Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Custer State Park offers forest, meadows, mountains, and wildlife including a herd of 1,300 bison

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them.

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

One of America’s largest state parks, Custer has been home to diverse cultural heritages for thousands of years and has provided an array of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation for visitors since the early 1900s. Custer State Park 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.

Thirty to sixty million bison once roamed the great plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century, it’s estimated that less than 1,000 bison survived. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “Tatanka” for food, clothing, and shelter.

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

Today, nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

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

The bison herd roams freely throughout the park and is often found along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the southern part of the park. Bison seem docile but can run very fast and turn on a dime. Weighing as much as 2,000 pounds, these animals are forces to be reckoned with. Visitors should stay inside their vehicles when viewing the bison and not get too close. Most wildlife can easily be seen from your car. Bear in mind, they are wild. Keep your distance.

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, in 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

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

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Arrive early to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.

In addition to wildlife, the park features several historic sites, including the State Game Lodge, the Badger Hole, the Gordon Stockade, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, and the Mount Coolidge Fire Tower. The Black Hills Playhouse, which hosts performances each summer, is also located within the park, as are four resorts, each offering lodging, dining, and activities.

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

The park also has four mountain lakes. These lakes, along with several streams, offer many water recreation and fishing opportunities.

In March 1919, Custer State Park was named the first official state park. In 2019, South Dakota’s oldest state park celebrated 100 years of outdoor tradition. Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors enjoy the numerous and varied activities, attractions, and events found year-round within Custer State Park.

Needles Highway in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a driver’s delight. There are three scenic drives—Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and Wildlife Loop Road—which are part of the extensive network of backcountry lanes on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway for 70 miles, the route threads its way around pigtail bridges, through one-lane rock-walled tunnels, and ascends to the uppermost heights of the Needles.

The Needles in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The needle-like granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon in Custer State Park, known as the Needles, are truly see-it-to-believe-it phenomena. Drive Needles Highway to see for yourself just how majestic these outcroppings are in person. The Needles Highway is much more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventurous should carve out time to hike Cathedral Spires Trail. This moderate 1.5-mile trail offers spectacular views of these unique rock formations. You’ll likely pass rock climbers hauling gear in or out of the trail, as the spires are home to some of the most sought-after climbing routes in the Black Hills.

Wild burros seeking handouts in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other top trails include Sunday Gulch Trail, Little Devils Tower Trail, Lover’s Leap Trail, and Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. You can begin your trek to Black Elk Peak at one of two trailheads within the park.

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

Pronghorns in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing.

The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road takes visitors through open grasslands and pine-speckled hills that much of the park’s wildlife call home.

Mount Rushmore from the Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Iron Mountain Road winds between Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the junction of U.S. 16A and SR 36. Constructed in 1933, only a portion of this road lies within the park, but it is a must-see.

The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway complements the park’s three scenic drives and includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.

Camping in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following an action-packed day, sleep under the stars in Custer State Park. There are nine campgrounds tucked away in ponderosa pine forests, alongside fresh flowing streams, or near a mountain lake. The choice is yours! Campsites accommodate RVs and tents. Each campsite offers gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate, and a picnic table. Electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. Or, you can relax in a one-room, log-style camping cabin or historic lodge located throughout the park.

The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered. Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild.

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

Yes, You Can Avoid Crowds in the National Parks & Here is How

Tips on finding quieter havens and hidden gems

Given the astonishing beauty and richness of the 63 U.S. national parks, it’s no wonder they’re so popular: They received 237 million visitors in 2020—only a 28 percent drop from the year before despite widespread closures and travel slowing nearly to a halt due to the pandemic. This year will likely attract many more visitors drawn to outdoor spaces relatively close to home.

These are some of my tips for finding beautiful, less crowded spots, and moments of solitude even in the most popular of these wonderful destinations.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Lesser-known National Parks

Every national park-lover needs to visit Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, and the Grand Canyon at some point but consider visiting some of the lesser-known parks as well. One of my favorite “sleeper” parks is Petrified Forest in Arizona; here you’ll find remains of a colorful prehistoric forest, some of the logs more than 100 feet long and up to 10 feet in diameter. But there’s so much more: artifacts of the ancient indigenous people who lived here including the remains of large pueblos and massive rock art panels, fossils of plants and animals from the late Triassic period (the dawn of the dinosaurs), a striking and vast Painted Desert (a badland cloaked in a palette of pastel colors), a wilderness of more than 50,000 acres where you can find wildness and beauty, and a remnant of historic Route 66 complete with a 1932 Studebaker!

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other favorites include Congaree in South Carolina (the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast) and California’s remote Lassen Volcanic, one of the only places in the world that has all four types of volcanoes—cinder cone, composite, shield, and plug dome.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find Little-known Havens within a Park

Most national parks are pretty big places but visitors tend to congregate at some of the most well-known and iconic sites leaving other areas blissfully quiet. For example, Yosemite Valley includes some of the park’s most famous attractions but the valley is a tiny fraction of the park. Visit the Hetch Hetchy area, often described as the twin of Yosemite Valley, and hike to Wapama Falls or Rancheria Falls. Or drive to the lesser-visited northwest corner of Yellowstone and walk the Bighorn Pass Trail that follows the striking Upper Gallatin River.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Rocky Mountain avoid the popular Bear Lake Corridor area and take the dramatic Ute Trail through the park’s alpine tundra or the lovely Colorado River Trail in the park’s Never Summer Range.

In Joshua Tree, take a walk to Cottonwood Springs Oasis, filled with thick California fan palms and large cottonwoods. Grinding holes in nearby rocks tell the story of the ancient use of the oasis by Native Americans centuries ago. Cottonwood Spring is noted for its birdlife. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit during the Off-season

Many parks accommodate the majority of their visitors in the three summer months leaving the rest of the year relatively fallow (although these shoulder seasons are growing shorter as more people are adopting this strategy). The waterfalls of Yosemite are typically at their peak in May when it gets 10 percent of the park’s annual visits compared to 16 percent in August; fall foliage at Acadia is at its most colorful in October when it sees 13 percent of its annual visitors, compared to 22 percent in August; and wildflowers in the Grand Canyon are usually most prolific in April (9 percent of visitors versus 13 percent in July). For even more solitude, go for the real off-season—usually winter—when many parks such as Arches and Zion are quiet and beautiful.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out of your Car and Walk

It’s the natural law of parks that the number of people you see decreases exponentially with each mile you go from the trailhead and walking is the most intimate way to experience the parks. It allows you to appreciate the parks through so many of the senses: See the tracks of elusive mountain lions at Glacier National Park, hear the iconic call of the canyon wren as you hike through the Grand Canyon, smell the sweetness of Ponderosa pine bark warming in the sun in Yosemite, taste the salt air as you walk the Ocean Path at Acadia, and feel the solid granite beneath your feet as you explore the trails of Isle Royale.

Shuttle stop at Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use Shuttle Trams when Available

Traffic congestion and lack of parking plague many parks and the National Park Service is responding with shuttle buses at popular destinations such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Denali. Use these transit systems to avoid the traffic and parking headaches that too many of us face in our everyday lives.

Steller’s jay at Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rise Early and/or Stay Late

Get to attraction sites and trailheads early in the day and consider hikes late in the day—parking spaces are more readily available at these times and you’ll experience the parks at the “golden hours” when the light is at its finest—soft and rich—for viewing and photographing and when wildlife is more likely to be seen. Experience the dawn chorus of birds, one of the world’s great natural phenomena, and enjoy it in relative solitude.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchase Park Passes and Supplies before Arriving

Nearly all national parks require an entrance pass/fee. Of course, you can obtain passes at the parks you visit but this will probably require waiting in line at the park entrance station or visitor center. You can obtain passes in advance on the National Park Service website and some parks have an express lane for visitors who already have a pass. You can also save time and money purchasing the goods and services you’ll need (food, fuel, camping supplies) for your visit before you enter the park. These items are often available in the parks but only at a few locations and you’ll probably have to wait behind other visitors to make your purchases.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit National Monuments and Other National Park Service Sites

There are 423 national park service (NPS) sites in total and only 63 of them have the congressional designation of “National Park” including the most recent New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. In addition to monuments and national parks, there are national lakeshores and seashores, memorials, parkways, preserves, reserves, recreation areas, rivers and riverways, and scenic trails. Into military history? There are national battlefields, battlefield parks, battlefield sites, and national military. History buff? You’ll find national historical parks, national historic sites, and international historic sites.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There will always be a thirst for touring the nation’s iconic parks—for hiking in the canyons of Zion or scampering among the natural arches and pinnacles of Arches National Park. But travelers who’ve hiked New Mexico’s otherworldly Malpais National Monument or driven National Scenic Byway 12 through southeastern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without having to navigate throngs of people may never again think the same way about visiting America’s iconic national parks.

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Ultimate Guide to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Bison, prairie dogs, wild horses, pronghorns, coyotes—a Dakota wildlife landscape

North Dakota is not a place you might expect to wow you with wild terrain. As you drive through the remote western part of the state along two-lane highways, there appears to be nothing in sight but flatland for as far as the eye can see. Then as you near the areas surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park a visible trace of wilderness filled with badlands, dense vegetation, grasslands, and diverse wildlife appears seemingly out of nowhere. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1883, a young Theodore Roosevelt visited the Dakota Territory for the first time to “bag a buffalo.” His first visit to the frontier enchanted him so profoundly that it spurred a lifelong love affair with the region and in him a devout conservation ethic was born, an ethos that would shape the future of conservation efforts and of the National Park Service.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Theodore Roosevelt’s time in office, he established the United States Forest Service, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, 18 national monuments, and five national parks—protecting approximately 230 million acres of public land.

This park doesn’t get a lot of play on the national stage, mostly because of its out-of-the-way location. My hope is that this article will inspire others to journey there—not only is it among the most historic of all national parks but it is absolutely beautiful as well. With that, I’ll delve into some of the reasons why we loved being there.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like its neighboring state of South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt is home to many colorful badland formations—sedimentary deposits created over the course of 65 million years by the effects of erosion caused by wind, sun, hail, snow, and rain. One unique distinction of the badlands at Theodore Roosevelt is that vegetation grows from and all around them. Tucked into the folds of the badlands are large deposits of petrified wood—massive trees turned to solid quartz over the course of millions of years. At Theodore Roosevelt, you will find the third-largest deposit of petrified wood in the United States following Yellowstone and Petrified Forest national parks. The most concentrated area can be found along the Petrified Forest Loop trail, a 10-mile hike located in the south unit.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is composed of three units that are bound together by the Little Missouri River. The north unit is quiet and rugged; the south unit is home to abundant populations of watchable wildlife; and the Elkhorn Ranch, or west unit, is where Teddy Roosevelt lived for nearly 13 years. Drives between the three areas can take several hours each so plan to devote at least a couple days in both the north and south units and one afternoon in the Elkhorn unit.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The South Unit’s 36-mile loop begins and ends at the visitor center in Medora, and it’s easy to complete in two hours (that includes time to snap photos of bison or prairie dogs). On the drive, don’t miss the Skyline Vista, an ideal vantage point for viewing the sunset; Badlands Overlook, which in the morning light reveals all of the contours of sheer bluffs and ravines; and Cottonwood Campground, for a picnic under the tall trees. For another easily accessible point in the South Unit, including for those using wheelchairs, the Painted Canyon Visitor Center—accessed from outside the park on Exit 32 off I-94—offers an iconic view of the Badlands. From the overlook, the park stretches off toward the north with juniper draws, colored buttes, and grazing buffalo dotting the landscape.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the park on foot is the best way to get up close with the terrain and wildlife, and you’ll find more than 100 miles of trails. The hikes are mostly short (under a mile or two) and flat, as the highest buttes only rise a few hundred vertical feet. But be mindful of the summer heat: Average highs climb to the high-80s and it often feels hotter and drier, so bring plenty of water.

In the South Unit, two can’t-miss short hikes are the Wind Canyon Trail, a 20-minute (0.4 miles) stroll through a wind-sculpted canyon with stunning river views and the Coal Vein Trail, a 40-minute hike (0.8 miles) that is the perfect way to learn about badlands geology. In the North Unit, a good hour-long option is the 1.5-mile portion of the Achenbach Trail to Sperati Point which courses through prairie grassland to a lookout over the valley below.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only town associated with the park is Medora and it more or less revolves around its status as Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s gateway. It plays up its history as an old railroad junction and does its best Old West impression: wooden boardwalks, hitching posts in front of hotels, chuckwagon diners, and plenty of cowboy boots and hats.

Whatever scene you are watching, you will be blessed one way or another with a view that differs only slightly from that which captured the heart and imagination of Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 70,466.89 acres

Date established: November 10, 1978 (established as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park on April 25, 1947)

Location: Western North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: This park was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, who spent a considerable amount of time living in the Dakota Territory. The site where Theodore Roosevelt National Park is now located was selected after his death in 1919 to honor his dedication to preserving America’s wilderness. The land was set aside by an act of congress. He was known as the “conservationist president” for dedicating his life to obtaining federal protection for lands and wildlife species under threat. During his time in elected office he established 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 150 national forests, and 51 bird sanctuaries.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.

—Teddy Roosevelt

Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Pick a trail and lace up your boots

Attention hikers! If you’re looking for a great way to get outdoors any time of year here are some tips about the best hiking trails in Arizona’s state parks. Explore these diverse options throughout this amazingly beautiful state and cross these hikes off your bucket list.

These hiking trails offer a variety of amazing sights and experiences that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of scenery, topography, and temperatures. Some of the best hikes in Arizona can be found right here. Learn more about each state park then hit the trail and have some fun!

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock Country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. The 5-mile trail network consists of interconnecting loops which lead you along the lush greenery of Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona. The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trailwhich creates one of the best trails in Arizona for family enjoyment. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park (4,102 feet) with an elevation gain of 300 feet and offers amazing views of the red rock escarpments that have helped make Sedona into a worldwide destination. The park offers hikes for every skill level whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The diverse wildlife, birds and plant life you’ll encounter on a Sedona hiking adventure offer unique perspectives of this gorgeous area. While in the park, keep an eye out for the local javelina and mule deer. Numerous bird species also call Red Rock State Park home especially hummingbirds. Pick up a current bird ID list at the visitor center. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, this park lends itself very well to creative shots.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Southeast of Sedona in the Verde River Valley of Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 20 miles of the multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy. This park just might offer some of the best day hikes in Arizona for beginners and advanced hikers. Distinct scenic options are available for users who desire new and exciting experiences while exploring these premier Arizona hiking trails. Choose to enjoy either the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail.

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

Completed in 2006, the Lime Kiln Trail connects Red Rock State Park with Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The Lime Kiln Trail traverses a 15-mile section of Arizona’s high desert and is dedicated as a shared-use, non-motorized trail experience.

The Lime Kiln leg follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon Road. Originally the Lime Kiln road provided access to a Kiln that was constructed in the 1800s. The Kiln was used to burn limestone to create lime used as an ingredient of the mortar needed to construct fireplaces and chimneys. Soon after the construction of the kiln, the road was extended and used as a route between Sedona and Jerome. The remains of the kiln can still be seen beside the trail.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

There are accessible trails like Native Plant, moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View, and trails for advanced hikers such as Siphon Draw and Flatiron. Regardless of hiking ability, there is a trail for everyone at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four miles round trip, the Siphon Draw Trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip) although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers attempt to hike to the top as the climb is steep and difficult to follow.

Because of the close proximity to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, various Arizona hiking groups use the trails at Lost Dutchman for weekly hikes and meetings. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson 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. There are trails for every skill level. Wear suitable hiking boots. Gloves and plenty of water are strongly recommended.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive in to Hunter’s Peak for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain and challenging even the most seasoned hikers or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to an overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak offers two easy trails for families that children enjoy: the Nature trail, a 0.5-mile hike and the Children’s Cave trail, just 0.2 miles and near the park’s playground.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. You can hike, take a horseback ride, and bicycle on the trails surrounded by the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. There are eight trails in the park varying in length and difficulty but all with amazing views.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina from gorgeous desert plant life to desert tortoises and bighorn sheep; Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored. Plus, as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA), Catalina State Park is a bird-watchers’ paradise.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

It’s basically Disneyland for the New Age crowd

Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming, in fact, that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona—population 10,322— has always held a certain appeal, reflected in its 3 million annual visitors. Its lush green vegetation, towering red rock formations, and vast blue sky would inspire even the most inactive imagination. Indigenous tribes have long regarded the area as sacred. It’s the home of the Yavapai-Apache who hold a spring ceremony every year at Boynton Canyon where the Great Spirit Mother gave birth to the human race.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the Sedona we know today began to emerge in 1980 after a professional psychic named Page Bryant (1943-2017) referred to four locations of powerful energy centers—Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—as “power vortexes,” or places containing mystic energy, putting a word to a concept first discovered in the 1950s. By meditating in these locations, New Age devotees believe that one will experience both spiritual awakening and physical healing.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these four scenic poles, psychic vibrations trembled more intensely. People noticed their skin tingling when close to the perceived energy source. Escaping to a higher consciousness just came easier in this confluence where thoughts and feelings were amplified (apparently all of Sedona is one big amplifier). Vortex locations can be described as electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic. Some say “female or male,” “positive or negative.”

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to get all scientific about it, there’s no actual magnetism or energy at these vortexes. But that doesn’t mean the spiritualists made up what they felt. After all, studies have found that just being outdoors has immense immune-boosting and mood-altering benefits plus increased clarity and concentration. 

For some it’s about connecting spirituality with the Earth, bringing this stuff out of woo woo and into wow wow. The therapeutic benefits of the vortexes are directly related to the physical attributes of Sedona. The high elevation, deep canyons, low population density, and the immense blue skies all combine to create an optimal environment for relaxation and brain stimulation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colors are also important and Sedona has loads. The green of the vegetation signals growth, renewal, and hope to the subconscious. As for red-orange, the Uluru in Australia, a massive similar-hued rock is thought to hold spiritual significance. The red-orange color can be thought of as caffeine for the higher mind.

And if nothing happens? 

Relax and let the awesome beauty of the area inspire you, as it does me. 

Where to Experience Vortexes in Sedona

Sedona is filled with hundreds of vortexes. Following are the four first identified by Bryant plus some lesser-known ones recommended by “experts”. 

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa

Its proximity to the center of town makes the Airport Mesa one of the most trafficked vortexes which means you probably won’t have it to yourself. The panoramic views are breathtaking especially at sunrise or sunset. You’ll see some of those twisted juniper trees, and some have claimed to see colored orbs. At night the stars seem close enough to touch. 

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock 

One of the most recognizable formations, Bell Rock is shaped like a huge standing bell. (Or, some say, an alien spaceship.) Many have reported a tingling sensation on exposed skin here. It’s easily accessible from the road with the strongest vibrations felt on the north side. 

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock 

This is the only one of the big four with “inflow” energy encouraging you to slow down and be introspective. The vortex is found where Oak Creek runs next to Cathedral Rock, and is called “Red Rock Crossing.” 

Boynton Canyon 

Boynton Canyon is a spiritual home of the Yavapai-Apache and considered the most sacred of the big four. Also known as the Kachina Woman Vortex Site, it’s both an inflow and an upflow site with the canyon as inflow and the ridges and peaks as upflow. It stretches two-and-a-half miles long with energy throughout. 

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross 

Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit. 

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill 

Schnebly Hill is a remote scenic overlook that’s quite literally off-the-beaten-path: An off-road vehicle is required to get to the top but once there you’re in one of the highest plateaus in Sedona. This amazingly scenic road which requires a high-clearance vehicle eventually connects with Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.

Oak Creek, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Nest

Alternative to the busy Airport Mesa is to hike to Eagle’s Nest in Red Rock State Park. It offers the same 360-degree panoramas without the people, noise, and parking problem. 

Worth Pondering…

The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.

—Ezra Pound

Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

The colorful charm and lively style of Texas’ most storied city

For over 300 years, the San Antonio River has nurtured this city with headwaters just north of town flowing through it all the way down to join the Guadalupe River just shy of the Gulf of Mexico. Long before Texans took hold of the land, Spaniards erected San Antonio’s five historic missions near the river. Before that, Native Americans relied on this waterway for sustenance and safety. When the Rough Riders barreled through town on their horses over a hundred years ago, they ducked into a dark bar that still stands steps away from the banks. The river was here before all of it and holds everything you need to know about San Antonio.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. Don’t let the colorful umbrellas and shiny tourist bric-à-brac distract you. Just keep following the River Walk and pay attention.

The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meet the Neighborhood

Blessed with a prime spot in the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio has more adjacent natural beauty than most urban landscapes. Outdoor wonders like popular swim spot Hamilton Pool Preserve are at your fingertips while one neighboring small town, Fredericksburg features the country’s largest wildflower farm (Wildseed Farms) and gorgeous wineries. The city itself, however, has much to offer beyond its famous puffy tacos and annual celebration, Fiesta San Antonio—though, neither of those should be missed.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key is the River Walk which seems as if it has been organized specifically for the visitor’s enjoyment. On the northernmost end, enjoy spring at family-friendly sites such as the San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. Slightly south, you’ll find a livelier jam at the Pearl District with plenty of art installations and riverside amenities to keep you entertained on the trek there. Folks are drawn to this part of town by the varied restaurants and shops surrounding an open green space that sees plenty of guests. The Pearl’s Bottling Department, San Antonio’s first food hall has dining options that run the full gamut.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This multiuse district is located on the site of the old Pearl Brewery founded back in 1883. Hotel Emma built inside the old brewhouse is a five-star-service ode to the Pearl’s history and also to Emma Koehler who took over in 1914 after her husband died. She weathered Prohibition without having to lay off any workers—an impressive feat for anybody anytime but especially for a woman in the 1920s.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parades and Pan Dulce

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of the city’s culture. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 by a group of women (now a formal association) to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, floats covered in a rainbow of lush paper blooms make their procession in front of The Alamo amid colorful flying confetti from cracked cascarones (hand-decorated, hollowed-out eggshells filled with confetti).

No visitor can leave San Antonio without tasting the town dessert—and what a glorious task! For that, the river leads you to Mi Tierra Café y Panadería, an 80-year-old family bakery and Tex-Mex restaurant that’s known for offering over a dozen different kinds of pan dulce, a traditional Mexican sweet bread. Waitresses dressed in brightly colored garb serve up treats of all flavors and sizes, while the restaurant’s famous floor-to-ceiling American Dream mural depicts inspirational people from the local community and beyond.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll just a few blocks away to the La Villita neighborhood where you’ll find charming bridges that cozy up to a historic arts village (the former barracks for Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo). Located on the southern bank of the River Walk, La Villita now occupies one artsy square block in the heart of downtown San Antonio. The Artisan village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places featuring architectural styles that range from adobe structures to early Victorian and Texas vernacular limestone buildings. Today, La Villita is a treasured Artisan and Entrepreneur district with over 25 shops and galleries that showcase local handmade goods and home to over 200 events a year.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Star Arts Complex

Once all the mandatory tourist stops have been made, balance out your trip in Alamo City at the trendy Blue Star Arts Complex. Located in the eclectic Southtown neighborhood, this pioneering mixed-use development is the heart of the city’s vibrant arts scene. The anchor of the complex is Blue Star Contemporary, a nonprofit institute for some of the area’s emerging artists but smaller galleries and studios are sprinkled throughout.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then pedal around the adjacent King William neighborhood and embark on the about-7-mile Mission Reach trail that connects four of San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions. The area serves as your starting point for this popular path.

Along the San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The perfect way to end a day spent wandering down the river’s winding path is with an iced-down tequila soda—add splashes of orange and grapefruit to make it a proper sunset—and good times with your new Texas buds. You know the river will always show you the way home.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Saguaro-speckled Desertscapes of Cave Creek Regional Park

The unspoiled Sonoran Desert vegetation of Cave Creek Regional Park invites visitors to become enveloped in a tranquil, largely undisturbed natural world

Solitude and sweeping views in all directions reward those willing to make a relatively short hike in this 2,922-acre park. Cave Creek Regional Park has more than 11-miles of joint-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In additional campsites with excellent facilities along with individual picnic sites beckon the whole family.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek which is located north of Phoenix became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1963.The park sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. This desert oasis offers hikers, bikers, and equestrian majestic views. The Go John Trail loops around a mountain to provide the illusion of being miles away from civilization. In the 1870s, fever stricken gold seekers staked their dreams on the jasper-studded hills. Guided trails to these sites give visitors an opportunity to travel back in time.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek was named for the small stream that rises in the hills to the northeast and flows southwesterly for 25 miles before reaching Paradise Valley. The stream, in turn, was named from a high, overhanging bluff along its west bank that forms a wide, open cavern about two miles north of the present day Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek History

The Cave Creek area has a rich archeological foundation. Ancient Hohokam Indians stayed in the area from around 800 A.D. until 1400 A.D. Many reminders of their living in the area still remain. Stone huts, pit houses, terraced field, and irrigation ditches were left behind. There are also many petroglyphs that were carved by the Hohokam and others.

During the 1400s, bands of Apache Indians began drifting into the area. They brought with them a different lifestyle than the Hohokams. Instead of farming, the Apaches lived by hunting, gathering, and raiding. The 1500s saw the arrival of Spanish explorers. The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.”

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mining began to become a focal point in central Arizona history in 1863. The call “Gold in the Bradshaws” rang out. Fabulous rich gold outcroppings were found in high peaks such as Antelope Hill. In 1864, Henry Wickenburg uncovered the richest strike, the Vulture Mine. Miners were sure that the Aqua Fria River, New River, Cave Creek, and the stream of the Tonto were also rich with gold.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miners tried to find the treasures but the Apaches ran them out of the area. Ranchers and farmers followed lured by reports of mild climate, plentiful water, tall timbers, and lush grass. All of the reports failed to mention that hostile Indians surrounded the area. Of all the tribes in the area, the Apaches were the most feared. They were highly mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to capture.

Newcomers to the State appealed to the Federal Government for assistance. The Civil War was demanding the need for every soldier. Washington leaders decided they did not want to lose the potential gold production capabilities of Arizona. In 1863, Arizona was declared a new and separate territory, splitting off from the territory of New Mexico.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Governor was sent to Arizona along with a small force of troops to Fort Whipple in Prescott. In 1865, the army sent a small force of 300 volunteers from California to establish Fort McDowell. Fort McDowell was located 18 miles east of Cave Creek. One year after the Californians arrived, a regular army infantry unit settled into Fort McDowell. For 15 more years, skirmishes, ambushes, and bloody confrontations raged between the soldiers and the Apaches.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just North of Cave Creek, the area of Bloody Basin was the site of a bitter skirmish on March 27, 1873. Army scouts trailed a group of Apaches to the top of Turret Peak. The scouts crept up the peak during the night. At dawn they captured or killed nearly all of the Apaches. The pressure on the Apaches began to have its effects. With the army destroying any discovered food storage areas, the Apaches were beginning to suffer. Hunger drove the Apaches to surrender. By 1877 about 5,000 Indians from various tribes shared the San Carlos Reservation. The time of the Apaches along Cave Creek was over and a new era of mining was coming to Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Hiking Trails

Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 11-miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to 5.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike the Slate Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a longer, more difficult hike, try the 5.8-mile Go John Trail. The trails within the Cave Creek Regional Park are very popular with dramatic elevations and spectacular views of the surrounding plains. 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).

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Picnic Areas

Cave Creek Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The day use picnic area has 51 individual picnic sites, each providing a table and barbecue grill. Drinking water and restrooms are available in the Day-Use Area and sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada. Cave Creek Regional Park has four large ramada areas with picnic tables, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, and a nearby playground.

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.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Cave Creek

The campground consists of 55 campsites for RV camping. The average site size is 40 feet; however, pull through sites may accommodate up to a 60-foot RV with water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. Cave Creek Regional Park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. A dump station is available for use by registered campers at no additional cost. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Hwy (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel east to 32nd St. (7 miles). Turn north on 32nd St. to the Cave Creek Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Cave Creek 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

Benefits of Nature: Exploring Lost Dutchman State Park & Tonto National Forest

With nearly three million acres there is so much to see and do

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Lost Dutchman State Park and Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As in many states, Arizona State Parks offer great campgrounds at reasonable prices. I have chosen to focus on Lost Dutchman State Park. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park features convenient locations for exploring the region, as well as a clean, safe campground. The paved camping sites and handicap-accessible restrooms also make the park a good choice for people with physical limitations.

Horseback riding in Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring, but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park—this is a great way to enjoy the park’s beauty while experiencing the famed Superstition Mountains.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who prefer a more remote setting, the U.S. Forest Service also offers a range of camping choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere.

Tonto National Forest along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National forests cover 15 percent of Arizona, mostly mountains or plateaus over 6,000 feet but also large areas of desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Besides the varied scenic landscapes within the forests, they provide many locations for camping when exploring Arizona’s national and state parks many of which are surrounded by these public lands.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most is rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.

On Peralta Trail in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest.

Peridot Mesa in San Carlos Indian Reservation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east. 

Peridot Mesa in San Carlos Indian Reservation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During winter months, snowbirds flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.

Along Bush Highway in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated by Congress as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.

First aid kit to the rescue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack a first aid kit. Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting, or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen. Tailor your kit to your family’s special needs.

Tonto National Forest near Cave Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring emergency supplies. In addition to a first aid kit, you should also have a map of the area, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets, and insect repellant.

Remember: You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of those around you.

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir

2021 Vision: On Travel Restrictions, Freedom to Travel, and Staying Healthy

We’ve been through a lot this past year. 2020 has tested our resolve and proven to be a difficult time for many in the face of the COVID pandemic.

It goes without saying that 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us expected. And as we bid farewell to this year, it’s a good time to look back on what we’ve learned, while we also look forward with anticipation to the New Year and all it may bring.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing we’ve been reminded of this year is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. This rang even more true in 2020 as we focused on health and well-being. Medical professionals advised us to socially distance from one another and told us that when we did spend time with others, it was preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle, so much so that some news outlets dubbed it The Year of the RV.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the first coronavirus vaccinations making their way across the United States and Canada as this is written, we look to 2021 with hope. Our 2020 Vision has left us with a new appreciation for the freedom to travel, to explore our continent, and to spend time in the company of friends and family. Cheers to more of that in 2021! And cheers to always expanding our RV knowledge and learning new things.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What can you do to help navigate through what might be another crazy year? My answer is simple…Get outside and start 2021 off on the right foot, right from the trail! Try something new or get back into a familiar, possibly forgotten pastime. Take a breath of fresh air while hiking in our beautiful outdoor places and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Focus on what you can control in 2021. Get outside, stay healthy, and stay connected. Pack your hiking boots and get off the beaten path. Take a look at the following options to help you start 2021 off strong, outdoors, and on a positively healthy note!

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. Choose from 120 RV and tent campsites with electric and water utilities. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking sites are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park is a South Dakota State Park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills. The Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or rock climbing, find your adventure along the roads and trails! Custer State Park’s early pioneers, ranchers, and loggers have left behind miles of hiking trails and backcountry roads to explore.

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

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Side-by-side, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have 800,000 acres and 800 miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are famous for the massive trees that grow in their forests. The Sequoiadendron giganteum that grows in this portion of the Sierra Nevadas is famed for its girth with the world’s largest tree by volume found here. General Sherman is the tree in question, and grows in Sequoia National Park. Nearby Giant Forest hosts several more of the world’s largest trees. Moro Rock provides a stunning vantage of the surrounding foothills and granite formations; pair it with Crescent Meadow, which John Muir called the “Gem of the Sierra,” at the head of the High Sierra Trail.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. RV and tent campers can select from 51 sites at Devils Garden Campground. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Sites range in length from 20 to 40 feet. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly the Great Swamp Sanctuary) is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles of Georgia

The natural splendor of the Golden Isles (St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the port city of Brunswick) extends past its golden-sand shores to tidal marshlands, live oak forests, and delicate estuaries. These impressive landscapes create a springboard for adventure. Hike or walk along the trails to experience the region’s natural beauty. Historical ruins, exquisite wildlife, and unique vegetation give outdoor enthusiasts an exciting variety of routes. From nature preserves to stretches of beach and miles of trail systems, find routes appropriate for all ages and skill levels as well as routes perfect for families and pets. If you’re looking for a diverse network of trails and a day full of fun, head to Blythe Island Regional Park, a 1,100-acre public park. Comprised of more than 30 nature and urban trails, the Jekyll Island Trail System is the best way to explore the island.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

Give yourself some space #OptOutside

Especially now, we need outdoor spaces free from the distractions of modern technology and the negativity of our never-ending social media feeds

Approaching Thanksgiving we search for ways to be thankful and pave the way with a positive and an introspective look into our lives. Many people have taken the opportunity to spend more time outside and others have enjoyed outdoor recreation for the first time. As we prepare to leave 2020 in our rearview mirror, take the opportunity to spend it out of doors with a road trip into America’s beautiful places. A camping trip is a great place to start!

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

Golfing in Southern Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature. It’s amazing what a couple of hours outside can do for your well-being. Fresh air is a state of mind. One we could all use a little more of these days.

Opt outside with Americas’ national and state parks on Black Friday. Forego the hustle and stress of this traditional shopping holiday and choose to break the mold by enjoying a worry free, socially distanced trip to an outdoor recreation area. On Black Friday and any day of the year, get outside and enjoy a hike in the parks!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get out and explore some of the great parks located across the country! Try something new; if you’ve never seen the beauty of southern Arizona, it’s the perfect time of year to visit Saguaro National Park or Catalina State Park in Tucson. Saguaro has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching.

Picacho State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park offers trails for all difficulty levels. Hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park can be a great way to test your endurance as many of the trails are quite steep.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. Or you can explore two deserts in one at Joshua Tree National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Moab. Mountain bike, hike, and climb your way around the stunning red rocks. Test your hiking limits at the Zion National Park. Zion is filled with impressive canyons, sheer cliffs, and wide expanses of slick rock. This is the type of place where you can take your hiking ability to the limit and beyond.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour the Louisiana Outback. Life is everywhere along the Creole Nature Trail. Birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and alligators make their home in the four wildlife refuges that can be found along the 180 mile-long byways that make up the Trail.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Park protects a portion of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand. The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission will be free at state parks in South Carolina on Friday, Nov. 27, as the Park Service joins the national #OptOutside initiative. The promotion, sponsored by REI, encourages people to spend some time in the great outdoors the day after Thanksgiving. State parks are some of the most beautiful outdoor settings in South Carolina and are ideal places for family outings.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, stop at Guadalupe River State Park just outside of San Antonio in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Here you can camp by the river and spend your days enjoying various water activities like kayaking, tubing, swimming, and fishing.

Northeast Georgia mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle mountains provide a much-needed escape from the bustling city. Hike to the top of Brasstown Bald for a panoramic 360-degree view. Cumberland Island is the largest uninhabited barrier island in Georgia. The adventure starts on the ferry from St. Mary’s, the only way to get to the island which offers a wonderful view of the diverse habitats. Rent a bike, book a tour with park rangers, or bring a pair of good hiking shoes, as the island is a wonderful place to explore. You can spot wild horses roaming freely, raccoons, wild boars, alligators, whit-tailed deer, and many birds.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings built from the 6th to the 12th century can be found on the Mesa Verde plateau in southwestern Colorado.

The #OptOutside movement was started by the outdoor retail company REI in 2015. The basic meaning of #OptOutside is: Go outdoors on Black Friday instead of shopping.

Everything is easier said than done. So don’t just read or say it; do it!

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

—John Muir