10 Amazing Places to RV in December

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

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

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

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

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam?

A delicious discussion

We’re about to enter the hustle and bustle of the holiday season with Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas right around the corner. When we think of these two holidays, the meal often shared with family is what comes to mind.

It’s turkey time! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The turkey, dressings, and cranberry sauce are the stars of these delicious holiday spreads but there is one sweet product that appears in several different courses especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This one vegetable is a must-have for a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to be complete.

Lettuce for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vegetable I am speaking of is the sweet potato. Just mentioning it now does your mouth start to water thinking about the sweet potato casseroles, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, and candied sweet potatoes (not yams)? Yams have starchy flesh and a bark-type skin compared to the sweet potato with reddish-brown skin and moist sweet flesh.

What makes the sweet potato so unique during these holidays is how it can appear in so many different courses. The sweet potato can be used in bread, casseroles, pies—the list goes on with so many different delicious recipes to showcase the sweet potato. 

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, shopping for sweet potatoes in some grocery stores can be a puzzling experience. These commonly seen orange tubers we know as sweet potatoes are occasionally labeled as yams.

Related: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

You might be thinking, “But I see yams at my grocery store all the time”…and you’d be right that they’re labeled that way. But this label is deceiving.

Oranges for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can find sweet potatoes at just about any grocery store. However, in North America and Europe, you will only find true yams stocked at international and specialty markets.

Sweet potato or yam? That is the question.

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes with a relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Yams and sweet potatoes are botanically unrelated. Yams are part of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family, closely related to grasses and lilies, and originate in Asia and Africa. The edible roots vary in size from a half-pound to a record 130 pounds. There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95 percent of these crops are grown in Africa.

Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are from the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. Their colors may be white, yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and even purple, both firm and soft varieties.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potatoes used to make French fries or potato chips. Non-sweet potatoes (including red, white, and Yukon gold varieties) are part of the edible nightshade family. Other members include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, pimentos, and Goji berries.

Aside from growing similarly and looking alike, sweet potatoes and yams are often confused as the same vegetable. A true yam is a starchy edible root and imported to America from the Caribbean or Africa. Unfortunately, I can find none that are produced in North America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner (?) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the origin of the sweet potatoes has never been determined, many botanists think they originated in South America. The earliest cultivation records of the sweet potato date to 750 BCE (BC) in Peru although archeological evidence shows cultivation of the sweet potato might have begun around 2500-1850 BCE.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘New World’ in the late 15th century, sweet potatoes were well established as food plants in South and Central America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Spain, introducing them to the taste buds and gardens of Europe. Europeans referred to the sweet potato as the potato which often leads to confusion when searching for old sweet potato recipes. It wasn’t until after the 1740s that the term sweet potato began to be used by American colonists to distinguish it from the white (Irish) potato.

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

The word yam is of West African origin. Two languages spoken there have similar versions of the word. In Fulani, the word is nyami and it means “to eat.”

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When colonists brought the sweet potato to North America, the Portuguese changed the word to inhame; the Spanish changed it to iñame; both are presumed derivations of the African words for yams due to their similar appearance. Its first usage in English was igname. By the mid-1600s, the English spelling had changed to y-a-m.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wherever and whenever they originated, and however they have traveled the globe, I’m incredibly thankful that most of us have sweet potatoes in our lives today especially as we approach Thanksgiving.

The yam is a major food source for millions of people in tropical and subtropical regions especially in West and Central Africa where at least 60 million people depend on it. More than 96 percent of the world’s production is grown in West Africa. However, 41 species of wild yams are becoming endangered and research is ongoing on how to preserve these essential plants.

Carrots for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to its latest publication, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, these species are principally those in the genus that are only found in Madagascar and southern Africa.

Yams are an important food in Madagascar. They are usually eaten boiled and provide an important source of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, and a range of micronutrients. While cultivated varieties are available, much of Madagascar’s rural community opt for eating wild yams.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worldwide sweet potato production and consumption are huge. All around the world people eat and use this food, its plant leaves, and roots. With a vast array of uses, sweet potatoes are among the world’s most important food crops. Annually, more than 130,000,000 tons (that’s 260,000,000,000 pounds) are produced around the world.

Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are primarily grown in tropical to subtropical regions since they prefer a daytime temperature of 75 degrees and warm nights. Sweet potatoes rank among the world’s seven most important food crops (along with wheat, rice, maize, potato, barley, and cassava). In over 50 countries, it’s one of the top five food crops grown with China producing over 90 percent of the total.

Related: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

Asia’s crop is used for both human consumption and animal feed. Yearly, China uses over 60,000,000,000 pounds of plant leaves as feed for pig stocks.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South America, the sweet potato’s original home, produces about 4,000,000,000 pounds yearly. North America produces about 1,200,000,000 pounds yearly. The top producing locations in the United States are North Carolina, followed by California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Significant numbers are grown in Texas, too.

Radishes for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most supermarkets carry one or two different types of sweet potatoes, about 25 varieties are available in the United States. And I was amazed to discover that this represents only a tiny fraction of the total diversity of sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato geeks of the world may be fascinated to know that the International Potato Center in Peru maintains a gene bank consisting of over 6,500 varieties of sweet potato. I don’t know about you, but personally, I wish I could try them all!

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potato varieties range in color from dark red to brown to purple to orange-yellow to white. They also have different tastes, sizes, shapes, and textures.

Here are just a few of the most popular types of sweet potatoes:

Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard sweet potatoes have reddish-orange skin and deep orange flesh. These are often the ones masquerading as yams at mainstream grocery stores. Who knew sweet potatoes could be so sneaky?

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White sweet potatoes are crumbly with white flesh and golden brown skin. They don’t contain as many antioxidants as orange varieties.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Okinawan sweet potatoes are also known as purple sweet potatoes because of their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, blue, and violet plant foods their beautiful colors. Anthocyanins are also what give Okinawan potatoes 150 percent more antioxidant power than blueberries. Despite their name, Okinawan potatoes are actually native to the Americas. They were brought over to Japan sometime in the 16th century where they grow well and have become a staple in Japanese dishes. In North America, you will most likely find true purple sweet potatoes in an Asian supermarket.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Japanese or Satsumaimo sweet potatoes are known for being sweeter than most other types. This is especially true when they start caramelizing in the oven.

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is a pigment and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also contain a modest but helpful amount of protein—around four grams per cup when cooked.

When compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and antioxidants. Surprisingly, considering their sweeter taste, they also have a mildly lower glycemic index score. This makes them slower to digest.

Walnuts for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the greatest sweet potato nutritional glory of all may be its rich supply of vitamin A. A single sweet potato offers over double the daily value for vitamin A.

Next time you shop for sweet potatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind. When you pick one up, take a close look at its skin (no, you don’t have to pack your magnifying glass). It should all be mostly the same color without visible signs of decay or cracking. Give it a little squeeze. You don’t want your sweet potato to be squishy anywhere, as this could indicate rotting.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get your sweet potatoes home, make them a nice place to rest in a basket on your countertop or pantry. You should keep them dry and cool (room temperature, not refrigerated).

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Typically, you should use sweet potatoes within a few weeks of purchase.

Chile peppers for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are affordable, easy to use and store, and available in many parts of the world all year long. Sounds pretty sweet to me!

Worth Pondering…

I don’t think; therefore, I yam!

Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Tips to make sure you’re safe on the road this holiday season

The latest numbers are in and according to AAA, the 2021 holiday travel season is in rebound mode with 53.4 million people expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday alone! That’s the highest single-year increase in travelers since 2005.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, the vast majority of those, 72 percent, will travel by car or recreational vehicle. Yet some may travel in a vehicle that isn’t ready for an extended road trip. The last thing you want to deal with on a road trip is to be faced with trying to repair a broken-down vehicle in an unfamiliar town.

Going on a winter road trip requires a little more planning than a road trip during the warmer months. You’ll need to consider the route and RV parks as well as factors such as potential road closures or snowy conditions.

No worries—I’ve compiled eight winter road trip tips that will get you on the right track for your holiday getaway! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Choosing A Route

Choosing a destination is no doubt one of the most fun and most important parts of any trip! The route you’re taking to get there, meanwhile, can be just as vital—while the destination might also count, the journey can be just as memorable.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Park near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a winter road trip, choosing a route can be even more vital. Even Interstates and well-traveled highways can experience closures due to weather conditions. Even if you’re escaping the cold to go somewhere warmer, you’ll likely need to travel in winter weather for at least part of your trip.

Related: Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

A couple of tips that can help: travel on major routes as much as possible especially when traveling in colder areas. While back roads and scenic routes can no doubt make for a memorable trip, they may also be less maintained in the winter and in some cases are closed to winter travel. They’re also traveled by fewer people meaning that if you should run into trouble, finding assistance could require a long wait.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Consider Your Vehicle

For travelers planning to drive over Thanksgiving, here’s one thing to put at the top of your to-do list: making sure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.

Skipping that task could mean waiting a while on the side of the road before help comes.

AAA estimates 400,000 Americans will need roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The three most common issues are dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most vehicle problems like these could be prevented with a pre-trip vehicle inspection. Before you hit the road this Thanksgiving, make sure to check everything from the battery to the tires. That could make the difference between spending Thanksgiving at the table or on the roadside.

Winter months can bring about all manner of difficult weather—rain, snow, ice, hail. When you’re planning a winter road trip, take into consideration the capabilities of the vehicle you’ll be taking when choosing a route. Cars with all-wheel or four-wheel drive may have an easier time driving in snowy conditions.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may be required to use winter tires (more commonly called “snow tires”) or to carry chains. Fitting a set of snow tires may be the best thing you can do to improve your safety margin and reduce your anxiety level on snow-covered roads. Proper winter tires provide far more traction in snow, slush, and ice than even the best set of all-season tires. Being aware of your vehicle’s capabilities will allow you to plan a trip that is both fun and safe! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Assemble a Winter Emergency Kit

If you’re traveling through any colder or snowy areas, you’ll need an emergency kit designed for cold weather. Your winter emergency kit should include basic survival supplies, safety items, car/RV maintenance tools, and winter clothing. These items will help you stay comfortable and hydrated if you ever get stuck on the side of the road or have to wait out a storm.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your general emergency kit supplies should include a first aid kit as well as supplies geared towards cold weather. Emergency blankets, for example, don’t take up much space to pack and can be incredibly helpful in staying warm should you be stranded. Other things to consider packing include flashlights and extra fresh batteries, snow shovel, cat litter (or sand), ice scraper, snow brush, triangular caution signs, jumper cables, toolkit, duct tape, smartphone charger, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for people and pets, paper towels, and gloves. 

Related: Prepping For Snowbird Travel

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Check Road Conditions Frequently

Related to the above tip—road conditions can change rapidly during winter. A clear road one day may experience snow or freezing rain overnight. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check road conditions as frequently as possible. Referencing closures from previous years when planning your route can also add an additional layer of assurance to your road trip.

Finally, check out what sources you can rely on for updates for the route you’re taking before you head out. This way, you won’t need to find a weather station on your radio or app for your smartphone while on the road. 

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Schedule Extra Time

This is a good idea for road trips any time of the year. Planning some extra time will create a helpful safety net should anything unexpected arise. Because there are several additional factors to consider in the winter such as potential snowfall or road closures, this becomes even more crucial when traveling in winter. Consider adding a few hours to your plan each day. Worst case scenario—everything does go according to plan and you end up with some extra time to explore a stop or enjoy your destination. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Have a Backup Plan

Most likely you’ll arrive at your destination with only minor setbacks if any. In the event that a setback delays your journey a backup plan will help ensure you still have a good trip, even if it’s not what you originally planned. Consider cancellation policies when booking an RV park or other lodging as well as the potential for extending your stay if weather or road conditions require it. Also, consider an alternative route as well some activities or stops along this route.

Related: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. On Packing

Packing for any trip can be difficult! There’s always the question of what to bring. While you have some more freedom packing for a road trip over a plane trip, it’s still important to pack efficiently. For a winter road trip, this means that you’ll want to keep cold-weather clothes easily accessible. The last thing you’ll want to have to do is unpack a full suitcase to find a pair of gloves at the bottom.

Consider bringing a bag or bin for shoes/outerwear as well. If you’ve been walking through snow or slush, this is a great way to make sure any runoff won’t result in a puddle on your car or RV floor. Finally, make sure to bring a blanket or two to stay cozy on the trip. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Winter Driving Tips

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work and allow extra time to reach your destination.
If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is prepared and that you know how to handle road conditions. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Resort near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks (and never, never on the right).

Related: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Keep your lights and windshield clean. Replace windshield wiper blades. Make sure your windshield washer system works and is full of an anti-icing fluid. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Brake gently to avoid skidding. Learn how to get maximum efficiency from your brakes before you need them in an emergency situation.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch carefully for black ice. If the road looks slick, it probably is. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads as these will freeze first.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads. 

Worth Pondering…

And finally, Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

Holly Jolly Jekyll

Discover holiday lights and magical sights on Jekyll Island

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, it sits a short drive from Savannah with more than 10 miles of beaches, a historic landmark district, golf courses, and state park-protected land that includes a campground.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island was named Money Magazine’s #1 Place to Go in the U.S. in 2019. It also houses a sea turtle rescue center and has been the filming location for films like X-Men: First Class, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Walking Dead.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island packs a lot of action into its small seven-by-two-mile border. One of the four Barrier Islands that are accessible by car, this tucked-away gem off the coast of Georgia is a favorite vacationing spot. Plus it offers the best of nearby historic Savannah (1½ hours away) and Florida beaches (one hour away).

duBignon Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature lovers will feel right at home with eight miles of beaches, 20 miles of hiking trails, and a flat landscape all well within reach, making the area ideal for casual walking and biking. The Historic District surrounding the Jekyll Island Club—featuring 200 acres of buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the town was developed—helped it join the ranks of the most beautiful small towns in America, according to Architectural Digest.

GoodyearCottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to take in the lights from the comfort of your own vehicle? Follow Jekyll Island’s Self-Guided Light Tour map to see some of the island’s best light displays. (Be sure to follow traffic patterns and tour signs and remain in your vehicle while snapping photos of your favorite twinkling lights.)

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tap into your competitive spirit while celebrating the holiday season at Peppermint Land at Jekyll Island Mini Golf. Take a walk down peppermint lane and enjoy one or both of the 18-hole courses while surrounded by life-size gumdrops, peppermint sticks, gingerbread friends, and more.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

(Pro tip: If you play into the evening, you can also enjoy all the twinkling holiday lights!)  Or round up your group for the free Holly Jolly Drive-in Movie (December 12 and 19) to enjoy a special screening of the original “Frosty the Snowman” movie in the Jekyll Island Convention Center parking lot. Find your spot, wave hello to Santa on his big red fire truck, and tune in to the movie using your car radio. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, need to pick up some last-minute gifts? For holiday shopping, stroll through the beautifully decorated historic Goodyear Cottage which transforms into the Merry Artists Holiday Market showcasing one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces by local artists and makers—perfect for one-of-a-kind presents. Gift certificates are available for purchase.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or pop into the Holly Jolly Trading Post to pick up your Holly Jolly Jekyll season novelties and collectibles and enjoy Christmas candies and warm holiday beverages while you stroll.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a joyous parade. During the Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade (December 4), find your spot in the beachfront spectator areas to watch as Santa and his friends make their way beachside in a variety of golf carts and vintage vehicles—all lit up in their holiday best. 
For a nighttime celebration, ooh and aah at holiday fireworks (December 11 and 18) launching near Beach Village. Park beachside and watch the free show from your car to stay warm and cozy while taking in the spectacular sights. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If adventure is calling your name, infuse some excitement into your holiday vacation with outdoor activities on Jekyll Island’s beaches. 

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Show your daring side during the new Cold-Stunned Plunge (November 27) as you run into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. This fun (and frigid) fundraising event benefits the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on behalf of the Jekyll Island Foundation. Many sea turtles get caught in hypothermic water temperatures during winter months and your support assists cold-stun rehabilitation and recovery. Mascot Scute C. Turtle and friends will cheer on participants and hang around for festive photos. Take the plunge, raise some funds, and receive a commemorative T-shirt for your good deed. 

Related: 10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride into this holiday season with a one-hour horse ride on the beach (November 26-January 2)! The horses will be decked out for Christmas in Santa hats and jingle bells and ready for their photo-op. Come enjoy some holiday tunes while sharing a candy cane treat with them!

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)

Christmas 2020 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the madness of 2020, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.

It’s been said for months that 2020 is not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers know so firsthand. Canadians have had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend short-sleeve time with friends at resorts and rallies in the South have had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are volatile, uncertain, and complex times but with wide-scale vaccinations we are looking forward to a brighter, more social tomorrow. RVing will continue to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.

But despite 2020’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug in their, er, storage areas can embrace the world outside their door and view a pristine snowfall. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

End 2020 on a High Note with these Travel Ideas

2020 is almost over. Go out with a bang.

With some communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, we’re bored, listless, afraid, and uncertain. We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Social distancing limits physical contact. Lockdown constricts physical space and movement. Working from home or having lost work entirely both upend routines and habits.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best part of December 2020 will no doubt take place at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st when all of humanity toasts a new year and welcomes 2021 with something resembling hope. 

But until then, here are some ideas for holiday getaways so you can leave 2020 on a high note. Ski slopes are open, holiday lights are twinkling, and road trips are still up for the taking. Trick out the RV and carpe the diem… 2020 is on its way out.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chill out in Vermont

For a place that’s likely covered with a thick layer of powder as you’re reading this, Vermont in the winter sure gives off a lot of cozy vibes: think glittering icicles on historic covered bridges and mom-and-pop general stores. We’re eyeballing friendly Stowe is an ideal place to visit this winter where you can hit the slopes and fall in love with Vermont.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter camping trip offers the opportunity to see another side of Vermont’s beautiful outdoors. Make your home in the snow and bed down for the night amid the silence and serenity of the season. Luckily for winter camping enthusiasts, Vermont State Parks never close and make a great spot to set up camp. The winter months mean the least number of visitors to the parks, which just means more space for you.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or warm way up in Arizona

Arizona is straight-up gorgeous! Winter is a fantastic time to visit Arizona whether you want to take advantage of all-season camping in its vast wildernesses which includes the Grand Canyon and the criminally under-visited Organ Pipe National Monument. Stop off in lively Phoenix or artsy Tucson or outdoor adventure in Sedona and you might find yourself considering a move. Find yourself in the desert

Anza Borrego sculptures © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of deserts, those expanses are looking extra appealing right now. Maybe it’s time to load up the RV and jaunt through West Texas to see the Marfa lights. Cruise Nevada to gawk at psychedelic geysers that look like they were made by aliens. See art both prehistoric and wildly hallucinogenic in New Mexico. And while California is on lockdown right now, the wide-open outdoor gallery that is the Greater Palm Springs area will still be there. Meanwhile, there’s the Anza Borrego Sculptures like something straight out of a movie. While driving near Borrego Springs you’ll gawk at 130 full-sized metal sculptures out in the middle of nowhere. It really is fun to find yourself among creatures that roamed the desert millions of years ago— real and imagined. There are prehistoric mammals, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long serpent/dragon. Great chance for night photography!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get a whole national park to yourself

While some national parks close up for the winter, others are at their absolute best when the season changes. And it’s not just cold places like Mount Rainier, Bryce, and Denali, either. You’ll find crowds way, way down at Arches and Joshua Tree, too. And there’s no better time to visit White Sands and Congaree.

The Wharf on the Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get holly and jolly across the US

The holidays are going to be a slog this year even while the pandemic gives you a solid excuse not to listen to your uncle bloviate over dinner. But there’s still cheer to be had. St. Petersburg, Florida is leaning into the North Pole-with-palm-trees vibe on its new pier and beyond offering up multiple holiday markets, a boat parade, and more. Celebrate the season on the Alabama Gulf Coast with the North Pole Express and Holly Days at the Wharf in Orange Beach. Or head to the festive Bavarian mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington or any number of small towns that go full Clark Griswold with holiday displays.

Natural Bridges National Monument, a certified Dark Sky park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go outside and look up

Unless you’re living in Argentina or Chile you’re unlikely to see the total eclipse of the sun. But the skies this month are filled with cosmic action. The Geminid and Ursid meteor shower will peak. Saturn and Jupiter are having close encounters. To experience them, you don’t need to head to a certified Dark Sky site. But it wouldn’t hurt. Try Utah: There are currently 16 designated Dark Sky sites across the state with plans to reach 20 in the very near future. Between national parks, state parks, and national monuments, that means more than any other state in the country. 

Gulfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, you could just stay home and pretend you’re somewhere else.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

Christmas 2019 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re back in the Great State of Texas enjoying the Southern sunshine and warmth, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty Texas BBQ, fruit and cream kolaches, and pralines—and pecan pie with Blue Bell icecream.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Reveille to my numb mind.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

The Absolute Best Places to RV This December

Embrace the magic this holiday season in a warm destination

As a whole, the month of December is a whirlwind. Even as the chaos of Thanksgiving weekend begins to fade, the world is already preparing for the end-of-year holiday season.

Balancing the frenzy of shopping and family time can be daunting, but those who manage to squeeze in time to get away, will find warm weather, seasonal festivals, and beautiful landscapes in which to cap off another great year of RV travel.

December marks your last chance to cash in on this year’s travel resolution before they reset in the New Year, so let the magic of the season take you to a place near or far in your RV.

Looking to make plans for RV travel in January, February, or March in the New Year? We’ve got you covered with those recommendations, too. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in September, October, or November.

Rockport, Texas

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport is known as “The Charm of the Texas Coast” and for good reasons. A winter hamlet that is a relaxing getaway year-round, Rockport-Fulton is known for its signature trees, clusters of giant ancient oaks sculpted by the Gulf Coast winds.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its small town status there are plenty of things to do. There’s fishing, golfing, and nature trails. A few places to enjoy the wildlife are at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Connie Hagar Wildlife Sanctuary, and Goose Island State Park. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the winter host for the largest flock of whooping cranes.

Nature Coast and Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fed by springs that flow at a constant 72 degrees, the Crystal and Homosassa rivers are winter havens for West Indian manatees. Between 400 and 700 of these endangered aquatic mammals—they have a population of about 4,480—call the rivers home from October through mid-April.

Manatee at Homosassa Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedManatee at Homosassa Springs

When the Gulf waters warm up in the spring, most of the manatees venture out to their coastal homes. Manatees are gentle creatures that enjoy interacting with humans. Even though only 30 to 40 manatees stay in nearby Kings Bay year-round, more than 20 companies in Crystal River and Homosassa offer swim-with-the-manatees tours.

Homosassa Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, you can see manatees without donning a wetsuit. The 210-acre park is a rehabilitation center for injured or orphaned manatees. A 45-foot-deep natural spring, headwaters of the Homosassa River, provides the perfect habitat for recovering manatees.

Manatee at Homosassa Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An underwater observatory allows close-up views of manatees and freshwater and saltwater fish attracted by the spring. The park is also a showcase for Florida’s native wildlife, such as alligators, wood storks, and pink flamingos.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly 800,000 acres of desert east of the Coachella Valley (think, Palm Springs), Joshua Tree National Park rewards visitors with a full range of peculiar treasures: spiky yuccas, spiny cacti, spindly ocotillos, gangly Joshua trees, and dramatic geological formations, including Jumbo Rocks.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you drive up Pinto Basin Road, past the Cholla Cactus Garden, you’ll cross the transition zone between two major desert ecosystems: The lower Colorado Desert merges into the higher Mojave Desert, and cholla cactus and ocotillos give way to Joshua trees.

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

An even bigger wow can be had at Keys View. To the west, distant San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak—both topping 10,000 feet—scrape the sky. Looking south, you can spy the Salton Sea.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Brunswick and the Golden Isles, Georgia

The Golden Isles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four of the beautiful isles—St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea—and a nearby coastal town are known collectively as Brunswick and the Golden Isles.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat, known as the Jekyll Island Club. Members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Jekyll Island, with its cottage colony and clubhouse, was viewed as a little paradise, where members and guests pursued “a life of elegant leisure.” Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.

—Henry David Thoreau