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

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

We’ve all been spending a lot more time daydreaming about all the places we want to visit this spring. Small town, big personality! The season of road trips is almost among us and sometimes the best places to go are the ones that are a little more under the radar. Check out these small towns in America that are just brimming with charm.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

The second-oldest city in Kentucky, Bardstown has other claims to fame: as the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, home My Old Kentucky Home of Stephen Foster fame, and Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains, dating to 1779. 

Bardstown is a popular starting point for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. But booze aside, the town has plenty of allure with its picturesque and quaint courthouse square.

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 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.

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch community can be found in Lancaster which famously acted as the state capital from 1799 to 1812. The local farms mean lots of amazing food and fresh produce which can be found at Lancaster Central Market (the U.S.’s oldest public market). The town is also the starting point for the Lancaster County Art Gallery Trail which travels through several nearby towns and showcases the area’s most interesting (and affordable) art.

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.

Corning © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Corning is part of the Finger Lakes region of New York. Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone. Spend time at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

With a gorgeous backdrop of red sandstone formations which appear to almost glow in reds and oranges during sunrise and sunset, Sedona is a perfect destination for photographers or outdoorsy people alike. Take in the majestic views from the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a church built on a 1,000 foot red rock cliff. Hike out to Cathedral Rock or check out the Red Rock Scenic Byway. You can always do an off-roading ATV tour at Red Rock Jeep Tours if you are feeling adventurous, or hike out along the West Fork Oak Creek Trail.

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). 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.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

National D-Day Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and only 9 miles from the Parkway, Bedford is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Central Virginia. The town is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time when life was less hectic

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, three hours east of Houston and two hours west of New Orleans, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks, and strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

The origins of this charming town date back to 1771 when Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux bought land in the present-day city of Breaux Bridge and in 1799 built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for family and neighbors. Area residents and visitors soon knew of the bridge and began calling it “Breaux’s bridge”, later adopted as the city’s name.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux drew up a plan called Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux. The Catholic Church parish was created in 1847 and Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated in 1859. Back in 2009 Breaux Bridge celebrated its 150th birthday.

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home of the world famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May, where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is the town’s largest attraction. Taking place each year on the first weekend of May (April 30-May 2, in 2021, this down-home festival is an ode to the humble mudbug, one of the area’s major exports and a favorite for Cajun food lovers.

With three stages featuring the most popular Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the region, dozens of food vendors cooking crawfish (and other Cajun favorites) in every way you can imagine, a midway with rides and games, and more activities like crawfish races and crawfish eating contests, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth a trip.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smaller events take place in town several times a year. The Tour du Teche, a large paddling race that takes place over three days each October and stretches the entire length of the Bayou Teche, passes through town. The annual Breaux Bridge Cajun Christmas Parade takes place the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and rings in the Christmas season with a Louisiana flair.

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plant and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and water birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Cafe des Amis, Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic byways through this part of the state offer visitors a unique experience of the Cajun and Creole lifestyle. They are selected for their recreational, scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, and natural resources. Your senses are inundated with sights, sounds, and tastes that could only come from south Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is part of Bayou Teche Scenic Byway which winds through south Louisiana’s lush swamps and moss-draped bayous.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is a hotbed for Cajun and Zydeco music, and it’s easy to find in town. The famous Cafe des Amis (140 East Bridge Street) features Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning which pairs decadent brunch items with live zydeco music. You’ll also find live acoustic music here several nights a week.
Pont Breauz’s Cajun Restaurant (325 West Mills Avenue), formerly known as Mulate’s, is a legendary Cajun food and music venue that offers live traditional Cajun music every night of the week, alongside a tempting menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joie de Vivre Cafe (107 North Main Street) is a coffee shop and ad hoc community center that features Cajun music jam sessions on weekend mornings, as well as evening concerts, poetry and literature readings, and other cozy cultural events.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

What we admire—and secretly covet—is their love of good food combined with a zest for life that they proudly call joie de vivre.

—Linda Carman

Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin is a wildlife preserve and home to a few trails as well as many different kinds of animals such as herons, egrets, ibis, bullfrogs, cottonmouths, alligators, and nutria

The Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin, just outside of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the surrounding area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The approximately 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy who also maintain a visitor’s center and a boardwalk over the swamp at the South end of the lake.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of wild shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year. Beginning in late January, thousands of great egrets, followed by little blue herons, black-crowned night heron, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, and roseate spoonbills make their nests and rear their young in the rookery. Great blue herons, neotropic and double-crested cormorants, anhingas, and osprey may be seen in the distant tree tops. Expect a spectacular rookery view from March through June. The 2.5-mile walking levee trail is open from the fall to the spring and is suitable for children.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking trail starting along the levee is closed during alligator nesting season, June through October. The rookery area in the southern end of Lake Martin is closed to all boat entry from February 1 through July 31 for breeding bird season. You may drive along Rookery Road all year round.

Alligator at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is also home to a substantial nesting population of alligators, which can typically be spotted from Rookery Road, which runs along the edge of the lake. They are naturally camouflaged, but it doesn’t take long to get good at gator-spotting; you can usually find them by looking for stopped cars and folks with cameras and binoculars.

Alligators are not typically aggressive, but some of the hiking trails along the back side of the lake are closed off during nesting season, as nesting females can be the exception to this rule. Feeding alligators is illegal, as is throwing things at them. Be a responsible visitor and observe from afar.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other reptiles and amphibians, including a variety of snakes, turtles, lizards, and frogs, are also common in the lake and the surrounding brush, so be on the lookout. Again, none of these animals are aggressive, but snakes in particular are best viewed from far away.

The Cypress Island Preserve Visitor Center with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are located where Rookery Road meets LA Hwy 353. The Visitor Center is generally open from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rookery Road, a dirt and gravel road, runs around a good portion of the lake, and a slow drive along the edge can yield good wildlife-spotting results. If you prefer to explore on foot, though, you can park your car alongside the edge of the road at any point, or at parking lots at both ends of Rookery Road and at the junction of Lake Martin Road and Rookery Road, near the boat launch.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experienced paddlers can rent a kayak or a canoe from the boat launch at the end of Lake Martin Road and take a solo spin around the lake. If you prefer to paddle with a guided group, check the schedule at the local outdoor store, Pack and Paddle, who often host paddling excursions here and elsewhere.

Great egret at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cypress Island Preserve is located approximately halfway between the town of Breaux Bridge and the city of Lafayette. Lake Martin, the preserve’s main visitor attraction, is approached by two paved roads, Highway 353 from Lafayette and Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking is available at the Visitor Center located at 1264 Prairie Hwy where Rookery Road meets Prairie Highway (LA 353). A small parking area is also located at the southwest end of Lake Martin, where the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate. Another parking area is located at the northern end of the lake from Rookery Road, where the north end of the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate.

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge; Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Winter wander lands

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 places to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter. Be sure to check state travel advisories before you set out and please note that some sites may require advance booking.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The curving, dipping dunes of White Sands look snowier than your average ski resort and you can even sled down them. But, with daytime winter temperatures averaging 60 degrees it doesn’t feel that way until the sun dips down and it’s chilly enough for a campfire. There’s no RV camping in the park but there are several spots nearby from basic dry camping at Holloman Lake near the dunes to Alamogordo and Las Cruces where sites have full hook-ups and fenced-in patios.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

What could possibly be more bizarrely beautiful than the teetering, towering hoodoo rock formations that rise like totems throughout Bryce Canyon National Park? Those same hoodoos speckled with bright white snow, that’s what. Misty mornings and pink skies make winter landscapes stunning. Several national park campsites with RV sites stay open and there are ranger-led snowshoe hikes too.

Historic Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma, Arizona

Prefer to give winter the cold shoulder? Make tracks for Yuma. The Sonoran Desert city can be unbearably hot in summer but its balmy winters are ideal. Yuma is the ideal city to visit for the winter season. Known as the Sunniest City on Earth, Yuma offers temperate winter weather, perfect for snowbirds to escape the snow and freezing temperatures up North. With sunny skies 91 percent of the year, Yuma is a premiere winter travel destination for those seeking a small town feel with big city amenities.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Temperatures can reach the high 60s here in winter which is much more pleasant than the often sweltering, throat-tightening summer heat. And the longer nights are a blessing in an area famed for its star-scattered dark skies. Snag a space at one of the designated camping areas like Jumbo Rocks and prepare to gaze upwards for hours. It can be chilly at night though that just means you can huddle around a campfire.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island, Texas

The weather on Padre Island near Corpus Christi stays sunny and warm even in winter and your neighbors are more likely to be chilled-out snowbirds escaping the cold than rowdy spring break crowds looking for thrills. Nab a spot at one of several RV parks then revel in the fact you can still feel warm breezes, comb beaches for shells, and watch spectacular sunsets (without catching a chill) in January or February.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that look awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred world-class golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV living.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The king of canyons is best viewed in peace and solitude—something that’s hard to achieve in peak season. Brave the chill and take your RV here when the mercury drops, the crowds drift away and the undulating rock formations look even more incredible. You can also view elk and deer which are more active on cooler days. Only the South Rim stays open in winter with several RV sites available.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the Palm Canyon, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Prefer snow-white sand to snow-white snow? Alabama’s Gulf Coast stays pretty mild and sunny all year-round making it a favorite spot for those escaping frigid winters and is now reopening after suffering damage during Hurricane Sally. There are those beaches, of course, and the area also has wetlands with trails, kayaking, and birdwatching. After a day of activities, wind down in one of the fun, quirky bars or seafood restaurants which serve the region’s prized Royal Red shrimp.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads. You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

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. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. 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.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

The Ultimate Guide to Interstate 10: 32 Delightful Stops

This coast-to-coast highway spans America from Southern California to Florida

Interstate 10 is the southernmost cross-country highway you can take in the US. It runs about 2,500 miles from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida, and passes through major cities including Phoenix, Tucson, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, and Mobile.

This southern US route is perfect for full-timers or snowbirds who don’t want to stay in one spot all winter. Interstate 10 passes the RVer’s haven of Quartzsite and lots of scenic parks, wildlife refuges, RV resorts, and campgrounds.

These are 32 of our favorite stops along the way that you will want to take the exit for.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California 

Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Continue eastbound and you’ll reach the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. This vast park has a rocky desert landscape best known for its twisty Joshua Trees. Joshua Tree has several trails you can hike for closer views of the trees and various desert plants. The hikes range from easy, doable trails for the entire family to more challenging treks that should never be attempted on a hot day. There are numerous options for camping in the park including Jumbo Rocks, Indian Cove, and Cottonwood campgrounds.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite, Arizona

Not far from the Colorado River, this dusty Arizona outpost expands to hundreds of thousands as RV folks arrive every winter for the largest rock hound exposition in the United States and free camping. Quartzsite attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1,900 people in a wave of RVs during January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix, Arizona

This state is beloved for its awesome sunsets and one of the most unique ways to watch an Arizona sunset is by viewing it through the famous “Hole-in-the-Rock” at Papago Park, a naturally-formed opening in the red butte. Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the area is known for its massive buttes. Papago is also home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you’ll see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of Mexican poppies and other wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views. The campground includes 85 sites with electric hookups.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson, Arizona

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterwards, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox, Arizona

This southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Home to a mere 2,196 people, the town of Mesilla in Southern New Mexico is 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. 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.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Franklin Mountains State Park, Texas

Shortly after crossing into Texas, you’ll reach El Paso and Franklin Mountains State Park. The park’s trails attract hikers and bikers while the mountain peaks and cliffs attract rock climbers and photographers. The Aztec Cave Trail (a steep 1.2 miles) and Tin Mines Trail (about 6.5 miles) are worth exploring. The campground has a few RV-friendly sites but the sites are unlevel and have no hookups. You can also find more camping options in El Paso.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum as well as picnicking and camping and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Caverns of Senora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Senora, Texas

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long with two miles of trails developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are small German towns including Kerrville, Boerne, and Fredericksburg nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Next, you’ll want to stop at Guadalupe River State Park where you can camp by the river and spend your days enjoying various water activities including kayaking, tubing, swimming, and fishing. The campground offers big-rig friendly sites with power and water hookups. From here it’s less than an hour to San Antonio.

Mission San Jose, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. There is much to see and do in San Antonio from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk or Natural Bridge Caverns. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

This flavor-packed smoke town is a must-stop. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. Order meat by the pound and sausage by the link! Barbecue sauce? Some places have it, some don’t; in the best of them, sauce is inconsequential. Beef is what matters. Your itinerary includes at least tackling the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. 

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas

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 their popular brews get made. Founded in 1909, the little brewery has recently undergone a major expansion. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka  Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring.

St. Mary’s Catholic Churcj (Praha) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to numerous attractions including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

The Creole Nature Trail meanders 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. This is the Louisiana Outback with plenty of wildlife and bird watching.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott, Louisiana

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life meets folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

I-10 only spans about 66 miles through Alabama, but it is worth taking another detour to camp by the beach on the Gulf Coast. This state park has a uniquely designed beach pavilion and the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico. There are almost 500 RV sites available at the campground including full hookup sites that can accommodate large rigs. The campground also has modern bathhouses, laundry facilities, a swimming pool with a splash pad, and bike rentals.

Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)

One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.

Worth Pondering…

Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.

—lyrics by Thomas William Cochrane, recorded by Rascal Flatts

Rôder with Family

How about y’all? Do you like to rôder?

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination to pack up the RV and rôder.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the Happiest City in America has plenty of family friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go rôder!

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things to do and experience? There’s no shortage of ways to experience the Happiest City in America and its nearby communities. Here are some of my favorites for first-time visitors and those already in love with all things Cajun.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat, or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene, including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that make up Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region. Here are some smaller towns that are a short drive from Lafayette and are well worth the trip.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott – 5 miles; 13 minutes from Lafayette

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge – 9 miles; 10 minutes from Lafayette

Breaux Bridge was given its name from an early Acadian family who built a bridge over the Bayou Teche, a main waterway used during the Acadian’s arrival in the 1700s. The bridge over the Teche now celebrates the town’s other title, given to it by the Louisiana Legislature in 1959. Yes, without argument, Breaux Bridge is “The Crawfish Capital of the World”.  Its downtown district is the perfect day trip destinations for a main street walk and bite to eat. Take note, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is held annually in May. Breaux Bridge’s downtown district is worth a visit during any season for shopping, dining, and live music. Check out venues like La Poussiere, Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, and Tante Marie’s Kitchen for a weekly live music schedule.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinville – 16.3 miles; 26 minutes from Lafayette

St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish. It lies on Bayou Teche and is the third oldest town in Louisiana with many buildings and homes with historic architecture. The historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church and La Maison Duchamp on Main Street are part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. St. Martinville is also the site of the “Evangeline Oak”, featured in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Acadian expulsion. It is also the site of an African American Museum and is included as a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail which was established in 2008.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia – 20.5 miles; 32 minutes from Lafayette

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting New Iberia. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to Buddha (a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds). Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Find Comfort and Warmth in these Snowbird Roosts

Expect a warm winter season at these popular snowbird destinations

Stop wishing winter away; ditch your wool socks, grab your sunglasses, and get ready to see a whole different side of winter in these destinations.

Suffering through a long winter season is optional. The endless summer is far more appealing—and doable in these popular winter RV destinations.

Laughlin, Nevada

Average high in February: 69 F

If your idea of a winter wonderland includes shorts weather and desert backdrops, then flap your snowbird wings and head to Laughlin. Sitting along the Colorado River, this Nevada hot spot has game rooms galore for those who get a thrill on the craps table, and endless nature for those who like to cast for striped bass and rainbow trout. No matter if you’re eyeing the buffet spreads or boating on nearby Lake Mohave, one thing is certain: Laughlin’s weather sure beats the frigid temperatures back home.

Snowbirds love to: Hike around the petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon, and then chow down at one of the eateries in a riverside casino.

Harlingen, Texas

Average high in February: 73 F

Snowbirds are so prominent in this region that there’s a name for them: Winter Texans. Discover why they flock to the very southern tip of Texas with a visit to Harlingen, a southern city in the Rio Grande Valley. Just like people, birds migrate to this warm spot. Even in the height of winter, the mild weather affords you the opportunity to explore the Arroyo Colorado, where you can search for green jays and great kiskadees and 500 other species of birds that have been spotted in the area.

Snowbirds love to: Marvel at the masterpieces painted on the walls of downtown businesses, which are a part of the city’s beautifying Mural Project.

Phoenix, Arizona

Average high in February: 71 F

Snowbirds favor Phoenix. It’s not hard to figure out why. During the winter when the snow and rain flies up north, the Valley of the Sun offers up some of the greatest winter weather anywhere. Phoenix offers a variety of attractions that should satisfy some of the most discriminating tastes and leave some great life long memories.

One of the finest botanical gardens anywhere is in Papago Park. Home to one of the world’s largest cactus gardens, the variety of plants come from all over the world.

Snowbirds love to: Use their home base in the Phoenix area for day trips to Sedona, Prescott, the Grand Canyon, and to drive the Apache Trail.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Average high in February: 65 F

From dancing to shopping to exploring nature, Breaux Bridge offers a variety of activities for your enjoyment. It’s where food is almost a religion. Wander the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time before life became hectic. Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories.

Snowbirds love to: Get up close and personal with ancient mossy cypress trees, majestic bodies of water, and of course, the alligators on an airboat tour of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Apache Junction, Arizona

Average high in February: 70 F

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, 1,750 feet above sea level and 35 miles directly east of Phoenix.  It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.

Snowbirds love to: Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!