The Amazing Badlands of El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments

Finding beauty, solitude, and a connection with those who came before

Located in western New Mexico, El Morro and El Malpais national monuments are a mere 46 miles apart. They preserve rugged, demanding landscapes that have attracted travelers from ancestral Puebloans to early 20th century homesteaders.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A way-station of sorts, El Morro is a towering cliff was a reliable spring at its base that quenched the thirst of travelers. Many carved petroglyphs, names, and dates into the soft sandstone to show who came before. Despite the broken lava fields that cover the landscape, El Malpais saw settlement as early as 1300. Today visitors study the signatures at El Morro, or peer into the lava tubes that worm beneath El Malpais’ surface. But there’s also the backcountry of both that attract visitors who look for beauty, solitude, and perhaps a connection with those who came long before. I was one such traveler.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along I-40 midway between Gallup and Albuquerque, I turned south off the interstate. I am visiting two impressive national monuments: El Malpais and El Morro. While they are a short distance apart, each monument is unique and meaningful especially when experienced on one trip.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais is Spanish for “The Badlands.” There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. Lava that once poured from five separate magma flows produced the black, ropy pahoehoe, and clinkers of a thousand years ago. Islands of earth that were surrounded, rather than covered, by lava are spots of undisturbed vegetation called kipukas. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.

Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is much to see. I found expansive lava flows, cinder cones, complex lava-tube cave system more than 17 miles long, fragile ice caves some filled with ice even in summer as well as soft-looking sandstone bluffs and mesas, easily viewed from Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. Inhabited for 10,000 years, the area also contains historical and archaeological sites.

Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many points of interest are accessible from New Mexico Route 117. The Sandstone Bluffs Overlook is reached by a short walk from a parking area along the highway. Excellent overviews of the lava flows as well as the surrounding terrain are seen from this vantage point. I look south to the Zuni-Acoma Trail, a 15-mile round-trip hike over the rugged Anasazi trade route which crosses four of the five major lava flows.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of a well-defined path clearly visible on the landscape, a series of rock piles called cairns are used to trace a route across the land. These routes are common on lava landscapes where creating a traditional trail or footpath is not possible due to the extreme nature of the terrain. Hiking cairned routes requires more attention to navigation. Making sure I have the next cairn in sight before leaving the one I’m at.

The uneven nature of the terrain demands that I keep my eyes on the land while walking and pay more attention since the surface is not even. Hiking poles are not useful here needing both arms for balance as I climb up and down over the sharp lava tubes as I locate the rock cairns that mark the way. To enjoy the views, I stop, get a secure footing, and then look around to stay familiar with the landscape as it changes. This trail is sobering, the warm November sun, deep sinkholes, and steep drop-offs forcing me to constantly reckon with what matters, namely, my preparation to meet the challenges I encounter. The hike into the lava fields and back takes time. Arriving back on sandy terrain at last, I appreciate the softness underfoot.

La Ventana Natural Arch, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I stop to explore La Ventana Natural Arch, “The Window.” Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder. Standing at the base of this awe-inspiring 120-foot natural stone arch, I look up through it into the heart of the mountain.

La Ventana Natural Arch, El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing down the highway, I drive through The Narrows where lava flowed past the base of 500-foot sandstone cliffs. A picnic area is located here and hikers will be intrigued by the unusual lava formations they’ll find. At the Lava Falls Area, I explored the unique features of the McCarty’s flow and marveled at the plant life that is adapted to life in the lava. It is quiet here.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ancestral Puebloans who lived here, at a place now known as the Dittert Site must have relied heavily on the seasonal pools, before the local climate changed and water became increasingly scarce. Areas of El Malpais have been accessed by the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, and Ramah Navajo people for thousands of years once building pueblos here as well as continuing to practice cultural traditions today.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My travels through El Malpais now lead me to El Morro as for so many travelers over hundreds and thousands of years. El Morro means “The Headland,” a massive sandstone bluff rising 200 feet above the desert floor guiding me to water. Hills rise to form a cuesta, a geologic feature with banded sandstone bluffs and cliffs forming a natural water reservoir at the center. The top of the formation acts as a self-contained watershed, bringing snowmelt and the runoff of desert rainstorms down walls funneling this life giving resource to the small, clear pool (See photo above), a reliable year-long source of drinking water.

Inspiration Walk, El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before venturing out I view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions. I walk the Mesa Top Trail, a loop that starts from the pool, travels alongside Inscription Rock, and climbs up through gamble oak and juniper across the top of the rocks themselves to the ruins of Atsinna, meaning “place of writings on the rock.”

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Puebloan ancestors of the Zuni settled this place, undoubtedly for this water source in the badlands. They left petroglyphs of lizards and birds, bighorn sheep and bear on Inscription Rock. Later in time, more names were carved into this stone: Spanish conquistadors and Catholic Church bishops, U.S. Cavalry captains and Army expedition leaders, ordinary soldiers and scouts, and homesteaders heading west.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro reads, Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605. Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

We follow the backroads of history and trails across the badlands remembering those who came through the wilderness before. The words and ideas and landmarks they left for us, show us the way to find what we seek. And what we need. These trails are well-marked at El Malpais and El Morro, to help us make our way safely.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Boston Freedom Trail

The famous Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick trail through Boston’s historic neighborhoods that tells the story of the American Revolution

Boston, a large, metropolitan city packed with revolutionary history, cultural venues, and sophisticated shopping and dining opportunities. A jaunt around “town” is like opening an American history textbook.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston has some of the worst driving and parking on the East Coast; its winding, angled roads meandering like the old cow paths they originally followed. But, don’t let this deter you; you will be rewarded many times over.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston had been a thriving city long before the United States itself existed. Founded in the 17th century, Boston has been the center of attention in New England since the colonial period. Today, Boston continues to boast some of the best attractions to be found in the Northeastern US. As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. For over 350 years, some of the world’s greatest patriots, writers, thinkers, athletes, and artists have called Boston their home, leaving an indelible mark on this incredible city in the process.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

Faneuil Hall (1742) was a meeting place for revolutionary leaders, and it now houses dozens of shops and restaurants. Built by wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1741, this imposing structure is the place where the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their dissent against Royal oppression.

Old State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old State House (1713) was the site of the colonial government and is open for tours.

The oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston, the Paul Revere House (1680) today serves as a museum.

Paul Revere House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest church in the city of Boston, the Old North Church (1723), and its famous signal lanterns are still in use.

The site of the Boston Massacre where five colonists died in 1770 has been preserved.

The First Public School was in Boston; some of its graduates include Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House (1729) was the largest building in colonial Boston. No tax on tea! This was the decision on December 16, 1773, when 5,000 angry colonists gathered here to protest a tax…and started a revolution with the Boston Tea Party.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to King’s Chapel (1688), the first non-Puritan church in the colonies, the Granary Burying Ground has the graves of patriots John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside), The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the Boston Tea Party is commemorated in a floating ship museum, not far from the floating museum aboard the USS Constitution, America’s first great warship. Launched in Boston in 1797, America’s Ship of State earned her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our National Park ranger-led tour, we visited sites along the Freedom Trail and heard about the American Revolutionary story, the people who lived here, their courage, and what they risked striving for freedom.

State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, the Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel, the site of the first public school, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Freedom Trail was created in 1951 to set recognize and set aside a cluster of historically significant building and locations in downtown Boston.

We began our 90-minute ranger-led tour at the Old State House and concluded at the Old North Church, five sites along the Freedom trail that highlights Boston’s role in the American Revolution. The other sites, prior to and following our ranger-led tour, were on our own.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.

—Samuel Adams

Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family

Traveling through America the past is often hidden, masked by strip malls and suburban sprawl. However, restoration and reconstruction projects are occurring in cities and towns across the nation to preserve our past for future generations.

The Historic Triangle is formed by Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield, three cities that were instrumental in America’s development, freedom, and democracy.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On May 14, 1607, the ships sent by the Virginia Company of London, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, landed at Jamestown Island with 104 passengers—all men and boys. They began building America’s first permanent English settlement, predating Plymouth in Massachusetts by 13 years.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decimated by disease, famine, and Indian attacks, less than half of them survived the first year. However, with more settlers arriving every year and the establishment of their first cash crop, the tiny settlement began to flourish.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestown Settlement. Located about a mile from the original site, Jamestown Settlement is 10 minutes from Williamsburg, Jamestown’s successor as capital of the Virginia colony.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with an introductory film that presents an overview of Jamestown’s origins in England and the early years of the colony. Exhibition galleries chronicle the nation’s pre-17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English, and western central African cultures.

Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the Powhatan Indian village where costumed interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life. From the Indian village, a path leads to a pier where the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discover are docked. Visitors can talk with costumed interpreters about the four-and-a-half month voyage from England.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triangular Fort James is a recreation of the one constructed by the Jamestown colonist on their arrival in 1607. Inside the wooden stockade are wattle-and-daub structures and thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings including dwellings, a church, a storehouse, and an armory.

More settlements followed and it was in Williamsburg that the seeds of revolution were sown by the intellectual and independent thinkers who flocked to the city.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Become a resident of a city on the verge of war—or in the midst of it—as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg. Encounter townspeople on their own soil as they live through a time of change and uncertainty. Buzzing with political discussion and dispute, the city comes alive. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the buildings, like the Courthouse, Magazine, and Wetherburn’s Tavern, have stood in Williamsburg since the 18th century. Others, like the Capitol and Governor’s Palace, have been reconstructed on their original foundations. Some of the buildings are used as private residences and offices. Flags out front indicate areas open to guests.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The port city of Yorktown forms the third point of the Historic Triangle, famous for its decisive battle and end to the Revolutionary War.

Yorktown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you stroll through historic Yorktown, let the past envelop you as you immerse yourself in 300 years of history. Here you can experience many 18th century homes, visit the location where the surrender terms for the Battle of Yorktown were negotiated or the home of the Virginia militia with its walls still bearing the scars of cannonballs fired upon the village in 1781. Explore the battlefields, fortifications, and historic buildings where American independence was won.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans won their independence here during the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781, when British troops surrendered to General George Washington and his French allies.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yorktown Battlefield is joined by the scenic Colonial Parkway to Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown and is located just 12 miles east of Williamsburg.

Worth Pondering…

On the whole, I find nothing anywhere else…which Virginia need envy.

—Thomas Jefferson

Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

Chilly February is the perfect time to start daydreaming about warmer weather and weekend escapes

The newly published 2020 Guide to Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is a helpful resource for planning many kinds of trips. It’s filled with tips on the best hiking trails, favored spots, pet travel, golf courses, cabins, campsites, and glamping yurts.

Below are ten ideas for a memorable and affordable spring or summer getaway.

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Forty-one parks offer more than 2,700 campsites including tent-only areas, RV pull-through sites, primitive camping, and group camping areas. Rates average $30–$35 per night. Most state parks have laundry facilities and sell camping supplies. All campgrounds have water and electric hookups, hot showers, and site-specific reservations. For more information and to reserve a camping site visit GaStateParks.org/Camping.

Hiking at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike the Trails: Explore the trails and discover the wonders of nature. Georgia’s State Parks offer a variety of hiking and biking paths from easy paved loops to challenging backcountry trails. Families will experience Georgia’s diverse landscape as well with canyons and waterfalls, salt marshes and streams. Energetic explorers can join the Canyon Climbers Club or Muddy Spokes Club to earn a members-only t-shirt. Bring Fido along for a full circle adventure via the Georgia State Parks Tails on Trails Club. Learn more at GaStateParks.org/ParkActivities.

Enjoying nature at Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glamping Yurts: For a unique and affordable getaway, book a “glamour camping” yurt. These funky wood and canvas structures are a blend between a tent and cabin with furniture inside and fire rings outside. Guests can even walk to nearby hot showers. Yurts are available at Cloudland Canyon, Red Top Mountain, High Falls, Fort Yargo, Sweetwater Creek, and Tugaloo state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/UniqueAccommodations.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junior Rangers: Explorers of any age will have fun learning in the outdoors as they work toward earning a Junior Ranger badge. By following guidelines in activity book or attending ranger-led camps, they will experience nature first-hand and delve into Georgia’s fascinating history. The experience builds as children earn 59 park-specific badges. Download the free book at GaStateParks.org/EducationalResources.

Exploring history at Fort Frederica National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geocache through History: Love a treasure hunt? Georgia’s revamped History Trail offers new challenges, new locations, and a new reward. This mystery tour offers geocachers of all levels a chance to travel back in time and earn an exclusive trackable coin. Answer questions about each historic site you visit and discover the code to unlock hidden caches. Download and print a Time Travel Ticket prior to participating. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Geocaching.

Fishing at Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go Fishing: Grab your rod and reel and head out for a day of fishing. For families who would like to take their adventure up a notch, many state parks rent boats by the hour. Great places to try include High Falls, Reed Bingham, and Seminole state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/ParkFishing.

Travel back in time at Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time: Step back in time at Georgia’s state historic sites. Explore colonial times at Fort Morris and Fort King George or Civil War bunkers at Fort McAllister. To learn about Native American history visit Kolomoki Mounds, New Echota, Chief Vann House, and Etowah Indian Mounds. Even more historic sites are listed on GaStateParks.org/History.

Canoeing at Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go Paddling: Explore Georgia’s waterways through a variety of paddling adventures. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and aquacycles may be rented seasonally, or visitors may bring their own boats. Many parks offer guided tours including Stephen C. Foster’s tour of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp. For a challenge, join the Park Paddlers Club which takes explorers to six state parks as they show off their members-only t-shirt. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Paddling.

Canoeing at Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cozy Cabins: For an affordable and cozy staycation, book a cabin or cottage surrounded by beautiful scenery. Ranging from one to three bedrooms, state park cabins come with fully equipped kitchens, screened porches, and a wide range of activities right outside the door. Choose from mini golf, nature trails, ranger programs, archery, disc golf, and more. Bring the four-legged family members along when you reserve a dog-friendly cabin in advance. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Cottages.

Boating at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tee Off: Tee off at one of Georgia’s eight state park golf courses offering a family-friendly atmosphere surrounded by sparkling lakes and scenic forests. Lessons, putting greens, pro shops and cabin packages are available. Green fees are as low as $20. To learn more visit GaStateParks.org/Golfing.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Fort Frederica National Monument: Georgia’s Second Town

Georgia’s fate was decided in 1742 when Spanish and British forces clashed on St. Simons Island

Located on the interior coast of Georgia’s St. Simons Island, Fort Frederica National Monument preserves the remains of one of the most impressive British settlements ever carved from the American forests. In the early 1700s, Georgia was the epicenter of a centuries-old imperial conflict between Spain and Britain.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1736, three years after the founding of Savannah, James Oglethorpe came to St. Simons Island to establish a town that would serve as a bulwark against the Spanish in Florida who still claimed the coastal islands now being settled by the English. To achieve this goal, he established Frederica.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named for Frederick Louis, the Prince of Wales (1702-1754), Frederica was a military outpost consisting of a fort and town that for a time was one of the most important settlements in the American Colonies.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forty four men and 72 women and children arrived to build the fortified town, and by the 1740s Frederica was a thriving village of about 500 citizens. Colonists from England, Scotland, and the Germanic states came to Frederica to support the endeavor.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s site at the bend of the Frederica River allowed the British to control the important inland passage leading up the Georgia coast. This powerful bastioned fort protected both the river and the town from the Spanish. Armed with heavy cannon and enclosed by thick walls of earth and timber, the fort was one of the strongest in the South.

In addition, the town itself was surrounded by stout walls of earth and timber which in turn were enclosed by a deep moat. Within this defensive barrier, the town soon became one of the most prosperous in the colony.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A smaller work, Fort St. Simons, was also built at the site of today’s St. Simons Lighthouse. The establishment of the forts took place just before the outbreak of the oddly-named War of Jenkin’s Ear (named for an English sea captain who was captured and lost his ear to the Spanish).

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oglethorpe led expeditions into Spanish Florida from Fort Frederica, but was repulsed by the powerful fortress Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Led by Governor Don Manuel de Montiano, a Spanish force moved north on a campaign of  reprisal during the summer of 1742. Arriving on July 5th, Montiano moved first against Fort St. Simons, which the English evacuated before it could be attacked.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Fort St. Simons as a base, Montiano sent troops up the Military Road to scout the situation at Fort Frederica. This force was met by a party of Oglethorpe’s scouts at Gully Hole Creek about one mile down the road from Fort Frederica.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driven back after a sharp fight at Gully Hole Creek in which they lost 12 men killed, the Spanish began to retreat up the Military Road. Montiano moved up additional troops to cover this withdrawal, but they were defeated by English forces at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. Despite the name, casualties were light. Although both sides claimed victory in the battle, the Spanish soon gave up their campaign and returned to Florida.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This British victory not only confirmed that Georgia was British territory, but also signaled the beginning of the end for Frederica.

Frederica remained a flourishing town for another 10 years, but the end of the site’s use for military purposes also spelled an end to the community as well. Most of the surviving structures were destroyed by fire in 1758.
Today the archeological remains of colonial Frederica are protected by the National Park Service.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Frederica is a small colonial site. The terrain is mostly level and the park is beautifully decorated with large oaks and pecan trees draped with Spanish Moss. Ruins of the original fort and barracks can be seen and archaeological investigations have  exposed the foundations of many of the homes.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the activities at Fort Frederica include a 23-minute park film “History Uncovered”, self guided explorations through the archeological site, and a museum area with artifacts found at Frederica.

Fort Frederica National Monument is located at 6515 Frederica Road on St. Simons Island and is currently a fee free park.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

Cades Cove: A Pioneer Paradise

Spending the day at Cades Cove is a must for every visitor to the Smoky Mountains

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in the ancient Southern Appalachians, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is almost as renowned for its well-preserved pioneer settlements as for its natural beauty. More than 90 historic structures—homes, barns, churches, and gristmills—have been preserved here, including the largest collection of log structures in the eastern United States.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove, on the beautiful Tennessee side of the park, offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley has a rich history. For hundreds of years Cherokee Indians hunted in Cades Cove but archeologists have found no evidence of major settlements.

Cades Cove, John Oliver’s Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settlers came to this area in 1819, migrating here from Virginia. Later they came from North Carolina, enriching their culture from the old world with knowledge gained from the Indians. They cleared the land for farming and set about building log houses, barns, smokehouses, and corncribs. By 1830, the population had already grown to 271 and by the 1850s the population of Cades Cove peaked at 685, occupying 137 households.

Cades Cove, Methodist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With this population growth the soil quality deteriorated. The opening states of the West brought the opportunity of more fertile frontiers and by 1860 only 269 people remained.

Cades Cove, Missionary Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Largely isolated by the mountains that surrounded them, the residents of Cades Cove were by necessity a close-knit, hardworking, and self-sufficient group. Plentiful game, such as deer and bear, provided meat to accompany garden vegetables. Over the years mills, churches, and schools were built to support the growing community.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1927, the state governments of North Carolina and Tennessee began buying up land for a national park. Many of the Cove’s families willingly sold their properties, but others initially fought the effort. Members of several families signed life leases that allowed them to remain on the land during their lifetime.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Gregg-Cable House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the National Park Service maintains the location as it looked in the 1800s. An 11-mile Loop Road circles the Cove, with stopping-off areas at several homesteads, three churches, a working gristmill, and a number of trails and overlooks.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Millrace and Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Halfway through the Loop, make a point to stop at the Visitors Center in the Cable Mill Area. Photo opportunities are ample and restrooms available. Wandering the Cable Mill Historic Area, we explored the Visitor Center, Blacksmith Shop, LeQuire Cantilever Barn, Millrace and Dam, Cable Mill, Smokehouse, Gregg-Cable House, Corn Crib, Barn, and Sorghum Mill.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Drive-through barn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1972,the Visitor Center is a place for visitors to obtain information and buy books, post cards, maps, guides, batteries, and other items.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, LaQuire Cantilever barn and millrace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large barns were common in the Cove where farmers needed shelter in the cold months for livestock. The overhang in cantilever barns such as the one here provided shelter for animals as well as storage space for farm equipment.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A second barn in the Mill Area with a drive-through in the center and stalls on either side, was more typical in East Tennessee than the cantilever barn. Two men with pitchforks, one on a wagon of hay in the drive-through and the other in the loft, could transfer the hay to the loft in a short time. The drive-through sometimes served as a storage place for farm animals.

Cades Cove, Primitive Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We had visited twice previously; over 30 years ago and about 12 years ago when we gave up due to gridlock on the loop road. On that day, the traffic was heavy, bumper to bumper to times. On this visit, we purposely avoided the weekend.

Cades Cove, Cable Mill Historic Area, Millrace and Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve been to many frontier museums and exhibits, but Cades Cove is unique in that an entire valley has been preserved, allowing a rare opportunity to see what the pioneers saw generations ago.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From our home base at River Plantation RV Park in Sevierville, we traveled south on US-441 to Pigeon Forge; at Traffic Light #3 we turned southwest on US-321 to Townsend; turned south (left) on SR-73; west on Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove Loop Road. We returned home via Townsend and Marysville on US-441 to Sevierville.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

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

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

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

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

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

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

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

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

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

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

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

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

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

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

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

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

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

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

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

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

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

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

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

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

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

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

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

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

4 Historic Sites to Visit This Summer

Planning a road trip this summer?

From sea to shining sea, the U.S. has preserved sites and other areas of national historic significance.

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

A National Historic Site (e.g., Hopewell Furnace, Pennsylvania) is a protected area of national historic significance and usually contains a single historical feature directly associated with its subject. A related but separate designation, the National Historical Park (e.g., Appomattox Court House, Virginia), is an area that generally extends beyond single properties or buildings, and its resources include a mix of historic and sometimes significant natural features.

San Xavier del Bac Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All historic areas, including National Historic Sites and Parks, in the National Park Service are automatically listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are about 80,000 sites, the vast majority of which are neither owned nor managed by the National Park Service. Of these, about 2,500 have been designated at the highest status as National Historic Landmark sites (e.g., San Xavier del Bac Mission, Arizona).

Learn something new on your summer road trip by visiting these four iconic historic sites.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room structure about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This exceptionally well-preserved site gives us a glimpse into the rich history of the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans. There are plenty of places to park your RV near the site, so give yourself a few days to fully explore its many wonders.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River. As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Saratoga National Historical Park, New York

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) rank among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here, American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Fort Frederica National Monument, Georgia

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the interior coast of Georgia’s St. Simons Island, Fort Frederica National Monument preserves the remains of a military outpost consisting of a fort and town that for a time was one of the most important settlements in the American Colonies. By the 1740s Frederica was a thriving village of about 500 citizens.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Invading Spanish forces were defeated by English forces at the Battle of Bloody Marsh during the summer of 1742. The Spanish soon gave up their campaign and returned to Florida. This British victory not only confirmed that Georgia was British territory, but also signaled the beginning of the end for Frederica.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

King of the Road: America the Road Trip Capital of the World

Get your kicks on Route 66

You can travel by plane, by bus, or by train, but you’ll never experience the satisfaction you’ll have with an RV road trip. There’s something about the long and winding road—and the RV lifestyle—that’s partly hypnotic and wholly satisfying.

In a commission survey for Hertz in the UK which polled 2,000 British adults, the top road trip in the world is a drive along Route 66 with 56 percent of respondents naming the US as “the road trip capital of the world”.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road! Route 66. Main Street of America! Will Rogers Highway. The quintessential American Road Trip!

“The influence of social media has had a huge impact on destinations of choice, bringing increased awareness of less well-known areas, as well as ensuring that gems such as the Route 66 are still as popular as ever,” Temerity Vinson, senior director of international marketing said in a news release.

Historic Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road stretches from Illinois to California through eight states. Once among the main routes for cross-country travelers, the largely two-lane road was decertified as a U.S. highway in 1985 in favor of modern interstates.

Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mention of Route 66 to most baby boomers conjures up images of George Maharis and Martin Milner cruising along in their early Corvette roadster in the television series of the same name.

While reminiscing you have the popular rhythm and blues standard (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 echoing through your mind. Composed in 1946 by songwriter Bobby Troup, this hit song was followed by the Route 66 TV drama in the early ’60s.

Powderhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the original highways in the U.S. highway system, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, totaling in 2,448 miles of ribboning highway. A major route for western migration in the 1930s, the route is chock-full of history, nostalgia, and sites you’ll see nowhere else.

Route 66 Mural in Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas or see a living ghost town with gunslingers and burros (Oatman, Arizona). Spend the night in a tipi at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. And be sure to visit the near-by Petrified Forest National Park.

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, Route 66 was followed in the Hertz survey of British adults by the roads around Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Highway, giving the U.S. three spots on the top 10 list.

Wigwam Motel in Hollbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrating its centennial this year, Grand Canyon National Park has become one of the country’s most beloved sites. More than 6 million people visited the park in 2017.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is difficult to comprehend through photos or words.  Much of the canyon is over a mile deep, 15 miles wide, and 277 miles long, carved through geologic formations that are over 1.7 billion years old.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular viewpoints, such as the South Rim, are visited by over 90 percent of the park visitors. Roughly 30 miles of the canyon along the South Rim is accessible by the road. The North Rim, about a 220-mile drive from the South Rim, gives access to the Kaibab Plateau and Bright Angel Point.

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Centennial celebration events will include a historical symposium, a living history week, and an effort to showcase some of the lesser-known sites through social media and other events throughout the year. Focused ranger-lead talks on the geology, cultural history, and natural resources will be available as well.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to celebrate the Grand Canyon on its 100th birthday is to see it yourself and take in the natural wonders spanning 13,000 years of human life, and eons of time before that.

Take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furthermore, the survey identified the ingredients of an epic road trip as wide-open roads, driving past famous attractions, and spotting wildlife along the way. Discovering views and enjoying the scenery is the main purpose for adults over 38-years-old while millennials want to enjoy a new experience.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the survey, over two-thirds of millennials use Instagram to plan their trips, and 36 percent say they’d have a hard time remembering it if they didn’t post photos to the platform.

Worth Pondering…

I hear the highway calling. It’s time for a road trip.