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

Rock That Tells a Story: Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock features a rock panel carved with one of the largest, best preserved, and easily accessible collections of petroglyphs in the Southwest

Extra, extra, read all about it! The reviews are in: You can see all the news you can’t actually read at one of the West’s most famous rock art sites. And there’s no fake news here!

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings in these ruins tell the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives. But what exactly these petroglyphs are communicating, we’ll never know for there is no actual translation available at this remarkable Utah attraction.
Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the 41-mile Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (S.R. 211) in Bears Ears National Monument, now part of the 71,896-acre Indian Creek unit designated December 4, 2017 by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bears Ears National Monument includes red rock, juniper forests, high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes are tied to this land.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A petroglyph panel of such renown, Newspaper Rock was listed on the National Register of Historic Places long before either Bears Ears National Monument or Indian Creek added prominence to the remote corner of Utah. The landmark is covered with images of animals, people, ancient symbols, and depictions of the natural world etched into the rock by peoples from the Fremont, Ute, and Ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Native American tribes. It’s surmised that the perennial natural spring attracted ancients to this distinctive area of Utah.

As one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the country, Utah’s Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument is like a living museum. However, thankfully, you don’t have to peer at the pristine rock art through glass at this site.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rock is called Tse’ Hane in Navajo, or “rock that tells a story.” There are over 650 rock art designs here that feature a mixture of forms, including pictures resembling humans, animals, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The 200-square-foot rock site is a part of the cliffs along the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Canyon is a popular Utah destination for rock climbers who flock to the Wingate sandstone for its pristine cracks, which are scaled with traditional climbing aids. However,  nature lovers will still get much out of the scenic drive; better still, the road leads to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, which offers a number of great hiking trails ranging from family-friendly walks through historically significant places to overnight backpacking trips.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at the base of the 200-square-foot rock and trying to decipher what the ancients were trying to communicate, craning your neck to count all of the artwork, sketching and replicating some of the petroglyphs in your own notepad, losing count when you try to see who can count the most antelope, driving the awe-inspiring byway and looking at all of the massive, perfectly-red Wingate sandstone cliffs.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just across the highway from the petroglyphs there is a picnic area and campground, which is free and is first-come, first-serve. The area is open year-round, and the best times to visit are March through late-May and September through October.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No fees or permits are required to visit Newspaper Rock or to drive the Indian Creek Scenic Byway. There are fees to enter Canyonlands National Park.

Driving Indian Creek Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Keys to Avoiding RV Accidents

A key to avoiding RV accidents is a basic understanding of the most common ones and how best to avoid them

Driving an RV is like driving a small house around the country—down highways, through back roads, and up and over mountain passes. And as more people join the RV lifestyle, it becomes increasingly important that RVers have a basic understanding of common RV accidents and how best to avoid them.

Driving safely on Scenic Byway 12 in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hit the road, ensure your recreational vehicle is roadworthy, and that you’re prepared in case of emergency.

Most of the common RV accidents can be avoided by preventive maintenance and proactive attentiveness.

Driving safely on Newfound Gap Road in Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the hazards are numerous, taking simple steps to avoid them is much easier than finding yourself facing the consequences of an RV accident or mishap. Knowing the most common mistakes and having the knowledge to prevent them will keep RV drivers safe and their trip enjoyable. Accidents such as lack of clearance can cost more than just the expense of the RV repair—such disasters can harm the traveling family as well.

The Low Hanging Tree Branch

Use special care when driving to your camping site in an RV park with overhanging trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the problems with certain campground owners is that they can be sloppy about trimming tree branches that hang over their roads. They make the mistaken assumption that people who buy travel units know enough to look up as they drive through RV parks, but many do not. The problem is that many recreational vehicles these days sit high, so when you put that kind of height together with an overhanging branch, you’ve got the recipe for problems.

Use extra care when driving in or backing out of a camping sites © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One newbie learned this the hard way. She was pulling out of a campground and, although she was trying to be careful, she forgot to look up. Even though she was driving slowly, her roof hit a heavy tree branch, and she was unable to stop in time to keep it from doing major damage.

Know your clearance height and don’t take unnecessary risks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The branch actually curled the front portion of her fifth wheel roof back a few feet, and this also loosened and misplaced the area that was a few feet behind it. It was an expensive way to learn an important lesson.

Know Your Height

Know your height, width, and total combined weight © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your height and always look up when you are driving in areas where overhangs of any kind are present. Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people forget the extra height of an RV while driving. Hitting bridges, low hanging trees, and overhangs or misjudging the amount of clearance beneath an overpass or inside a tunnel can put an immediate stopper on your road trip.

Use extreme care and caution on backroads. Pictured above Moke Dugway as it drops into Valley of the Gods in Southern Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In order to keep your RV in one piece and avoid getting hung up—literally— consider the following guidelines:

  • Pay close attention to posted clearance measurements
  • Know the height of your RV and place a sticky note on the dashboard with your exact height (remember to include A/C)
“We’ll probably fit” doesn’t cut it! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We’ll probably fit” does not cut it—don’t take the risk

Also be aware that the typical width of an RV is 8.5 feet and the typical highway lane is 10 feet in width. This gives you about a foot-and-a-half to work with.

Learn From This Story

Lessons like these are hard ones, but people can avoid having to learn them if they take an RV Driving Course that is taught by a certified instructor prior to taking their coaches out on the road.

Use extreme care when approaching a bridge or tunnel with low clearance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to protect yourself from having the kind of accidents you’ve learned about in this article, my best advice is to learn to drive an RV before taking it out on the highway, maintain it well, pay attention to what you’re doing when you travel, and always be aware of what the drivers around you are doing. Be proactive!

Drive safely! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

BURMA SHAVE

Alternatives to the Most Crowded National Parks

Many of America’s national parks are overflowing with visitors. To get away from the crowds, seek an alternate route.

Summer is one of the best times for RV travel, which is why many of our best places are horribly overcrowded during the warmer months.

Fear not, we’ve scoured America to find alternatives that are as spectacular as their more popular cousins.

Skip: Grand Canyon National Park

Go Here Instead: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

Drive four hours east of the Grand Canyon (and its 6,254,238 annual visitors) and explore the considerably quieter (just 825,660 visitors) Canyon de Chelly National Monument. As a bonus, park access is free, and so are the ranger-led tours that introduce you to the canyon’s remarkable history and the indigenous tribes that have called it home for centuries.

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

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

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

You cannot hike into the canyon (except for the White House Trail) without a park ranger or a licensed Navajo guide, but even if you come without a plan, the North and South Rim drives offer ample turnouts at viewpoints that are arguably more dramatic than what you can see of the Grand. Spider Rock, an 800-foot spire on the South Rim road, is one of the most popular in the park, but there’s still ample of parking.

Skip: Yosemite National Park

Go Here Instead: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps John Muir summed up Yosemite best when he said, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” While it is undeniably awe inspiring, Muir’s opinion may have changed had he visited the area 150 years later and shared the temple with 4,336,890 other visitors.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to avoid getting hit by a SUV hammering through the Valley floor, head about 110 miles south to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Take the Generals Highway between Sequoia and Kings Canyon for both a deep-woods feel and wide-open vistas.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to amble? Check out the mind-bogglingly large trees in the Sequoia Groves. For a moderate day hike, head out 4.2 miles to Monarch Lakes at the base of 12,343-foot Sawtooth Peak.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will feel tiny, as you gaze upward at the largest trees in the world. You’ll want to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, standing 275 feet tall with a base more than 36 feet in diameter. You can also round out your visit with caves, hiking, and in the right season, even snowshoeing.

Skip: Zion National Park

Go Here Instead: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You only have to travel 45 miles east to dodge Zion’s crowds. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is by no means deserted, but the numbers of visitors are measured in hundreds of thousands rather than millions, and entrance is totally free and without long lines to enter the park.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Staircase–Escalante is huge and wild, so stop at one of the visitor centers on the monument’s two main paved highways to get oriented. You’ll find them in the towns of Kanab and Big Water (Highway 89) and in Escalante and Cannonville (Highway 12). Just driving these highways is astoundingly scenic.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can wander in and wonder at the last place in continental United States to be mapped. Check out Devil’s Staircase and its myriad hoodoos and rock formations that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Dr. Seuss book.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers and backpackers will want to check out some of the monument’s gorgeous slot canyons. Several spectacular ones are accessible from Hole in the Rock Road. Bring paper maps—your phone won’t help you here and your GSP may lead you astray.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

6 Casino RV Resorts Where You Can Stay and Play

It is rare to go into a casino parking lot and not notice the large number of RVs

Casinos are known to be RV-friendly.

Many casinos are not only RV-friendly, but they have their own RV resort with an extensive list of amenities. These are some of the best places to park and try your luck at the slots or table games, to use as a home base to explore the area, or just relax in a five-star accommodation.

Each of these six resorts has a convenient location, top-quality amenities, and have been rated among the highest RV parks in the U.S. All resorts have been personally visited.

Jackson Rancheria, California

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park with 100 full-hookup sites has earned a perfect 10/10*/10 rating from Good Sam. Amenities include heated pool and spas, free cable TV and Wi-Fi, a clubhouse, rest rooms with showers, a pet park, and laundry room.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a nice park, on a hill with miles of view. If you are looking for pure excellence in a R V Park, this is it. New in 2008, Jackson Rancheria RV Resort is part of a casino complex. Big rig friendly 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Wide, paved interior roads with wide, level concrete sites. Back-in sites over 55 feet with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range. Grass between all the sites.

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lots of things to see and do in the area including Jackson and numerous other historic mining towns, wine tasting, and shopping.

Pechanga RV Resort & Casino, California

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pechanga RV Resort is a short drive from Temeculs Valley Wine Country and Old Town where you can find historic 1800s buildings, antique shops, and restaurants. Recently expanded the resort’s 206 full-service sites can accommodate any size RV and include access to their pool and laundry facilities. They also have presidential sites with estate-style fencing and gazebos.

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino has 24/7 gaming, and restaurants like a steakhouse, oyster and sushi bar, and a pub that serves high-quality BBQ. Play their 18-hole golf course or get a massage at their spa to unwind.

Hollywood Casino, Mississippi

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hollywood Casino has a hotel and an RV park with full hookup sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Their RV sites include a free shuttle service to the casino and two free wristbands to the pool area, which has a lazy river, hot tub, and a swim-up bar.

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino has several restaurants on-site, a marina, and an Arnold Palmer designed golf course.  There are also lots of local shops and restaurants only about 5-10 minutes away in Old Town Bay St. Louis.

Seven Feathers Casino RV Resort, Oregon

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park across the Interstate from the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino has 192 full hookup sites, a fitness center, showers and rest rooms, laundry facilities, indoor heated pool and hot tub, and a shuttle to the casino.

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly, 7 Feathers Casino RV Resort is a 5-star resort with a perfect 10/10*/10 Good  Sam rating. 191 pull-through and back-in sites. The park is well laid out and designed. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, two sewer connections (middle and back of site), and cable TV (25 channels).

Seven Feathers Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior roads are paved, pads are concrete. Landscaping between sites with birch trees and varying sizes of shrubs including flowering rhododendrons. Easy-on, easy off Interstate 5 at Exit 98.

Pala Casino RV Resort, California

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2016 Pala Casino RV Resort offers 17 pull-through sites, 72 feet in length; 47 back-in sites, 55 feet in length; and 6 back-in sites, 60 feet in length. All sites are 30 feet in width with grass lawns and a picnic table. A 5-star resort, the park has wide paved interior roads and concrete sites. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV (48 channels) are located towards the rear of our pull-through site (#80); Wi-Fi works very well.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within a 20 minute drive you can enjoy Old Town Temecula, Temecula Wine Country wineries, several challenging golf courses, and of course trying your luck at the casino. There is no shortage of adventures or you can do nothing, that’s the attraction.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park, Washington

7 Tribes Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A brand new RV park, 12 Tribes Casino opened in 2018 with 21 pull-through full-service sites in the 75-foot range. Interior roads are asphalt and sites are concrete. Amenities include concrete patio with picnic table, individual garbage container, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Guests of the RV Park are welcome to enjoy the pool, hot tub, sauna, and workout facility located in the hotel.

7 Tribes Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The casino also offers gaming, fine dining, and café. Several miles south of Omak on US-97, 12 Tribes is about 50 miles south of the Canadian border.

Worth Pondering…

Home is where you park it.