Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Winter

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your winter adventure

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best small towns to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by nature, set in the midst of 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails, the park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas of mountains and desert. Anza-Borrego is an International Dark Sky Park, and the town of Borrego Springs is a Dark Sky Community, offering opportunities for exploring the star-filled night sky.

Aransas Pass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas Pass, Texas

Aransas Pass offers cool breezes and unique, crystal clear waters, beautiful seagrass, and excellent bay fishing. There are many marinas and boat ramps available with the largest at the historic Conn Brown Harbor. This picturesque harbor setting is a favorite spot for photographers and a preferred location to buy fresh seafood right off the boat. Nearly 500 species of birds pass through Aransas Pass. Some of the best birding is found in the Aransas Pass Nature Park within the 36-acre Aransas Pass Community Park bordering Redfish Bay. This area is a haven for migrating and regional birds. Another favorite site, Newberry Park is a 1.2-acre mall central city park landscaped to attract birds and butterflies.

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

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, who also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small-town ambiance with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo, Texas

Alamo’s claim to fame as the “Refuge to the Valley” illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draws birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadee, and chachalacas. After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places. Home to 4,000 people and only one stoplight, Ajo is a place to slow down and enjoy life. You could say it’s a small town with a huge backyard.

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

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.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek, Arizona

Located in Maricopa County, Cave Creek is conveniently located 27 miles northeast of Phoenix so you’ll never be too far away from a big city even if you’d never know it by the relaxed pace of life here. Not to be confused with the Cave Creek town that is tucked away in the Chiricahua Mountains, this one is said to have been the original town of Cave Creek and therefore has a true claim to the charm of the name. Be sure to bring your walking shoes so you can hike at Cave Creek Regional Park or head out to Bartlett Lake. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and fishing gear for Bartlett. Enjoy getting back to nature without feeling like you’ve spent forever in travel.

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

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the “Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast” for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing. The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is centered around its pristine waterway, Kings Bay, and is the self-proclaimed “Home of the Manatee”. The small town of approximately 3,200 residents welcomes hundreds of manatees each winter to its many warm springs including the famous Three Sisters Springs. Together with neighboring Homosassa, the Crystal River is the site of the largest gathering of manatees in North America. Located along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” the waters of Crystal River have the only legal “swim-with” Manatee program in the Country meaning visitors can passively observe the mammals in their natural habitat. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making the water attractive to all sorts of swimmers.  

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Best known as a mecca for Texas artists, Rockport is also home to the Maritime Museum, prime saltwater fishing, and tons of outdoor activities. The area is popular for being a great place for bird-watching due to its small crowds and vibrant natural landscape, and visitors often come from all over the Texas coast to see the flocks of coastal birds that call the region home.  

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

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

An area full of history, the American Southwest is dotted with beautiful towns worthy of exploration

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

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

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

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options.

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

Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, Arizona

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

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome, Arizona

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

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman, Arizona

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets.

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

The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia, Arizona

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds.

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

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride.

Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts line area roads, the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers.

Related: Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

Ghostly Experiences

A demon haunted world!

Well, this is my last post before you wander down the dimly lit corridor of Halloween. I don’t have any advice other than “don’t talk to strangers” and “a pumpkin spice jello shot is never a good idea.”

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you going on a trip somewhere scary? Are you hosting a party for close friends in a graveyard? Are you locking the door and pretending it’s Thanksgiving and gorging yourself? Whatever path you may be taking, I hope you have a wonderful ghostly experience. I will be going to Tombstone and asking everyone who will make eye contact with me if they know where the “ghost section” is located. We all have our own unique paths!

The Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May your Halloween be spooky and fun as hell!

Related: A Haunting Good Time: Your Guide to 5 Ghostly Cities Across America

It’s no wonder that so many ghosts haunt the lonely trails, mountains, and landmarks of the forbidding Sonoran Desert. Desert lore, stories, and quests for loot and gold have made men greedy. Gunfights, murders, and death from starvation and dehydration have left many dead on barren desert trails. Their ghosts still walk the mountain ridges, gullies, and deserted locations where they once traveled or lived, spirits with unfinished business, who cannot rest. Some guard buried treasures and lost mines while others battle perpetually until death, forever replaying their last moments of life.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ghost Lights of Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Borrego Springs area of southeastern California is notorious for the many legends, ghost stories, and unexplained phenomena occurring there over the years. The region of the Sonoran Desert is home to the Vallecito Stage Station, Yaqui Well, in addition to the mysterious “Ghost Lights” of Oriflamme Mountain.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first account of the “Phantom Lights” of Borrego was reported in 1858 by a Butterfield Stage driver. Since then soldiers, prospectors, and explorers have reported seeing similar lights. The sightings have been reported near Oriflamme Mountain, over Borrego Valley, and other nearby areas. The occurrences are always slightly different but the general descriptions of the sightings are similar.

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1892, a prospector by the name of Charles Knowles and two other men were camping near Grapevine Canyon at the entrance to the Narrows where they reported their sighting of “Fire Balls.” Knowles described the “lights” as balls of fire that rose up approximately 100 feet in the air and then exploded.

Related: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Knowles compared the fireballs to fireworks. He saw three fireballs rise and cascade upon explosion before they stopped. About 30 minutes later the lights started again but this time they were different. The lights rose into an arch pattern returning to the ground without exploding. The light would then reverse itself and go back to the place where it started.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haunted Tombstone

It probably wouldn’t surprise you that Tombstone is considered one of the most haunted towns associated with the Wild West. After all, with all of the lawlessness, the murders, and seedy behavior, it would be more surprising if Tombstone wasn’t haunted.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve put together a list of the most haunted places in Tombstone. Some of them, you may be familiar with especially if you watch any of the Ghost Hunting TV shows like Ghost Adventures or Ghost Hunters. They’ve all been to Tombstone!

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the town’s name and wild past doesn’t convince you that this place is haunted then a tour through its neighborhoods might turn you into a believer. The Tombstone Gunfighter and Ghost Tour start at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, once the elegant Grand Hotel.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A stroll down Allen’s street takes tour-goers to sites of some of the bloodiest Old West gunfights; guests are advised to be vigilant for spirit sightings. Of course, the tour includes a stop at the infamous O.K. Corral, the place where lawmen led by Virgil Earp gunned down three outlaws in 30 seconds in 1881. Whet your whistle at Doc Holliday’s Saloon after a day spent walking with ghosts.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bird Cage Theatre may be the most well-known haunted location in Tombstone. Thanks to being featured on many TV shows, it seems like everyone who comes to Tombstone knows about the ghosts of the theatre.

In 1882, the New York Times declared that Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theatre was the “roughest, bawdiest, and most wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” 26 deaths and 140 bullet holes later, this American icon is packed with poltergeists (German for loud ghost or noisy spirit). Bird Cage Theatre’s most peculiar poltergeist is the “Woman in White.” This apparition is said to appear as a “proper lady,” a rarity for a brothel.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the “Town Too Tough to Die,” Tombstone is ironically known for the dead. Gunslingers, sharp-shooters, stagecoaches, saddle bums: even the streets of this city conjure tales of the dearly departed.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boothill Graveyard isn’t Tombstone’s first cemetery but it’s Tombstone’s most notorious. Named for those “buried with their boots on,” Boothill interred outlaws from 1878-1884. Notable markers include Marshal Fred White, killed by Curly Bill Brocius, and Tom and Frank McLaury, buried alongside Billy Clanton. Curly Bill and the McLaurys were lost to the “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” the famous 30-second shootout.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers report spectral shadows, strange lights, and spooky sounds. If you make it over to Boothill, remember those two-bit criminals are known to still be around the boneyard. And I’d be ever so obliged to hear if you meet up with one.

Superstition Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phantoms of the Lost Dutchman Mine

The old prospector of the Lost Dutchman Mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on October 25, 1891. His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, and myth about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, more commonly referred to by locals, as the Superstitions. Standing majestically at the forefront of this rough terrain is Superstition Mountain, a 3,000-foot high monolith that seemingly stands guard over the rest of its territory.

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Old mining equipment at Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mine has never been found despite many expeditions. Some believe the mountains are haunted by the spirits of the miners who died in search of the goldmine. Over a dozen men were killed in the 1800s in pursuit of this gold. According to legend, they may be the phantoms that still protect this treasure today.

Old mining equipment at Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So be forewarned modern-day prospectors―if the Arizona heat or the Superstition Mountains’ rugged terrain does not get to you, a ghost or two just might.

Related: Apache Trail: Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat and Beyond

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m a shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

Monsters in the Desert: Sky Art Sculptures of Borrego Springs

Something prehistoric. Something mythical. Something otherworldly. Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you.

Imagine driving along Borrego Springs Road and something catches your attention—a dark form in the desert landscape. You spy a horse as it rears off to the side of the road. You look again and it is big, but it doesn’t seem to be moving. Then you look again and you realize it is a huge sculpture that has captured your attention. Then, rising out of the flat desert landscape, an elephant appears. Alarmingly close by, a T-Rex bears its maw chasing a saber-tooth tiger.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the corners of your eyes these large structures can be deceptively realistic. This is not a mirage but the gifts of visionary benefactor Dennis Avery (now deceased) and the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.

The original steel welded sculptors began arriving in April 2008, taking up residence on Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate and easily visible from Borrego Springs Road, north and south. There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Made of waffle-sized pieces of shaped steel, the sculptures weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds each. It’s just basic rusting steel that gives it a very nice patina resembling hide. The forms are representative of prehistoric animals, the original inhabitants of Borrego Springs. The Gomphotherium free-standing art structures are placed in various locations along Borrego Springs Road and Henderson Canyon Road. The sculptures are set in natural areas where the animals appear to be a normal part of the landscape.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery is the son of the founder of Avery Dennison, one of the world’s largest label-making companies. In the early 1990s, Avery was persuaded to buy land in Borrego Springs, primarily by people who wanted open space preserved.

“When there was the huge savings and loan crash in the early 1990s everything was for sale in Borrego,” Avery said. “Nobody wanted to buy a thing. So I bought everything.”

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery owns roughly three square miles of noncontiguous parcels stretching across town.

“I ended up being landed gentry in the basin of Borrego somewhat accidentally,” he said. “I haven’t done anything with it except open it up to the public once a year when the flowers show up.”

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery had long been interested in the paleontological history of the basin. In 2006, he helped finance a book about the fossil treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert. He also came across a Mexican artist, Ricardo Breceda, who worked out of Perris, California, and conceived the notion of having Breceda re-create the fossil history in a way people could appreciate. The designs are based on the book’s renditions, drawn by other artists and based on fossils, of what the animals looked like.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Starting more than 100 years ago, some paleontologists started kicking up some tusks and bones and birds, and it turns out Borrego Springs is the burial ground for the past 7 million years of these fossil remains of the original inhabitants of Borrego, when it was really water and jungle-like,” Avery said.

The sculptures, two of which are 12 feet tall and 20 feet long, depict a family of gomphotheres—relatives of the woolly mammoth that lived roughly 3 million years ago in the Borrego Valley. All are three-dimensional replicas of animals that roamed the Borrego Valley during the Pliocene epoch, when the area was riparian forest.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Palm Canyon Campground (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park); The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course

Worth Pondering…

I am part of all that I have met
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

California is such a large state there is no shortage of exciting road trips and fun things to do

Road trips have never been more appealing, offering the liberating feeling of open space while keeping us far from crowds. Once you’ve checked Scenic Highway 1 off your bucket list, there are plenty of other intriguing ways to traverse the Golden State.

Borrego Springs metal sculptures

Below, we’ll dive deep into a less-traveled route as it passes a weird lake, skirts a national park, offers quirky mementos of state history, and introduces you to Gold Rush lore. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca mountains and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian. You’ll enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and the delicious apple pies.

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

Borrego Springs

A big part of any road trip is stumbling upon bizarre roadside attractions—and there are plenty to experience in the California desert. Just outside Borrego Springs and near the boundary of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, sculptor Ricardo Breceda assembled roughly 130 gigantic scrap-metal sculptures of animals, including dinosaurs, and a saber-toothed cat. These fanciful creatures seem to march across the scruffy flats.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Salton Sea 

Drive from El Centro to the Salton Sea, which was created after a Colorado River dam overflowed in 1905. Today, the Salton Sea is one of the world’s largest inland seas, lying at 227 feet below sea level and measuring 45 miles long.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park 

One of the most unique parks in the country’s public lands treasure trove, Joshua Tree is named after its unusual, alien-esque trees, which are actually a member of the agave family.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Gold Rush town of Moke Hill near Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonora 

Here, you’ll find the Tuolumne County Museum in a former jailhouse. You could detour north to Columbia State Historic Park, which is a preserved town from the Gold Rush days. Then you’ll head north on Highway 49, named for the 1849 Gold Rush that turned San Francisco from a town into a major city—and that forever changed the state of California.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp and Mark Twain 

Just beyond Sonora up Highway 49 is Angels Camp, where—if you happen to be there in May—you might catch a frog-jumping event in honor of Mark Twain’s first short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The story, which won Twain literary acclaim is based on a story he heard in an Angels Camp bar when he lived there hoping to find gold.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Country 

In Placerville, tour a gold mine that dates to 1888. Further on, Grass Valley has its own historic gold mine, Empire Mine, and the North Star Mining Museum. If you’re there in March, you can watch the St. Piran’s Day events, which commemorate the miners from Cornwall who settled here over 150 years ago.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park 

After you’ve struck it rich panning for gold, do you really need anything else? Well, head a bit further on to be wowed by the geysers, lava rocks, and forested alpine peaks of Lassen National Park. It’s the ultimate reward after an unusual drive up the little-known roads of this well-known state.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing.