Thanksgiving Road Trip: See the Best of Arizona in these 8 Places

There’s a lot more to Arizona than the Grand Canyon which is why these eight places are the perfect excuse to take a Thanksgiving road trip

This Thanksgiving, be grateful not just for the four-day weekend, but how it allows plenty of time to see Arizona at its best—winter to the north, t-shirt weather to the south.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state’s scenic variety shines through as fall edges toward winter. Even as snow blankets the high country, the desert sun continues to warm snowbirds who bask in it on desert hikes.

The long Thanksgiving weekend provides the perfect opportunity to spend a day or two on the road, seeing areas that have perhaps escaped your view. Here are some suggestions to get you on your way.

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox

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

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac and Tumacacori

Head south on Interstate 19 to Tumacacori National Historical Park, where a stately though incomplete mission stands as a reminder of the Spanish Franciscans who settled in the area two centuries ago. After soaking in the history, head 3½ miles back north for lunch in Tubac, a charming arts colony. Stroll among dozens of galleries and studios where you’ll find pottery, jewelry, paintings, and works in all sorts of media.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

You’ve lost count how many times you’ve whipped past the off ramp for Montezuma Castle as you head north on Interstate 17. But go ahead, angle right at Exit 289 and be rewarded with a look at a work of ingenuity and architectural design, circa 1200. The ancient dwellers carved a 40- to 50-room pueblo into the cliff and lived there for 400 years. Visitors in the early 20th century scaled ladders and explored the rooms, but ruins are off limits today. No matter, because the view from below is stunning.

Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona

Among the dozens of Instagram-worthy sites around Sedona, this is one of the best. Its official name is Crescent Moon Picnic Site but it’s commonly called Red Rock Crossing. Cathedral Rock soars in the distance, its two towers book-ending a slender spire offering the perfect backdrop to Oak Creek, which flows along rocks worn smooth by water and wind. It’s also said to be home to a powerful spiritual vortex. For something more palpable, pack a lunch and dine in one of Arizona’s prettiest places.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

For a few years, Bisbee was the “it” destination, named Arizona’s prettiest small town by a number of travel sites. That level of attention may have dwindled, but the former mining town is as beautiful as ever. A stroll down Main Street reveals buildings that look much as they did a hundred years ago, now occupied by restaurants and boutiques rather than miners and speculators. If you head 3 miles south to Lowell, you’ll find a strip of former service stations and garages repurposed as stores and restaurants.

Courthouse Plaza, Pewscott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey Row, Prescott

Park the car and enjoy the kind of afternoon once experienced by cowboys, miners, and ranchers looking to blow off some steam around the turn of the 20th century. While the bars aren’t nearly as numerous as they once were, you can still duck inside one of Whiskey Row’s three saloons (Bird Cage, the Palace Saloon, or Matt’s) and revel in the history. Special treat: Just across the street, Courthouse Plaza will be decked out for the holidays one of the reasons Prescott is the Arizona’s Christmas City.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. RV camping is available.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

America’s 62 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries but nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state parks each year. In total, they span more than 18 million acres across the US—or roughly the size of South Carolina.

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

This summer with so much of the world effectively grounded and many national parks limiting access and services, state parks are poised for a long-overdue place in the spotlight offering a chance to get out, stretch, and explore. Below you’ll find the cream of the state-park crop from picturesque mountainscapes and deserts, lakes and ocean beaches, and expansive hikers’ playgrounds. Time to get outside! Here’s how to do it right.

NOTE: Be sure to double-check each park’s status before making the trip—as with most things right now, their status can change day by day.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina‘s most visited state park but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and popular fishing lagoon. Fun fact: many of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Part state park, part forest preserve, and part privately owned land encompassing 102 towns and villages, Adirondack Park is massive. Totaling 6.1 million acres, America’s biggest state park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Nearly half of the land is owned by the State of New York and designed as “forever wild,” encompassing all of the Adirondacks’ famed 46 High Peaks as well as 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of river. So pack up the canoe or kayak, get ready to scale Mount Marcy, or simply meander about its 2,000 miles of hiking trails. You’re gonna be here a while.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces, bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities, you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in South Dakota‘s fabled Black Hills region, the state’s first and largest state park is most famous for its photogenic herd of 1,500 wild bison that freely roam the land as well as other Wild West creatures like pronghorns, bighorn sheep, burros, and mountain lions. The scenery is everything you think of when you close your eyes and picture the great American West, laid out amidst 71,000 acres of vast open vistas and mountain lakes. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. The place is so cool that even President Calvin Coolidge made it his “summer White House,” so that has to count for something, right?

Myakka State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park, Florida

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sprawling out across a stark expanse of 600,000 acres, California’s largest state park (and second-largest in the lower 48) is a crown jewel of America’s state park system. By day it has 110 miles of hiking trails to explore and 12 designated wildlife areas and by night the huge desertscape delivers some of the best stargazing in America. The park is also a site of great geological importance as it has been found to contain over 500 types of fossils that are up to 6 million years old. If you can’t picture the prehistoric vibes on your own, there are also 130+ giant metal animal sculptures that pop up out of nowhere as you roam the park’s unforgiving terrain.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

You could be forgiven for thinking you drove to Utah and ended up in the Grand Canyon instead. Mountain biking the Intrepid Trail is a must for thrill seekers, but the more relaxed can simply gaze open-mouthed at the deep-red rocks and glorious hues via panoramic vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The park gets its name from horses that died in this unforgiving landscape and with much of the park open with unfenced cliffs and little signage you’re best exercise a bit of common sense if you want to make it out of here alive.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. 

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so emerges with sunshine and air and running water that whole eons might pass in a single afternoon without notice.

—Loren Eisley

Go Here, Not there: 7 State Parks that Rival National Parks

Skip the traffic, crowds, and costs

America’s 61 national parks are some of America’s greatest national treasures. Yellowstone National Park was first, designated in 1872, and 44 years later, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service. This was an official way to commit to protecting and preserving America’s most beautiful and unique natural spaces, ecosystems, and habitats for future generations to enjoy.

Fast forward a century plus, and the number of annual visits to national parks has surpassed 300 million.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s great that so many people appreciate this great resource and want to get out and enjoy the parks, anyone who’s sat in an endless line of traffic to enter Zion or Arches in Utah knows that the popularity of national parks can hinder the beauty of the experience.  Visiting a national park becomes less appealing when you take into account the mobs of people elbowing each other to take a selfie at the Grand Canyon and the overcrowded parking lots and scenic overlooks.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the national parks are some truly fantastic state parks that aren’t getting the crowds or the attention. These smaller unsung heroes feature scenery and outdoor adventures that rival national parks. And fewer visitors mean easier access to parking space, hiking trails, fishing spots, and campsites. Another bonus: if you’re traveling with Fido, most state parks allow dogs on trails whereas national parks do not.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10,234 state parks in the U. S., spanning 18 million acres, so get out there and explore. Here are some notable parks to get you inspired. Go ahead and argue with our choices, but here’s our list of places that we can’t stop drooling over.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This park has several dramatic scenic overlooks and an 8-mile hiking trail that includes vistas from the East and West Rim Trails. There’s a 17-mile single track mountain biking trail and road biking options. Three campgrounds include RV campsites, yurts, and hike-in tent-only campsites.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park named after the popular Southern songwriter is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

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

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a short walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Anza Borrego State Park, California

Anza Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert is the palm oases which you come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty. Anza Borrego has numerous camping options with four established campgrounds and 175 total campsites.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

Great Parks to Observe Animals and Birds

The RV lifestyle offers numerous opportunities to get back to nature

National, state, and regional/county parks are havens for a variety of animals and birds that can easily seen by the casual camper or day visitor.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Prairie dog © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you want to see bison without the crowds of Yellowstone, this park in North Dakota is truly amazing. You might see a bison slide down the steep sides and cross the nearby river. During our visit, a bison grazed along the roadside. It is always enjoyable to watch prairie dogs pop out of their holes in the prairie dog towns at several locations in the park. Pronghorns, mule deer, white-tail deer, jack rabbits, and wild horses are frequently seen either from a car ride or a hike. Other animals include elk, coyotes, bobcats, and porcupines.

Catalina State Park, Arizona


Javelina or collared peccary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Bison roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park is a South Dakota State Park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills. The park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

As part of the World Birding Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is a world-class destination for bird-watching. The Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth with more than 525 species documented in this unique place. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park alone has an impressive list of 358 species recorded within the park’s boundaries. Birders have a chance to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the Green Jay and the Golden-fronted Woodpecker to the Great Kiskadee and the Altamira Oriole.

Jasper National Park, Alberta

Rocky Mountain Goat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. For many visitors, a trip to Jasper is about seeing wildlife. The Canadian Rockies support 277 species of birds and 53 different species of mammals including elk (wapiti), white-tailed and mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, coyotes, wolves, beavers, porcupines, cougars, wolverines, hoary marmots, and Columbia ground squirrels.

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Birds at Edisto © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Edisto Beach State Park is a part of the ACE Basin buffer zone around the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve. The ACE Basin boundaries include the watersheds of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers. The park also offers access to the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It also provides access to the saltwater marsh and creeks.

The park is a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Other wildlife includes white-tailed deer, raccoon, and opossum. The best area for bird watching is along the trails in the park. Water fowl can also be spotted along the beach or marsh areas.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park occupies almost 200 acres around Homosassa Spring, which is the primary source for the Homosassa River. The Wildlife Park includes the Wildlife Walk and paved trails for wildlife viewing. The park’s central feature is the main spring, where you can view the spring from the Fish Bowl floating underwater observatory that offers an underwater view of the spring and the fish and manatees. The Park also includes a large number of native animals in natural settings.

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Discover these lesser-known natural wonders

America’s state parks may keep a lower profile than the renowned national parks but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a worthwhile destination. With 8,565 designated areas spanning over 18 million acres of land, there’s an incredible range of outdoor experiences to explore—including some real standouts that deserve to be on your RV travel radar.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This state park in southeast Utah has drawn comparisons to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool, and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Rustic, modern, and full service sites are available.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Boasting South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse, Hunting Island is a popular stop on the coast. It has five miles of beaches, a saltwater lagoon, and 5,000 acres of marshland and maritime forest, plus one hundred campsites. Local wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, which nest in the summer, alligators, and hundreds of bird species.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites. Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or kayaking on the scenic river. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.
—Robin Sharma

Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! Where to See the Best Blooms?

Weather brings spring wildflowers to add desert color

Spring-like weather has arrived in the desert a little later than normal this year but it comes bearing gifts. After a rainy and snowy winter, warmer temperatures are triggering a profusion of wildflowers.

The flowers of the Sonoran Desert are a splash of color and passion. While almost entirely absent last year, they are out in force this season. This is a time to revel in satiny sun and balmy breezes and go looking for them. It’s a show you don’t want to miss. Here are some places to admire those soft, ground-level fireworks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

First, let’s establish a few rules so everyone can enjoy this season’s bounty.

1. Don’t pick wildflowers. They won’t last long enough to see a vase. They’ll die very soon after being plucked and then all their hard work of sprouting, growing, and blooming was for naught. Leave them for others to enjoy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

2. Stay on trails and watch where you step. There could be small seedlings all around. And for goodness’ sake, do not wade out into a field and trample the flowers, thus ruining them for everyone, just so you can snag a selfie. Take all photos from the pathways.

3. Don’t dawdle. Peak colors at any one location may last from a few days to two weeks. If you hear about a wildflower bonanza, track it down. The beauty may be ephemeral but your memories will last for years.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The wildflower population appeared spotty at Usery Mountain Regional Park until moisture-laden storms in February changed the equation. Suddenly hillsides were streaked with color. Poppies, primrose, lupines, rock daisies, fairy dusters, and the flame-orange tips of ocotillo added drama to mountains that already exhibit plenty on their own.

The Userys gain enough elevation to afford stunning views back toward Phoenix and farther east to the rolling waves of mountains like the Goldfields and Superstitions. Hike the slopes to Wind Cave and Pass Mountain to admire the best panoramas while wading through bands of flowers.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There’s always a bit of magic where desert and water meet. Add flowers to the mix and that’s a great way to spend a day. At Lake Pleasant, the heaviest concentration of poppies can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge is guarded by some extremely robust globemallows the size of landscape shrubs. A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Bartlett Lake

Near Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The road to Bartlett Lake quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies—this is a good spot for them.

Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers are on a blooming binge at Picacho Peak State Park. Carpets of dazzling golden Mexican poppies play a starring role in the colorful show—but other wildflowers add their own hues to the landscape. Among them: blue lupines, orange globemallow, white desert chicory, and bright yellow brittlebush.

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nearly any spot along the park’s main road will include wildflower scenery. One of the best side routes for colorful views from a vehicle—and even more grand vistas from trails—is the Barrett Loop.

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“We had poppies blooming in January and that’s unheard of in my time here,” park manager Steve Haas says. Two large washes keep the park cooler than the lower desert and generally prompt a later seasonal bloom. Traditionally, colors peak from late March into early April but things are happening a little earlier this year.

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with cream cups, poppies, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days each week.

Worth Pondering…

Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!

—Lady Bird Johnson

Birding Arizona’s Sonoran Winter Vacation Destinations

Enjoy nature while observing Arizona’s diverse bird species

Arizona is a great location for birders to observe new life birds, to study the birds of the Sonoran Desert, and to photograph resident and wintering species. Arizona’s species list of around 550 is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

While periodic rains green the Sonoran landscape, January through April is an ideal time for birding this unique cactus-dominated landscape and to enjoy some warm winter weather. The number of unique birds that range northward from Mexico and Central America and the western species that flock here during winter are big attractions.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also you can enjoy resident species including the greater roadrunner, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, Gila woodpecker, Harris’s hawk, and the ones with the weird names—phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia, and verdin.

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Cactus Wren at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular birding areas in the Phoenix area is located in Gilbert. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch consists of 110 acres with seven “water recharge basins” where wastewater is treated, creating a superb wetland and riparian wildlife habitat. More than four miles of trails wind through the preserve, making birding easy. The area is at its best from fall through spring.

American Avocet at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roughly 300 species have been identified here including various ducks and shorebirds, black-necked stilt, American avocet, grebes, cormorants, Gambel’s quail, Inca dove, black-chinned hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, verdin, yellow warbler, Albert’s Towhee, and little blue heron.

Northeast of Mesa is a beautiful Maricopa County regional park—Usery Mountain. Walks along a variety of hiking trails take you through an attractive abundance of native cacti and mountain outcrops that yield an abundance of Southwest birds including Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, Gila woodpecker, Inca dove, and gilded flicker.

Black-necked Stilt at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther east of Phoenix, a favorite hiking and birding location is Peralta Canyon, located on the south side of the Superstition Mountains. Drive east on Highway 60 past the town of Apache Junction to the Peralta Canyon turnoff. Along the way to the Peralta Trailhead, you will pass through beautiful landscapes filled with native cacti and palo verde trees where Harris’s hawks are a potential treat along with three species of wrens—cactus, rock, and canyon—plus Gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, verdins, and phainopeplas.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther south, to the west and east of Tucson, the two units of the majestic Saguaro National Park contains many species seen in few other places in the United States. The diversity of habitats in the park ranges from lowland desert to pine forests. These diverse ecosystems support a surprising array of bird life. Common desert birds include greater roadrunners, Gila woodpeckers, gilded flicker, cactus wren, and Gambel’s quail. Northern goshawks, phainopepla, yellow-eyed juncos, and Mexican jays can be found in the park’s higher elevations.

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Greater Roadrunner at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, Mexican jays, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Vermilion Flycatcher at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A premier birding region of the state is to the southeast of Tucson and includes Madeira Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, The Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Patagonia State Park. These remarkable birding locations offer a whole different birding realm, and frankly, winter isn’t the best of seasons to visit the Southeast. We will describe birding opportunities there in a future article.

Any day birding in Southeast Arizona holds a level of excitement that you will find a rare bird wandering north from Mexico but the region holds plenty of remarkable birds to search for, along mountain slopes and river valleys—any day.

Hummer at The Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best takeaway message for this article is that Arizona has exciting birds found in a variety of birding locations throughout the state for snowbirds and residents alike to enjoy—and warm sunny weather, even in February!

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

A Wintry Desert Wonderland

These HOT parks evoke a sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland

Arizonans and seasonal visitors know that winter temperatures don’t stand a chance of stopping outdoor pursuits. Compared to the rest of the country, the mild temps and low seasonal precipitation create the perfect formula for outdoor adventure throughout the state.

Many national, state, and regional parks are primed for winter fun. The trails are perfect throughout the day, wildlife is active this time of year, additional birds have migrated into Arizona, and you just can’t beat the sunrise and sunset at your camping site.

Come along and we’ll expose HOT parks that will evoke your sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland! 

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult. These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains.

Alamo Lake State Park

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Crazy symphonies of prickly arms—nowhere else in the United States can you find these unique living sculptures, Unlike their more familiar Saguaro cousins, Organ Pipe cacti branch out from ground-level. Organ Pipe National Monument sits on the Mexican border. From November through April, the weather’s nearly perfect for hiking, camping, or just driving along the scenic loop road. This is one of the most stunning, and least-visited, corners of the Sonoran Desert—and worth the drive!

Lost Dutchman State Park 

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelina, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park.

Worth Pondering…
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

7 of the Most Scenic Places for Snowbirds to Camp

Scenic locations for snowbirds to camp this winter in prime Sunbelt states

One of the best things about the RV snowbird life style is that there are so many scenic places to roost. Not only can you park your RV in picturesque locations, you can also enjoy numerous hiking trails, fishing, and other activities while wintering in the US Sunbelt.

Take a look at some of the amazing campsites, and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your camera.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Goldfield Mountains and Tonto National Forest, Usery Mountain Regional Park spans 3,648 acres of metro Phoenix’s east Valley, and offers 73 individual camping sites. All are developed sites with water and electrical hook-ups, plus a dump station, picnic table, and barbecue fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Restrooms offer flush toilets and showers, and group camping is also available.

Anza-Borrego State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is a great place for camping. Don’t let the vast 122 available campsites fool you, this campground books up fast. The campground amenities include drinkable water, restrooms and hot, coin-operated showers. Some sites offer full hook-ups.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls, and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full-hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. 

Organ Pipe National Park, Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northern-most natural habitat of the Organ Pipe Cactus, as well as amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology, and human history. Enjoy the trails and scenic drives, the star-lit nights, and the sun-filled days.

Twin Peaks Campgroundhas 174 sites for RVs. Some sites can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a few have solar showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available. A dump station is located past the last row of campsites.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Things to do at Galveston Island State Park include camping (56 sites with 50/30 amp electricity and water), swimming, fishing, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and relaxing.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (adjacent to Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands and the Gulf of Mexico.

Numerous changes within the campground have taken place since the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Today, the park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These sites were redesigned after the storm for easier parking and convenience for the visitor. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. 

This scenic desert offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Ray Bradbury