10 Amazing Places to RV in October 2023

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

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.

—Abraham Maslow

American psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs which outlined the basic human needs that must be met before one can seek social or spiritual fulfillment. Feeling that psychology didn’t take into account human creativity or potential, Maslow defined the concept of self-actualization as a process in which humans continually strive to reach our best selves. Choice played a prominent part in his theories: Here, he reminds us that our progress in life is up to us, if we have the courage to move forward into the unknown.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in August and September. Also check out my recommendations from October 2022 and November 2022.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alpine Helen’s Oktoberfest

Nestled in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the town of Helen was overlooked by tourists for years. They’d stop to top off their tanks on the way to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Brasstown Bald, or Georgia’s beloved Vogel State Park.

Then in 1969, a business owner had enough. He noted the region’s similarity to Bavaria where he’d been stationed while in the Army so he made a proposal: Transform sleepy Helen into an alpine village that appeared to be plucked right out of a German forest.

Slowly, the town changed its face adding half-timber facades, cobblestone alleys, and delicate gingerbread latticework and hand-carved details to eaves and rooflines. Soon after it became Alpine Helen; this year-round bit of Bavaria not too far north of Atlanta held its first Oktoberfest celebration.

Alpine Helen’s Oktoberfest has entertained festival-goers for more than 50 years. Nowadays, more than 500,000 visitors attend the two-month event. The Oktoberfest Parade kicked things off on September 7 and continues daily from September 28-October 20, 2023.

German-style bands from across the U.S. and Germany, more than 30 beers from local breweries and German brewmeisters, authentic Bavarian cuisine, traditional Alpenhorn instruments and plenty of folks in festive costumes make Helen’s Oktoberfest a memorable event.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. A White Oasis

White Sands National Park is one of the most jaw-dropping and surreal places in all of America. Until 2019, White Sands was a National Monument but officially changed to a National Park. What’s the difference? National Parks are protected because of their scenic, recreational, and educational value whereas a National Monument may have objects of cultural, historical, or even scientific interest.

It’s the biggest gypsum dune field in the world. The sand is so perfectly white because it’s made of gypsum whereas most sand is made of silica. Gypsum is very rare in sand form because it is a mineral that dissolves in water. That’s right—it starts to dissolve everytime it rains. But just how much of a big deal is this? White Sands covers 275 square miles of dune fields while the second largest in the world is a whopping 8 square miles in Mexico.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Where Life is Rice & Easy

At the crossroads of LA 13 and U.S. Highway 90 lies the city of Crowley.

Rice is the bedrock of the region’s celebrated Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The swallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures.

Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life. One such example is Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901 and was recently revived as an elegant space for world-class performers. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

Next door to the opera house, the Crowley City Hall, housed inside a restored 1920 Ford Motor Company building has been restored and features a museum on the city’s history.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crowley City Hall, Historic Ford Building is comprised of four interesting museums—Rice Iterpretive Center, the History of Crowley, J.D.Miller Music Recording Studio, and Ford Automotive Museum. Built in 1920 at the cost of $40,000 the Crowley Motor Co. was the city’s Ford Motor Model T dealership. Designed by an architect for the Ford Motor Co, it was one of 1,000 similar Ford dealerships constructed in the U.S.

Plan a visit for the International Rice Festival (86th annual; October 19-22, 2023) and stay to explore the area. The International Rice Festival, held annually every third full weekend in October, is one of Louisiana’s oldest and largest agricultural festivals.

>> Get more tips for visiting Crowley

Vanderbilt Estate National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. This house belonged to the Most Powerful Family in America

By any standard, past or present, this property with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains would be considered prime real estate. A series of fine homes has stood on the tract since about 1764 and in 1847 the estate was called “one of the finest specimens of the modern style of Landscape Gardening in America.”

Such superlatives attracted the attention of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Commodore Vanderbilt who had built a fortune from shipping, ferries, and the New York Central Railroad. One of Frederick’s brothers, George Washington Vanderbilt, is perhaps best-known for his Biltmore estate near Ashville, North Carolina. Collectively the Vanderbilts were known as both the richest and the most powerful family in America in the late 1800s.

Take in the unique colors of fall framing the impressing Vanderbilt Mansion from the Vanderbilt Riverfront Trail and Bard Rock picnic area as well as the formal gardens.

Vanderbilt Mansion is in the Hudson River Valley in Dutchess County, New York, about 90 miles north of New York City and 70 miles south of Albany. 

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get your history fix at Saratoga National Historical Park

The Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, New York holds activities and attractions for travelers during any season. The significance of the property dates back to the Battle of Saratoga. During a fall evening in the 1770s, American forces defeated the British army forcing them to surrender and locking in crucial foreign support.

Although the park is known for its rich history including the Schuyler House, Saratoga Monument, and Victory Woods, it’s also a popular destination for cycling at any level. Serious hikers and bikers can take part in the 100-mile challenge in the park. All you need to do is log your miles (walking, hiking, or biking) in the park and once you hit that magic number you’ll earn a special reward and some serious bragging rights. 

For some spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley, climb the 188 steps to the 155-foot stone Saratoga Monument; on a clear day visitors can see for miles. The park is especially beautiful during autumn. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival

Venture to Southern California to marvel at the stars and planets at Joshua Tree National Park which as the International Dark Sky Association notes is the “nearest convenient place to go stargazing under a relatively dark sky” for the 18 million people who live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Joshua Tree became an official dark sky park in 2017 and each year it hosts a night sky festival in the fall. As luck would have it, this year’s dates overlap with the ring of fire solar eclipse. From Joshua Tree, the moon will appear to obscure between 70 and 80 percent of the sun.

The 2023 Night Sky Festival is scheduled for October 13-14. This event is sponsored and organized by non-profit organizations Joshua Tree Residential Education Experience (JTREE) and Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center in partnership with Joshua Tree National Park and supported by the City of Twentynine Palms.

The annual Night Sky Festival is a ticketed event with limited capacity held primarily at Sky’s the Limit Nature Center and Observatory located just outside the park’s north entrance.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Cherohala Skyway

Retreat to the serenity of the Cherohala Skyway, a picturesque byway that crosses the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. The drive will take people from the Tellico Plains of Tennessee all the way to North Carolina’s Robbinsville. Through this gorgeous route, travelers will ascend to elevations of more than 5,000 feet where they can see the stunning scenery of the mountains and valleys in the area. Tourists will be mesmerized by the breathtaking sights, flowing waterfalls, and lush vegetation as they travel. Visitors can also discover the hiking trails leading to secluded attractions like Bald River Falls and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, home to eons-old, soaring trees. Every turn of the Cherohala Skyway brings tranquility and magnificent surroundings.

>> Get more tips for driving the Cherohala Skyway

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest celebrates Fredericksburg’s German heritage with four stages of continuous oompah music, arts, crafts, shopping, a children’s area, 50 varieties of American, Texas and imported beers, Texas Wine Country selections, great food and fun all weekend long! 

Oktoberfest takes place at Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg, Texas the first weekend of October. The festival typically runs from 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 for adults while children 7-12 are $1 and children six and under are free. A two-day pass can be purchased for $15 and a three-day pass is $20. 

In 2023, Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg will be October 6-8, 2023. Future dates for Fredericksburg Oktoberfest include October 4-6, 2024 and October 3-5, 2025.

If you can’t make it to town for Oktoberfest weekend, any time during the fall is a great time to visit the Texas Hill Country.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Apple Central

Fall is here and that means it’s time for apple picking in Julian, California! September and October are prime apple picking months so it’s an ideal time to be outdoors and plan a fun family outing.

And nothing is better than gathering up your own apples and taking them home to your RV for eating, cooking, and baking. So, let’s head to the mountains of Julian for these wholesome fall treats and maybe try some of the famous Julian apple pies.

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own.

>> Get more tips for visiting Julian in October

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Vermont in fall says it all

Stowe packs a big punch when it comes to outdoor pursuits—and fall is when the tiny town of 5,000 truly comes alive. In autumn, the abundance of sugar maple trees surrounding this popular northern Vermont ski area put on a spectacular color show. Visitors can enjoy it all while hiking up Elmore Mountain or Stowe Pinnacle, taking a scenic drive along the backcountry roads or venturing out into the Waterbury Reservoir on a private boat cruise. In Stowe, the best time for fall foliage viewing starts in early September and runs through late October.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

Preparing for Sweater Weather

The fall equinox arrives on Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.
—Philip Larkin, British poet (1922–86)

It’s officially the last day of summer which means that pumpkin spice and sweater weather are basically upon us. Rather than bemoan the end of one season, I’m looking forward to everything autumn brings with it—including crisp morning air and apple cider. Consider today’s post your fall kickoff complete with a leaf-peeping guide and some great road trips for the season.

Saying farewell to the long, warm days of summer can be bittersweet but the sheer majesty of the changing fall foliage makes the transition a little bit easier. As autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter days set the trees ablaze with color, now is an ideal time to plan a leaf-peeping road trip, hike, or other excursion to take in the views.

It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
—Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fall season officially begins on Saturday, September 23. This date marks the autumn equinox or the date between the summer and winter solstices when day and night are nearly equal lengths. (We also know it as the first day of the year when you can order a pumpkin spice latte with no shame.)

During an equinox, the Sun crosses what we call the celestial equator—an imaginary extension of Earth’s equator line into space. The equinox occurs precisely when the Sun’s center passes through this line.

After the autumnal equinox, days become shorter than nights as the Sun continues to rise later and nightfall arrives earlier. This ends with the winter solstice after which days start to grow longer once again. 

The word equinox comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal” and nox, the Latin word for “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But why do leaves change color in the fall?

Autumnal leaves in vibrant hues are a beautiful part of the season but those leaves are also a vital part of keeping trees alive. The trees with leaves that change color in fall are deciduous. (Evergreen trees with needles which stay green to continue the photosynthesis process through the winter are coniferous.) Deciduous trees usually have large, broad leaves.

Most of the year, these leaves are green because of the chlorophyll they use to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. The leaves convert the energy into sugars to feed the tree.

As the season changes, temperatures drop and days get shorter. Trees receive less direct sunlight and the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down.

The lack of chlorophyll reveals yellow and orange pigments that were already in the leaves but masked during the warmer months. Darker red leaves are the result of a chemical change: Sugars that can get trapped in the leaves produce new pigments (called anthocyanins) that weren’t part of the leaf in the growing season. Some trees like oaks and dogwoods are likely to produce red leaves.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When do fall leaves change color

Leaves can change their color from as early as mid-September through early November. Typically, the second and third weeks of October are the peak times but it shifts depending on your location and your local weather conditions.

Foliage starts to change in the northern-tier states out West and in the Midwest by late September. By October 2, the leaves in some areas will be past their prime. 

Much of New England as well as the Pacific Northwest will be at or near peak fall color by October 9. 

A little further south in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mid-October is your best bet.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina/Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See below for times of the year of peak foliage around the country:

  • Oregon: Best viewed while driving along scenic highways from mid-September through mid-October; however, color conditions vary daily based on humidity and fog density. 
  • North Carolina: North Carolina’s leaf patterns move east across the state. The first leaves in the western part of the state begin to peak the week of October 9. By October 23, the entire state should peak and the show will be pretty much over by November 1.
  • Vermont: Optimal viewing from September 18 through October 2 although the leaves will begin to change in early September.
  • New Hampshire: Leaves in New Hampshire will be at their best the last week of September. By October 16 most of the state will have changed.
  • Washington: Washington State leaves normally hit their peak the week of October 9 and past their peak by October 23.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations for viewing fall leaves

Here is a list of my picks for the most idyllic spots in the U.S. for viewing fall leaves. Some are off the beaten path, some are on more popular, scenic routes for you to enjoy whether on foot or by vehicle. I’ve also included the dates for peak foliage viewing for each location.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Peak Viewing: October 9-28

Virginia’s Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The speed limit is 35 mph with 75 overlooks to pull over and enjoy the sights of the Shenandoah Valley below. Often called one of America’s favorite mountain drives, Skyline Drive is “good for the soul.” 

La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Peak viewing: Mid September to mid October

Aside from aspens, cottonwoods, and other deciduous trees making the slow turn to brilliance, the abundant sandstone rocks change colors here, too. Shorter days and angled fall light combine to give Moab’s signature sandstone deeper, more varied colors than usual. Several different leaf-peeping routes include the La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway, the Gemini Bridges Trail, the Poison Spider Mesa Trail, and the Moab Rim Trail. Jeeps are required on all routes except the La Sal

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Peak viewing: Mid to late October, depending on elevation.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any terrain more perfectly orchestrated for fall color viewing than the Great Smoky Mountains. Lots of sumac adds to the brilliant reds but the Park boasts an amazing diversity of trees and terrain that add to the color spectrum—some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kancamagus Scenic Highway, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Peak viewing: September 25-October 7

The Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire known by the locals as The Kanc provides some of the most spectacular fall foliage viewing in New England. The Kanc’s 35-mile scenic pass that connects Lincoln to Conway (Route 112) has some tricky hairpin turns and no gas stations so be prepared. It does have plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the grandeur of the vistas. 

Julian apples © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Peak viewing: Early to mid-November.

In Julian, autumn is the grandstand season both for apple-pie eating and leaf-peeping. Sample the town’s homemade apple confections then watch black oaks do their color-changing trick at Lake Cuyamaca in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. A scenic 45-minute drive leads to Palomar Mountain State Park where you can put some miles on your feet while you admire bracken ferns and leafy oaks on the Thunder Ridge and Chimney Flat Loop. Or hike the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, home to some of the oldest and largest black oaks in San Diego County. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!

—A. A. Milne

Apple Central: Julian, California

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apples and apple pies

Fall is here and that means it’s time for apple picking in Julian, CaliforniaSeptember and October are prime apple picking months so it’s an ideal time to be outdoors and plan a fun family outing.

And nothing is better than gathering up your own apples and taking them home to your RV for eating, cooking, and baking. So, let’s head to the mountains of Julian for these wholesome fall treats and maybe try some of the famous Julian apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Julian apples

The town of Julian is the place to go for apples. Located just an hour northeast of San Diego in the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains at an elevation of 4,225 feet, Julian is a refreshing throwback to simpler times.

Once a bustling gold mining town, Julian’s mines eventually dried up but a new treasure had already been taking hold—apples. All thanks to a widower named James T. Madison who relocated here from New Orleans and quickly discovered the fertile soil of Julian was perfect for fruit orchards.

Madison traveled to San Bernardino with a four-horse wagon and returned with it filled with apple trees. And the rest is history. 

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the 1890s, Julian was proclaimed the “greatest apple belt in the world” and its fruit and pies were winning one national award after another. Julian’s legacy lives on today with its apple farms and famous apple pies.

The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

It’s also a popular destination, for those in the know—people who want to get out for the day, to hike, explore the scenic backroads, or see historic sites.

To explore Julian, set out on foot for a historic self-guided walking tour. There are about 30 places to check out including 20 that have plaques explaining the history of the building or place. The Pioneer Museum is worth stopping in as well; its collections run from American Indian artifacts to antique furniture and tools to one of the best displays of antique lace in the state.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around Julian. One great destination is the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The park encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of forest; it’s primarily mixed conifer forest but also includes manzanita, elderberry, scrub oak, chamise, and California wild lilac.

One great trail reaches the summit where you will have sweeping views of the orchards and vineyards below and even far-reaching views of the coast. It’s about a 5-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. From Julian take Farmer Road 2.2 miles, turn right for 50 yards and left onto Farmer Road. Drive about one quarter mile and park on the right near the preserve sign.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Apple Picking

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own.

Apple picking season arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October.

Here’s a listing of places to pick apples in Julian. However, it’s a good idea to check the website or give these businesses a call for updated information before you go.

Where and when to pick Julian apples

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peacefield Orchard

Address: 3803 Wynola Rd, Julian

Dates: Saturdays and Sundays each weekend in September

Peacefield Orchard U-Pick and Farmstand is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm (or until the day’s ripe apples run out). So, it’s a good idea to arrive early as it gets hot! Please wear close-toed shoes.

Orchard tours and u-pick by appointment are also available. Please make reservations for groups larger than two cars. Pick Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Jonagold on 2½ acres, widely spaced lanes made for plenty of space.

Cost: $20 per bag (½ peck) with no entry fee.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Mining Company

Address: 4444 CA-78, Julian

Dates: Begins October 15, 2023

Julian Mining Company is all about connecting living history with a working farm. Yes, there are apples but this orchard offers a whole lot more.

Apple picking begins October 15 with a variety of fun activities like fall goodies, pumpkins, gold mining and gold panning, fossil digging, a mini train ride, and of course, apple picking. The farm is open Saturdays 10-4 and Sundays 12-4.

Cost: $18 per bag (can be shared) and $3 per person entry fee

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcan Valley Apple Farm

Address: 1284 Julian Orchards Dr, Julian

Dates: Opening the whole orchard September 8, 9, and 10 and every Friday, Saturday, Sunday until the apples are gone

A seasonal u-pick orchard with 8,000 trellis-grown apple trees and seven apple varieties, Volcan Valley Apple Farm is all about family fun.

Hours of operation are Friday-Monday, 9 am to 4:30 pm (last sale). Gates close at 5. 

Cost: $15 per bag which holds about 6-7 pounds and includes one admission. Active military with an ID pay $10. Extra admission is $5 per person. Children 5 and under are free. 

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crosscutt Farm and Orchard

Address: 1209 Farmer Road, Julian

Dates: September 16–24, 2023

Gather your friends and family and be ready when the family-owned and operated Crosscut Farm and Orchard opens for apple picking this September.

Reservations are required. Walk-ins are not permitted. 10 people per group minimum, 50 people per group maximum.

Reservation times are 10 am-noon, 1 pm-3 pm, and 3 pm-5 pm but feel free to bring a picnic lunch and spend the day.

Cost: $20 per bag and $5 per person entry fee (kids 4 and under are free) which includes parking, a narrative on apple farming and local history, a cider demonstration, and a picnic site.

Apple dumplings © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in for a slice of apple pie in Julian

You can’t be in Julian and not try a big slice of flaky, sweet, delectable apple pie, a true Julian treasure. Several pie companies in town offer either sit-down or window service but you just have to do it.

These are the best apple pies in the universe (and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top). I guarantee you’ll be taking a pie or two home with you.

But which bakery has the best apple pie in Julian? It seems like every family in Southern California has their personal favorite and some are hard set on only eating apple pie from their bakery.

There are four pie shops in Julian and yes, for the sake of science, I tried them all:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Pie Company

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and apple memories, bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all round SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly piecrust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a mom who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious.

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

You’ll also find other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and slice of pie for dessert.

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Cafe and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken followed by a slice of pie or just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving. Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie Fun Facts

The first mention of a fruit pie in print is from Robert Green’s Arcadia (1590): thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes

Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie in 1644, declaring it a pagan form of pleasure; for 16 years, pie eating and making went underground until the Restoration leaders lifted the ban on pie in 1660

Pumpkin pie was first introduced to the holiday table at the pilgrim’s second Thanksgiving in 1623

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie by the Numbers

  • Nearly one out of five (19 percent) of Americans prefer apple pie, followed by pumpkin (13 percent), pecan (12 percent), banana cream (10 percent), and cherry (9 percent)
  • 36 million Americans identify apple pie as their favorite
  • 90 percent of Americans agree that a slice of pie represents one of the simple pleasures of life
  • 47 percent of Americans for whom the word comforting comes to mind when they think of pie
  • Americans buy around 186 million apple pies every year; and that’s just from stores, not restaurants
  • 6 million American men ages 35-54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Here’s Where to See Fall Foliage for the Ultimate Leaf Peeping Road Trip

This view and a pumpkin spice latte are all I need

One of the most magical things about the fall season is watching the leaves turn into gorgeous golden hues of red, orange, and yellow. It’s as if the whole landscape is welcoming you into the coziest time of year calling you to sip on a warm pumpkin spice latte as you breathe in the crisp autumn air.

Taking a road trip down the scenic route to a charming town is the best way to experience the lush foliage from mid-September through November and there are so many leaf-peeping places to see before the leaves fall to the ground for good. Keep scrolling to uncover gem destinations and the best places to see fall foliage in 2022.

Toad tripping in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you love scaling a mountain hike to catch an epic view of the landscape, driving down a scenic highway, or simply chilling on a quiet bench under the bright leaves, it’s important to plan your fall foliage tour with perfect timing for catching all the colors. These special leaf peeping spots in the U.S. start turning orange at different times in the season depending on their location like elevation and latitude. It’s ideal to anticipate an October road trip through the leaves where you can stop at an apple orchard or pumpkin patch along the way as Halloween creeps up.

Fall is here, so throw on your flannel, dust off your hiking boots, and start planning your outdoor excursions before the frigid cold blows in for winter.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is one of the most picturesque villages in New England. It’s also one of the best places to view the annual fall spectacle with colors changing from mid-September through the end of October.

Related article: Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

Vermont is 76 percent forested with the largest concentration of sugar maples in the U.S. so there are typically vibrant displays of red, orange, and yellow leaves across the state. One of the prettiest drives to see the foliage is along Smugglers’ Notch pass through the Green Mountains in Smugglers’ Notch State Park.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re planning for several days of leaf-peeping activities, reserve a room at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. Then, go horseback riding, rent a canoe or hop on the Gondola SkyRide to the summit of Mount Mansfield for unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. Back in town, check out local breweries including The Alchemist and von Trapp Brewing Bierhall.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

With towering forest giants, exciting hiking trails, and scenic water bodies, Bernheim Forest is a great place for nature lovers. During fall, the forest transforms into a magical wonderland making the natural attractions even more interesting and appealing. With leaves turning yellow and orange and running on the forest floor, hiking is a pleasant and scenic experience. The Canopy tree walk is one of the best places to witness the scenery of this forest as it places one at the height of up to 75 feet above the forest floor.

Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Fall is one of the most picturesque times to visit what’s known as “The Scenic City.” Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River between the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau providing plenty of options to view the splendor of colorful forests. Peak season usually in early November features trees showcasing brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.

Nearby hiking trails offer some of the best close-up views such as Rainbow Lake Trail on nearby Signal Mountain. For panoramic vistas overlooking the Tennessee Valley ride the incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can even book a sightseeing riverboat cruise along the Tennessee River on The Southern Belle.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holmes County, Ohio

Set in Ohio’s Amish Country, Homes County erupts with golden and amber hues cast off of oaks, maples, and buckeyes come autumn. Take in the changing landscape at Mohican Valley where you can hike, bike, camp, and boat, or check out the Holmes County Park District. Another way to take in the brilliant colors: Cruise along the area’s scenic backroads. Breaks from leaf-peeping can include filling up seasonal pastries, pies, and other goods.

Related article: Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Set in New Hampshire’s the White Mountains, Bretton Woods is one of the top destinations in the state to view fall foliage. Leaf season typically peaks in late September to early October. This is when the most vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds will paint the landscape across the mountains.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To enjoy the spectacle for several days, make reservations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. This historic property sits at the base of the highest peaks in the Northeast where you’ll have a front-row seat to see the show. During your stay dash through the treetops on a zipline canopy tour, enjoy a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride, or take a thrilling trip on the Mount Washington Cog Mountain Railway. You can also take in the sights from high in the sky on a gondola ride and have lunch at the top of the mountain. Back on the ground, book a signature spa treatment and relax with expansive views of the Presidential Range, Crawford Notch, and Mount Washington from the therapy rooms.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

A trip to Southern California doesn’t necessarily have to be all about palm trees and the beach. Inland areas of the state also have an autumnal charm of their very own especially in the mountain town of Julian.

Julian is famous for its delicious fresh-baked apple pies as well as orchards where you can pick your apples. Anywhere you step in this town, you are surrounded by the beautiful hues of fall even if you decide to just enjoy them from the window of a cute log cabin cafe.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most commonly known for the famed Civil War battle, Gettysburg has a rich history best experienced in the fall. Wait until October for cooler temperatures and spectacular views of leaves bursting with a carnival of color.

Related article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Fall Camping

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Apple country, The National Apple Harvest Festival celebrates the fall season with beautiful handmade crafts, delicious food, and jam-packed entertainment. The Festival has something for everyone with special attractions ranging from steam engine displays, live music, antique cars, orchard tours, pony rides, tastings, and craftsman demonstrations. The Apple Harvest Festival is during the first two weekends in October (October 1-2; 8-9, 2002)

Pennsylvania Apple Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooler temps, cozy blankets, sweet s’mores, campfires, and more! Fall is one of the best times to enjoy camping with family and friends. Plan your fall adventure now!

Worth Pondering…

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.

―Lauren DeStefano, Wither

Day Trip: Julian, CA

The center of Julian is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apple pie. Head an hour east of San Diego and check out this charming small town—and bring your appetite.

With a friendly, small-town feel, four distinct seasons, and enough fun to make for a stacked itinerary—including a wolf conservatory, hundreds of miles of trails, charming cafes and cideries, and more—Julian is perfect for a day trip, a weekend escape, or a longer stay. Here’s how to make the most of your visit.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush. See where gold was discovered, shop stores housed in historic buildings dating back to the 1870s, hike and picnic amid oaks and pines, and sample Julian’s famous apple pie.

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Cuyamaca Mountains, much of Julian’s rustic charm has to do with the fact that it’s preserved its roots as a Western mining town gone boom. The town experienced a population spike in the 1870s following the discovery of gold in a nearby stream by formerly enslaved cattleman A.E. “Fred” Coleman; the find spurred the area’s first and only gold rush which lasted until about 1900.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bronze plaque near Town Hall also commemorates the city’s early Black history as Julian once boasted the majority of San Diego’s Black population: in the 1880 census, 33 of 55 Black residents living in San Diego County lived in the Julian area.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around that same time, another enterprising gentleman, James Madison (not the fourth president), brought a wagonload of young apple trees to the area. The trees flourished in the mountain environment and became one of the reasons people from all over SoCal continue to visit Julian today.

More on Julian: The Charms of Julian

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Foodies will have a field day here, especially those with a sweet tooth. A warm slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream feels decadent anywhere else but in Julian it’s essential! Julian Pie Company is the most well-known bakery in town so be prepared to wait in line. Moms Pie House is equally delicious. Both have whipped cream, caramel sauce, ice cream, and sharp cheddar cheese as pie toppings, so pick your pleasure.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feeling thirsty? There are several wineries around Julian including Blue Door Winery just off of Main Street. Julian Beer Company is another fun place to unwind with several options on tap including Julian Hard Cider. If you’re looking for a caffeine boost, stop by Regulars Wanted Beanery, a cute cafe that serves breakfast all day and some of the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to visit is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch. Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler.

More on Julian: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Tucked into the base of Volcan Mountain at just above 4,000 feet elevation, Menghini Winery is the oldest winery in Julian and the second oldest in San Diego County. Located just 2.5 miles outside of town, the winery is a small-batch operation that produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, rosé, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Their tasting room is open seven days a week and visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on their expansive grounds.

As part of Julian’s Apple Days Celebration, Menghini Winery will be hosting a two-day Apple Days Festival on Saturday, September 23, and Sunday, September 24, 2022. The weekend-long event will feature music and dancing, an antique tractor display, children’s games and activities, gold panning demonstrations, a beer, and wine garden, food and merchandise vendors, contests, and more.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several historic sites to explore around the town including The Eagle Mining Co. which offers guided tours of its underground tunnels. The family-friendly town has horse-drawn carriage rides, old-fashioned candy shops, and more activities that will take you back in time.

As is often the case in California, hiking is an essential pastime in Julian. About 20 minutes outside of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has hundreds of miles of trails to traverse.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 100 miles of trails that accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The two family campgrounds, Paso Picacho and Green Valley are open and on the reservation system spring through fall. Green Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet and has a creek that runs through the middle of the campground. Green Valley has 81 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More on Julian: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Paso Picacho, 5 miles north, sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The most popular hikes start from this camp including the 2-mile hike up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet) and the 3.5-mile hike up Cuyamaca Peak (elevation 6,512 feet) both of which offer breathtaking views of the deserts to the east, the coast to the west, and Lake Cuyamaca at the bottom. Paso Picacho campground has 85 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s also the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve—go for a gorgeous, yet moderately strenuous hike that will see you crisscross your way through a mix of scenic conifer forest and desert—and the challenging 4.1-mile Three Sisters Falls out-and-back trail in Cleveland National Forest with a two-mile, 980-feet descent that includes some bouldering, climbing, and traversing before you reach the sparkling falls and the natural swimming pool beneath.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For something truly out of this world, Julian’s night skies make for prime stargazing, giving visitors magnificent views of the Milky Way, planets, and constellations. Amateur astronomers will want to book a Sky Tour at Observer’s Inn where you’ll use research-grade telescopes to view planets, open star clusters, nebulae, star systems, and the moon. Plan a visit around upcoming celestial events for an unparalleled look at the heavens.

More on Julian: Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Julian is an old gold mining town, now famous for its apples and apple pies

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining.

In the lush rolling hills and mountains, just 60 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small town of Julian. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederated, veterans from Georgia headed west to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins, Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike Julian, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor. The town was never large; at the most, it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became San Diego’s county seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short-lived, lasting from 1870 until around 1900 with some mining still later on. But the pioneers stayed and began farming the rich land.

Related: The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, and other delicacies and enjoy U-picking.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until mid-October. But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Related: The Charms of Julian

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart, and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Julian is an official California Historical Landmark, meaning that any new development must adhere to certain guidelines that preserve the town’s architectural integrity. Once you’re settled in, get your bearings with a self-guided walking tour and explore Julian Town Hall, historical homes, and the Pioneer Cemetery as well as the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Southern California and one of the first businesses in San Diego County to be owned and operated by African Americans.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the longest-running mining operations in town, The Eagle Mine is a popular spot to take a tour and try your hand at panning for gold as they did in the olden days. Julian Mining Company also has all your gold-panning needs covered, plus gem mining, tomahawk throwing, and train rides.

Related: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s also worth checking out the outstanding collection of historical artifacts at the Julian Pioneer Museum where you can learn about how local Indigenous groups and pioneer settlers lived and worked as well as The Barn Vintage Marketplace just outside town in Wynola, a great spot to shop for vintage keepsakes, furniture, and souvenirs. Be sure to say hello to the sweet emus who call the latter home.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t be leaving this little town hungry and for a trip down memory lane, Miner’s Diner is the spot. Operated within the Historic Levi & Co. building (the first brick building erected in Julian, 1885) the historic significance doesn’t stop there. From the eclectic mix of vintage signage to old prescription medications which line the shelves to the numerous photos of the town and the building, customers receive an understanding and experience of old Julian which is available nowhere else.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to 1929, this charming vintage soda shop has classic diner fare on deck—stacks of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, burgers, dogs, and melts included—plus a “Fun Stuff” menu where you’ll find old-timey treats like phosphate soda, ice cream floats, thick shakes and malts, banana splits, and, yes, apple pie.

Related: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1977, the California Wolf Center is home to several gray wolf packs including one of the rarest and most endangered species, the Mexican gray wolf. Reservations are required to visit so schedule one of three different tours to learn about wolf conservation and meet with the wolf packs.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

10 Amazing Places to RV in January 2022

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

2022 wishes for you:

  • Good health
  • Good roads
  • Good campsites
  • Spectacular sites
  • Short lines
  • Memorable times with friends

Be grateful for every day we get to spend in an RV

Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the most beloved lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is this bit of wisdom, imparted from the wizard Gandalf to the young hobbit Frodo. In the first book, 1954’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo inherits a cursed ring and realizes he must take a frightening journey to destroy it. After confiding to Gandalf that he wishes the task had fallen to someone else, the wizard reminds Frodo that no one gets to dictate what challenges they face. Rather than lamenting unavoidable hardships, time is better spent focusing on the choices within our control and making our time on Earth (or Middle-Earth) meaningful.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love this quote because it reminds us that our life is really only a collection of decisions and life is also limited only by time. Our decisions make us who we are and dictate what we experience.  We are free to choose and indeed many have successfully argued that this FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is truly the only thing we really own. 

Where will you choose to RV in January? This list features familiar names as well as a few lesser-known but equally fascinating locations to visit in January.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in November and December. Also, check out my recommendations from January and February 2021.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock, Red Sand, and Warm, Blue Water

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Utah, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is a popular park because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular event seeing increased growth and interest has been the annual Winter 4×4 Jamboree hosted by the DesertRATS (Desert Roads and Trails Society). A premier off-road event that attracts close to 400 vehicles, the jamboree encourages all who enjoy the OHV lifestyle to join in taking advantage of the unique and stellar Utah landscape. The Winter 4×4 Jamboree is a non-competitive trail run event for high clearance 4×4 vehicles. Drivers can choose between over 20 trails, featuring rock climbing obstacles, petroglyph sites, and sand dunes.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groups of participants are led on rated trails by experienced trail leaders and helpers. Trails are rated on a 10-point scale where a rating of 1 would be for graded roads that may be easily traveled by most cars and a rating of 10 is for purpose-built vehicles (buggies) with sophisticated suspensions and drive trains operated by expert drivers. The number of vehicles on each trail is limited to ensure participants have an enjoyable experience.

The upcoming Winter 4×4 Jamboree is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12 to Saturday, January 15, 2022.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Pie is King

Julian, California, is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. It came into being during the gold rush in the 1870s. And with it came the apple trees that would cement this town as a destination for pie lovers across the globe. The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many visitors come to Julian just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling). But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Nature experiences are abundant on the Bayou Tech Scenic Byway and the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains for a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Related Article: A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Native palms and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every Thursday with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Winter hours are 6–10 pm. Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues located along Palm Canyon Drive.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City by the Sea

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to spend time outdoors, take a horseback ride along the beach, or go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Or explore Padre Island, a 70-mile stretch of land protected by the National Park Service for its pristine beaches, calm atmosphere, and space to spread out.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. The scenic byway was designated in 1998 and is approximately 39 miles long, winding in and out of some of the most awe-inspiring country in Arizona—or for that matter, in the West. This partially unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

A visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a journey into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem. Discover the rugged beauty of this famed natural area on Corkscrew’s famous boardwalk—a 2.25-mile adventure through pine Flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. These impressive trees, relatives of the redwood, tower 130 feet into the sky and have a girth of 25 feet. Their massive branches are draped with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, and ferns. 

A little blue heron at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located about 30 minutes east of Naples, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to hundreds of alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors can be seen throughout the year while the fabulous Painted Bunting is one of many winter visitors. Photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Art Sculptures of Borrego Springs

Something more than desert wildflowers and the spectacular Anza-Borrego Desert State Park attracts visitors to the Borrego Valley in Southern California. People also come to see the amazing 130 full-sized metal sculptures here—many inspired by creatures that roamed these same desert millions of years ago. The artworks range from prehistoric mammals to historical characters, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through the roads that weave through the area—you’ll see sculptures of wild horses in a nearby field, sabertooth tigers in pursuit, and desert tortoises that seem as if they’re crawling through the brush. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, brought life to his sculptures by capturing each creature in motion. They are so still, yet all you see is movement.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The late Dennis Avery, landowner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs envisioned the idea of adding free-standing art to his property with original steel welded sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Dose of Southern Hospitality

Have you ever heard a Savannah native speak? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. The sweet Southern drawl of the locals should tell you all you need to know about this Spanish-moss draped city. It’s easy-going. It’s classic. And it’s charming.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In many respects, Savannah feels like Charleston, South Carolina. Mouthwatering seafood awaits all across town as do all kinds of butter-loaded, piping hot Southern comforts. Along River Street, you’ll find candy shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Savannah’s best-kept secrets is all the interesting festivals that happen each year. During January, appreciate all things film and learn a little something too with the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival (January 28-29, 2022).

Related Article: A Dozen Spectacular RV Parks for Winter Camping

You’ll be lulled by the sound of waves hitting the shore on Tybee Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Stroll down the popular pier and check out the ocean view from the pavilion, explore the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, and savor freshly-caught seafood prepared with a Southern flair.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See live alligators while you eat under shade trees at the Crab Shack and learn more about underwater creatures at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Join an eco-kayak tour, nature walk, or sunset cruise to explore this classic coastal town, its marshes, and surrounding waters. River’s End Campground is a fantastic home base for exploring it all and just a few short blocks from the beach.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Exploring the possibility that the best apple pie in the U.S. is in the little gold rush town of Julian, California

It’s no exaggeration to say that America has a fascination with apple pie. In fact, it’s an obsession. And pretty much every town in the country claims to have the best.

Apple dumplings from Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I can understand the fixation; for as long as I can remember, of all desserts, hot apple pie with a scoop or two of ice cream will get me every time. I think I must be a little bit American!

So when I discovered we were just a day trip away from a town famous for its apple pies, I was very excited.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. Like so many towns in the Southwest, Julian was founded on mining. In the winter of 1869, former slave A.E. “Fred” Coleman, a cattle rancher who lived near present-day Julian, found gold in a mountain stream.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

His discovery kicked off the area’s only gold rush. Today, visitors can get a taste for gold rush-era Julian by panning for gold at the Julian Mining Co. or taking an hour-long tour into old mineshafts at the Eagle Mining Co.

The town thrived briefly and became the hub of the area for business and social gatherings. During the boom, there were 50 houses, a schoolhouse, restaurants, saloons, and, of course, a brothel or two.

Julian© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining. At an elevation of 4,200 feet, it has a mild climate and rich soil, ideal for growing quality fruit. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples.  

Another scrumptious dessert: Why I Love Blue Bell Ice Cream

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As early as 1893 Julian apples took some of the top prizes in the Chicago World’s Fair and are still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October. You can buy just-picked apples and fresh-pressed cider without leaving Main Street at the Julian Cider Mill or head to any number of U-Pick locations outside town, like Calico Ranch or Apple and Art Orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town, and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Another scrumptious dessert: Along the Kolache Trail

There are four pie shops here:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the drive home. Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all around SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly pie crust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple, and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, Mom’s Pies are a close runner-up. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious. At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Another scrumptious dessert: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to start is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler for the road.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Another scrumptious dessert: Getting in our Licks on National Ice Cream Day

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is also a popular destination for those who want to get out for the day, hike, see historic sites, or explore the scenic backroads. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two. Many visitors come just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

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

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

The Best Mountain Towns for Your Next Road Trip

Some mountain towns offer adrenaline-filled excursions while others provide cozy atmospheres perfect for relaxing after a day of fun

Eighty-eight percent of the American West is currently experiencing a drought and the US’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is at its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. Named after Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Elwood Mead, Lake Mead stretches 112 miles long with a total capacity of 28,255,000 acre-feet, a shoreline of 759 miles, and a maximum depth of 532 feet. It provides water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Because of prolonged drought and increasing demand, Lake Mead—which provides water to over 20 million people in the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California—has not actually reached its full capacity since 1983. With a record-breaking heatwave sizzling its way across the West this past week officials will likely declare the first-ever water shortage for the Colorado River which feeds Lake Mead.

Lake Mead above Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shortage will affect much more than Californians’ shower times. No “good” in this list but here’s…

The bad: Agriculture. Rising water prices and dwindling government subsidies means farmers are letting fields of almonds (one of California’s most lucrative crops), tomatoes, and other produce go fallow. 

The ugly: Fishing. 17 million salmon are being chauffeured from drying rivers to the ocean, possibly costing more than $800,000 but saving 23,000 industry jobs.

Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The also-bad-and-ugly: Power. Grids are already struggling to keep the A/C running and capacity at hydroelectric power facilities is plummeting. At Lake Mead’s Hoover Dam, it’s down 25 percent.

Looking ahead…fire season has already started will most likely last longer than usual due to this drought.

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And now onto “favorite mountains for your next road trip”…

Summer is finally here and with COVID restrictions lowered across the country it’s time to load up the RV, head for the mountains, and char the heck out of some marshmallows over an open fire. Think: fresh air, rugged trails, and a mountain stream. What’s more, a high-altitude escape may actually be closer than you realize—like within driving distance. From old standbys to a few spots you’ve probably never even heard of (what’s up, Fayetteville?), these are the best mountain towns in the US and Canada.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Nestled at the foot of Mount Mansfield, Stowe is a quintessential New England town and everything you’d want in a Vermont getaway. In terms of outdoor attractions, there are ski slopes, backcountry trails, waterfalls, and The Current’s annual outdoor sculpture show. As a bonus, the cute little downtown area has wonderful shops, restaurants, breweries, and inns.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fayetteville, West Virginia

With the official designation earlier this year of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, neighboring Fayetteville has been buzzing. However, this laid-back, tight-knit community (named for American Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette) has long been a place where adventure reigns. The nearby New and Gauley Rivers offer world-class whitewater rafting and the Fayetteville area is home to some of the best rock climbing along the East Coast. It’s also a prime spot for mountain biking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca Mountains and the south slope of the Volcan Mountains. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian. You’ll enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and delicious apple pies.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The western gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg in eastern Tennessee is a playground of outdoor adventure. No matter the season you visit, there’s always something active (and totally awesome) to do—from hiking and whitewater rafting to skiing and snowshoeing when the temperature drops.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

A Bavarian-inspired village with alpine charm in spades, Helen has heaps of character and enchanting architecture. Given its Germanic roots, we were hardly shocked to learn that Oktoberfest is hugely popular. Vineyards, breweries, and an array of shops attract year-round travelers. For a sweet treat, stock up on confections at Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen. Speaking of food, the köstlich (German for delicious) and authentic dining scene also deserves a shout-out. Nearby Unicoi State Park offers 53 acres of forested trails, plus numerous campsites and a lake.

Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helena, Montana

One and a half centuries ago, Helena became the “Queen City of the Rockies” with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. Helena grew along Last Chance Gulch and in 1875 became the Montana territorial capital. Today the state capital’s grand architecture, beautiful cathedral, numerous museums, and historic sites offer a glimpse into the rich and deep history of the city. Helena also boasts numerous lakes, a historic district, vibrant cultural center with a busy event calendar, eclectic shopping, art galleries, terrific local bands, great restaurants, local microbreweries, an epic trail system, and the nearby Helena National Forest.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores.

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding, California

With mountains all around, a river running through it, and national parks nearby, Redding is an outdoor paradise for all ages. Cradled by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Redding has 300+ sunny days per year. Redding is also home to the famous Sundial Bridge and world-class fishing. Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a 300-acre campus along the banks of the Sacramento River. Gateway to the city’s 220-mile trail system, the Park features a botanical garden, natural history and science museum, and exploration center. The 300-acre complex is tied together by Redding’s jewel, the Sundial Bridge.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

In Berea, you can celebrate Kentucky crafts by visiting dozens of artist’s studios, galleries, and stores. The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. The Pinnacles in Berea College Forest offers beautiful views, proximity to Daniel Boone Forest, and easy access from town.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bedford is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, its modern downtown, and outdoor activities. Table Rock, Jones Gap, Paris Mountain, and Caesars Head state parks all deliver Blue Ridge Mountain adventure in Greenville’s backyard. The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway traces a dramatic break of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with its abundance of waterfalls. 

Colorado River neat Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott, Arizona

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, the beautiful town of Prescott is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage. With shaded trees, well-kept yards, and Victorian houses of an earlier era, Prescott seems the idealized small town. Courthouse Plaza, dominated by the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, works for me as the classic town square—the centerpiece of Anytown, USA.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff, Alberta

This is a town that barely needs an introduction. Banff is world-renowned and well-loved. The town of Banff is located on the Bow River in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Rocky Mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, a picture-perfect mountain town, abundant wildlife, and scenic drives come together in Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park The town is surrounded by Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain. From downtown Banff, you’ll have access to scenic drives, camping, hiking trails, biking, natural hot springs, horseback riding, canoeing, and great shopping.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper, Alberta

I do enjoy Banff. But I desperately and truly love Jasper. Jasper possesses many similar amenities to Banff but on a smaller scale. Located 180 miles north of Banff along the Icefields Parkway, Jasper attracts those that are looking to get a little further off the beaten path and away from the crowds. Jasper is a small town in the middle of Canada’s largest Rockies national park. Mount Edith Cavell is nearby as stunning as Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake. The park is home to the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve and has 750 miles of hiking trails. It is a beacon to all lovers of the outdoors.

Worth Pondering…

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.

—John Muir