Children see magic because they look for it.
In his 2004 book Lamb, acclaimed author Christopher Moore tells the story of Jesus Christ’s childhood through the eyes of Jesus’ fictional boyhood friend Biff. Early on in the story, Biff tells us, “Children see magic because they look for it.”
He recounts how Jesus “shone like a bloom in the desert. But maybe I only saw it, because I was looking for it. To everyone else, he seemed like just another child…”
Because the book is written for adults, this line seems almost like an invitation. We were all children once. Perhaps, as adults, we may still see magic if we look for it.
It’s December which means that as of today you’re officially allowed to hang up Christmas lights without any judgment from your neighbors. Don’t just take my word for it: A recent survey of ~4,000 US homeowners found that December 1 was the day most people identified as acceptable to put up Christmas lights.
OK, but what day is it acceptable to set out the holiday chili to appease Yeetch, the snow creature, so it doesn’t cut all the powerlines in your neighborhood?
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in October and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2022 and January 2023.
1. 30 Years of Masa Dreams
The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December (30th annual; December 1-3, 2023) is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls, and, of course, the largest-ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best-tasting tamale.
Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream, and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.
2. Best birding
Arguably among the top birding destinations on the planet, Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park south of Mission, Texas teems with vibrantly hued tropical creatures. You might spot a chachalaca, a great kiskadee, or a green jay, any of which would appear right at home in the Amazon jungle. Climb the two-story hawk observation tower for a spectacular view. Along with more than 360 avian species are bobcats nosing through the brush.
3. Jungle Gardens
Avery Island is known as the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. It’s also home to lush forests, swamps, and a beautiful spot called Jungle Gardens. Wander through azaleas, camellias, and bamboo as you keep an eye out for alligators, raccoons, and deer. Within Jungle Gardens is a bird sanctuary known as Bird City. The sanctuary is the migration site for thousands of egrets, whose nesting season begins in February as well as herons, roseate spoonbills, ibises, coots, and more. Bird lovers can book a tour while others can simply enjoy the scenery.
4. Experience the Great Migration of the Sandhill Cranes as They Return to New Mexico
Celebrate the return of the sandhill cranes at the 34th annual Festival of the Cranes, December 6-9, 2023. Join birding experts from near and far for a chance to learn about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and many of New Mexico‘s overwintering birds. The Festival offers over seventy creative workshops in the field at Bosque del Apache and indoor workshops at New Mexico Tech.
The festival celebrates the survival and yearly migration of the enigmatic sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is an ancient species of waterfowl that migrates from Canada and the northern U.S. to winter in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.
Both cranes and snow geese begin arriving in smaller numbers at the refuge in late October. By early December, tens of thousands of cranes and snow geese make the Middle Rio Grande Valley their home until they migrate back north in mid-February.
Sandill cranes can also be seen in large numbers at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and Whitewater Draw neat Wilcox, Arizona.
5. Its cool underground
Take a captivating journey to Bisbee, Arizona, a town that once glittered as a copper mining jewel at the turn of the century. Uncover the tale of hidden wealth, chance discoveries, and the rise and fall of this mining community nestled in the Mule Mountains. Explore the depths of the past with the Copper Queen Mine tour where you’ll don a yellow slicker, and a hard hat, and venture into dark, narrow tunnels guided by a former miner sharing gripping stories of Bisbee’s mining heyday.
Beyond the mine, discover Bisbee’s vibrant artistic scene and consider staying at the historic Copper Queen Hotel where history and charm converge.
6. Newspaper Rock
Bears Ears National Monument includes red rock, juniper forests, a high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes are tied to this land in southeastern Utah.
Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings in these ruins tell the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives.
Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the 41-mile Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (S.R. 211) in Bears Ears National Monument now part of the 71,896-acre Indian Creek unit designated December 4, 2017, by U.S. President Donald Trump.
7. Architectural Digest names Mobile as one of the top 10 winter escapes for snowbirds
Looking at some of the best places for people to travel to avoid the cold, Architectural Digest listed several Alabama cities as among the best little-known places in the country for snowbirds.
Last month, the magazine compiled its list putting Mobile at No. 10 among 75 of the hidden gems in the U.S. for snowbirds or people who travel to warmer parts of the country during the winter.
After Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham ranked 23rd and 24th respectively. Rounding out the final three Alabama spots on the list were Montgomery (31st), Tuscaloosa (33rd), and Gulf Shores (38th).
8. The Lady from Twentynine Palms
If this city’s strange name sounds familiar, you might be remembering the Andrew Sisters 1947 tune about a bold young lady who called it home. But although it’s small and far more remote than other popular southern California destinations, Twentynine Palms has a lot to offer.
It’s a gateway city for legendary Joshua Tree National Park whose twisted namesake flora and star-studded night sky are stunners. It’s also just an hour from Palm Springs, of summer film festival fame, a mecca of recreational activities from horseback riding to golf.
Plus it’s deliciously warm and dry in the wintertime although it will cool off at night. (It’s in a desert, after all!)
The Twentynine Palms RV Resort offers 168 full-hookup RV sites as well as a sauna, fitness room, and pool. And according to its website, hardly a day goes by during winter when there isn’t something fun going on in the Clubhouse from ice cream socials to live music.
9. Grand Canyon
Although tourists flock to Grand Canyon National Park in droves from spring through fall every year, the winter and Christmas seasons are some of the best times to visit this famous landmark attraction. With fewer crowds and cooler temperatures in December, you won’t have to worry about cars clogging the most popular destinations or the sweltering heat of Arizona’s summers.
RV camping is available year-round at the Trailer Village RV Park which is located in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon Railway which is also located in the Grand Canyon Village is a must for anyone visiting the park any time of year but it gets even better at Christmas when it’s temporarily transformed into the Polar Express.
10. Swim with the manatees
When the Gulf of Mexico cools down each winter, hundreds of manatees make for the perpetually 72-degree springs of Kings Bay on Florida’s western coast about 80 miles north of Tampa. The area’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only spot in the U.S. dedicated entirely to protecting the distinctively corpulent creatures. Although a few can usually be found swimming through the preserve no matter the season you’re pretty much guaranteed to see dozens if you visit between November and April.
Tours that let people swim with manatees have grown increasingly popular here but if you’re worried about disturbing these gentle giants, you can watch them from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. Marshes, tidal creeks, and the remains of a prehistoric human settlement—possibly the country’s oldest—are worth checking out, too.
Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.
—Dave Barry, Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide