Day Trip: Julian, CA

The center of Julian is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apple pie. Head an hour east of San Diego and check out this charming small town—and bring your appetite.

With a friendly, small-town feel, four distinct seasons, and enough fun to make for a stacked itinerary—including a wolf conservatory, hundreds of miles of trails, charming cafes and cideries, and more—Julian is perfect for a day trip, a weekend escape, or a longer stay. Here’s how to make the most of your visit.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush. See where gold was discovered, shop stores housed in historic buildings dating back to the 1870s, hike and picnic amid oaks and pines, and sample Julian’s famous apple pie.

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Cuyamaca Mountains, much of Julian’s rustic charm has to do with the fact that it’s preserved its roots as a Western mining town gone boom. The town experienced a population spike in the 1870s following the discovery of gold in a nearby stream by formerly enslaved cattleman A.E. “Fred” Coleman; the find spurred the area’s first and only gold rush which lasted until about 1900.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bronze plaque near Town Hall also commemorates the city’s early Black history as Julian once boasted the majority of San Diego’s Black population: in the 1880 census, 33 of 55 Black residents living in San Diego County lived in the Julian area.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around that same time, another enterprising gentleman, James Madison (not the fourth president), brought a wagonload of young apple trees to the area. The trees flourished in the mountain environment and became one of the reasons people from all over SoCal continue to visit Julian today.

More on Julian: The Charms of Julian

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Foodies will have a field day here, especially those with a sweet tooth. A warm slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream feels decadent anywhere else but in Julian it’s essential! Julian Pie Company is the most well-known bakery in town so be prepared to wait in line. Moms Pie House is equally delicious. Both have whipped cream, caramel sauce, ice cream, and sharp cheddar cheese as pie toppings, so pick your pleasure.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feeling thirsty? There are several wineries around Julian including Blue Door Winery just off of Main Street. Julian Beer Company is another fun place to unwind with several options on tap including Julian Hard Cider. If you’re looking for a caffeine boost, stop by Regulars Wanted Beanery, a cute cafe that serves breakfast all day and some of the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to visit is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch. Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler.

More on Julian: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Tucked into the base of Volcan Mountain at just above 4,000 feet elevation, Menghini Winery is the oldest winery in Julian and the second oldest in San Diego County. Located just 2.5 miles outside of town, the winery is a small-batch operation that produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, rosé, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Their tasting room is open seven days a week and visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on their expansive grounds.

As part of Julian’s Apple Days Celebration, Menghini Winery will be hosting a two-day Apple Days Festival on Saturday, September 23, and Sunday, September 24, 2022. The weekend-long event will feature music and dancing, an antique tractor display, children’s games and activities, gold panning demonstrations, a beer, and wine garden, food and merchandise vendors, contests, and more.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several historic sites to explore around the town including The Eagle Mining Co. which offers guided tours of its underground tunnels. The family-friendly town has horse-drawn carriage rides, old-fashioned candy shops, and more activities that will take you back in time.

As is often the case in California, hiking is an essential pastime in Julian. About 20 minutes outside of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has hundreds of miles of trails to traverse.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 100 miles of trails that accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The two family campgrounds, Paso Picacho and Green Valley are open and on the reservation system spring through fall. Green Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet and has a creek that runs through the middle of the campground. Green Valley has 81 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More on Julian: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Paso Picacho, 5 miles north, sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The most popular hikes start from this camp including the 2-mile hike up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet) and the 3.5-mile hike up Cuyamaca Peak (elevation 6,512 feet) both of which offer breathtaking views of the deserts to the east, the coast to the west, and Lake Cuyamaca at the bottom. Paso Picacho campground has 85 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s also the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve—go for a gorgeous, yet moderately strenuous hike that will see you crisscross your way through a mix of scenic conifer forest and desert—and the challenging 4.1-mile Three Sisters Falls out-and-back trail in Cleveland National Forest with a two-mile, 980-feet descent that includes some bouldering, climbing, and traversing before you reach the sparkling falls and the natural swimming pool beneath.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For something truly out of this world, Julian’s night skies make for prime stargazing, giving visitors magnificent views of the Milky Way, planets, and constellations. Amateur astronomers will want to book a Sky Tour at Observer’s Inn where you’ll use research-grade telescopes to view planets, open star clusters, nebulae, star systems, and the moon. Plan a visit around upcoming celestial events for an unparalleled look at the heavens.

More on Julian: Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are filled with a vast expanse of nature, dozens of the world’s largest trees, and thousands of miles of backcountry trails

A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.

— President Theodore Roosevelt

Giant Sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume, are found only on California’s western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These majestic trees were the impetus behind the creation of the United States’ second and third national parks: Sequoia National Park and General Grant National Park (later expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park).

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoias can grow to be upwards of a 26-story building in height and over 3,000 years old. They were named Sequoiadendron giganteum, or Sequoia for short, after the Native American man, Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee’s system of writing. In the mid-1800s, Western settlers came across these trees and were awe-struck by their grandeur. Not surprisingly, the largest sequoias were given names of monumental American figures of that time including Lincoln, General Sherman, and General Grant, as well as a sequoia known only as the “President.”

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the largest tree stumps in the world is known as the Mark Twain Tree. Embodying the American spirit of adventure and storytelling, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down and sent off in cross sections to be displayed in museums in New York and London. Although the parks were created to stop logging, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down, right or wrong, to showcase these wonders of the world and educate the public. Standing before a cross-section and looking at its many rings, we are offered a different perspective on the age and incredible scale of these ancient specimens.

So here we have two separate national parks joined at the hip, very different and with one big thing in common—size. Sequoia National Park has the largest tree on Earth by volume stationed within its boundaries its name is General Sherman. Kings Canyon is home to one of North America’s largest (and most beautiful) canyons, and to the world’s second-largest tree, General Grant.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Largest Tree in the World

Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree in the world which stands 275 feet high with a volume of 52,508 cubic feet. Though far from being the world’s tallest tree, this sequoia’s mass is unrivaled across the planet. Named after American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, the General Sherman Tree is a highly visited feature of the National Park System.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently, fires in the area of the Giant Forest sequoia grove made it necessary to take additional steps to protect General Sherman and other giant sequoias. General Sherman’s incredible 36-foot-diameter base and nearly 103-foot circumference were wrapped in foil up to 10–15 feet high to help shield its already thick bark from potential flames. Luckily, a recent program of prescribed fires kept this massive sequoia and its neighbors protected, though, unfortunately, other groves in the surrounding Sequoia National Forest did not fare so well.

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This increased threat to the world’s largest tree was brought to national attention and it was used as an opportunity to highlight controversy over its name. One periodical called for the tree to be “saved and then renamed.” General Sherman’s tactics during and after the Civil War were indeed nothing short of brutal. His command oversaw the mass killing of Native Americans and the near extinction of buffalo.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Critics justifiably highlight the paradox inherent in sequoias being named after a Cherokee man while the pinnacle exemplar of the species is ironically given the name of a general who oversaw the mass slaughter and displacement of Native Americans.

Is the answer to America’s past to revise or rename everything that is challenging or can we continue to rationally face these difficult aspects of our history without needing to destroy or rename national landmarks?

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of canceling history, it is important to have the past inform the present to avoid making similar mistakes. It is the trees themselves that are great regardless of any given name or historical figure with whom they are associated. The giant sequoias were here long before American colonization, and, God willing, they will remain for millennia to come. In Shakespeare’s famous words, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protecting the Trees

On September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park was created by President Harrison to protect sequoias from private industry. General Grant National Park was created one week later to protect additional groves in the area. Expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, the park is home to the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. Named after President of the United States, and General, Ulysses S. Grant, the tree stands 268 feet tall with a volume of 46,608 cubic feet.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Grant established the National Park Service. This act alone makes it fitting that a giant sequoia is named in his honor. Grant famously oversaw the end of the Civil War at Appomattox, where, on April 9, 1865, a peace agreement was signed with General Lee and no prisoners of war were taken. In 1868, Grant was elected president of a nation still deeply wounded by domestic bloodshed. President Eisenhower made the General Grant Tree a national shrine in 1956 to honor all those who have lost their lives serving our country. It is the only living shrine in the United States.

Castle Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature’s Mightiest Survivors

Everyone who stands at the base of a mighty sequoia for the first time is changed by the experience. These gigantic trees, thousands of years in the making, command a feeling of great reverence. Their presence is felt in the stillness and peace of their groves. While recent fires have threatened and taken the lives of many sequoias, others have survived through many flames long since extinguished. Sequoias are some of nature’s best survivors. They have a very thick skin, so to speak, with bark that can be up to 1.5 feet thick, shielding the living tissue underneath.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire plays an essential role in the growth of sequoias and the health of the forest. Through fire come renewal and the opportunity for new sequoias to plant and have the sunlight to grow. Fire clears out natural buildup on the forest floor, making way for new life. Fire severity increases in potential when small fires are prevented from doing this necessary work. Native Americans managed the forest with fire and the National Park Service has learned to do the same with controlled, “prescribed” burns. Sequoia seeds successfully grow into seedlings thanks to the mineral soil cleared, and enriched, by fire.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We can strive to protect these beautiful trees out of genuine love, or attachment, but we don’t own nature, and whether we like it or not, we aren’t in control of its cycles. 2014 marked the most severe drought in 122 years, but that does not mean it is wholly unnatural, or “man-made.” Humanity impacts nature in a variety of ways but it is part of the deception of our time to assume that we are to blame for most of the frightening occurrences or extreme events that happen in nature.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The evidence is written in the rings of trees that were here long before us. Giant sequoias have survived as long as they have because they have learned to live through and grow from adversity. They are known as a “pioneer species” because they are among the first to take root after a fire occurs. There is a humbling and regenerative wisdom amongst these trees that seems to calmly, yet powerfully, whisper, “This too shall pass.” Edwin Markham, American poet of the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote:

The sequoias belong to the silences of the millenniums. Many of them have seen a hundred human generations rise, give off their little clamors and perish. They seem indeed to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 

Sequoia National Park: 404,063 acres

Kings Canyon National Park: 461,901 acres

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Date Established: 

Sequoia National Park: September 25, 1890

Kings Canyon National Park: March 4, 1940  

Location: Central California

Park Elevation: 1,370 feet-14,494 feet

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the parks got their names: 

Sequoia National Park: This park was named after the giant Sequoia tree! The naming of the sequoia tree has a complicated past—some stories say that it commemorates a Cherokee Indian Chief named Sequoya who is well known for giving a phonetic alphabet to his nation; others record that it was named after the tree genus of its close relative—the redwood tree—which was named after the Latin word sequoiadendron giganteum

Kings Canyon National Park: Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in America—1.5 miles deep—and was named for the Kings River that flows through the base of it creating the canyon. The Kings River also flows through Sequoia and Sierra National Forests.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic sites in the park: 

Sequoia National Park: Hands down this honor goes to the General Sherman Tree—the largest tree in the world by volume—so iconic that it was chosen by the National Park Service to represent all trees in all of the parks on the iconic Arrowhead logo insignia. It is estimated that General Sherman is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. A new, well-established trail to the iconic site was completed in 2006, allowing more space for visitors to wander and to better appreciate the massive size of the tree. The 0.8-mile out and back hike is a breeze, but do go slow—the elevation at the parking lot is 7,000 feet and you most likely climbed by car to get there so you might be a bit light headed on the short walk due to the elevation change. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kings Canyon National Park: The views on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway took our breath away. It is these views that Sierra Club photographer Ansel Adams captured and shared with the U.S. government to successfully lobby for national park status. Winding down the 50-mile mountain pass you will see wildflowers, forests of trees, sloped mountains, rock formations, and at the base of it all, the Kings River—the stepping off point to the wilds of the Sierra Nevada wilderness.  

Mount Eisen, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know…

Sequoia is America’s second national park. It was the first national park to be created to protect a living organism, the giant sequoia tree, which at a time of the park formation was vulnerable to complete destruction due to logging endeavors. 

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest tree in the world by volume is in Sequoia National Park, it’s name is General Sherman. The largest of the sequoias are as tall (on average) as a 26-story building. 

The world’s second largest tree by volume, the General Grant Tree, can be found in Kings Canyon National Park. It is not only America’s official Christmas tree, but also a national shrine dedicated to U.S. veterans in 1956. It is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

Mt. Whitney, standing at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states and is located on the eastern side of Sequoia National Park.  

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Giant Sequoia Tree’s Guide to Life

Have a thick skin

Stand up to the heat

Don’t let things bug you

Heal your own wounds

Enjoy your days in the sun

Strive for balance

Hold yourself up high

Worth Pondering…

No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and suggestive views into history.

—John Muir, The Big Trees, Chapter 7 of The Yosemite (1912) 

Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Julian is an old gold mining town, now famous for its apples and apple pies

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining.

In the lush rolling hills and mountains, just 60 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small town of Julian. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederated, veterans from Georgia headed west to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins, Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike Julian, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor. The town was never large; at the most, it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became San Diego’s county seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short-lived, lasting from 1870 until around 1900 with some mining still later on. But the pioneers stayed and began farming the rich land.

Related: The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, and other delicacies and enjoy U-picking.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until mid-October. But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Related: The Charms of Julian

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart, and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Julian is an official California Historical Landmark, meaning that any new development must adhere to certain guidelines that preserve the town’s architectural integrity. Once you’re settled in, get your bearings with a self-guided walking tour and explore Julian Town Hall, historical homes, and the Pioneer Cemetery as well as the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Southern California and one of the first businesses in San Diego County to be owned and operated by African Americans.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the longest-running mining operations in town, The Eagle Mine is a popular spot to take a tour and try your hand at panning for gold as they did in the olden days. Julian Mining Company also has all your gold-panning needs covered, plus gem mining, tomahawk throwing, and train rides.

Related: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s also worth checking out the outstanding collection of historical artifacts at the Julian Pioneer Museum where you can learn about how local Indigenous groups and pioneer settlers lived and worked as well as The Barn Vintage Marketplace just outside town in Wynola, a great spot to shop for vintage keepsakes, furniture, and souvenirs. Be sure to say hello to the sweet emus who call the latter home.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t be leaving this little town hungry and for a trip down memory lane, Miner’s Diner is the spot. Operated within the Historic Levi & Co. building (the first brick building erected in Julian, 1885) the historic significance doesn’t stop there. From the eclectic mix of vintage signage to old prescription medications which line the shelves to the numerous photos of the town and the building, customers receive an understanding and experience of old Julian which is available nowhere else.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to 1929, this charming vintage soda shop has classic diner fare on deck—stacks of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, burgers, dogs, and melts included—plus a “Fun Stuff” menu where you’ll find old-timey treats like phosphate soda, ice cream floats, thick shakes and malts, banana splits, and, yes, apple pie.

Related: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1977, the California Wolf Center is home to several gray wolf packs including one of the rarest and most endangered species, the Mexican gray wolf. Reservations are required to visit so schedule one of three different tours to learn about wolf conservation and meet with the wolf packs.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

Palm Springs: Like No Place Else

This desert escape never goes out of style

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains as a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape for area visitors and famous figures. Movie stars and mob bosses ditched L.A. to vacation here during the town’s first boom in the 1920s, popularizing a Spanish-Mediterranean architectural style.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received another tourist boost during the ’50s when this became a hip Rat-Pack hangout. They brought with them significant Mid-Century Modern architects who crafted uber-cool homes, many of which were restored in the 1990s, and some of them (like the Kaufmann Desert House and Palm Springs City Hall) is now open to the public.

Coachella Valley near Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Related Article: Desert Star: Palm Springs

A useful place to start on any road trip is always the local visitor center but in Palm Springs this stop is more essential because of its iconic building. Housed in the Tramway Gas Station building, this landmark structure is considered a prime example of modernist architecture. 

Palm Springs from Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Featuring a distinctive soaring roofline, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places making it the perfect destination to begin a tour of Palm Springs’ famous mid-century architecture. Gather information on areas of interest including a guidebook of notable retro style homes to admire while in town.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main draw for snowbirds is the year-round sunshine but modern art and architecture buffs are attracted to the works of the architects who put their mark on the town including Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William Krisel. Given its residents’ penchant for art and design, the area is also home to some of the state’s best vintage shops.

Shopping Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Palm Springs Art Museum is the largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley offering a collection of contemporary California art, classic Western and Native American art, glass studio art, mid-century architecture, and photography. Marvel at fascinating statues both inside and outside the architecturally-significant building. The area surrounding the museum is filled with public art installations including a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe statue that’s sure to catch everyone’s eye.

Related Article: Good for What Ages You: Palm Springs

The Agua Caliente Cahuilla peoples were among the first to settle here and their descendants have established the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Shopping Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm), and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more challenging hike, consider the trailhead tucked fashionably behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. While you’re there, visit one of the many fascinating design and architecture attractions that make the city famous.

Your hike continues from manmade wonders to natural spectacles. The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a self-guided hike (ranger-led tours also available several times daily) of this secluded canyon, you can also view rock art, ancient irrigation systems, and native wildlife and plants. Participants must be able to navigate 100 steep rock steps along the 1.8-mile trail. Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center offers educational and cultural exhibits. The Center offers a display of artifacts, an observation deck, and a theater room for viewing The Legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

Related Article: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you’ve rinsed off, it’s time for some serious retail therapy at some of the area’s famed vintage and antique dealers. There are tons to choose from but some favorites include the Fine Art of Design, Angel View Thrift Mart, and the Palm Springs Vintage Market, the latter of which is an open-air vintage flea market that takes place the first Sunday of each month.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Disembark at the Mountain Station located at an elevation of 8,516 feet where you’ll find two restaurants, scenic observation decks, a natural history museum, documentary theaters, a gift shop, and more than 50 miles of hiking trails. The weather is 30-40 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride. It’s known to have snow as early as November. You can go from a t-shirt to a coat, back to a swimsuit in a fall afternoon. Only in Palm Springs!

Shopping Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will you be in town Thursday night? If not, rearrange those plans! VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. 

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, clubs, and entertainment venues located along World Famous Palm Canyon Drive—and the result is one of Southern California’s most popular weekly events: VillageFest!

Related Article: Out and About In Southern California

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nosh on finger foods from area restaurants, gaze at visionary pieces by local artists, and shop to the max at a bevy of business stands. The only thing missing is you!

Worth Pondering…

We have 51 golf courses in Palm Springs. He (President Ford) never decides which course he will play until after the first tee shot.

—Bob Hope

Escape Winter in an RV: The How and Where

Hit the road and escape to warmer weather!

Winter is upon us and travelers looking to escape the cold are seeking new ways to travel this season after being mostly shut down last year. While looking for that sunny and warm getaway seems to be universal, many are still looking for ways of travel that avoid large, crowded airports and busy hotels with lots of small, shared spaces like elevators and hallways.

This is just one of the reasons RV travel has soared in popularity over the last year and throughout the pandemic.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a survey conducted by Lending Tree, “Interest in RVs was up 41 percent and 56 percent, respectively, in January and February 2021 compared to the year prior.” And when planning a getaway this winter, RVing checks many boxes: It’s a great way to travel safely in today’s COVID environment, it’s a quick and easy way to leave the expected bitter cold behind, and it also makes for a truly unique experience when visiting sunny hot spots like Southern Arizona and South Texas.

Colorado River Historic Park in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No RV? No problem!  

You’ve tried Airbnb or VRBO, now it’s time to try a peer-to-peer RV rental company to experience the RV trend! This is an easy way to explore the open road and get a taste of the RV lifestyle without the commitment of buying your own. Whether renting in a hometown location and hitting the road to your destination or securing an RV rental upon arrival at your destination, a rental makes it easy.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular, Outdoorsy, offers hundreds of RVs in all shapes and sizes for rent across the country, perfect for your next getaway. Rentals start at $109/night.

Now where to RV? The southwest is home to some of the best winter RV resorts in the country. Here are some fantastic options to explore this winter and enjoy the sunshine and 70-plus degree weather.

Related Article: Why You Need to RV in the South This Winter

California

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains for the backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape for area visitors and famous figures. Movie stars and mob bosses ditched L.A. to vacation here during the town’s first boom in the 1920s, popularizing a Spanish-Mediterranean architectural style.

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm), and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

Palm Springs and the San Jacinto Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride.

Related Article: A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. 

Coachella Valley Preserve

Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, clubs, and entertainment venues located along World Famous Palm Canyon Drive—and the result is one of Southern California’s most popular weekly events: VillageFest!

Arizona

Yuma Date Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the sun shining 360 days a year, Yuma is known as the sunniest place on Earth, averaging more than 4,000 hours of sun per year (out of 4,456 possible). Winter guests enjoy activities like the nationally recognized Medjool Date Festival (January 8, 2022) where thousands of visitors head to Yuma’s historic downtown to get a taste of the delicious southwest fruit from local and regional growers.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for some history? Touring the Yuma Territorial Prison, a famous Yuma landmark that was opened in 1876 and operated for 33 years is the city’s number one tourist attraction. Visitors can tour the prison, view the cells, get a feel for what 1800’s solitary confinement felt like, and get a mug shot memento to take home.

Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors looking for more should head to the nearby Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area. With sand dunes topping 300 feet, these massive dunes are perfect for all-terrain vehicle riding and also made the perfect backdrop for the scenes in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sights and sounds of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an International Biosphere Reserve, reveal a thriving community of plants and animals. Thirty-One species of cactus have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures and little rainfall including the park’s namesake and the giant saguaro.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by a normal passenger car. RVs over 25 feet are prohibited due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road.

Related Article: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

Camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can camp in one of two campgrounds within the monument. They have different amenities and offer campers a choice between modern comforts and rustic wilderness. You may see the desert, dark sky subtlety illuminated by countless stars or shadows that are awakened under a full moon’s glow at either campground.

Texas

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter, the seasonal warmth visitors enjoy from both the sun and the southern hospitality makes Texas the place to be when looking to escape the cold. With the Texas winter temperatures averaging in the mid-70s, visitors enjoy the sandy beaches of South Padre Island which is also the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world. The water sports and the abundant fishing throughout the Gulf provide plenty of opportunities for fun in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Great kiskadee in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For travelers looking to develop a new hobby, it’s not only the human snowbirds that make the seasonal trek to South Texas, as there is a wide variety of migratory birds to spot throughout the area. The World Birding Center (WBC) has nine locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley that are suitable for first-timers or expert birders.

Altamira oriole in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for the WBC, the wildlife-viewing is nonstop. A plain chachalaca strolls the grounds while a green jay stops for a drink and an Altamira oriole takes a bite of an orange at the feeding station. Three different species of hummingbirds zoom in and out.

Plain chachalaca in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. It’s at a biological crossroads with two migratory flyways. The result is one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth with more than 530 species documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself.

Related Article: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, when thinking of Texas, one can’t forget The Alamo. The 300-year-old Spanish Mission is located in San Antonio where the Battle of San Jacinto took place on April 21, 1836. Visitors also enjoy the miles of dining, shopping, and museums along San Antonio’s well-known Riverwalk.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Exploring the possibility that the best apple pie in the U.S. is in the little gold rush town of Julian, California

It’s no exaggeration to say that America has a fascination with apple pie. In fact, it’s an obsession. And pretty much every town in the country claims to have the best.

Apple dumplings from Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I can understand the fixation; for as long as I can remember, of all desserts, hot apple pie with a scoop or two of ice cream will get me every time. I think I must be a little bit American!

So when I discovered we were just a day trip away from a town famous for its apple pies, I was very excited.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. Like so many towns in the Southwest, Julian was founded on mining. In the winter of 1869, former slave A.E. “Fred” Coleman, a cattle rancher who lived near present-day Julian, found gold in a mountain stream.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

His discovery kicked off the area’s only gold rush. Today, visitors can get a taste for gold rush-era Julian by panning for gold at the Julian Mining Co. or taking an hour-long tour into old mineshafts at the Eagle Mining Co.

The town thrived briefly and became the hub of the area for business and social gatherings. During the boom, there were 50 houses, a schoolhouse, restaurants, saloons, and, of course, a brothel or two.

Julian© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining. At an elevation of 4,200 feet, it has a mild climate and rich soil, ideal for growing quality fruit. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples.  

Another scrumptious dessert: Why I Love Blue Bell Ice Cream

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As early as 1893 Julian apples took some of the top prizes in the Chicago World’s Fair and are still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October. You can buy just-picked apples and fresh-pressed cider without leaving Main Street at the Julian Cider Mill or head to any number of U-Pick locations outside town, like Calico Ranch or Apple and Art Orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town, and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Another scrumptious dessert: Along the Kolache Trail

There are four pie shops here:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the drive home. Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all around SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly pie crust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple, and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, Mom’s Pies are a close runner-up. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious. At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Another scrumptious dessert: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to start is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler for the road.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Another scrumptious dessert: Getting in our Licks on National Ice Cream Day

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is also a popular destination for those who want to get out for the day, hike, see historic sites, or explore the scenic backroads. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two. Many visitors come just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

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

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

The Best States for Snowbird Camping

One of the best parts of the RV lifestyle is the ability to simply follow warm weather wherever it may lead

While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.

Related: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

Based on the above model, here are the 10 best states for warm winter camping.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Alabama

Composite index: 62.6

Average maximum temperature: 57.7

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 548,000

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Georgia

Composite index: 67.5

Average maximum temperature: 58.6

Cumberland Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 4.3

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 747,000

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. North Carolina

Composite index: 67.8

Average maximum temperature: 51.9

Average minimum temperature: 30.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.8

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,575,000

Related: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Mainstreet Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. New Mexico

Composite index: 69.9

Average maximum temperature: 49.3

Elephant Lake Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 21.2

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 0.7

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 2,720,000

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Nevada

Composite index: 70.5

Average maximum temperature: 42.8

Above Hoover Dam, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 20.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 6,580,000

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana

Composite index: 74.5

Average maximum temperature: 61.4

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 40.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,276,000

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

4. California

Composite index: 79.3

Average maximum temperature: 53.5

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 33.6

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 19,623,000

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Texas

Composite index: 83.3

Average maximum temperature: 59.7

Padre Island, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 34.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.6

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,167,000

Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arizona

Composite index: 85.7

Average maximum temperature: 54.9

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 29.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 7,704,000

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Florida

Composite index: 87.5

Average maximum temperature: 69.9

Average minimum temperature: 47.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 2.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,920,000

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

4 National Park Alternatives to Yosemite

With 63 national parks to choose from, it’s easy to find space of your own. You just need to know where to look.

National parks are having their moment. With many seeing record numbers this year and the number of yearly visitors rising by over 53 million from 2013 to 2019, it can feel like a fool’s errand to attempt an off-grid adventure amid throngs of other visitors. Not only are campgrounds booking up months in advance—at some parks, popular trails feel as jammed as Friday traffic in Los Angeles.

The good news is that, out of the country’s 63 national parks, only a dozen or so draw constant crowds. Many others remain off of many Americans’ radars. I’ve selected four of my favorite lesser-known national parks. Every one of these parks is bucket list-worthy on its own merits. 

So if you’re seeking an outdoor escape with plenty of fantastic scenery and room to roam, turn your attention to the West Coast. California has nine national parks—more than any other state in the U.S. So you have tons of options! The toughest choice is which gorgeous locales to tick off your bucket list first and when to visit. Not to worry, I’ve gone ahead and done the research. Thus freeing up your time for more important matters, like reserving a campsite and buying hiking gear. Scroll on for a breakdown of four of my favorite national parks in the Golden State. Happy exploring!

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Joshua Tree National Park

Best for: Rock climbers, stargazers, desert wanders, Instagrammers, camping enthusiasts

An arid 800,000-acre expanse dotted with twisted trees, cacti, massive boulders, and starry skies, Joshua Tree has it all. Perched at the intersection of the Mojave and the Colorado Desert, this otherworldly Southern California region offers a surreal landscape and sense of serenity.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rock formations are obviously a major drawcard for photographers and pretty much anyone who digs desert scenery. Not surprisingly, Joshua Tree continues to be a magnet for climbers.

Amazing hikes also come with the territory. Mastodon Peak is a strenuous odyssey that rewards trekkers with jaw-dropping panoramas. Seeking a less energetic hiking stroll? Try a loop path like Bajada Nature Trail, Cholla Cactus Garden, or Discovery Trail.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In terms of accommodations, you definitely don’t have to rough it in the traditional sense. Joshua Tree has some of the most swoon-worthy rentals around. Or, why not sleep under the stars? The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation.

When to go: Summer is brutal as the thermometer rarely dips below 100 degrees. Peak season—marked by pleasant weather and, admittedly, an influx of tourists—spans from October to May.

Where we stayed: Indian Waters RV Resort, Indio

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Best for: Volcano chasers, hikers

Can you guess the crown jewel of Lassen Volcanic National Park? We’ll give you one hint: The last time it erupted was a century ago. The chance of Lassen Peak blowing its top is unlikely. That should put your mind at ease as far as getting up close and personal with the park’s trademark lava rocks, steaming sulfur fumaroles, gurgling mud pots, hydrothermal springs, and jagged peaks.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, volcanic features aren’t the only noteworthy attributes. This northern California gem brims with untamed forests, glistening lakes, and flower-filled meadows. I’d be remiss not to mention the 150 miles of hiking trails.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: The window for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park is pretty tight. You’ll want to avoid heavy snowfall which just leaves May to October. This period of clear skies, warmer days, and open roads offers ideal conditions for a few days of earthy expeditions.

Where we stayed: JGW RV Park, Redding

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pinnacles National Park

Best for: Hikers, climbers, birdwatchers, camping enthusiasts

The baby of the bunch (aka California’s newest national park), Pinnacles isn’t as well known as the rest of the stunners on my list. But I have a feeling that under-the-radar status won’t last long. Not when the region is defined by breathtaking rock formations, cliffs, canyons, spires, and caves created by an extinct 23-million-year-old volcano.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular pastime is hiking. Easy, moderate, and challenging trails traverse the protected area. Adrenaline junkies with scrambling skills can attempt to tackle everything from straightforward top-roping to expert-level multi-pitch climbs. Look up and you may witness endangered condors soaring through the blue skies.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: Speaking of birds, Pinnacles National Park ranks among the top locales to spot peregrine falcons, red-shouldered hawks, and golden eagles—especially if you go during the spring which is raptor breeding season. Aiming to avoid the crowds and don’t mind seriously scorching temps? Consider visiting during the sweaty summer months.

Where we stayed: San Benito Camping and RV Resort, Paicines

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Best for: Tree huggers, hikers, climbers, fans of fishing, stargazers

A diverse and magical place, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is blessed with magnificent scenery unlike anywhere else. These adjoining nature areas have a wealth of immense canyons, alpine peaks, and truly massive trees. It’s here that you’ll discover the majesty of the 14,494-foot Mount Whitney.

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever you do, don’t miss the General Sherman Tree. (At 275-feet-tall and with a 36-foot-diameter base, it’s the biggest tree on the planet by volume. Follow the paved trail in Giant Forest. Needless to say, an epic photo opp awaits.

Also on the agenda? Go caving, fishing, and spelunking. Mosey to the top of Panoramic Point for spectacular vistas of Kings Canyon and Hume Lake. Park Ridge Fire Lookout is one of the many other jaw-dropping viewpoints.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: By now, you’re probably pretty sold on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Spring, summer, and fall are ideal for all sorts of outdoor activities. As if all that’s not enough. You can comfortably sleep under the stars at the Lodgepole Campground during the warmer months.

Where we stayed: Sun and Fun RV Park, Tulare

Worth Pondering…

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.

—John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

How to Avoid a Wildlife Collision

Every year wildlife collisions are the cause of hundreds of thousands of vehicle accidents along North American roads

Colliding with deer, elk, bear, and moose is potentially fatal for drivers and passengers and is likely to cause significant damage to your vehicle—and to the animals. To avoid a collision, whether driving a car, truck, or recreational vehicle, be alert and know what to do if you come head-to-head with one.

Deer crossing Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is important for motorists to have information about the factors that influence animal behavior. This will lead to an increased level of understanding about when, where, and why wildlife is most likely to be present near the road. Animals are active 24 hours of the day and all year round, but records kept by insurance and government agencies show that there are peak times when wildlife-vehicle collisions are more likely and drivers should be especially alert.

Drivers need to be alert and cautious because moose are on the move, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Moose are more likely to be crossing roadways at this time of year, especially after dark or early in the morning as they move from wintering areas to spring feeding locations.

Bison in Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More moose are hit by motorists in the spring than at any other time of the year. There is another peak of activity in September and October, the breeding season for moose. Moose are especially difficult to see at night because their fur is very dark, and they are so tall that their eyes are normally above most headlight beams, and therefore their eyes may not reflect the headlights.

Drivers need to be especially careful and people should enjoy watching moose from a safe distance. Moose can be unpredictable and dangerous if you get too close and they feel cornered or get irritated.

Elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most literature suggests that dusk and dawn are traditionally times of high wildlife-vehicle collisions. Light levels are low and animals are active at these times.

Based in British Columbia, the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (WCPP) reports that 35-45 percent of all collisions with wildlife in British Columbia and Alberta occur between 7:00 p.m. and midnight with Fridays accounting for 15.8 percent of all collisions.

Deer are involved in approximately 80 percent of wildlife-vehicle collisions. May and November have the highest rates of collisions involving deer.

Rocky Mountain Sheep in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moose are involved in approximately 7 percent of all wildlife-vehicle collisions. Due to the extremely large size of these animals, (a mature bull moose may weigh up to 1,200 pounds), there is a significant chance that a moose-vehicle collision will result in a human fatality.

Elk are involved in approximately 3 percent of wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them. Collisions occur most often in prime deer, elk, and moose habitats such as forested areas and waterways. Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. If you see a deer, elk, or moose crossing sign, be extra alert and slow down. These wild animals crossroads for a wide variety of reasons and at different times of the year. They cross the road randomly as well as at their regular crossings.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reduce speed. Speed is a major factor in collisions. Wildlife experts have recommended 55 mph as a suitable speed for wildlife zones in good weather conditions as it provides you with some reaction time to stop. Also, the faster the speed, the worse the collision!

Drive defensively. Actively watch for wildlife movement or shining eyes on and beside the road. Drivers should be cautious between dusk and dawn. Light levels are low and animals are active. Always be aware of the danger.

Deer in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observe your surroundings. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife. Look on the roadsides, the shoulders, down into ditches (they love the grass there), median strips, intersecting roads, on the road itself and try to spot any signs of movement, flashes of eyes, or body shapes. Be sure to scan both sides.

In most vehicle collisions, particularly fatal ones, you usually don’t see the animal before it slams into you. That’s why the best way to keep bear fur out of your grille is to slow down, stay alert, and continually scan the ditches for glowing eyes.

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But if all that fails and you’re finding your car hurtling directly towards Bambi, there is one last-second tip that could save your life.

Slam on the brakes until the moment just before impact, then release them. This lifts the nose of the car just enough so that you may deflect the animal away from the vehicle and prevent it from flying directly at you.

The deer isn’t going to be okay, but you will.

Worth Pondering…

The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.

―Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam