7 Simple Tips to Live Longer and Healthier

Turns out extending your lifespan is pretty damn easy. Just follow these definitive, scientific, time-tested methods.

Over the past few years there has been an ever-increasing obsession with biohacking and life extension. Biohacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology and feel your best. It doesn’t have to involve being a mad scientist and running crazy experiments with your body—but for some people it does.

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

A biohacking movement is growing in popularity in Silicon Valley where tech execs track what they eat, ketone levels, and body composition on a daily basis. They also fast for days at a time increasing their risk of missing out on critical minerals.

James Island County Park, Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many medical professionals and scientists are skeptical of these practices due to their mistaken idea that medicines and medical therapies have a greater impact on your body than following nutrition principles.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, ustin, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer at the SENS Research Foundation, a Silicon Valley–based longevity institute, recently told the New Yorker that by doing things like optimizing his mitochondrial mutation, “I can drink as much as I like, and it has no effect. I don’t even need to exercise, I’m so well optimized.” Perhaps? And then again, perhaps not?

These biohackers seem to have forgotten that there already exists a proven method to extend both the quantity and quality of your life: adopting a few healthy, lifestyle habits.

Utah Lake State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We’ve known since the mid-1960s that lifestyle behaviors have an outsize influence on health and longevity,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher and expert on health and human performance at the Mayo Clinic. Since then, evidence to support the positive impact of healthy living has mounted, he says, even as more people try to find the elixir of youth.

Woodfield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider research published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrating that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors—regular exercise, a wholesome diet, no smoking—can increase lifespan by 11 years. Or a 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal that found a healthy lifestyle reduces one’s chance of all-cause mortality by a whopping 61 percent.

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Exercise

If exercise could be bottled up and sold as a drug, it would be a billion-dollar business. Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for physiological diseases (like heart disease and cancer) as well as psychological ones (like anxiety and Alzheimer’s).

Truth BBQ, Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Eat Real Foods

Avoid stuff that comes pre-packaged. People who eat lots of ultra-processed foods are more likely to develop heart disease and die sooner than those who stick to foods in their original form, two studies published in the BMJ conclude. Consuming lots of these foods has long been linked to an increased risk of a wide variety of health problems that can lead to heart disease or an early grave, such as obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cancer.

Billy’s Boudin, Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eating healthy has little to do with your ability to resist buying junk food or ordering a pizza—it has everything to do with how much you educate yourself about your body. That’s an important reason why eating healthy is difficult: We lack the self-control to learn about nutrition, longevity, and how our bodies function. 

La Posta, Mesilla, New Mexico

3. Avoid Supplements

Americans spend more than $30 billion every year on dietary supplements. A 2016 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association cited more than 20 years of research and concluded that “studies evaluating dietary supplements have yielded predominantly disappointing results about the potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate.”

2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sleep 8 Hours at Night

If you’re not getting enough zzzs each night (usually between 7–9 hours) and suffering from sleep deprivation, you’re putting yourself at risk for a host of health problems including a higher risk for chronic disease, a weakened immune system, trouble concentrating, irritability, and out-of-whack hormones. Regardless of what the biohackers may tell you, you simply cannot nap your way to optimal health and functioning. It’s only after you’ve been sleeping for at least an hour that anabolic hormones are released.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Enjoy Coffee

Coffee is rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and phenylindane, a recently identified compound that researchers think may help fend off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Drinking coffee has also been linked to reduced risks for several cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Drink your coffee without sugar or processed syrups.

Lucero Olive, Corning, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Use Olive Oil

Think of olive oil as “liquid gold”, such are its benefits with improved heart health topping the list. A four-and-a-half year clinical trial involving 7,000 older adults at risk of heart disease found that those eating an olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet had 30 percent fewer instances of heart attacks and strokes as well as improved lipid and cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Olive oil consumption has also been linked to a slowing of the progression of breast cancer, reduced bone mass loss, and better blood glucose control. Use it to cook or dress multi-colored vegetables.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Enjoy Nature

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.” Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.

New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Each day I will rise and greet the morning sun, for it is a good day.

—L.M. Montgomery

Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

A petroglyph is an image on stone, created by removing part of the surface of the rock by pecking, carving, etching, or abrading with a tool or harder stone

Greetings on day 1,999 of lockdown! Oh, wait, that’s not correct. It just feels that way.

Just remember, this isn’t forever, but you have to know what’s out there before you can step back into the world of RV travel. Today we keep the fire going as we head to the Land of Enchantment.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock. We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Petroglyph National Monument and Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Petroglyph National Monument and Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.

The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: People Still Live Here & I Can See Why

Stunning scenery blends with Navajo culture

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Chinle in the Navajo Nation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon.

Navajo guides at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two ways to experience Arizona’s lesser-known canyon. You can drive along the rim stopping at overlooks to marvel at the vertical cliffs and stone spires and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

Hiking White House Trail at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, and many areas, including the backcountry, are accessible only with a permit and an official Navajo guide. Start your visit to Canyon de Chelly at the visitor center to learn more about the history and rules at this unique place. To enhance your visit, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.

Begin your visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument at the Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the visitor center to the last overlook is about 16 miles one-way. There are seven overlooks from which to view Canyon de Chelly. Watch for changes in vegetation and geology as the elevation rises from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at Spider Rock. Allow two to three hours for this drive—and considerably longer, if you’re a photographer.

Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third overlook, Junction, affords the first look at the canyon’s depth, and the signs warn that it’s a sheer drop of 600 feet to the bottom. Junction has views of Chinle Valley and the confluence of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenery elevates to spectacular at the Sliding Rock Overlook, about 700 feet above the canyon floor and site of ruins that once slipped off the canyon walls. Face Rock Overlook is even higher and sort of a prelude to the most magnificent of all—Spider Rock Overlook. From here you can see the volcanic core of Black Rock Butte and the Chuska Mountains on the horizon.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to legend, Spider Woman taught the Navajo how to weave and now lives on top of the spire that is covered with white limestone. The legend says the white stuff is the bones of bad children who were carried off by Spider Woman.

Sharing the White House Trail with Navajo sheep herders at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also worthwhile, but not quite as scenic, the North Rim Drive has only three overlooks from which to view Canyon del Muerto. Some of the most beautiful cliff dwellings are along this 34-mile route from start to finish. Allow a minimum of two hours for this drive.

White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t miss the White House Ruins. This is a superb hike. Long ago, hundreds of people lived in the structure built into the cliffs. Now the walls are a reminder of how life once thrived in the canyon.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”. The trail begins at the White House Overlook and is a two- or three-mile round trip, depending on which signs you believe. Allow two to three hours to complete the trail. The drop from the rim to the canyon floor is 600 feet. Since the trail is considered moderately strenuous, hiking boots are recommended. Ensure you take plenty of drinking water, especially if you’re hiking in the summer’s heat.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

Sedona Is a Must-Stop

The most beautiful place on Earth

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you admire exquisite art, or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona.

If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys, or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona.

Sedona is a must-stop.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although American Indians lived in the region as far back as 1100, European settlers didn’t arrive until 1876. Drawn by the abundance of water and fertile soil, pioneers began farming crops and planting orchards on the banks of Oak Creek. The community continued to grow, and by the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families worked the land. These early settlers of Sedona called their town Upper Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the 20th century, T.C. Schnebly built a large two-story home that served as general store and hotel near Oak Creek. He also organized the first post office. When it came time to name the community, his original suggestions of Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly’s Station were rejected by the Postmaster General as being too long—they would not fit on a postmark.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, T.C.’s brother suggested naming the town after T.C’s wife, Sedona. Postal officials approved the name, and in 1902, T.C. began running the post office from the back of his home. Today Sedona is home to approximately 10,000 people and covers 19 scenic square miles.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s beauty makes it an alluring destination. As early as 1895, anthropologist/archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes predicted that the area would become extremely popular among tourists. Today, 4.5 million travelers come each year to enjoy mild winter weather and gorgeous scenery; to shop amid its famous galleries and varied shops; or for the vortexes.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly appreciate the legacy of Sedona’s early pioneers, spend time outside reveling in the same heart-freeing beauty they experienced. Hike the trails they carved from this wilderness. Over a century later—even as Sedona has grown into a world-class destination filled with art galleries, resorts, spas, and restaurants—you can still walk the same pathways the earliest residents walked. That’s part of the magic of this landscape, how closely connected it is to wild country.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is located at the mouth of a rugged canyon, surrounded by the 1.8-million-acre Coconino National Forest. A 2,000-foot-high escarpment known as the Mogollon Rim towers over town. The cliffs are made of ancient deposits of soft limestone, mudstone, and sandstone, which easily erode. Formations such as “Steamboat” and “Snoopy” can be seen while wandering Sedona’s main street.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re ready to see more, head to Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Gorgeous views include lush greenery along meandering Oak Creek, while the rugged red rocks call adventurers to explore.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nine trails form a network of routes. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s best to leave your RV parked at a campground and take your towed vehicle when you visit Sedona because parking is very limited.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Hiking Arizona

Your boots were made for walking through some of Arizona’s most awe-inspiring scenery

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure in the Grand Canyon State.

The Arizona landscape is so diverse from the desert and mountain hiking trails in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson areas to the cool high country of Northern Arizona, Arizona Lakes, Rivers, Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, White Mountains, Slot Canyons, and wilderness backcountry.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Arizona trails is a magical experience whether you choose short, easy hikes or long strenuous hikes. There are beginner trails, day urban hikes, and trails that only the experienced should attempt.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With year-round sunshine and breathtaking scenery, Arizona is widely considered one of the best places for hiking adventures. From the epic chasm of the Grand Canyon and the giant Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert to the magnificent monoliths that make up Monument Valley, Arizona is the red-hued epicenter of America’s adventure scene.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, one of the biggest draws is the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it welcomes more than six million visitors each year. However, only one per cent of these walk further than the South Rim viewing platforms and miss the real wonders of the Canyon.

Mother Nature has blessed Arizona with more than just the Grand Canyon. A hundred miles north, on the Colorado plateau, is the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument—striped waves of colored sandstone rippling through an arid landscape. The best way to experience it is to grab a hiking permit from the visitors’ centre and explore the towering stone cliffs and deep, ruddy canyons on foot as condors glide overhead.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona is famous for its fossilized logs, which date back more than 225 million years. Explore the Rainbow Forest or hike through the badlands to Red Basin and Martha’s Butte. Don’t miss the Blue Mesa trail for outstanding vistas.

Red Rock Country near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hundred miles south of the Grand Canyon is Sedona, a charming, artsy enclave famous for its huge sandstone formations which blaze brilliant reds and fiery oranges. It makes a great base for an adventure trip with everything from mountain biking through Red Rock State Park and wild swimming in Oak Creek to hikes around Cathedral Rock. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

Cathedral Rock near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south still is Phoenix and its sister cities which also draws numerous hikers and mountain bikers. It offers moderate to advanced trails through this rugged corner of the Sonoran Desert across White Tank, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Down in the southernmost flanks of Arizona, Tucson is a desert city sheltered by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Explore both units of Saguaro National Park, home of the giant Saguaro cacti. An iconic emblem of the Southwest, these spiky beasts can grow to more than 50 feet tall. The park offers 165 miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill trail which leads to rock art of the ancient Hohokam people.

Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike up to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Lemmon and spend the evening at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, a prime spot for stargazing. Alternatively, head 25 miles south to Madera Canyon and hike the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains easily accessible from the canyon campground.

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

Finally, 100 miles southeast of Tucson is the Chiricahua National Monument, an ethereal landscape scattered with ancient rock spires. There are 17 miles of hiking trails each winding through the giant and amazingly balanced boulders, where you’ll follow in the dusty footsteps of the early pioneers of American adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Wonderful Winter Day Hikes in Arizona

Natural areas for wintertime hiking

With more mountains than Switzerland—we swear!—and millions of acres of protected land, the number of hiking trails in Arizona is mind-boggling.

The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of hiking opportunities is the variety of scenery hikers can enjoy including desert, alpine, urban, remote, rocky, sandy, and grassy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because we couldn’t possibly cover all of this in one article, here are a collection of hikes perfect for Arizona’s balmy winter months. From Tucson’s Sabino Canyon to Thumb Butte in Prescott, explore these six natural areas for a perfect wintertime trek.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 3.2-mile (round trip) Wind Cave Trail makes a great family hike in the Pass Mountain. Although the “cave” is more of a shallow arch than a gaping, mysterious, bat-infested hole, the sweeping views to the north and west and the interesting array of plants growing from the “ceiling” make it worth a visit.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch. The shade at the mouth of the cave creates a nice spot for an alfresco meal.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the lush Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers visitors open-air shuttle rides.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hike the area without the use of the trams (which cost $8 for adults and $4 for kids), but they do help you see more—and save some sweating—on your Sabino Canyon hike. (As of November 2018, tram service is temporarily suspended while a new provider is determined.)

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bear Canyon Tram goes directly to the trailhead for this 2.5-mile walk to picturesque Seven Falls, which includes several stream crossings.

The Sabino Canyon Tram makes numerous stops along its 45-minute route. Several hikes of varying difficulty start along the bus path.

Thumb Butte, Prescott

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy to spot from nearly everywhere in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers a nearly two-mile hiking loop, part of which is paved, that goes almost to its summit.

Upon reaching the loop’s high point several hundred feet below the summit, look for a spur trail that takes you to an interpretative sign and bird’s-eye views.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sign gives you the names of each of the mountains in the Bradshaw Range you’ll see before you. On a clear day, you can even see north all the way to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, although there’s no interpretative sign naming those mountains.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter warning: The steeper side of the loop, which is partially paved, doesn’t see too much sun this part of the year and can sometimes be a little icy.

East Wetlands, Yuma

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just steps from downtown, you can explore the Yuma East Wetlands, where nearly 500 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area. Just past the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½-mile to a raised overlook, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. Or for a bird’s-eye wetlands view, walk the paved path along the levee.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more extended hike, follow the paved path heading west from Gateway Park. This route stays close to the Colorado River and is dotted with city parks.

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, bird watching, and hiking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail is an easy hike through the foothills that begins and ends at the Trailhead parking lot. The loop is created by a link connecting the Romero Canyon Trail and the Sutherland Trail. The trail is relatively flat, but about halfway around there is a slope with approximately 90 stairs. The Canyon Loop Trail crosses a wash several times, so seasonal stream flow may result in wet feet.

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.

Now Visible On Google Street View: Arizona State Parks

Get a sneak peek of Arizona’s State Parks and Trails with new Google maps

If you’re going to take advantage of this cooler weather by heading out for a hike, Arizona State Parks and Trails have a new virtual tool to help you plan your trip. Imagine seeing your favorite Arizona state park or trail before you head out, giving you the chance to plan your hike or view your campsite.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails partnered with Google earlier this year to make that happen. Nearly 200 miles of trails throughout all of Arizona’s state parks are now visible using the Street View function on Google Maps.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails staff used the Google R7 Trekker Camera to capture 360 views of all state parks and more than 175 miles of trails in and connecting to the state parks across Arizona. The data is now live on Google Earth and Google Maps enabling visitors to see trail conditions and plan the perfect hiking adventure or preview the beauty of a park before planning a weekend adventure. Use of the camera was free after Parks submitted a request and detailed information about which trails would be documented.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over six weeks, staff hiked more than 200 miles carrying the Trekker which weighs 45 pounds and includes 15 individual lenses to capture a 360-degree view of each trail and park. The data will help visitors understand the difficulty of trails, topography, and what to expect to see along the route, as well as the accessibility of the trail and the layout of the park. The project also had the added value of identifying any trails in need of maintenance or repair in the park system. 

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

Google has now processed and uploaded this park data to the existing Earth and Maps databases for free use by the public. The information can also afford people the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a trail without having to physically climb or travel.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s just a really neat way for people to navigate from their desk and see what we have to offer,” said Michelle Thompson, with Arizona State Parks and Trails in a news release. “If they were looking at something and they wanted to say, ‘Is this a hike I’d be able to accomplish? Is this going to be too difficult for me? What does the park look like? Should I make the drive?’ Then that’s all something that they can see.” 

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to use this amazing virtual tool.

1. Google a state park you’re interested in checking out. For example, search Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park and click “maps.”

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zoom in on the park. You see the little yellow person in the bottom right of your screen? Click on it and drag to the trail. While dragging, the trail will illuminate in blue. Set the figure down and you have entered “street view” mode.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your ground level point of view will include white arrows. Click on these arrows to follow the trail. You may also toggle your view in 360-degrees to check out the world around you. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails manage and conserve 35 natural, cultural, and recreational areas. Here are several of our favorites.

Catalina State Park 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock State Park 

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the rich banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Tropical Paradise: Palmetto State Park

Palmetto State Park offers a nature-filled getaway in Central Texas

If you were to blindfold a person and drive him into the lush undergrowth of the 270-acre park, it’s likely he’d be clueless as to his whereabouts. Studded with dense clusters of dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake plant species, shaded by a moss-draped canopy of ancient live oak trees, Palmetto State Park is Texas’ own version of a subtropical jungle. At the end of the park’s entrance road the landscape vividly plummets into the water-carved vista of the San Marcos River.

Along the entrance road to Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in the mid-30s, a small piece of that swamp 13 miles northwest of Gonzales—and nine miles southeast of Luling—became Palmetto State Park. The park abuts the San Marcos River and also has a four-acre oxbow lake. 

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful stone buildings in the park were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

A tropical paradise, Palmetto is an unusual botanical area that resembles the tropics more than Central Texas. The ranges of eastern and western species merge, resulting in an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Most notably, a stand of dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) plants is found around the park’s ephemeral swamp.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These ground-hugging, trunkless palms normally are found in the moist forests of East Texas and Louisiana, as well as much of the southeastern US. The extensive stand in Palmetto State Park was isolated thousands of years ago, considerably west of its natural range.

Wildlife frequently seen in the park includes white-tailed deer, armadillos, squirrels, raccoons, and over 200 species of birds including wild turkeys and several species of warblers.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s what you wouldn’t expect to see that makes this park special: a swampy wetlands. And it’s not just any old wetlands. The Ottine Swamp, named for the small town just outside the park’s gates, is a primeval wonderland of towering trees, peaty bogs, and warm springs.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crouch at the edge of a lagoon, as the spring-fed ponds are called locally, and the sweet scent of wild onion wafts skyward. Spanish moss drips from elm, hackberry, and cottonwood trees. Trumpet vines and wild grape twist around gnarled trunks and climb toward the canopy. Everywhere, palmetto palm fronds rustle in the breeze. These dwarf palmettos give the swamp an otherworldly atmosphere.

Activities include camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, birding, nature study, pedal boat and canoe rentals, swimming, tubing, and canoeing.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the first thing we look for at a state park is a trail to hike, and the winding, well-manicured trails at Palmetto offer plenty to see. The Ottine Swamp Trail and Palmetto Interpretive trails have boardwalks and bridges so you can wind through swamps filled with the park’s namesake dwarf palmettos. You’ll feel as if you’re in a tropical paradise.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We hiked the Palmetto Trail loop, careful—as a large sign warns—to watch for snakes. We marveled at the sheer greenness of the place, and the profusion of fan-shaped palm leaves.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Marcos River Trail leads you along the high banks of the San Marcos River, where towering cottonwoods and sycamore trees stand guard. The Mesquite Flats Trail offers a look at the drier, savannah-like parts of the park, where prickly pear cactus finds a home.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re finished exploring the park on land, enjoy the water. The always-fun Oxbow Lake offers calm water to cast a fishing line in search of catfish or sunfish. Try out a paddleboat, kayak, or canoe, or take a swim in the cool water. The San Marcos River low-water crossing is a great place to either splash around in the water or take a tube for a 20- to 30-minute float around the park.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boaters can put in the river at Luling City Park and travel 14 miles to Palmetto, portaging around one dam along the way. Put-in and take-out points are limited, as the river is mostly bordered by private land. There are no rapids, but almost always a steady current. Check river conditions at the park. For this trip, bring your own canoe and prearrange your shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. The campground is clean and quiet, and the stars at night are … well, you know the song.

Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $18-$20 plus the $3 per person park entrance fee. One campsite offering 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer is available for $20 nightly; 17 sites offering 30/50-amp electric service and water are available for $18. Weekly rates are available.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

As we explore America by RV, surprises await at every turn of the road. Natural beauty abounds when least expected.

Unplug & Recharge

Take a walk in the woods for better health

To “unplug” used to mean take a step away from your daily routine and forget about life’s worries. It also means something more literal—to pull the cord on the electronics in your life, turn off your dang phone, stop checking texts and email, and get off the ’gram.

Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This all is increasingly difficult to do, but it’s critical. Our digital life connects us in ways never before seen, but it also has health ramifications, from psychological addiction to disrupted sleep.

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents, and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.

Cherohola Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before smartphones and self-driving cars, Japan deemed “forest bathing” an essential part of its national health program. With forest bathing, the soaking isn’t literal. Bathing takes on a new meaning—immersing oneself in the natural environment.

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

The concept stems from Japanese Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy and goes back to 1982. Over three decades later, the goal of forest bathing is still to reintroduce people to the healing power of nature. Much study and research has confirmed what the Japanese have long believed—nature benefits wellbeing in many ways.

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the problems of modern society, the importance of nature, and restorative benefits of spending time outdoors. “We need the tonic of wildness,” he wrote in Walden, after spending two years in the woods.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here in the 21st century, an increasing number of health experts agree with Thoreau. The varied physical and mental health benefits that seem to come with spending time in the woods or other wild and green settings is the subject of an increasing body of study and some scientific research.

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

A good old walk in the woods has been credited with reducing blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, while improving mental health, cognitive abilities, and sleep patterns. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outdoors. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family?

Hiking to Clingman Dome, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a hike. There are a lot of places where you can hike—parks, trails, nature preserves. You’ll be out in nature, so it’s a great way to enjoy different types of plants and animals. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Hiking Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Whether it’s hiking in the Smoky Mountains, the Sierras, or the Rocky Mountains, follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos. Taking photos outside requires that you focus in on the nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or birds to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit to take photos, because the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching ways. You can also visit a nature preserve or wildlife refuge and look for photo opportunities with animals or plant life.

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

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby. Hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, fishing, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting try mountain biking.

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

Mountain biking in Utah is an endless-crazy-fun adventure. Head to the mountains or red rock desert trails. Singletracks, dirt roads, steep climbs, and rolling hills dominate the state’s beautiful landscape. Mountain biking is an invigorating and intimate way to experience the west. Located just north of Moab, Slickrock is perhaps the most popular mountain bike trail in the world boasting over 100,000 visitors per year.

Get Healthy, Get Outdoors

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find time today to venture outside and take advantage of the health benefits of the outdoors. Replace time spent inside on electronic devices with a bike ride or a walk to a local park. Take up forest bathing or gardening as a new hobby. And remember outdoor recreation can be enjoyed alone or as a family.

Reconnecting with nature in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no wrong way to get outside and so much to be gained by exploring the natural world. You know why being outside is important. It’s time to reconnect with nature. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Here are 10 state parks you may not know about—but should

While national parks are touted as the crown jewels of America, it is also time to recognize and celebrate America’s less crowded but just as fulfilling state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Texas, there is Galveston Island State Park with numerous activities on land and water. In Arizona, check out Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve located near Sedona. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina offers a lighthouse, swimming, birding, fishing, and camping.

Make plans now to visit these spectacular state parks.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Come to the island to stroll the beach, splash in the waves, fish, or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax.

Meaher State Park, Alabama

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 recreation activities.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Alligators, turtles, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers make their homes in this refuge.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

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 numerous opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

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

Hike the canyon rim trails above the Colorado River or mountain bike over 16 miles of high desert terrain on the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. Go geocaching, stop by the visitor center to learn about the Native American history of the region, and linger as the sun sets to enjoy the spectacular star show at this International Dark Sky Park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour.

Worth Pondering…
To travel is to live.

—Hans Christian Andersen