Beautifully Bizarre Joshua Tree Has Springtime Written All Over it

Camp, hike, and rock climb your way through California’s High Desert

California’s Mojave Desert has inspired a number of monumental artistic endeavors including the fictional planet Tatooine in Star Wars and the iconic U2 album The Joshua Tree. But Joshua Tree National Park which lies within the boundaries of the Mojave has a landscape and special magnetism all its own. People come to Joshua Tree for their own special reasons. Sometimes it’s wilderness. Other times people come here for the music history, the diversity of raptors, or the epic landscapes. People come to Joshua Tree to find themselves. And find yourself you will—whether you’re hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, stargazing, or daydreaming about selling all your stuff to move to the desert. Here’s how to do it all on your next trip.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree is open (and beautiful!) year round. Come in the spring or fall for the best weather (but keep in mind, the park gets extra busy January through April). If you visit in the hot summer months, plan outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the day when the air is cooler just to be safe. Most people spend four hours in the park according to park rangers. But Joshua Tree’s abundance of jaw-dropping geological and ecological sights mean one could spend days exploring the otherworldly landscape.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fuel up in the funky artist towns nearby

There are over 100 miles of roads within the park and not a gas station in sight so fill up beforehand. The quirky towns surrounding the park—especially Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley—are also your best bet for grabbing a bite and a beer after a long day in the park. Populated by UFOlogists, solitude seekers, antique dealers, and offbeat creatives drawn to the desert, there are plenty of unusual adventures to be had in town. Definitely swing by Pioneertown which served as a film set for Old Westerns in a past life and today houses the area’s most famous bar and music venue, Pappy & Harriet’s.

Joshua Tree National Park Cottonwood entrance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting into Joshua Tree National Park

The park’s larger than Rhode Island which means there’s a lot of ground to cover. Of the three main entrances, the Joshua Tree entrance (known as the West Entrance) is often the busiest. The North and South Entrances near Twentynine Palms and the Cottonwood Visitors Center, respectively, are less crowded. Get there early; parking lots often fill up by mid-morning.

Just drive up to one of the park’s entrances and pay at the booth. A seven-day vehicle permit runs $30. Alternatively, $55 gets you a pass valid for a full year—OR, if you think you’ll visit more than one national park in the next 12 months (and you should!), NPS offers an $80 pass that buys you entry to any park for a year.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit Joshua Tree’s best hiking trails 

Once you’re all geared up with hiking boots and as much water as you can carry (seriously, it’s hot, especially in summer), it’s time to hit the trails. Skull Rock Nature Trail is one of the most popular in the park. From the Jumbo Rocks Campground, it’ll take you winding through about 1.7 miles of desert until you arrive at Skull Rock, an enormous boulder with two eye sockets carved into it by years of water erosion. It’s a pretty mild route and great for beginners. 

The second trail you should hit is the Wonderland of Rocks which lives up to its name. Pebbles, stones, and giant boulders are yours to traverse for 5.5 wonderful miles. Given the terrain, it’s considered a difficult trail so be sure you’re up to the task.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around sunrise or sunset, wander over to Keys View, the highest lookout point in Joshua Tree at 5,187 feet. You can look out across the Coachella Valley and see as far as the Salton Sea and Palm Springs on clear days.

Check out the unparalleled plant and animal life 

I’ll assume you know the park’s tall and spiky namesake: the Yucca brevifolia, more commonly known as the “Joshua Tree.” In Spanish, the tree is known as izote de desierto, or desert dagger, which pretty much sums it up. It’s important to remember that since these trees are native to this 1,235-square mile expanse of desert, they’re strictly protected—aka, no touchy!

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden to walk amongst hundreds of beautiful cholla. This flat loop leads hikers through nearly 10 acres of landscape dominated by the teddybear cholla. Swaying in the desert breeze they almost resemble coral (and, much like coral, should be left alone). A word of advice: do not attempt to pet this teddybear. The stem-joints can easily detach and hitch a ride due to the miniscule barbs on the spines giving it the nickname “jumping cholla.” Once they’ve latched on the spines are very painful to remove.

You’ll also spot the ocotillo (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yoh), one of the most curious and unique plants of the southwestern United States. Ocotillos produce clusters of bright red flowers at their stem tips which explain the plant’s name. Ocotillo means “little torch” in Spanish.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is known more for its flora than fauna but there’s also plenty of wildlife in and around the park. Birding is especially popular with native species like roadrunners, raptors, and migratory flocks as well. Predators like bobcats, coyotes, and snakes also roam these parts, and—lest we forget—keep an eye out for our adorable friend, the desert tortoise!

Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is a rock climber’s paradise

Whether you’re brand new to climbing or navigate cliffs like a baby mountain goat, Joshua Tree’s 9,000+ climbing routes means that everyone’s welcome to give it a go. I also feel the need to note that most of the routes have truly creative names; take, for example, Yabba Dabba Don’t (15-foot climb), Breakfast of Champions (170-foot climb with 2 pitches), Room to Shroom (80-foot climb), Dangling Woo Li Master (100-foot climb), and so on. 

For a route best suited to beginner and moderate climbers, head over to the Quail Springs area, home to the ever-charming Trashcan Rock, one of the most popular climbing spots due to its relative ease and the cool shade that covers it during the afternoon. Intersection Rock also makes a great spot for novices and The Eye ends with a tunnel that opens up onto excellent views across the desert.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look up at the stars

Joshua Tree National Park is a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park which means nighttime can be pretty extraordinary.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to bed down at night

Of the 520 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park about half are first-come, first-serve. The others accept reservations through Recreation.gov.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring and other essential tips

Sunscreen and water are must-haves year-round. The National Park Service stresses that there are no water sources inside the park, so again, pack a lot of water… and then pack even more. Binoculars, sturdy hiking shoes, snacks, a flashlight, a camera, and wide-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley) are also suggested.

To avoid being one of the approximately 60 search-and-rescue operations Joshua Tree sees every year, explore the park with a buddy and always let people know where you’re going. Cell phones don’t work in most of the park so if communication is crucial bring a satellite phone and a printed map to get around.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 80 percent of Joshua Tree is officially designated wilderness—emphasis on wild. Be respectful of wildlife to avoid tangling with an angry critter. And if you remember one thing about your visit to Joshua Tree National Park, it should be “leave no trace.” Be sure to leave the park as pristine as you found it to help preserve its natural beauty for generations to come.

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

24 Reasons to Stop Dreaming About It and Travel NOW

Stop dreaming about it and just do it. The time is NOW.

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t embark on your right now—but there are even more reasons why you should. You work hard for those vacation days to freely take a few weeks to yourself.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what it takes, traveling should be everything you hoped it would be and more. You’ve only got one life to live, so get in everything you deem worthwhile while it still seems like a good idea. And, taking a dream summer vacation is most certainly a good idea—and the time is NOW.

But back to that one specific vacation, you keep daydreaming about. The Grand Canyon, Historic Route 66, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rushmore! They’re all on our list.

We looked to travelers past and present to share their insight into why you should stop dreaming about it and travel NOW. Ahead, you’ll find 24 reasons why you should start (or finish!) planning that dream summer vacation.

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out There

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.

—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond (1697-1780)

Why We Travel

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

—St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin the Journey

If we wait for the moment when everything is ready, we shall never begin.

—Ivan Turgenec (1818-1883) Russian writer

Learn From History

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician, scientist

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

Smell the Roses

That delicate forest flower, With scented breath and look so like a smile, Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould, An emanation of the indwelling Life, A visible token of the upholding Love, That are the soul of this great universe.

—William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) American poet

Explore the World

Oh, the places you’ll go.

—Dr. Seuss

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect with Nature

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

—John Burroughs (1837-1921) American naturalist and nature essayist

Explore Wild Outdoor Spaces

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American writer, critic, and naturalist

Roseate spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try Something New

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama (1935-)

Experience More

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Altshuler, American writer, speaker, and leadership trainer

Carriage tour in Historic Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reconnect with Wilderness

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…
—John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist and author

Love Nature

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) essayist, naturalist, and philosopher

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Expand Your Horizons

You lose sight of things…and when you travel, everything balances out.

—Daranna Gidel

Walk Amid Nature

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk in the Woods

To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) American poet

Learn to Go with the Flow

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

—Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936) English writer, poet, and philosopher

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drop the Itinerary

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English author

Learn Something New

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958) American historian

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

Learn from Nature

The world is not to be put in order; the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.

—Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer

Enjoy the Journey

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Essayist, playwright, and poet

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make Memories

Take only memories leave only footprints.

—Chief Seattle (1786-1866) Suquamish chief

Find a Reason to Journal

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

—Moslih Eddin Saadi (1210-1291) Persian poet and writer

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just Enjoy the Journey

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

—Lao Tzu (601 BC-531 BC) ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

Explore the best trails in some of the world’s most beautiful parks

From colorful badlands to cavernous canyons and old-growth wetlands, the National Park Service boasts incredible diversity when it comes to hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for an intense mountain ascent or an easy forest stroll, bucket list-worthy hikes come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and lengths. Here are 10 national park trails that belong on your must-hike itinerary.

Know your limits, pace yourself, and pay attention to how you are feeling. Your safety is your responsibility. Your tomorrow depends on the decisions that you make today.

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Do you want to view a landscape that is out of this world? If your answer is yes then the Blue Mesa Loop Trail is sure to please. This mile long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills. The trail descends 100 feet below the rim and can be a little steep in places.

Boardwalk Loop, Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Boardwalk Loop in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

This hike, though it’s really more of a walk, features an elevated boardwalk through old-growth swampland. Though the lush, green trees are beautiful in their own right the trail really shines at night (literally!) when thousands of fireflies come out and fill the area. For photographers, the trail is exceptionally beautiful at sunrise when both the boardwalk and bald cypress trees take on golden early-morning hues. Wildlife like deer and wild pigs can also be seen in the area for those willing to sit silently for a few minutes You’ll definitely want mosquito repellant, especially in the summer months.

Manzanita Lake Loop, Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manzanita Lake Loop in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

While much of the attention at this serene California park is drawn to its namesake Lassen Peak, a worthwhile trek for ardent day-hikers, there’s a more leisurely and accessible option that affords some of the most striking vistas in the park. Manzanita Lake is a tranquil, shimmering oasis in the northwestern portion of Lassen Volcanic offering a peaceful 1.8-mile loop trail around pristine, bright-blue water. From certain vantage points, the views of Lassen Peak are incomparable and the jaunt through dense forest feels downright rejuvenating for the soul.

Rim Trail, Grand Canyon N ational Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rim Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Any section of the Rim Trail serves up jaw-dropping looks into the Grand Canyon but the unpaved section between Powell Point and Monument Creek is a dirt path and feels more like a genuine hike than its paved sections. But what’s underfoot doesn’t matter as much as what lies just beyond—canyons within canyons and cauldrons of rapids far below. Head to Maricopa Point by park shuttle to start the hike then take the shuttle back from Hermits Rest to Grand Canyon Village when you’re done.

Fairyland Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

If you don’t know what a hoodoo is you’ll know after crossing this spectacular hike’s eight miles of hoodoo-covered trails. These unique rock columns can be found throughout the trail eventually culminating in Fairyland Canyon, a valley of staggeringly large and vast formations as tall as 150 feet. The colorful hoodoos are some of the brightest and most unusual in the park giving the whole area an otherworldly feel. Because of this trail’s length and constant up and downs it’s one of the least crowded hikes in the park.

Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Trees Trail in Sequoia National Park, California
Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, the Big Trees Trail is one of the best short and easy hikes you can do in Sequoia. This loop trail takes you completely around the meadow and provides impressive views of numerous massive sequoias as well as the beautiful meadow itself.

From the museum follow a paved path on a ridge above the road. In a few hundred feet, the path will cross the road as you near the meadow. From here the trail does a loop around the meadow which you can start in either direction. The path is paved or in some places a wooden bridge when it gets marshy. Allow 1 hour round trip.

Lower Bear Gulch Cave Trail, Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lower Bear Gulch Cave Trail in Pinnacles National Park, California

One of America’s newer national parks is one of the smallest at just over 26,000 acres but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space to get lost in its stunning terrain. The easy Lower Bear Gulch Cave trail takes hikers under moss-covered boulders and across alpine springs often at the same time. This short trail passes through strikingly angular rock formations before dipping down through Bear Gulch Cave—be sure to bring a flashlight. After you’ve hiked through Lower Bear Gulch you can double back and take a higher route past the 300 foot Monolith rock pinnacle, one of the largest in the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hawksbill Loop Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

At just 3 miles in length, the Hawksbill Loop Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park may not seem very long but it packs plenty of punch. The route wanders along part of the legendary Appalachian Trail on its way up to the top of Hawksbill—the highest point in the park at just over 4,000 feet. Along the way hikers can spot wildlife as they work their way up to the summit where they’ll discover a stone platform that offers views of thick forests and rolling hills that stretch to the horizon. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities with something suitable for every age and experience level during every month of the year. The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion and one of the best slot canyon hikes anywhere. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suit any ability level. The trail is basically the Virgin River. The canyon is so narrow the river covers the bottom in many spots which means you have to wade or swim to proceed. The cool water makes this hike particularly pleasant during the hot months of summer.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devil’s Garden Hike and Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park in southeast Utah is a day-hikers paradise. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch. The Devil’s Garden Loop is at the far end of the park where the main road terminates. This is a 7.2-mile trail with some wonderful rock scenery and eight arches along the route. This is one of the more difficult hikes in the park with some scrambles over slickrock and exposed ledges. However, you don’t necessarily need to do the entire loop to experience some of the attractions in this area.  A 1.6-mile round-trip hike on relatively flat ground will take you to Landscape Arch which spans more than the length of a football field. Also in the same area are Navajo Arch and Partition Arch. Both of these hikes leave from the Devils Garden Trailhead.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

A Hiker’s Paradise: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

A top notch location in the greater Phoenix area for a hike in the desert with thirty miles of trails that range anywhere from as short as a mile to several of them exceeding five miles or more

Nearly 30,000 acres makes White Tank Mountain the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valleys west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain History

Eleven archeological sites occupied during the time period A.D. 500-1100 were located within the boundaries of White Tank Mountain Regional Park. All of these sites can be attributed to the Hohokam Indians. The White Tanks were apparently abandoned by the Hohokam about A.D. 1100. There is no further indication of human occupation until the historic period when the Western Yavapai controlled the area.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ruggedness of terrain and scarcity of water restricted the sites to large canyons leading out of the mountains. In these canyons, the sites include seven villages varying from 1 to 75 acres in area, a rock shelter in the face of a steep cliff overlooking the white tanks, and several shard areas. Several of the villages appear to have been occupied for long periods by sizeable populations while the shard areas may represent temporary camps of hunters and gatherers.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the sites in the area are concentrated around the White Tanks themselves. The Tanks probably held water the year-round and thereby drew people to the region. Petroglyphs on rocks indicate the Indians were more than transients. Pottery shards along the Agua Fria and Hassayampa signify the presence of villages and the likelihood that an Indian trail connected the streams with the White Tank long before Europeans came into the area. The discovery of possible agricultural terraces or check dams indicates that farming may have been carried on in the various canyons of the White Tank Mountains by utilizing seasonal runoff and rain water.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About the Petroglyphs

Ancient Arizonans pecked hundreds of figures and symbols on the rock faces of the White Tank Mountains. Some may approach 10,000 years old. All have withstood sun, rain, and vandals for 700 or 800 years or more.

The Black Rock Trail circles through a Hohokam village site though the pit houses and trash mounds are hidden to all but the trained eye of an archeologist. The largest group of rock-art panels is along the Waterfall Canyon Trail at “Petroglyph Plaza”. Another big group is near the entrance to the box canyon that gives the trail its name.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A rock drawing was serious business to its maker. While no one can say precisely what most of them “mean”, we know they had important functions in the lives of their makers. They were not simply stone-age graffiti. The symbols recorded events and marked locations. They were a magical way to control nature so rain would fall or mountain sheep would let themselves be caught. Some served as trail markers and maps. Others represented religious concepts.

Do not try to make “tombstone rubbings” of the petroglyphs. It does not work and you will erode the dark areas making the petroglyph dimmer. Look at and photograph these figures and symbols of history but do not touch the petroglyphs as skin oils can also damage them. 

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Hiking Trails

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 30 miles of excellent shared-use trails ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles and difficulty from easy to strenuous. Overnight backpacking with a permit is allowed in established backcountry campsites. Day hikes can provide some breathtaking views of the mountains and panoramas of the Valley below. Horseback and mountain bike riders are welcome although caution is stressed as some of the trails may be extremely difficult.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. These include two short trails that are hard-surfaced and barrier free. Waterfall Trail is barrier-free for 5/10 of a mile. The handicap accessible portion now ends about 1/10 of a mile past Petroglyph Plaza. The short loop of Black Rock Trail which is about ½ mile long begins at Ramada 4.

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Picnic Areas

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 240 picnic tables with grills, 80 of which have a small cover. Eleven Group Picnic Sites are available for large groups. These ramadas can be reserved for a fee in four-hour increments. If not marked as reserved, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Camping

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for RV camping. Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Directions: White Tank Mountain Regional Park is located at the very west end of Olive Ave about 15 miles west of the 101 (Agua Fria Highway).

NORTH: Take Highway 303 south and exit at PEORIA AVE. Turn right from the off-ramp and travel west for 1 mile on Peoria Ave to Cotton Lane. Turn left (south) onto Cotton Lane until you get to Olive Ave. Turn right (west) on Olive Ave and continue 4 miles to the park gate.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

SOUTH: Take Highway 303 north and exit at NORTHERN AVE. Turn left (west) at the light and off-ramp onto Northern Ave, traveling west for 1 mile to Cotton Lane. Turn right (north) onto Cotton lane and travel 1 mile to Olive Ave. Turn left (west) onto Olive Ave and continue for 4 miles to the park gate.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

White Tank Mountain Regional 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

Now is the Time to Discover Madera Canyon, a Hiking and Birding Paradise

Madera Canyon is a retreat for birds and humans alike with cooler weather, extensive trail systems, and mountainous scenery

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains east of Green Valley and 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. Its higher elevation offers relief to desert dwellers during the hot summer months and allows access to snow during the winter.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Madera Canyon has a long and colorful history. The Friends of Madera Canyon, a cooperating volunteer group, helps the Forest Service maintain recreation sites and provides brochures and education programs.

Mount Wrightson, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, originally known as White House Canyon, is one of the largest of the deep, wooded ravines in the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s sky islands—isolated high elevation regions surrounded on all sides by much lower land. Orientated approximately north-south, towards its upper end the canyon splits into several tributaries that drain the slopes of 9,453 foot Mount Wrightson, the highest peak in the range. The canyon contains a shallow but permanent creek fed by springs along tributary streams.

There is no gate or sign indicating you are in the Canyon, except for a sign on a right-hand turn to the Visitor Information Station. Brochures and information (but not passes) are available here.

Proctor Parking Area, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is also the entrance to the Proctor parking area, handicap accessible trail, and beginning of the Bud Gode Interpretive Nature Trail.

Continuing up the paved road will bring you first to the Whitehouse parking and picnic area. The next parking area is the Madera parking area with picnic sites on both sides of the road. Next is the Santa Rita Lodge on the right where you can park to look at birds at the many feeders.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the road at an elevation of about 5,000 feet is the Amphitheater parking area with access to the Nature Trail. Continuing up the canyon you’ll find the Madera Kubo Cabins, another bridge, the Chuparosa Inn B & B, and the large Mount Wrightson Picnic Area and trail heads with parking, numerous picnic sites, and rest rooms.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both the riparian valley floor and the thickly vegetated slopes are home to a large variety of plants, reflecting the crossroads location between the Sonoran Desert and the mountains. As a result the canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds including hummingbirds, owls, sulphur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.

A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads. Nearly 100 miles of paths climb the valley sides to springs, viewpoints, old mines, and summits including Mount Wrightson. Apart from the creekside path all trails are lightly used. Most visitors are here for picnics, splashing in the stream, and short walks along the canyon floor where the most fruitful bird-watching locations are found.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight. The vertical climb covers 4,013 feet from the Mount Wrightson Picnic/Trailhead Parking Lot. For these trails, hiking boots and layered clothing for temperature change are recommended. Always bring drinking water and stay on the trails. Hiking brochures with detailed trail maps are available at each trail head and the Santa Rita Lodge.

Madera Creek along a Proctor Area trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Proctor area, a paved loop trail suitable for wheelchairs and walkers offers occasional benches for resting. The trail follows Madera Creek and provides access to the beauty of the lower canyon. Another paved loop trail at Whitehouse is often used by visitors requiring wheelchairs.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach Madera Canyon from Tucson, take the I-19 south towards Nogales and use the Continental Exit 63. Then, follow the Whitehouse Canyon Road east towards the Santa Rita Mountains. The strange elephant-head-shaped mountain located to your right indicates you are on the correct road.

A Coronado National Forest or Interagency (America the Beautiful) pass must be displayed.  Day use passes can be purchased at the site for $8. 

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Ribbon of Green: Sabino Canyon Offers Desert Beauty

The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible

Hello again. I am really glad to see you and just want to say: thank you for being here.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premiere place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at her finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many saguaro, and other Sonoran Desert cacti and plants with rocky peaks rising high above.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited, having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino is believed to have formed some 12 million years ago. Then, an earthquake in 1887 dislodged massive boulders lining the canyon walls which crashed down to the valley below. Sabino Canyon was carved out by Sabino Creek which flows with water intermittently during the year including across the roadway in several locations. Water features that can be accessed in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area include Seven Falls, Hutches Pool, Sabino Dam, and Lake Sycamore Reservoir.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another paved road reaches the mouth of Bear Canyon then a trail continues upstream and although the landscape in both is similar, Sabino Canyon receives more water so is generally a greener, cooler place as the streamway is more shaded and the pools persist longer. The single most impressive feature in Bear Canyon is Seven Falls where the waters cascade down a steep ravine creating an enchanting sequence of waterfalls and pools. Both canyons are usually dry by mid-summer.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at Stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. Several restroom facilities are located near Sabino Creek. Sabino Canyon also features a dozen picnic areas including at the Visitor Center, Lower Sabino Canyon, Sabino Dam East, Cactus Picnic Area, and Bear Canyon Overlook.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bear Canyon leads to the gorgeous Seven Falls, an intermittent series of waterfalls just east of Sabino Canyon. The hike (moderate to difficult) to Seven Falls is 8.4 miles round trip from the Visitor Center. Hop on the tram to shorten the hike.

Sabino Canyon Tours’ Bear Canyon Trail tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Fall. The 30-minute shuttle round trip in Bear Canyon currently has three stops where hikers can access a myriad of trails including the popular Seven Falls Trail. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the tram does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry. Admire towering saguaros, listen for the trickle of Sabino Creek, enjoy the many wildflowers, or watch for glimpses of wildlife activity from coyotes to mountain lions, hawks to rattlesnakes, and hummingbirds to lizards.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trailhead for numerous trails in Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon are accessible by riding the shuttle. Once you hop off the shuttle to explore the canyon you can hike back to the Visitor Center or simply show your ticket to the driver at any stop to get back on board any shuttle with available seats for a comfortable ride to the drop-off area.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the various trails in the area, one starts next to the parking area—a short, self-guided Desert Nature Trail with informative signage about local plants and animals. Other trails are found along the Sabino Canyon Road. The Phoneline Trail (#27) is perhaps the most popular; starting 1.4 miles from the visitor center it climbs up the south side of the canyon then follows it for several miles before descending to the far end of the road where it intersects the Sabino Canyon Trail (#23), a route that continues further north into the mountains. Another short path, the Sabino Lake Trail (#30), leads to a seasonal reservoir along Sabino Creek, a good location for bird watching.

Sabino Canyon © 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

Connect with Nature at McDowell Mountain Regional Park

There’s a whole world of outdoor adventure awaiting you right outside the city of Phoenix

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, this 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy over 50 miles of multi-use trails and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A stroll through the park will allow visitors to likely see deer, javelina, birds, and coyotes.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain History

Arizona… a place of legends still conveyed through movies, T.V., the written word, and many storytellers. Maricopa County through its Regional Park system encompasses areas where many stories originated. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is one such place where history is not only a form of speculation with its Indian petroglyphs and archaeological sites but considerable amount of it actually transpired and has been documented.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2,000 years ago nomadic big game hunters spread into southwest North America. Next, the Hohokam Indians who evolved from the earlier Cochise culture plus immigrants from Mexico occupied much of Southern Arizona from about 2,000 years ago to 1450 A.D. The Spanish arrived between 1540 and 1542 under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez de Coronodo. At that time, the areas near the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers was home to between 4,000 and 10,000 Hohokam Indians. Native activities ranged from intensive agriculture with river irrigation to nomadic hunting and gathering. McDowell Park contains the remains of several such hunting and gathering sites within its boundaries.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1865, Camp McDowell was founded on the west bank of the Verde River. Remaining a permanent military post until 1890, it was the only fort inside present boundaries of Maricopa County. Remains of the fort still exist in the present day village of Fort McDowell, a few miles southeast of McDowell Mountain Park. Due to the presence of Camp McDowell and the protection it offered, settlement in the Salt River Valley was permanent. On February 12, 1871, Maricopa County was created to serve the growing population.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Hiking Trails

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40-miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5-miles to 15.3-miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Those looking for an easy hike should try the North Trail at 3.1-miles. Those looking for a good workout for themselves or their horses should try the Pemberton at 15.3-miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 10th 1998 McDowell Park opened the 1st of 3 loops of a new competitive track. Today, the track offers three loops totaling 15 miles: one for the experts, one for intermediate riders, and one for the average rider. Each loop offers a variety of obstacles to test the riders’ skills. The track consists of steep inclines, swooping turns, technical descents, and rugged terrain. This competitive track is geared for mountain bikers who want to test their skills. Joggers and equestrian riders are welcome to give the track a try too. The Long Loop of the track was designed for the average rider but is used by all. The Sport Loop is for intermediate riders and experts. The Technical Loop is for the expert rider. This portion of the track offers swooping turns, very technical descents, and steep inclines.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​McDowell Mountain Picnic Areas

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers two picnic areas totaling 88 picnic sites. Each site has a picnic table, restroom, playground, and barbecue grill. Picnic sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at McDowell Mountain

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, and barbecue fire ring. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. The south loop of the campground also offers handicapped-accessible restrooms. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large groups can reserve one of three campgrounds within McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Group Campgrounds can be reserved for a fee and requires a commitment of six units to utilize the facility for dry camping. Group Campgrounds provide a 3-acre parking area to accommodate up to 30 RV units and offer restroom with flush toilets and hot water showers, a covered ramada with 6 picnic tables, a large barbecue grill, and a large fire ring for campfires.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Beeline Highway (SR 87). Continue northeast on SR 87 to Shea Blvd. Travel west on Shea Blvd. to Saguaro Blvd.; turn north. Continue through Town of Fountain Hills to Fountain Hills Blvd; turn right and travel four miles to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

McDowell Mountain Regional 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

National Parks Offer At-Home Learning Resources for the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has turned many parents into teachers and the National Park System has a rich collection of teaching materials they can use

Remembering 9/11 

We will remember every rescuer who died in honor.  We will remember every family that lives in grief.  We will remember…

—George W. Bush

Good morning. Today, we’re pausing to reflect on two events that forever changed the world: 

  1. It’s the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans. 
  2. Exactly six months ago, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. More than 900,000 people around the world have died from COVID-19.

To all those who’ve suffered or lost loved ones in these tragedies, we’re thinking of you and sending strength.

No day shall erase you from the memory of time.

—Virgil

August is gone, classrooms are in flux as some are open, many are not, and many parents are being recast as homeschoolers. Looking for some additional content to keep your kids busy? Look to the national parks.

According to the National Parks Traveler, the National Park System (NPS), 419 units strong, is rich with educational materials touching biology, botany, biodiversity, wildlife, paleontology, archaeology, and so many more “oligies.” And that’s not to overlook the cultural and historical resources to be found in places like Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Arizona, Saratoga National Historical Park in New York, and Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re hunkered down during the coronavirus pandemic on the East Coast or in the West or somewhere in between, there are virtual programs developed by the National Park Service and friends groups and cooperating associations you can tap into to not only keep your children busy but learning from a wide range of subjects.

Saratoga National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike in the early days of the pandemic when school systems first shuttered and only offered a review of previously covered material for the rest of the school year, this fall school systems have vowed that there will be new content and curriculum and that it will be more rigorous and engaging.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, I have major concerns about an educational system that relies on students sitting in front of a computer screen for many hours. I also have concerns about how to keep them engaged and motivated for many weeks and possibly months. Although we’re told how resilient children are, and that’s often true, they are struggling to adjust to a new normal like the rest of us and I’m concerned about their emotional health and level of academic engagement.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supplemental educational resources from the National Park Service are welcome because I believe that in many areas of the country it will fall to parents to help their children find more opportunities for learning and projects that are interesting and engaging. Some families already are aware that the National Park System is a source of knowledge and inspiration. Their children are aware of and participants in Junior Ranger programs so plugging into NPS materials would be a no-brainer for them.

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

Washington’s National Park Fund is offering a new series of virtual field trips to Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. Virtual Field Trips can be a great resource for home-schooling parents and teachers especially since all the past field trips are recorded. The ones labeled ‘Junior Ranger’ are especially good for younger children while all the other field trips are relevant for Middle and High School students.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating educational materials for school-age children is nothing new for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the driving force behind the popular Kids in Parks program, a particularly useful program if you can head out to a nearby park for outdoor learning. The Kids in Parks program has a suite of materials that can be used by teachers, parents who are now teaching, and students to engage them in outdoor activities that promote learning in nature.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids in Parks works with individual parks to convert their preexisting hiking trails (and other types of trails) into ‘TRACK Trails’ through the installation of signs and brochures that turn an ordinary hike into a fun-filled, discovery-packed adventure. Each TRACK Trail has four brochure topics students can use to learn about and connect with nature: Flowers, Lichen, Dragonflies, Nature’s Relationships, Birds, etc. (They have a catalog of 30+ brochures).

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Children that register their adventures through the website earn a series of prizes designed to make their next outdoor adventure more fun and encourage repeat use of the program. Over the past 11 years, Kids in the Parks have had 700,000 children and 1.7 million people hike their trails.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Congaree National Park TRACK Trail is a flat 2.4 mile loop through a floodplain forest on boardwalks. Congaree National Park is home to one of the few old-growth floodplain forests east of the Mississippi River. With trees an average of 130 feet, the forest at Congaree is one of the tallest broad-leaved (or deciduous) forests in North America. Grand bald cypress, water tupelo, and loblolly pine trees surround you along this trail.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation has converted some of their most popular TRACK Trail brochures into e-Adventures that youngsters can do on a smart phone or tablet. They can complete these e-Adventures in their backyard, schoolyard, local park, on an official TRACK Trail, or anywhere in between.

Worth Pondering…

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

High Country Adventure: Tailor Made Activities for the Summer of 2020

An Arizona bucket list of adventure in the high country for the summer of 2020

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020, it’s just how quickly things can change. Usually when summer rolls around, the vacation options seem endless. But due to the new coronavirus pandemic, many popular getaways are off-limits.

Yet with a little careful planning, high-country escapes—with social distancing—are still an option. So here’s an Arizona bucket list of adventure appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Hiking Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Sedona

Like every other corner of Arizona, the Red Rock Country of Sedona undergoes a remarkable transformation during summer monsoon season. Towering clouds fill the sky. The light turns wild, and colors grow even more vivid. The haunting scent of moisture in the air floats through desert and forest. Each shallow dip and trough fills with water like brimming ponds. Dusty washes turn into creeks while water gushes down from high cliffs.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there is no bad time to be hiking in Sedona, monsoons add a splash of magic. Here is a Sedona trail I enjoyed on our last visit to Red Rock Country.Just be safe out there. Carry snacks and plenty of water. Don’t hit the trail if thunder or lightning are present. Keep your distance from fellow hikers.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is one of the first identifiable red rock formations you see when entering Sedona from Highway 179. It is quite clear how it received its name; it looks like a giant red bell melting into the landscape. There are a few trails that go around and near the base of Bell Rock as well as one that leads you onto the rock itself. The trails around Bell Rock are short in distance and provide moderate hiking for visitors who want to take their time and enjoy the excellent views.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is said to be one of the larger vortex sites in Sedona. Vortexes are said to be sites with heavy concentrations of energy spiraling upward from the Earth. Many people believe that vortex sites have physical, emotional, and spiritual healing properties. If you are open to the idea, go and feel it out for yourself.

Granite Dells along Constellation Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Prescott

With close to 200 established trails, Prescott is a hiker’s paradise. The Constellation Trail is a tangled web of pathways around the stunning Granite Dells. Near the trailhead is a commemorative plaque honoring the five crewmen of the Air Force Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation who perished when their plane crashed nearby in 1959. Cause of the crash is still unknown. Signs with maps are posted at each junction and all trail segments together total less than 2.5 miles as they wind their way through the Dells. Brutish boulders rise in sudden thrusts while others lay about in jumbled heaps.

Granite Dells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a land of dramatic textures. The trail slithers among rocky clusters and gains just enough elevation to offer wide-ranging views. Small grottoes and narrow passageways make this a fun hike for kids. If you do it after some monsoon rains you will be rewarded with some lush riparian vegetation as well as some chaparral and many rocky granite outcroppings.

Arizona Highway 89A as it climbs Mingus Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Drive

Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the greatest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way. 

Arizona Highway 89A as it approaches Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.

Arizona Highway 89 with the red rocks of Sedona in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful and satisfying drive, Arizona 89A passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.  You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment, you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. I’ve seen RVs navigate this narrow, twisty stretch but it’s not my idea of a fun time.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town, fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.

Tuzigoot National Monument with Cottonwood in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave Jerome, the town of Cottonwood is in the broad valley below the mountain range.  There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east. For more incredible beauty continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown, then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of the Mogollon Rim and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet altitude. 

Arizona Highway 89A from Cottonwood to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

These are some of the best places to hike in the United States from Virginia to Utah and South Dakota to North Carolina

Many Americans are rediscovering favorite pastimes during the COVID-19 pandemic including exploring outdoor areas. Because you can breathe fresh air and get away from enclosed spaces, this can be a great time to plan a hiking trip. Being outdoors is one of the most effective ways to avoid close contact while enjoying exercise and leisure.

It’s possible to explore a natural marvel in your backyard or scratch a national park off of your bucket list. You may also try to find little-known hiking trails to avoid large crowds and to make a memorable road trip.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The National Park Service maintains the Blue Ridge Parkway which is 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. While the visitor centers and campgrounds are not open, most hiking trails are. Some notable landmarks to hike include:

  • Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Humpback Rocks Trail (MP-6; Length: 1 mile one-way)
  • Peaks of Otter, Sharp Top Trail (MP-86; Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Moses Cone Park (MP-294)
  • Linville Falls Visitor Center, Erwins View Trail (MP-317; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Craggy Gardens, Craggy Gardens Trail (MP-364; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Mount Pisgah, Mount Pisgah Trail (MP-408; Length: 1.6 miles one-way)
Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 369 miles of hiking trails are in the parkway. Some portions of the parkway are near the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. You might be able to hike on these trails if time allows.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian Trail

Serious hikers dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail spanning 14 eastern states. As life is different this year, you won’t be able to hike the full trail at one-time easily. Most shelters are not open, so you may have to avoid an overnight hiking trip. Each state from Maine to Georgia has its unique gems. You can explore “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia with its 28-mile stretch near Harpers Ferry.

Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

National parks offer many travel opportunities but several state parks are great too. South Dakota’s Custer State Park has driving and hiking trails. You may enjoy seeing the buffalo and hiking in the Black Hills. Four hiking trails include:

  • Cathedral Spires Trail (Length: 2.3 miles return)
  • Little Devil’s Tower Trail (Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Prairie Trail (Length: 3 miles loop)
  • Sylvan Lake Shore Trail (Length: 1 mile loop)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Utah has plenty of things to do outdoors. Zion National Park is one of the state’s hiking paradises and has the privilege of being Utah’s first national park. But there are some temporary restrictions to be aware of before traveling. First, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible via park shuttle with reservations required in advance. Second, the Kolob Canyons area is not open until further notice.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may also need to avoid contact with park streams due to toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Make sure you bring plenty of extra drinking water for this hiking trip. Despite these restrictions, there’s plenty to see by foot in Zion including:

  • The Grotto shuttle stop, Angels Landing Trail (Length: 5.4 miles round trip)
  • Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, The Narrows (Length: 5-9.4 miles round trip, depending on how far you go)
  • Zion Lodge shuttle stop: Emerald Pools Trail (Length: 1.2 mile round-trip loop to Lower Pool; 2 miles round trip to Middle and Lower Pool; 2.5 miles round trip to Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools)
  • Trailhead on UT-9 beyond first tunnel, Zion Canyon Overlook Trail (Length: 1 mile round trip)
  • Watchman Campground, Watchman Trail (Length: 2.7 miles round trip)
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, consider hiking Utah’s Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, or Arches National Park if you want to try something different. Utah has laudable state parks as well, including Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summary

National parks tend to have the best hiking trails, but state or local parks are hidden gems as well. You may try to explore lesser-known areas to avoid large crowds. You can still enjoy the great outdoors and the views may rival those of the most popular hiking trips.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne