Plenty of Sand and Amazing Landscapes on this Grand Circle Tour

The American Southwest is famous for incredible scenery, red rock pinnacles and formations, brilliant sunsets, and deep canyons

This is uncommon land, for an uncommon experience.

Get your camera ready for this scenic route from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and other scenic wonders of the American West.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam/Lake Mead

An engineering marvel, the Hoover Dam tamed the mighty Colorado River to provide hydroelectric power and much-needed water for the parched Southwest, creating Lake Mead in the process. Just 25 miles outside Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreational Area offers more than 550 miles of shoreline and year-round outdoor adventure. Whether it’s swimming, water skiing, boating or fishing, it’s all possible in this spectacular setting.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Zion National Park

Unlike most other Utah parks, Zion is a canyon viewed mostly from below. White and vermilion cliffs tower all around, some reaching nearly 8,000 feet. The main canyon was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that often draw rock climbers to its walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bryce Canyon National Park

Discover a massive array of red rock spires that extend hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem-like formations rise in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Explore deep canyons on foot or drive around the high elevation loop road and look out for Bryce’s bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest trees that date back 5,000 years.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Glen Canyon/Lake Powell

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation amid scenic vistas and geologic wonders. The second largest man-made lake in the U.S., Lake Powell is without doubt the most scenic, stretching 186 miles across the red rock desert from Page, Arizona to Hite, Utah.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Monument Valley

You’ll marvel at the 250-million-year-old red rock formations, the magical light, the starry night, and the Native American history that infuses this iconic landscape. Drive the 17-mile scenic loop road on your own or hire a guide to delve deeper into the storied region and to access off-limit sites. Camping at The View Campground offers the RV traveler a great opportunity to capture the incomparable sunrise and sunset hues. Don’t forget your cameras!

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hubbell Trading Post, Arizona

The squeaky wooden floor greets your entry. When your eyes adjust to the dim light in the “bullpen” you find you’ve entered a mercantile. Hubbell Trading Post has been serving Ganado selling goods and Native American Art since 1878. Little has changed in more than 140 years at the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation.

Visitors also can tour the Hubbell house; browse the visitor center (built in 1920 and used originally as a school); and see barns, corrals, wagons, and other historical farm equipment, as well as a variety of farm animals, including Churro sheep.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Petrified Forest National Park

Most visitors come to see the ancient tree trunks, which are preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged in a riverbed nearly 200 million years ago. And they’re quite a sight: Over time, the huge logs turned to solid, sparkling quartz in a rainbow of colors—the yellow of citrine, the purple of amethyst, the red-brown of jasper. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts and striated canyons.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Grand Canyon

The Colorado River cuts through the American west to create one of the natural wonders of the planet. A total of 277 miles long and up to a mile deep, it’s a geological masterpiece, with amazing vantage points along both the North and South rims. Over millions of years, the river sliced the landscape into sheer rock walls, revealing many layered colors, each marking a different geologic era.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

Least-Visited National Park Service Sites and Why Each Is Worth a Visit

Celebrate the beauty and natural wonders of America’s National Park Service sites at these lesser-known locations

Among America’s 418 National Park Service (NPS) sites, some stand out as must-sees for most RV travelers: Blue Ridge Parkway, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Natchez Trace Parkway all come to mind as bucket-list sites.

And indeed, these and other parks welcome millions of visitors each year. Yet there are many other lesser-known parks equally worth your time—parks with extraordinary wildlife and unique natural features that mere thousands of visitors experience annually.

Here, we’ve rounded up ten of the least-visited national parks and make a case for why each one is worth a visit. Some are little-known, others are obscurely located, but all celebrate the beauty and power of America’s natural wonders—and, as a bonus, can be enjoyed with fewer crowds.

Cowpens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cowpens National Battlefield

2018 visitor count: 189,410

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

El Malpais National Monument

2018 visitor count: 154,368

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Coronado National Memorial

2018 visitor count: 103,218

In the Coronado National Forest bordering Mexico, Coronado National Memorial celebrates the achievements of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who led the first recorded European expedition to America, in 1540. The attraction for most visitors is the rugged and scenic terrain, which is crossed by several hiking trails.

Tuzigoot National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tuzigoot National Monument

2018 visitor count: 98,090

Tuzigoot is a small national monument that preserves the remains of dwellings of the 12th century Sinagua Indians. Tuzigoot comprises a cluster of buildings, on top of a small sandstone ridge close to the Verde River valley.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

2018 visitor count: 62,995

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites, including a four-story earthen structure. Interpretive walking tours and exhibits are available.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cumberland Island National Seashore

2018 visitor count: 55.650

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, full of pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Walk in the footsteps of early natives, explorers, and wealthy industrialists.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

2018 visitor count: 260,375

With its multiple stems the organ pipe cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ.

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hovenweep National Monument

2018 visitor count: 40,574

Hovenweep is one of those out of the way destinations that are easy to miss. Hovenweep preserves six villages once inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. These structures at Hovenweep are numerous and varied.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

2018 visitor count: 39,361

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. This site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Worth Pondering…
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Travel Experience like None Other: Monument Valley and Northeastern Arizona

Head into the vast landscape of northeastern Arizona and it’s as if you’ve entered another world

Highways roll endlessly along plains with not a soul in sight. The land rises imperceptibly cliffs reveal themselves in the distance.

Further exploration uncovers a canyon where ancient people once made their homes—and where some live still. The road leads on to a magical place where rocky monoliths burst from the desert floor.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must-see paid attraction: Monument Valley, “discovered” by Hollywood in the 1940s, can be seen in 3D, 360-degree glory for less than the price of a movie ticket. Admission to the tribal park is $20 a carload, and worth a trip at 10 times the price.

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

Must-see free attraction: Drive along the north and south rim of Canyon de Chelly National Monument to see some of the state’s most unusual formations. Spider Rock is among the most popular stops, the narrow spire seeming to defy gravity.

The Mittens, Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Best place to take a selfie: Walk up the boulders bordering the visitor center parking lot at Monument Valley. Once you’ve framed the Mittens—the park’s two most famous formations—snap away.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Best unguided hike: The Wildcat is the only trail in Monument Valley that visitors can experience without a Navajo guide. It brushes so close to the Mittens formations that you can almost feel them holding you. Starting from the campground, the easy, 3-mile trail drops to the valley floor, where blocky towers vault from sand and sagebrush.

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

Burn some calories: Hike down the White House Trail in Canyon de Chelly. You’ll descend about 600 feet from the overlook, constantly enticed by the view of the White House Ruins, an ancient village built at the foot of a sheer cliff. The round trip takes about two hours. Carry plenty of water and ample time to walk back up.

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Best shopping: The Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado dates to 1878 and is the oldest continuously operating post on the Navajo Reservation. Browse the traditional and contemporary textiles, jewelry and other works in the delightfully creaky building.

Most scenic drive: Not long after northbound U.S. 89A crosses Marble Canyon, a vast wall of stone appears to the east. The Vermilion Cliffs stretch for miles, and it’s easy to imagine they were erected by extraterrestrials to protect whatever is beyond the impenetrable barrier.

There is a much simpler geological explanation, but still …

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Best bathroom break: Whether you have to go or not, stop at the Navajo Bridge rest area on U.S. 89A in Marble Canyon and stroll across one of just seven Colorado River crossings along 750 miles.

The original bridge, now a pedestrian walkway, opened in 1929. Next to it is the new span, opened in 1995 and built to handle larger, heavier vehicles.

Watch your step — it’s a 467-foot drop to the river. 

Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelly National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Place to camp: Cottonwood Campground at Canyon de Chelly. 93 sites are available on a first-come first-served basis. Some big rig sites available. A dump station on site. Operated by Navajo Nation Parks.

Sunset at Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Best place to see the sunset: When the sun dips low, the formations in Monument Valley glow with an ethereal light. But sunrise and sunset are magical times across northeastern Arizona thanks to a vast sky over an endless range. No matter where you are, pause, enjoy, and reflect.

You need to know: Towns are few and far between, and cell service is spotty at best. Bring emergency supplies, including water, flashlight, a functional spare tire. and various tools. Odds are all will go well, but it’s best to be prepared.

Near the Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Best Things to See and Do in Arizona in 2019

For fun and adventure consider this your road map of the best things and see and do in Arizona in 2019

From cactus-studded deserts to snow-covered peaks, from vibrant cities to charming towns, Arizona defies description.

To the unfamiliar, its name invokes visions of cowboys and rattlesnakes, a land not for the faint of heart. The stereotype ignores the lush pine forests that carpet Arizona’s mountains, and the rivers and streams so plentiful that they have nurtured residents from ancient civilizations to today’s suburbanites.

Consider this guide your treasure map of the best things to do and see in Arizona in 2019.

Hop aboard Verde Canyon Railroad

You’re part of history aboard this excursion train on century-old tracks. But it’s the scenery and wildlife that truly capture the imagination.

The train departs from Clarkdale on a 40-mile round trip through a remote wilderness. Loads of ore from Jerome mines were once hauled on this line.

Today visitors enjoy towering canyon walls and the cottonwood-draped Verde River. Stand outside on open-air viewing platforms watching bald and golden eagles circle overhead, and remind yourself you’re still in Arizona.

Browse for treasures at Hubbell Trading Post

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. The National Historic Site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Wooden floors creak at every step. The store is crowded with goods and spicy with old aromas. Adjacent to the shop, a trader sits in the jewelry room, which also contains carvings, paintings, and clay work. In a third room, gorgeous hand-woven rugs are stacked in casual piles.

Details: Near mile marker 446 on State Route 264 in Ganado on the Navajo Reservation.

Look for spring wildflowers

Good years for spring wildflowers are sporadic. Super bloom years are rare indeed. Yet it doesn’t matter. There is no better reminder why we love Arizona than to spend a balmy February or March day in shorts hiking in fields of poppies, brittlebush, lupine, and their showy friends.

While the rest of the country is lashed by blizzards, nor’easters and ice storms, we revel in 70 degrees. Wildflowers are a Technicolor welcome mat the Sonoran Desert extends. It would be downright foolish not to accept the invitation.

Every year is different, of course, but reliable locations include Maricopa County Parks and Picacho Peak and Lost Dutchman state parks.

Walk the streets of Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

In between, impervious to the hail of bullets and river of whiskey that once defined the town the world’s largest rose tree grows. It was planted in 1885 and blooms every spring. There has to be a moral there somewhere.

Climb 7,000 feet in 24 miles

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

5 Places No One Will Be Going In 2019 (And You Can Have All To Yourself)

If you are craving a getaway far from the madden crowds and off the beaten path, consider one of the following locations that you can have all to yourself

Popular road trips and tourist spots are usually known for a variety of different reasons.

Well-known tourist destinations offer numerous options for RVers and other travelers to enjoy a variety of things such as scenic landscapes, delectable cuisine, well known historical landmarks, a variety of recreational opportunities, and local festivals and other events that are distinctive to the area and not found elsewhere.

These popular destinations often come with a few drawbacks though. In addition to large crowds and congested traffic, finding a local RV park or campground within a reasonable driving distance and at a cost effective price point can be a major issue. Also, reservations are a must, and in some cases, need to be made up to a year in advance.

Although it can be fun to visit these popular bucket-list destinations for the significance of the place and the variety of options for entertainment and activities, if you are craving a getaway far from the madden crowds and off the beaten path, consider one of the following locations that you can have all to yourself.

Below, we take a look at five different places that offer the RV traveler just as many unique opportunities as well known and crowded locations but at lower prices and with a more relaxed atmosphere.

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Cumberland Island is designated a National Seashore and managed by the National Park Service. Visitors must purchase ferry tickets through the Park Service.

Cumberland Island is the largest barrier island along the Atlantic Coast with the longest expanse of pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. No docks, houses, or other structures interrupt its serene beauty. The island boasts a healthy expanse of vegetated dunes that make it one of the most important nesting spots for loggerhead sea turtles in all of Georgia, and a sanctuary for migrating shore birds.

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and The Great Swamp Sanctuary.

Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century.

Visitors love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops and shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

Lassen Volcanic Peak National Park, California

Another oft-overlooked National Park Service site is Lassen Volcanic Peak, which gets lost in the splendor of the other national parks in California. Lassen Volcanic Peak is in the northern part of the state, and is best known for the astounding hydrothermal sites.

Hiking is the most popular activity here. Many established trails will take you past—and through—those bubbling springs, including Bumpass Hell, an area with acres of bubbling mud pots. As the name implies, Lassen Peak is a volcano. On the side of the mountain, visitors can observe lava rocks left by its last eruption, in 1917.

Hubbell Trading Post, Arizona

The squeaky wooden floor greets your entry. When your eyes adjust to the dim light in the “bullpen” you find you’ve entered a mercantile. Hubbell Trading Post has been serving Ganado selling goods and Native American Art since 1878. Little has changed in more than 140 years at the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation.

Visitors also can tour the Hubbell house; browse the visitor center (built in 1920 and used originally as a school); and see barns, corrals, wagons, and other historical farm equipment, as well as a variety of farm animals, including Churro sheep.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

This little valley near Bluff, Utah is filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies. Located in the southeastern corner of Utah it is out of the way of the main Grand Circle Tour. To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful. Free BLM camping is offered within the valley, a unique opportunity not to be missed. What are you waiting for?

Worth Pondering…

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

—Confucius