 8 pull-through sites.

Salem, Oregon

Willamette Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the state capital, Salem is steeped in history—from the Capitol building itself to stately homes with storied pasts. Set in the fertile Willamette Valley, Salem is surrounded by world-class wineries as well as countless natural areas.

Willamette Valley Cheese Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to dozens of wine tasting rooms, the Salem area is also home to Willamette Valley Cheese Company. Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. This off the beaten path stop is a great place to sample nearly 30 varieties of handcrafted cheeses and then take some back to your RV.

Where to Stay: Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort

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

New in 2006, Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort is situated about a mile east of I-5 (Exit 258). The name literally means “A Fun Place to Be”. Big rig friendly with fairly wide paved streets, long /pull-through paved sites in the 75-foot range, and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, two sewer connections, and cable TV (69 channels).

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville has been called “One of America’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns” by Frommers. Jacksonville got its start as a gold rush town. Gold was first discovered at Rich Gulch in 1851. 

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 100 structures included in the National Register of Historic Places most of Jacksonville is now a National Historic District. The boom was mostly over in 1884 when the railroad bypassed the town. The shops, boutiques, and restaurants are housed in the commercial buildings and historic home that comprise the historic district.

This quaint, historic gold rush region is the gateway to the Applegate Wine Trail’s 18 vineyards.

Where to Stay: Jack’s Landing RV Resort, Grants Pass

Jack’s Landing RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2002, Jack’s Landing RV Resort is big rig friendly with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range (also back-in sites) and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV (22 channels). Paved sites and fairly wide paved streets.

Worth Pondering…

America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

What Is Birding?

Your life is going to be better with birds in it

If you had asked me a decade ago about birding, I would have said, “What is birding?”

I knew about some of the more common birds including chickadees, robins, finches, and blue jays, but had no idea birding was an activity people did together in an organized fashion.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the US, Canada, and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

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

Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability. It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Roseate spoonbills on the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using one or more field guides is also recommended. The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder. The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in the US and Canada. Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done. 

Wood storks at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a US Fish & Wildlife Service study on the demographics and economic impact of birding, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy. One in five Americans has an active interest in birding. Some 47 million bird watchers, ages 16 and older, spend nearly $107 billion on travel and equipment related to bird watching.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Washington State alone, wildlife viewing and photography adds more than $5 billion each year to the state and local economy.

About 88 percent focus mainly on backyard birding. But some extreme listers travel extensively in search of rare birds for their life lists.

Great Kiskadee at Edinburgh Wetlands World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The legendary birder Phoebe Snetsinger became obsessed with bird watching when she learned she had only one year to live—she was diagnosed with terminal melanoma in 1981. Living another 18 years, she fervently observed birds across the globe setting a world record of 8,398 bird species before her death in a 1999 car accident in Madagascar.

Ring-necked duck at Gilbert Riperan Preserve at Water Ranch, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Others, like master birder Connie Sidles, find endless joy in daily visits to one favorite spot. She has written two books describing the natural beauty and wonder she finds at the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area), a premier birding oasis in Seattle. The “fill” is a former landfill located in the heart of northeast Seattle on the banks of Lake Washington.

Pauraque at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People give different answers when asked what drew them to bird watching. For most, it starts with the simple aesthetic pleasure of enjoying the grace and beauty of birds and sharing the experience with family and friends.

Ibis at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife viewing is among the most popular forms of outdoor recreation, and birds are the most visible and accessible form of wildlife, especially in urban and residential areas. You can even enjoy them from the comfort of your own home.

Royal terns at Padre Island National Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds also symbolize freedom for many because they fly with such ease. For some, it has spiritual qualities and evokes feelings of peace and tranquility. It’s healthful and restful and no doubt good for your blood pressure and general well-being.

Snow geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their exquisite plumage and vivacious songs enliven our sense of the magnificence and beauty of the world we share. Our love affair with birds connects us with the simple bliss of being alive and feeling at home in the natural world.

Plain chachalaca at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like many pursuits, birding embraces a whole subculture, with many levels of expertise and intensity. For some, it is highly competitive. For others, bird watching involves serious study of physiology, behavior, and the role of birds in the ecosystem.

Vermilion flycatcher at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, like us, it’s a pathway into the natural world by combining photography and RV travel with birding.

Altamira oriole at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

Redhead at Padre Island World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

6 National Parks to Visit & Instagram This Summer

With summer in full swing, you might be planning an RV getaway. Here’s a suggestion: visit a national park—because the great outdoors is always a good idea.

Summertime is in full swing and that means barbecues, relaxation, and of course camping. What better way to experience the summer season than by enjoying the great outdoors in an RV.

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

National Park Service offers an extensive array of experiences across the country for young and old. In 2016, National Park Service locations topped over 330 million visitors. Looking specifically at the 59 National Parks, attendance is expected to be well over 60 million in 2017.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the advent of social media, these locations have offered awesome photo opportunities to share with friends and family. With all this in mind, we bring you the six national parks you should visit and Instagram this summer.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is world-famous for its vibrant red rock spires that shoot hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem pole-like formations are collected in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters that are easily accessible and provide breathtaking views.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most visitors experience the scenery by car, Bryce Canyon’s magical beauty is best seen on foot. With eight marked trails, most of which can be hiked in less than a day, there are plenty of areas to explore from within.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

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

Established in 1934 and featuring 522,427 acres of land, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great spot to camp. With over 11 million visitors annually, it is the most visited national park and for good reason, too. One hundred unique waterfalls and cascades, over 800 miles of hiking trails, and the designation of being the salamander capital of North America make this park a must-visit.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine you’re walking through a gorge 20 feet wide with natural rock walls as high as 1,000 feet. Underneath you lies the Virgin River. At Zion National Park, this isn’t an outdoor fantasy, it’s reality. The Narrows remains one of Zion’s peak attractions driving nearly four million visitors each year. Campers beware, most campgrounds are full by mid-morning and are full in peak months most every night. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a list featuring some of America’s greatest national parks and camping spots within, how could we not include the Grand Canyon. Clocking in at 18 miles wide, 277 river miles long, and a mile deep, its size is sure to overwhelm park-goers.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With regards to camping, it is split between the South and North Rims. The southern side is easier to access and by far the most popular, however, during the summer months its popularity causes the canyon to be reserved to capacity. Meanwhile, the North Rim requires more driving and because of higher elevation and heavier snowfall has a very short season.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone formations such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. Natural arches abound and come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff from the visitors center and winds along the arid terrain providing amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road passes the Park Avenue area, Courthouse Towers, the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rounding our list is Joshua Tree National Park. Two deserts converge in this stunning locale situated in Southern California. While there is no shortage of hiking trails, the best activity to take part in happens at night. As the sun fades and the cool desert air fills the atmosphere, dozens of stars, meteors and planets shine bright in the desert night sky. What better way to cap off a long day than to watch the Milky Way from one of several campsites.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson