10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in June

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature.

—David Lynch

Throughout his long career as a filmmaker and artist, David Lynch has recognized the tension between suffering and happiness that is essential to great storytelling. Despite the dark themes and difficult challenges his characters often face, the Twin Peaks creator feels that humans were not created to endure constant sorrow. Instead, we have an innate desire—and capacity—to experience pure happiness and joy.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consult a dictionary and the answer to one of life’s most pressing questions—what is happiness?—can be summed up quite succinctly: a state of well being and contentment. But ask 10 different people what happiness is on a given day and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same response twice, much less in just six words.

While happiness can be universally characterized by feelings of joy, gratitude, and contentment, the roadmaps we use to arrive there are entirely unique. 

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I look at the past, today, and my hopes for tomorrow. All of this is enhanced by the RV lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in April and May. Also check out my recommendations from June 2021 and July 2021.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens Eruption and Legacy

The tranquility of the Mount St. Helens region was shattered in the spring of 1980 when the volcano stirred from its long repose, shook, and exploded back to life. The eruption caused the largest landslide in recorded history sending enormous amounts of rock, snow, and ice down the mountain’s north flank at speeds greater than 200 miles an hour. Within hours, an ash cloud rose 15 miles above the summit and spread northeast turning daylight into the night for at least 125 linear miles.

Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest.

Johnson Ridge Observatory Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the main roads into Mount St. Helens, State Route 504 provides spectacular views of the landscape including the crater, blast zone, and Toutle River Valley. At the end of the road is Johnston Ridge Observatory, a popular visitor center that is open daily mid-May through October.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. Forest Service has recently approved a plan to develop what would be the first overnight tourist facilities within Washington State’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument including a campground. The existing Coldwater Ridge visitor center will be remodeled and a trio of 10-room lodge buildings, a cluster of cabins, and a 40-space campground will be added, all arrayed on and around Coldwater’s vast parking lot.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoodoos and more hoodoos

Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent but Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth. Situated along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, the park’s high elevations include numerous life communities, fantastic dark skies, and geological wonders.

Bryce Canyon National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks. Perhaps every visitor to the park will spend at least some time marveling at its four main viewpoints, all found within the first few miles of the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North and Sunset Campgrounds, located in close proximity to the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and the Bryce Amphitheater.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get your Kicks: Route 66 Turns 96

The inspiration for numerous songs and countless road trips, Route 66 turns 96. The cross country route proposal from Chicago to Santa Monica was made to Congress on April 30, 1926. While parts of the route have been replaced by interstates, the older areas of the road have been named a national scenic byway.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell Incident

Do you remember the Roswell incident that took place in June 1947? For those of you who do not know or remember it, let’s refresh your memory. Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history came on June 14, 1947. That night, a farmer named Mac Brazel was driving about 80 miles outside Roswell and came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who ultimately came to the site and issued a public statement that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The government changed its tune and deemed the UFO a “weather balloon” but many suspect the object was a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. To this date, the incident is still a subject of controversy and the town of Roswell celebrates this incident with a UFO Festival run by the City of Roswell.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien theme town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center and has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.” Whether you’re a believer or not, the town is a goofy, cheezy place, a fantastic slice of Americana.

This is a special year for the Roswell UFO Festival! In 2022, the town marks the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. UFO Festival takes place on July 1–3.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome-Clarkdale-Cottonwood Historic Road

From the intersection of state routes 260 and 89A in Cottonwood (Arizona), do NOT follow the signs to Jerome. That leads you out of town via the bypass. Follow Historic 89A which will pass Dead Horse Ranch State Park with hiking trails, fishing lagoons, horseback rides, and RV camping before proceeding through Old Town Cottonwood. Here you’ll find galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms housed in Prohibition-era buildings. Outside of town Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient Pueblo ruin, perches atop a limestone ridge overlooking the Verde River.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then you drive through quaint Clarkdale, Arizona’s first company town. Built by the owner of Jerome’s largest mine, Clarkdale was designed with precision planning and technological advancements far from the norm in the early 1900s. Don’t miss the Copper Art Museum featuring 5,000 objects, copper art, and collections dating to the 16th century.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Clarkdale behind, the road merges with the bypass (see all you would have missed?) and begins a short ascent into the foothills of the Black Mountains. Soon you’re climbing the shoulder of a hogback ridge with houses above you hanging off the edge. You sweep around the old high school now a collection of art galleries and follow the final twists and turns into Jerome.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park

Enjoy the best of nature and city life at this beautiful urban park located on the edge of Austin. McKinney Falls sits along rocky Onion Creek and is a local hotspot for hiking, mountain biking, road biking, bouldering, geocaching, and picnicking. So hot, in fact, that the park frequently experiences capacity closures on nice weather weekends. McKinney has 81 campsites, all with water and electric (12 with 50-amp connections). The campground is located away from most of the park’s attractions so there’s plenty of peace and quiet even when the park is busy.

McKinney Falls State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, hey, if the park does get too crowded for your taste, escape to downtown Austin and explore the city’s vibrant culture including its top-notch restaurants, art museums, and legendary music scene.

If you’re looking to stay in the Austin area with quick access to the city without feeling like you’re in the city, this is the spot. While it’s only a few miles off of a main highway, once you enter the park, you feel like you’re nowhere near an urban area.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest Road

Petrified Forest National Park features trees dating back more than 200 million years that have turned to stone by absorbing minerals from the water that once surrounded them. The park also includes fossilized flora and fauna, petroglyphs, wildflowers, colorful rock formations, and wildlife.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trip from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles. There’s so much to see from the Painted Desert in the north to the southern half of the drive where most of the petrified wood lies. Hiking trails along the way take visitors close to the sights. Starting in the north at Exit 311 off I-40, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see an 18-minute film, hands-on exhibits, and a short walking trail.

Crystal Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive passes through a variety of environments, colorful rock formations, and scenic pullouts with spectacular views. At the Crystal Forest Trail, petrified logs can easily be seen within steps of the parking area. It’s possible to spot wildlife along the drive as well.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

California is filled with some of the most iconic—and crowded—national parks in the nation including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree. One park that miraculously flies under-the-radar though is Lassen Volcanic National Park, the least visited in the state with only 359,635 visitors in 2021. (for reference, Yosemite saw 3,287,595 in 2021).

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in central Northern California, this sleeper hit has a lot of elements similar to Yellowstone: your bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and freezing royal-blue lakes. Another thing the two share? The potential for volcanic eruption at any moment! Lassen Peak is an active volcano, though the most recent eruptions took place back in 1917, so there’s (probably) nothing to fear as you trek up the mountain and drink in the views of the Cascade Range. If you’d rather keep things closer to sea level, try paddling on pristine and peaceful Manzanita Lake or exploring the Bumpass Hell area, a hydrothermal hot spot filled with billowing basins and kaleidoscopic springs.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, Brenham is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Other highlights include feeding the alpacas at Peeka Ranch Alpacas and sipping a glass of wine at the family-owned Saddlehorn Winery.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by Wilson Arch

Wilson’s Arch is a natural sandstone arch. The arch takes its name from a 19th-century pioneer named Joe Wilson. The natural feature is red-tinted, huge, and surrounded by desert—cutting a dramatic picture.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike many attractions, the Wilson Arch is completely free to access. Visitors can pull straight off of Route 191 and park at the Wilson Arch Scenic View Area—making the short hike up to the rock feature if they wish. Wilson Arch is only a half an hour drive from Moab and located just after the turn-off for La Sal. If you visit the mountains, it is worth the detour.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

The 20 Best Road Trips from San Antonio

Whether you feel like tubing the river, making a craft beer pilgrimage, or working on your BBQ bucket list, these 20 road trip-able destinations are beckoning

From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. With a mix of Spanish and U.S. cultures, Mexican and Tex-Mex food is more authentic than found almost anywhere else in the country. There is a lot to do in San Antonio from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour. There is no lack of diversions to explore in this city and beyond.

But this is the summer of road trips! If you are wondering “What are the best places for road trips from San Antonio?” we have you covered. Road trips are a fun, safe option for traveling out of town for a getaway. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to head for the day or a weekend or a long driving tour of Texas, we have the list.

Po-Po Restaurant near Comfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Comfort

Distance from San Antonio: 47 miles

Comfort, Texas embodies everything there is about a small Texas town. One of the strange and fun attractions that Comfort has to offer is its Hygioestatic Bat Roost. This historic tower has been home to over 100 malaria-fighting bats for years and it’s a fun activity to watch them fly. There are also plenty of down-home restaurants and shops worth visiting in the old town. If you’re looking for a humble Comfort history, visiting shops in the old town is a great place to start.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Luling

Distance from San Antonio: 58 miles

Luling is home to some of the best barbecues in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only three types of meat—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative newcomer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which is still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins. To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the spring-fed San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather be on the water, you can tube down the river.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Blanco

Distance from San Antonio: 59 miles

Blanco was settled in the mid-1800s for Texas Rangers, immigrants, and their families. Blanco State Park is filled with wildlife, diverse topography, and hiking trails. Once you’ve spent some time exploring the outdoors, you can head over to the local winery, Texas Hills Vineyards. They’re actually the only winery in Texas to produce Pino Grigio. Relax at their onsite tasting room. And don’t miss Real Ale Brewery!

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

4. Lockhart

Distance from San Antonio: 67 miles 

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any foodie’s bucket list. Tiny Lockhart can be found outside of San Marcos and is well known for its BBQ. In fact, Lockhart is the “BBQ Capital of Texas”. Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948) are the three you want to tackle. Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). Lockhart State Park is a great place to camp and hike after you eat copious amounts of delicious BBQ.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fredericksburg

Distance from San Antonio: 70 miles 

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound.

Go there for the shopping but stay for the natural beauty and great attractions. You will definitely want to stop by one of their many wineries and weingartens but don’t miss the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park or the Pioneer Museum. The real gem, though, is the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. This huge, dome-like mountain of limestone has miles of trails. Make it to the top for a never-before-seen view of the Hill Country.

Spoetzl Brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Shiner

Distance from San Antonio: 100 miles 

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 today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Schulenburg

Distance from San Antonio: 112 miles

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 rolling hills and beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either, Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Painted Churches of Fayette County

Distance from San Antonio: 114 miles

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.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. La Grange

Distance from San Antonio: 120 miles

You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in this Central Texas community, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town’s history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and serve as creative outlets. The Texas Quilt Museum is located in two historic 1890s buildings. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Corpus Christi

Distance from San Antonio: 143 miles 

Corpus Christi, Texas, nicknamed the “Sparkling City by the Sea,” is known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and sunsets framed by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So, it may come as no surprise that this sunny playground on the Texas Gulf Coast has two of the city’s most popular attractions directly connected to water: Texas State Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Texas, and the USS Lexington aircraft carrier.

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Brenham

Distance from San Antonio: 150 miles

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 and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. 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.

Rockport- Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Rockport-Fulton

Distance from San Antonio: 161 miles

Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. Be it sportfishing, bird-watching, seafood, shopping, the arts, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here revolves around Aransas Bay.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Port Aransas

Distance from San Antonio: 178 miles 

Dive into fun at Port Aransas on Mustang Island. With 18 miles of wide, sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, there are endless ways to recreate in Port A. Two popular activities in Port Aransas are swimming and fishing. There’s also the Port Aransas Nature Preserve which is home to diverse wildlife, beautiful topography, and some of the most scenic sunsets on the island. Bird watching is also a popular activity in Port Aransas and the best place to go is Leonabelle Turnbill Birding Center.

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Waco

Distance from San Antonio: 181 miles

The Heart of Texas has recently become famous for its Magnolia Market at the Silos, the birth child, and flagship home and decor store of Chip & Joanna Gaines from HGTV. The city on the Brazos (River) has so much more to offer—the Waco Mammoth National Monument is one of the best. The nationally recognized trails at Cameron Park are worth an entire day. If that’s not enough, you can visit the Dr. Pepper Museum and Texas Rangers Hall of Fame & Museum. Walk across the historic Suspension Bridge built in 1870 where the clopping hooves of cattle followed the Chisholm and Shawnee Trails up north.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Caverns of Senora

Distance from San Antonio: 186 miles

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth from 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.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Galveston

Distance from San Antonio: 250 miles

Strung along a narrow barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is a beautiful blend of graceful Victorian and early 20th-century mansions, bungalows, and cottages, along with a stunning historic downtown lined with tall palm trees and shady live oaks. Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. South Padre

Distance from San Antonio: 297 miles 

South Padre is a beautiful island set on the Texas coast that’s home to 34 acres of leisurely beachfront property and should be on your road trip from San Antonio’s list. The stunning sandy beaches, numerous tourist attractions, and exciting water activities make sure that every traveler will have fun in South Padre. Laguna Madre Nature Trail is a great place to start exploring the island.

Marathon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Marathon

Distance from San Antonio: 326 miles 

Marathon, Texas is a tiny town close to Big Bend National Park. If you’re stopping in Marathon for the night, the Gage Hotel is a historic property that is full of local history in a comfortable setting. There’s also plenty of adventure to be had in Marathon. Post Park in the city is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert where travelers can head to the water and feed the local ducks. 

Fort Davis National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Fort Davis

Distance from San Antonio: 401 miles 

Fort Davis is a small town in West Texas near Big Bend National Park. This town is well known for the observatory that helps travelers see the beautiful night sky and all the stars that dance and skip inside it. Fort Davis is also home to the Davis Mountains that are fun to explore at the Davis Mountain State Park.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Big Bend National Park

Distance from San Antonio: 404 miles

This sprawling West Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres, in fact) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm offering shaded respite along the meandering Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size, geographic diversity, and faraway locale, this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

Everything you need to know about Texas BBQ

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices. Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks. Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

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

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame. 

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender. This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

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

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Luling Bar-B-Q, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Brenham (think, Blue Bell ice cream) I decided to check out a rising star, Truth BBQ on the west side of town. Truth looks too cute to be serving serious barbecue. The carefully curated interior—with its hand-lettered signs, Texas license plates, and Instagram-ready desserts—is a far cry from a no-frills meat market or a rusty roadside pit. Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration and a fine black-pepper crust. With every bite I liked my visit more. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Somehow you must leave room for one of Truth’s five or so different monster cakes, which Botello’s mother, Janel, makes from scratch. And on the way out the “Love Texas” sign makes a perfect background for selfies. Truth BBQ is the real deal, get out there the next chance you can. If you don’t believe me, they have a 5 star rating on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else. 

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

Why I Love Blue Bell Ice Cream

Blue Bell ice cream seriously is the best ice cream

I grew up in the good old days when you milked the cows and separated the wonderful fresh cream from the delicious whole milk. You brought your salt and ice and sat out in the shed all afternoon cranking away on the arm of the ice cream keg. It was usually a family affair that required many hours of hard labor but the end result was well worth all the effort. Perfectly crafted handmade ice cream with just the right texture and flavor! In fact, if you wanted wholesome ice cream back then it was about the only way you got it.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the early 70’s that old past time came to an abrupt end for many as word got around that the little creamery in Brenham, Texas had started expanding and would soon begin selling to new markets. There was some skepticism, at first, followed by years of unbridled gluttony as many discovered the joy and convenience of being able to shop at a local grocer for a whole half gallon of incredible ice cream, something that took hours of hard labor before then.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, other brands have come along and Blue Bell has continued to increase its markets across the South. I’ve given the competitors a try including the big names and have come to the simple conclusion that, just as their ads proclaim, Blue Bell really is the best ice cream in the country. The main reasons? Fresh ingredients and tasty rich flavors! To quote Blue Bell, “The milk we use is so fresh it was grass only yesterday.” That commitment to quality is why Blue Bell has been slow to expand in spite of strong demand. 

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps it’s the country music inspired commercials or the many cherished flavors but one thing is for sure: I love Blue Bell ice cream! Below the Mason-Dixon line, the brand is known as the go-to ice cream company simply because it “tastes just like the good ole’ days.”

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It all started back in 1907 when a group of local farmers in Brenham, Texas, decided to work together and founded the Brenham Creamery Company. They pooled their resources and the output of their Jersey cows and started making butter from the excess cream that the area farmers dropped off. A few years later, the creamery realized what else they could do with all that excess cream. Soon they started churning out the best ice cream around—albeit just two gallons of ice cream at a time—selling it under the Brenham Creamery Company name and delivering it to neighbors by horse and wagon.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About twenty years later, the company switched its name to Blue Bell Creameries with the charming Texas bluebell wildflower in mind. The rest is history! Blue Bell ice cream flavors are often the exciting grand finale to any celebration. The products are now sold in 22 states according to its website.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s quite a change for a company that still promotes itself as a small town business selling a locally produced product. “We eat all we can and sell the rest,” one of the company’s favorite marketing slogans says. So, if you’re searching for where to buy Blue Bell ice cream, you should know that the tasty treat is a bit of a delicacy ‘round these parts.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My favorites change from time to time but they’re all good even the stranger ones (remember Blueberry Cheesecake?)  Currently I am hooked on both the moo-llenium crunch and the pecan pralines ‘n cream but as new flavors arise and seasonal reappear I never know what I’ll come home with next. Their original homemade vanilla and Dutch chocolate are classic favorites and if you can’t make up your mind then the ultimate Neapolitan (vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry evenly divided under one lid) is an easy choice.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pour a little light cream over a big bowl full of the original homemade vanilla and think back to all those days on the farm spent cranking away at that bucket out in the shed. The old days are never really that far away, after all. They just got better when Blue Bell came to town.  

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream is like a good friend. Sweet, nostalgic, ready on the freezer shelf whenever you need it! And it will never abandon you and when it’s the only dessert that will satisfy a cool, creamy craving, the frozen aisle is pretty close to paradise.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The century-old, Brenham-born brand offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like rocky roads, strawberries & homemade vanilla, and cookies ’n cream. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all!

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My love for ice cream emerged at an early age – and has never left!

—Ginger Rogers

Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind us, Texas is big

There’s an old saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” and what counts as a commute for a Texan may well qualify as a road trip in other states. From Conroe to Freeport, Katy to Baytown, the greater Houston area spans more than 100 miles north to south and over 50 miles east to west. The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis isn’t much smaller especially as suburban sprawl continues to spread and San Antonio has expanded significantly in recent years.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big cities mean wide highways and fast speed limits: The 41-mile stretch of Texas Highway 130, just east of Austin, boasts a speed limit of 85 miles per hour—the fastest legal limit in the country. Austin retains traces of its small-town vibe although locals whisper about a future where Austin and San Antonio could morph into one giant megacity. And Austin is notorious for its daily traffic jams.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to ditch the hustle and bustle of big-city life? There’s so much to see in Texas beyond its major metropolitan areas. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are strategically placed for road trips in Central Texas. Here are some of my favorite getaways for a day trip, a week, or longer.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

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

Lockhart

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Tackle at least two of the Big Three on Day One: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also offers an on-site swimming pool, camping sites, and fishing hole.

What is next? Off to Luling for some more barbecue? How about a Shiner beer? A nap? Or both? You deserve it!

Luling Oil Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

This little town is known for BIG flavors—and whether you prefer sweet or meat, both are delicious here. Gorge yourself on juicy watermelon or fill up on some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State—either way you’ll leave here full. And while you’re eating your way through town, you’ll also find some pretty epic nature spots.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive into the history of “the toughest town in Texas” at the Luling Oil Museum where you’ll learn about the oil boom of Central Texas in the 1920s. Walk through a model town and see real tools from the oil boom days. Around this oil town, you’ll find tons of pump jacks decorated as everything from quarterbacks to killer whales. It’s the perfect mixture of art, history, and liquid gold!

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner

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

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

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 while attendants narrate and provide fun facts, and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. 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.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound. Fredericksburg and the surrounding regions are at the heart of Central Texas wine country. This area is particularly beautiful in the springtime, with gorgeous wildflowers erupting from the otherwise green landscape.

Fayette County Court House, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.

Weikel’s Bakery kolaches, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

Blanco calls itself the “Lavender Capital of Texas” as home of Hill Country Lavender farm and the annual Lavender Festival in June, complete with tours of lavender crops, growing tips, and music. If swimming or fishing’s your thing, head to Blanco State Park. A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. 

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America