Road Trip Love: Take a Look at 25 of the Prettiest Little Towns in America

From coastal towns to southern gems, these idylls are worth a visit

I am always dreaming of taking a road trip, somewhere, anywhere. Do you ever find yourself staring out the window and wishing you could hop in the RV and drive away?

When you find yourself having moments like this, where do you imagine yourself driving? Do you envision a desert town or a beachfront campground? Or maybe it’s the drive itself you’re most jazzed about.

One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty small towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.

If that is something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in America. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if you can’t head out on the open road immediately, you can at least make some travel plans so you’re ready to launch when you are.

And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.

OK, here are 25 of the prettiest little towns you ever did see.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 2. Wetumpka, Alabama

Put your finger on the middle of a map of Alabama and you’re likely to land on Wetumpka. Just north of Montgomery, this town is known as the The City of Natural Beauty and it’s easy to see why: Visitors love canoeing and kayaking on the nearby Coosa River and enjoying the green spaces on walks and picnics. Don’t miss Swayback Bridge Trail (for hiking), Corn Creek Park (for birding, fishing, and waterfall watching), and William Bartram Arboretum (to see local flora and fauna).

To learn more about Wetumpka, read The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Aztec, New Mexico

Known by the Navajo as Kinteel (wide horse), this town’s names come from Escalante’s misguided notion during his visit to the San Juan Basin. He stumbled across the ruins of the Aztec National Monument and thought it was built by the Aztec Indians (though they were built by the Anasazi). 

History lives here at Aztec, especially along its downtown core which is complete with a host of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, this San Juan County community is packed with natural wonders and historical monuments, perfect for activities such as fishing, mountain biking, or hiking.

To learn more about Aztec National Monument, you can read The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Schulenburg, Texas

Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.

Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches (I recommend Kountry Bakery) or German schnitzel.

Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!

One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.

To learn more about Schulenburg, read Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 5. Murphys, California

In California’s historic Gold Country, Murphys is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutiques. The picturesque town park is a popular place to have a creekside picnic after visiting several of the town’s historic sites where you can delve into the history of the Gold Rush. Don’t miss the Murphys Hotel whose famous guests have included writer Mark Twain. 

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a funky artist haven with copper mining town roots. It sits nearly a mile high in the Mule Mountains which means it’s 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the summer here than it is in Arizona’s major cities. Victorian homes and buildings are perched precariously on the town’s steep mountainside which has over 350 staircases carved right into it for access.  

Discover Bisbee’s past by visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and taking the Queen Mine Tour. The tour will bring visitors underground to explore the mine on an ore ride while they learn more about the stories of the miners who worked here. Those who have an interest in the paranormal can book one of several ghost tours in Bisbee to hear the eerily fascinating reports of unexplained happenings and even sightings of spirits donning Victorian attire. Public art features prominently throughout town, from colorful murals and mosaic walls to cars that have been transformed into unique works of art.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Roswell, New Mexico

Chaves County’s community of Roswell is known among tourists for the reported site of an extraterrestrial sighting and spacecraft crash in 1947. Believers of the extraterrestrial flock to Roswell every July for the UFO Encounter Festival.

Visitors can admire the extensive UFO memorabilia and related activities at Roswell including exhibits at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the souvenirs at the Invasion Station Gift Shop. 

Besides being famous as an alien town, Roswell is also a hub of cultural activities and local history given it was once the original homeland of the Mescalero Apaches and the Comanche’s hunting grounds.

To learn more about Roswell and the UFO Festival you can read What Really Happened at Roswell? and A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mesilla, New Mexico

While Mesilla exists as a small New Mexico town today, it was once a major stop for traveling between San Antonio and San Diego. Once visitors step into Mesilla they will feel like they stepped in time as the town remains mostly unchanged since its heyday in the 1800s! 

Explore the San Albino Church in the town plaza, which stands as Mesilla Valley’s oldest (and still active) church. This town is also lively thanks to its offerings of unique boutiques, galleries, wineries, and specialty eateries!

To learn more about Mesilla, read La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience and Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown. 

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

There are many reasons to visit Fairhope, especially in the off-season. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with historic homes on streets lined with live oaks and a charming, walkable downtown. Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg which comes in at fewer than 4,000 residents escapes many travelers. Despite the high-season influxes, it’s the area’s homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of the visitors here in the first place. The village has continued to evolve with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries. 

To learn more on Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, read Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg and Springtime in the Smokies.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Helen, Georgia

The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of fairytale dreams but sits in the mountains of Georgia.

Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and beer from September through October. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday through September and daily from September 28 to October 29, 2023.

Alamogordo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Alamogordo, New Mexico

Nestled in the high desert on the base of the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County, this southern New Mexico community gets an average of 287 days of sun giving visitors plenty of sunlight to enjoy a collection of thrilling activities.

Play a round of golf at the Desert Lake Golf Course, admire the mechanics of the F-117 Nighthawk at the Holloman Air Force Base, or feel the soft sands at the nearby White Sands National Park. This New Mexico destination is also home to several family-friendly attractions, including the Alameda Park Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. 

Before you leave Alamogordo, don’t forget to stop by the world’s largest pistachio which is located near the world’s largest gypsum dune.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Bardstown, Kentucky

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the Most Beautiful Small Town in America. But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face. This Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama, one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

 If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

Learn more about Bardstown by reading Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories and Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Shiner, Texas

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

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

To learn more about Shiner and Spoetzel Brewery, read A Toast to Texas History.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. This strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

To learn more about this charming town, read Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Marietta, Ohio

The oldest town in Ohio, Marrieta gets its name from the infamous Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Marietta was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory which was all of the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the establishment of this territory in 1787.

A group of pioneers settled and founded Marietta in 1788. The town was easy to access by boat due to its placement on the banks of two major rivers. One of the early industries of the area was boat-building. Boats built in Marietta made their way down to New Orleans and often into the Gulf of Mexico. The town also made steamboats and furniture but much of their industry began to focus on brickmaking, sawmills, iron mills, and, eventually foundries.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Stowe, Vermont

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, but it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music.

Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury. Be sure to book a maple syrup tasting at one of the local sugar farms to get a real sense of Vermont’s long and storied maple sugaring industry.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Enjoy the quaint yet lively Breaux Bridge. Known as the Crawfish Capital of the World, the small town of Breaux Bridge offers rich history, world-class restaurants, and a very lively Cajun and Zydeco music and art industry.

Breaux Bridge is also home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival which is celebrated every May (May 5-7, 2023). This is to pay homage to the sea creature that brought fame and wealth to the town.

Aside from being a popular stopover, you might also want to stay in the quaint town for a couple of days.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The quaint New England village of Woods Hole lies at the far southwestern tip of Cape Cod with Buzzards Bay to its west and Vineyard Sound to its east. Because of its excellent harbor, Woods Hole became a center for whaling, shipping, and fishing before its dominance today through tourism and marine research.

Woods Hole is a small village and is easily strolled. The village is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It houses two large, private organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A total of 49 Nobel Laureates have taught, taken courses, or done research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Woodstock, New York

To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival would be a major blunder—the festivities weren’t even held within city limits. In reality, Woodstock is a quaint little Catskills oasis where residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft and visitors can tour the grounds and see where magic was made.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Medora, North Dakota

One would think getting Broadway-quality performers to spend their summers in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota would be tough. But it’s barely a chore when you’re drawing them to quaint Medora, home of the Medora Musical and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The once-depressed cattle town was brought back to life when businessman Harold Shafer sunk millions into it turning it into an Old West Revival that avoids being too campy. Saloons and steakhouses offer stellar food; day hikes along the Pancratz Trail, just outside the Badlands Motel offer sweeping views; and a trip to the Burning Hills Amphitheater—a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands—is a must for musicals and steak-on-a-pitchfork dinner. The entire town obliterates expectations of what one would expect to find in North Dakota.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Jacksonville, Oregon

Life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jacksonville. Steeped in history, the entire town of Jacksonville is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley and haunted history tours. A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places in Washington State that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village.

This riverfront town has a lovely setting located on the Swinomish Channel overlooking Fidalgo Island with plenty of waterfront restaurants.

Downtown La Conner has a wonderfully preserved Historic District with 27 vintage buildings from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Many of these were constructed during La Conner’s heyday in the 1890s when it was a major steamboat hub between Seattle and Bellingham.  

Get more tips for visiting La Conner: La Conner: Charming, Picturesque & Quaint.

Worth Pondering…

I say half your life is spent trying to get out of a small town and the other half trying to get back to one.

—Anon

The Ultimate Guide to White Sands National Park

Here’s everything you need to see and do at White Sands National Park—from sand sledding to stargazing

Some places are so stunning and surreal that they transport you to another world. White Sands National Park is one such place. Here, the sand is so white it resembles mounds of snow and the dunes are so big and rolling that they resemble giant white waves. The otherworldly effect is only enhanced by the New Mexico blue sky which makes the white of the dunes pop.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A long-standing national monument, White Sands National Park had its designation upgraded in December of 2019—and for good reason. This surreal field of gypsum sand dunes tucked into the south-central portion of New Mexico has dazzled visitors for decades. Along with its stunning beauty it also has a fascinating historical and cultural context: surrounded by military installments this part of the country is often used to test defensive technologies such as missiles lending it an even more otherworldly and perhaps even eerie, quality.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, White Sands is a cheerful place as well; families gather to sled down the dunes and adventurers take to the sands for hiking, horseback riding, and just taking it all in. The national park is located in a relatively remote stretch of the southwestern desert and the closest New Mexican communities are Alamogordo and Las Cruces.

As far as landscape characteristics, White Sands is known for—you guessed it—its white gypsum sand dunes which covering 275 square miles of the desert is the largest such gypsum dune field of its kind. A wonder of the natural world, gypsum very rarely appears in dust form because it’s soluble in water, so whenever it rains in the area the gypsum readily dissolves and rolls off the mountain as fast as water.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, since the dunes are in the Tularosa Basin, the gypsum stays within the park in a completely enclosed area. Also, gypsum is transparent but the scratches make the sand appear as white as snow because the particles keep rubbing against each other under the sunlight.

Unlike most inland sand, gypsum doesn’t absorb heat so the sand remains cold even on the hottest day of the year. 

The illustrious white-sand-like gypsum dunes have existed for over ten thousand years and created an ecosystem wherein plants and animals have rapidly adapted to survive. Besides being a place of scientific marvel, it truly is scenery that’ll leave you speechless. 

Dune Life Nature Trail, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is also home to a variety of plant and animal life with more than 800 animal species including the park’s endemic “white species”—mice, lizards, moths, and other insects that have gradually changed color becoming lighter in color than their relatives elsewhere.

It’s also been the site of fossilized footprint findings by which scientists have learned about a variety of its ancient citizens like dire wolves, mammoths, and saber-toothed cats.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given its southern desert location, it’s no surprise to most visitors that White Sands can get extremely hot during the summer months with temperatures frequently nearing (or reaching) the triple digits; the sub-freezing winter nights are often more surprising.

The region has gone through many phases in history to hold the historical and national significance it does today. It is believed that at the end of the Ice Age approximately 20,000 years ago Asian hunters and gatherers crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Alaska along with large herds of domesticated animals and some now extinct species (like mammoths). The fossil footprints left by these animals can still be found on the Alkali flats along the edges of Lake Lucero (located on the southwest edge of the park). 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 10,000 years ago, people reached the margins of Lake Lucero which at the time was a permanent salt lake. With the harsh climate, any spot of lush green gradually disappeared. It is believed the area became a low-range hunting ground.

It is claimed that a significant drought took place in the 1200s in the Tularosa Basin leading its inhabitants to abandon it. After a couple of centuries, it was reinhabited by Mescalero Apaches, a Native-American tribe joined by Hispanic New Mexicans in subsequent decades. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These public lands became of interest in the nineteenth century due to industrialization and the significant possession of gypsum in the area. However, none of the plans to extract the gypsum materialized and the area just gained scenic and scientific significance. 

The 275-square-mile area was formally recognized on January 18, 1933 when President Herbert Hoover declared it a National Monument. By the end of the 1940s, large parts of the region were set aside as defense areas that undertake system testing even today at the ​​White Sands Missile Range. The US Government reclassified it as a National Park in 2019.

Dunes Drive, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only road in White Sands, Dunes Drive is an eight-mile scenic drive that leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The scenic drive loops through the park past a picnic area, hiking trails, and educational exhibits with many stops along the way to take photos or explore the dunes on foot. The first five miles of Dunes Drive are paved and the last three miles are a hard-packed gypsum sand road. The road is suitable for cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and buses.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park has only one visitors center which greets visitors as they drive along Dunes Drive. It has restroom facilities, water supply, ranger information, and a small gift shop that sells water, snacks, sleds, and souvenirs. There are no gas stations or restaurants in the park and the closest are 13 miles away in Alamogordo.

Visitors to White Sand National Park can hike on and sled down the giant mounds of super-soft powder-like sand. Popular hiking trails include Dune Life Nature Trail, a moderate 1-mile self-guided loop hike. Though not difficult, this hike does require hikers to climb two steep dunes with loose sand. Follow the blue trail markers with a club symbol. Meet Katy the Kit Fox and learn about her friends on this family-oriented trail. Look for tracks of the animals that call these dunes their home. Kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alkali Flat Trail is the park’s most strikingly beautiful hike. Since the winds are ever-shifting, the 4.6-mile trail is marked by a series of red trail markers with a diamond symbol which guide hikers along the correct path. The Alkali Flat Trail skirts the edge of what is now the final remnant of Lake Otero. You will be hiking up and down dunes the entire way. It’s the trail to take to see the park’s famous endless white sand against (usually) clear blue skies. But don’t let the word flat fool you.

Interdune Boardwalk, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike the Interdune Boardwalk for a short walk over a maintained boardwalk. Take the easy 0.4 mile round trip stroll through the dunes and learn about the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder. It’s a great chance for small children, novice hikers, or anyone with mobility difficulties to enjoy the dunes. The boardwalk is a great place to take a break under the shade canopy, listen for bird calls, observe lizards, and enjoy wildflowers.

The Backcountry Camping Trail is a moderate two-mile loop. Though backpackers hike the trail most frequently it is also open to visitors who want a shorter hike through the heart of the dunes. Follow the orange trail markers with a spade symbol into an area of beautifully varied dunes and vegetation. The trail requires hikers to climb over several steep dunes and loose sand. There is no shade, no water, and no toilet facility along this trail.

White Sands is one of the few national parks in the country where the trails are dog-friendly so by all means, go for a hike with Fido by your side.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular activities in White Sands National Park is sand sledding. It’s exactly what it sounds like: riding down the dunes on a sled. It’s particularly popular for families with children but it’s a blast for anyone. The soft sand is usually more forgiving than hard-packed snow and you can pick up a plastic sled at the White Sands Trading Company gift shop in the visitor’s center.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And every month from April to October, visitors can stay in the park until 10 or 11 pm and enjoy a surreal nightscape lit by moonlight so bright it casts shadows. The atmosphere in White Sands becomes even more otherworldly as the moon rises over the dunes and reflects off the glowing sands. Visitors can stick to Dunes Drive or join one of the ranger-led full moon hikes. Since dates and times for these special evenings vary check with the park for more information. You might even spot some of the park’s nocturnal wildlife like the kit fox, coyote, or desert cottontail that hunt and forage when the sun sets.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit White Sands National Park is during September or October. The weather is cooler but not yet cold, the summer storms have subsided and there are slightly fewer crowds. In addition to ideal weather you can catch one of the full moon nights when the park stays open late if you time your visit. Those nights start in May and last through October. The twice-yearly open houses for Trinity Test Site are usually held in April and October.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is the windiest time of year and blowing sand reduces visibility and can irritate your skin and eyes. The summer is a popular choice but visitors must be mindful of the heat and sudden the potential for sudden rainstorms.

White Sands has a typical desert climate—so, in a word: harsh. Summer temperatures can climb into triple digits and the landscape offers no shade whatsoever. Heatstroke is the most significant risk in this area and it can happen alarmingly fast. Ensure every person in your party carries adequate water (one gallon per person per day with no exceptions).

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day (from around noon to 3 pm) and don’t hike if temperatures are warmer than you had anticipated. Always wear adequate sun protection including sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and protective clothing.

Conversely, with little humidity to trap heat desert temperatures plummet as soon as the sun goes down. It’s common to experience temperature swings of 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit between the day’s highs and lows. Winter nights can be well below freezing and December lows average a chilling 21 degrees. If you plan to camp overnight dress in layers and be prepared for both extremes.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July and August are the rainiest months known locally as “monsoon season.” Expect thrilling lightning displays and sudden, heavy rains during this time. Luckily, these storms usually pass quickly.

But no matter when you go, the odds are good you’ll have sunny skies for your trip as southern New Mexico averages 290 days of sunshine per year. The region can go more than 100 days without any measurable precipitation.

While there is no RV parking or camping inside White Sands National Park, the park does offer some backcountry camping options for those looking for a rugged, wilderness experience. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, if you’re looking for a quick upgrade to your road trip, it’s hard to beat an RV for style! You’ll be able to enjoy all the freedom and flexibility of the road while knowing exactly where you’ll lay your head each night and even make your own meals.

White Sands National Park is located to the east of Las Cruces and is accessible from that city via U.S. Route 70. It’s about midway between Las Cruces and Alamogordo along that road.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 146,344 acres, currently ranked at 37 out of 63 National Parks by size

Date established: December 20, 2019 (designated by President Herbert Hoover as a National Monument on January 18, 1933)

Location: Southcentral New Mexico

Designation: UNESCO World Heritage Site

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Elevation: 3,887 feet to 4,116 feet

Park entrance fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Backcountry camping fee: $3

Recreational visits (2021): 782,469

How the park got its name: White Sands was named for the glistening white gypsum sand dunes in the heart of the Tularosa Basin. Encompassing an enormous 275 sq mi, the dune field is the biggest of its kind in the world.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

The highest dunes are approximately 60 feet high.

White Sands is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune-field; it is so large that is can be seen from space.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dune-field has about 4.5 billion tons of gypsum sand. This is enough to fill 45 million boxcars which would make a train long enough to wrap around the earth at the equator over 25 times.

The sand here is not made of silica like most inland sand but rather of gypsum.

Unlike silica formed sand, the gypsum sand does not absorb heat from the sun and therefore remains cool to the touch and comfortable to walk on even in the heat.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, seven amphibians, and one fish species in White Sands National Park.

There are at least 45 endemic species meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth. These include the Apache pocket mouse, White Sands wood rat, bleached earless lizard, two camel crickets, and 40 species of moths.

Worth Pondering…

Life is not obvious here. It is implied, or twice removed, and must be read in signs or code. Ripple marks tell of the wind’s way with individual sand grains. Footprints, mounds, and burrows bespeak the presence of mice, pocket gophers, and foxes.

—Rose Houk and Michael Collier

Warning: Lots of Nuts Inside

This is one really big nut

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

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

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

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

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

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pistachio Trivia

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

I think pistachios are delicious!

Read Next: The New Mexico Green Chile Peppers Guide

 Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

The Best RV Destinations to Explore this Spring

While summer may be the obvious choice for an RV vacation, spring can be an equally memorable time for a getaway. In many parts of the country, the flowers are in full bloom and the weather becomes more inviting by the day. What’s more, depending on where you visit, the crowds will be much smaller than in summer.

So whether you’re thinking of renting an RV or getting your RV ready for the road, here are 10 prime choices for a spring getaway around the country.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amelia Island, Florida

For anyone thinking of island destinations, Amelia Island is a secret island paradise. It has lots of hiking and biking trails and sunny spots like Fernandina Beach for sunbathing, swimming, surf fishing, and shark tooth and shell hunting. Stay overnight at one of the two on-site campgrounds at Amelia Island State Park.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History buffs will love Fort Clinch State Park where there’s a preserved Civil War-era walled plantation that features daily tours. Check out the Amelia Island Museum of History to learn about the 4,000-year-old island. Relax with a craft Bearing Rum cocktail at Marlin & Barrel Distillery or a farm-to-table dinner at Omni Amelia Island Resort and catch a live musical theater production at Amelia Musical Playhouse.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

As Utah’s oldest national park, Zion has lost none of its grandiosity since its opening in 1919. It’s a place of wonderment, the crown jewel of Utah’s epic national park system. Located in Southern Utah, its esteem has been well earned because of its array of vast and narrow canyons, rainbow rock formations, natural monuments, fantastic hiking, and stunning vistas. Don’t pass up on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. In a state made for road trips, the short and sweet journey is the icing on the cake.

Related Article: 6 Perfect Destinations to Take Your RV This Spring

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground located in Zion Canyon and is open all year round. South Campground is closed in the winter. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road (closed in winter). From mid-March through late November the campgrounds are full almost every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground are recommended. Several area campgrounds are a short drive from the park. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

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

Okefenokee, Georgia

One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, the 700-square-mile Okefenokee Swamp was once part of the ocean floor. Even the patches of land dotting the wetland are not too stable; trees often shake like they’re about to be torn from the earth and capsize. The name Okefenokee comes from a Creek word meaning “trembling earth.” Located in the middle of the swamp, in the southeast corner of Georgia, is Stephen C. Foster State Park—remote and filled with wildlife, nature, and few people, it’s a perfect camping destination. 

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

It’s true what they say about West Virginia―it really is wild and wonderful! The New River Gorge area is GORGEous (get it?) in spring; imagine tree-covered mountains in bloom with a whitewater river, one of the oldest on the continent, running through it. With more than 100 trails for hiking and biking, this national treasure is a thrill-seeker’s paradise with many opportunities to get wild. The area is known for its whitewater rafting, fishing, and BASE jumping off of the nation’s third-largest bridge. With plenty of unspoiled wilderness to enjoy, New River Gorge is a place of beauty, especially in spring. 

Related Article: Prep Your RV for Spring Travel

Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve provides opportunities for primitive camping only. Camping areas are located along the river. These primitive camping areas have no drinking water or hookups, and limited restroom facilities. RV camping is available at nearby Babcock State Park.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families for a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months during the winter.

Jekyll Island Club  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Goulds, and Cranes and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms).

Jekyll Island Campground  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages. A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel and oceanfront properties. RV camping is available at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 206 campsites on the Island’s north end.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo, New Mexico

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

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

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

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park Colorado

The Pueblo people definitely left their mark on the American West and their way of life remains intact at sites like Mesa Verde. The region is chalk full of thousands of archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings dating back to the 5th century. Carved into cliffs sitting 8,500 feet above sea level and surrounded by inhospitable desert landscapes, the tenacity and ingenuity of these ancient people is undeniable.

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

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park entrance is about 45 minutes from Durango and the best time to see Mesa Verde is May through October when some of the dwellings allow the public to visit. Check out the tons of petroglyphs all along the Petroglyph Point Trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

Focus on Unique Small Towns from Coast to Coast

We’ve explored America by RV and found these 10 cool small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy

America was built upon small towns and fortunately many of them are still thriving today. From coast to coast and north to south, RVers can get a taste of what it’s like to live somewhere completely different or perhaps even startlingly similar to what they’re used to.

During 25 years of living the snowbird lifestyle, we’ve visited 25 states and camped at hundreds of RV parks and campgrounds. To kick-start your search, here are 10 of our favorite small towns in America. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions. The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants—there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Related Article: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Rock of Ages Granite Quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barre, Vermont

About 7 miles southeast of the state capital (Montpelier) is Barre, known as the Granite Center of the World. Its downtown, with several prominent sculptures and granite faced buildings, reflects that heritage. Its famed quarries at the edge of town are sprawling and spectacular with an estimated 4,500-year supply of Barre Gray granite still to be quarried out of the surrounding hills.

Rock of Ages © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite.

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinsville, Louisiana

As one of the oldest surviving towns in Louisiana, St. Martinville retains many buildings and homes reflecting the beautiful architecture of days gone by. St. Martinville has become symbolic of the Acadian legacy, holding sacred the history and legends of the Acadian people who settled in Louisiana. Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Located in the high desert at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, Alamogordo is the perfect location to “set up camp” to enjoy all the incredible attractions the area has to offer. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound. Only 15 minutes from Alamogordo, one of the world’s great natural wonders rises from the desert, White Sands National Park.  The glistening white sands and wave-like dunes of white gypsum cover 275 square miles of the desert. 

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

World’s largest pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not far from town is the world’s largest pistachio! The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes. There are numerous nut farms where you can enjoy samples and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains. 

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

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 is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a 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.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka, Alabama

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.

Bibb Graves Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants.

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is named after Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, who opened a trading post here in 1848—a short time before placer gold was discovered. In 1864, Samuel Clemens wrote his first successful short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” based on a tall tale he was told at the Angels Hotel by local, colorful character, Jim Smiley (or so the legend goes).

Related Article: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story launched his career as Mark Twain and put Calaveras on the map. The town has kept the allure of the Gold Rush era alive with many of the 19th century buildings housing eateries and unique shops in the charming historic downtown.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

This is one really big nut

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting articles to help you navigate the state of RV travel as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it’s safe to get back on the road again.

One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is a destination that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo it’s an easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park.  

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The World’s Largest Pistachio was built in honor of PistachioLand’s founder, Thomas McGinn. After his passing in 2008, his son, Timothy McGinn erected the 30 foot sculpture in memory of his father. Tim wanted everyone who passed by PistachioLand to take note of what his dad created, a 111-acre pistachio orchard and vineyard started from bare desert land in 1980. From the first trees planted to today, PistachioLand now is home to over 12,000 pistachio trees and 14 acres of wine grapes. 

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bronze plaque at the base of the nut states that, “Tom dreamed big, expected big, and accomplished big things. He would have said the monument is not big enough!”

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

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

The pistachio nut is one of the most popular tree nuts in the world and is valued globally for its nutritional value, health and sensory attributes, and economic importance.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio nuts are relatively low in sugar (approximately 10 percent) and high in protein (20 percent) and oil (50 percent) contents. The oil is 90 percent unsaturated fatty acids, 70 percent of which is oleic acid and 20 percent the more desirable linoleic acid.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life. —Georgia O’Keeffe