The Mystique of Mardi Gras: Inside the History of Fat Tuesday

Believe it or not, Fat Tuesday wasn’t always a day of parades and beads

Beads tossed from parade floats elaborate masked balls, and the brilliant colors of purple, green, and gold. We’re speaking, of course, of Mardi Gras (February 13, 2024), the raucous celebration that falls on the Tuesday before the Christian fasting period of Lent in February and March. Also known internationally as Carnival or Carnaval, the lively annual festival is the hallmark of New Orleans, Louisiana, but its rich history begins well before the establishment of the Big Easy in 1718.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medieval roots, French legacy

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of Boeuf Gras or fatted calf followed France to her colonies. By that time, the celebration was linked to the Catholic Church and its attempts to discourage indulgences during Lent. 

The English translation of the French Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday and it was originally a single-day celebration in which revelers would eat, drink, and carouse as much as possible before midnight when Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. It was a day that many recklessly released their inhibitions before the 40 days of fasting that led up to Easter.

Mardi Gras costume exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it Pointe du Mardi Gras when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established Fort Louis de la Louisiane (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to those that form the current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the Boeuf Gras Society was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed along on wheels by 16 men. Later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Secret societies, parades, and beads

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras Carnival appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches or flambeaux lit the way for the Krewe’s members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity.

In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed and it introduced throws in 1870 which kicked off the tradition of tossing keepsakes from floats into the crowd. While some Krewes, like the krewe of Zulu, choose to throw coveted odd items like coconuts, most Krewes stick to purple, green, and gold beads, the official colors of Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras costume exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance and they even printed Carnival Edition lithographs of parades’ fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course—themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small and details could not be seen. But beginning in 1886 with Proteus’ parade Visions of Other Worlds these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton, and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers’ work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache artist Georges Soulie who for 40 years was responsible for creating all of Carnival’s floats and processional outfits.

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex, to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green, and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, If Ever I Cease to Love, was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France culminating with Comus’ magnificent The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species in which exotic paper-mache animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin’s theory and local officials including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana which it still is.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Modern Mardi Gras

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies. Since all of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members, New Orleanians call it the Greatest Free Show on Earth!

Except for the crowds, today’s Mardi Gras isn’t that different from its colonial origins. Secret societies still rule the parades, revelers still try to catch the throws, and indulgence remains the common thread for the entire week of festivities. There’s no experience quite like a New Orleans Mardi Gras experience so as people say in Cajun French at Mardi Gras New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll!

>> DIG DEEPER

Future Mardi Gras Dates

  • March 4, 2025
  • February 17, 2026
  • February 9, 2027
  • February 29, 2028
  • February 13, 2029
  • March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2024

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

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

—Eden Phillpotts

English author and poet Eden Phillpotts was known for his prolific output of novels, plays, poetry, and short stories. In 1918 he published A Shadow Passes, a collection of reflections and poetry that capture the author’s keen observations about the world around him. In his contemplation of the buckbean plant (aka Menyanthes), Phillpotts marvels at the beauty of its “ragged petals finer than lace.”

This attention to detail serves as a broader contemplation of the natural world emphasizing the innumerable potential wonders that remain unnoticed and unappreciated until our understanding and awareness deepen. Beauty and magic are always present; we need only to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities that lie in wait all around us.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also check out my recommendations from February 2023 and March 2023.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A history of cowboys, shootouts, and outlaws in the southwest

The rich and illustrious history of Tombstone is well-known by many Western film buffs but few places are as prepared to tell its story as the Tombstone Courthouse. This Arizona State Historic Park is a wealth of knowledge on everything from the founding of the city of Tombstone to the first-hand accounts of those present at the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Tombstone as a city was established in 1877 when Edward Schieffelin discovered silver mines in the area. Tombstone Courthouse was the center of Cochise Country from 1882 to 1931 when the city seat was moved to Bisbee.

The courthouse was built in the shape of a Roman cross and is 12,000 square feet. The Tombstone Courthouse is the oldest courthouse still standing in Arizona. During its tenure as the county courthouse seven men were sentenced to hang for various crimes—five of which were hung together after a botched robbery left at least four others dead.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Best national park to visit in February: Saguaro National Park

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Plan your visit:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Temecula Valley wine region

Nearly 50 wineries populate the Temecula Valley and the rolling-hills region: known for award-winning Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. Think of Temecula as the Napa Valley of southern California being only an hour drive from San Diego and a couple hours from LA.

Just west of the valley wine region, Old Town Temecula is a fantastic place to eat and people watch. However, getting through Old Town involved ten stop signs and ample opportunity for street café onlookers to witness my first gear stall.

Plan your visit:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. West Texas is mostly flat and desolate, right? Not Quite! 

Big Bend National Park is an exception to people’s commonly-percieved notions that West Texas is flat and desolate. Big Bend National Park is the quintessential hidden gem of the state. At 801,000-plus acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the United States yet it’s also one of the least-visited parks. The low-visit rate might be because the park is nowhere close to a populated city center.

Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter when temperatures stay in the 60s during the daytime. This weather is perfect for hiking and biking the 200 miles of trails that the park offers. Big Bend offers the best of both mountain and desert terrain and with the Rio Grande River bordering the park, you can also take part in water activities.

Plan your visit:

Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. I still dream of Galveston

This exciting old city is located on a barrier island off the Gulf Coast via Highway 45. It’s just 50 miles south of Houston but it leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city behind and slows the pace down to a barefoot beach town.

The Gulf of Mexico laps the sandy beaches that stretch the full length of the island. You can enjoy the relaxing beachfront atmosphere, take a dip in the warm gulf waters, walk along the seawall, or go through the shops in the historic downtown area where cruise ship passengers disembark to get a taste of this historic city that was established in the early 1800s when it was still part of Mexico.

The Spanish influence is evident in much of the old-town architecture. Check out the Bishop’s Palace, historic churches, and the Moody Mansion for examples.

Read more:

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A place apart

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself a place apart. Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries.

Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

Check this out to learn more: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mardi Gras

Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “… has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy.

The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you including tons of family-friendly celebrations.

Mardi Gras is here and there are so many parades and activities for every member of your family. You’ll find the perfect revelry for every age.

Nothing gets Louisianans together like a good party. And when it comes to Mardi Gras season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate with the kids and grown-ups alike all the way up until Fat Tuesday (February 13, 2024).

Read more:

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Birthplace of Mardi Gras

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

On Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Read more:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A dose of southern hospality

Savannah, Georgia, is a charming historic Southern town on the Atlantic coast, just across the Savannah River from South Carolina. The city is known for its beautiful municipal parks, historical features such as antebellum homes, and the horse-drawn carriages that ferry passengers around the cobblestoned streets of the historic district.

Stroll the ancient oak-lined paths of Forsyth Park and then take a walk through the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District followed by comfort food at a Southern cafe and you’ll never want to leave Savannah. February is the end of Savannah’s low season and a great time to beat the crowds as long as you are willing to don a jacket.

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

Let the Good Times Roll in Mobile: Birthplace of Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to ancient Rome and pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When the Roman Catholic Church rose to power, Church leaders were looking for ways to make it easier for pagans to adopt the faith. Rather than the winter and spring festivals they encouraged a carnival on the day before Lent which starts 46 days before Easter.

The practice migrated to other countries with large Catholic populations at the time including France, Germany, Spain, and England. Traditionally, people would binge eat and drink, scarfing down all the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese in their homes.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The gorging was celebratory since fish and fasting were close to the only things on the menu until Easter. The practice came to be called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in France.

In 1699, a French Canadian explorer with a mouthful of a name, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, landed on the coast of present-day Louisiana. The spot is about 60 miles south of where New Orleans would eventually be founded and Bienville named the place Pointe du Mardi Gras because of the impending holiday. The crew celebrated though it was likely a quieter celebration than today.

In 1702, Bienville founded another town, Fort Louis de la Louisiane. The small settlement celebrated the first official Mardi Gras in what is now the United States in 1703. Fort Louis de la Louisiane eventually turned into Mobile, Alabama, and served as the first capital of the original Colony of French Louisiana. The city of New Orleans, for comparison, wasn’t even established until 1718, 15 years after the first Mobile Mardi Gras.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French, Spanish, British, and, eventually, Americans all came through and left their mark on Mobile changing how the festival is held. Celebrations waxed and waned over the years as the economy rose and fell, wars came and went, but still, Mardi Gras lives on.

Now on Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Fewer balconies line the streets of Mobile than New Orleans and fewer tourists come to the city for Mardi Gras but the look and feel is familiar. There are kings and queens, princesses, and debutants. Mobile’s Mardi Gras drinking scene lacks 24-hour bars and a rich cocktail history like New Orleans but it has its own perks.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People can buy 16-ounce to-go drinks in plastic and styrofoam cups from licensed bars and restaurants in the downtown district. MoonPies get more attention than cocktails but bars make MoonPie-inspired cocktails like the ice cream heavy Chrissy (basically consists of vanilla ice cream, vodka, and the hazelnut flavored liqueur, Frangelico) and MoonPie Martinis (served in three popular MoonPie flavors—orange, banana or mint chocolate).

“There is no way to truly tell you what it’s like. You have to experience it,” says Steve Joynt, who runs Mobile Mask, the Mardi Gras guide for the area. “From parades to balls to block parties and parties in private homes, Mardi Gras is what each individual makes it.”

Joynt adds, “Mobile’s Mardi Gras is different from others in a thousand different ways and it’s the same in a few very important ways: It’s a community celebration and an excuse to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and have some fun.”

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2024 FAQs

When is Mardi Gras 2024? Mardi Gras 2024 or Fat Tuesday is on Tuesday, February 13.

What does laissez les bons temps rouler mean? Parisians are not likely to understand this Cajun French phrase but when you visit the Gulf Coast during Mardi Gras season you’ll hear the locals use this literal translation of the English phrase let the good times roll.

Who can go to a Mardi Gras ball in Mobile? Mobile Mardi Gras ball attendance is invitation only. Members of Mardi Gras Crews who organize the balls can invite non-members to the lavish celebrations.

When did Mobile first celebrate Mardi Gras? Mobile is proud of its Mardi Gras heritage and claims the first official Carnival celebration in the United States. It was started in 1703 by Frenchman Nicholas Langlois when Mobile was the capital of French Louisiana.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a mystic society? Mystic societies are secret societies that organize parades and balls during Mardi Gras season. They date back to 1704. The oldest existing parading society is the Order of Myths. Mystic societies each have their own traditions, rich with symbolism and ritual.

What is King Cake? A King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras pastry with roots in Christian tradition. Traditionally, you start enjoying King Cake on January 6, an epiphany. The pastry is a cakey bread dough formed into a ring and decorated with Mardi Gras colors, gold, purple, and green. Bakers do get creative. A bakery in Daphne, for example, offers a crawfish King Cake.

What are MoonPies? MoonPies come in many different flavors including chocolate, banana, mint, and peanut butter. A MoonPie is made up of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. The MoonPie got its name in 1917 when a coal miner asked a traveling salesman from the company for a snack as big as the moon. The MoonPie website reads, “It was filling, fit in the lunch pail, and the coal miners loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras language: Learn the lingo before the big day

Fat Tuesday, King Cake, Carnival, and Krewes are all popular terms during the Mardi Gras season but what do they mean?

Learn some of the most popular lingo before hitting the parades:

  • Epiphany: Held on January 6, this is a Christian holiday that celebrates the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus. This is also known as the start of the Mardi Gras season.
  • Lundi Gras: This is the French term for Fat Monday which is the day before Mardi Gras.
  • Mardi Gras: The French term for Fat Tuesday which is the day of the Mardi Gras celebrations.
  • Ash Wednesday: This signifies the end of the Mardi Gras season. All the craziness of Mardi Gras comes to an end when the clock strikes midnight on Ash Wednesday.
  • Carnival: The term Carnival means farewell to meat which signifies the temporary period before lent. Those who take part in lent can indulge in their humanly desires. The Carnival season begins on Epiphany and ends on Fat Tuesday.
  • Mardi Gras Ball: A ball is held after each parade float rolls through the streets of Downtown Mobile. At the balls the royal court is introduced along with dancing and costumes.
  • Floats: Mardi Gras floats are extensively decorated trailers driven by trucks during the parades. Many floats throw an assortment of beads, candy, and Mardi Gras-themed items. Each year, those participating in the parade make sure ensure that their floats and costume match the year’s theme.
  • Krewe: These are the people that make up the different Mardi Gras organizations. They ride on the floats while also funding and creating the parade.
  • Royal Court: These consist of honored members within an organization or krewe. The court normally includes a king, queen, dukes, maids, grand marshals, and more. The royal court is presented at the organization’s balls where they wear elaborate costumes. In order to become part of a royal court, most people have to be on a waiting list for years.
  • King cake: This is a festive-looking cake that uses Danish dough, cinnamon, glaze topping, and sprinkles. There is also a plastic baby that is hidden within the cake which is meant to represent baby Jesus on the Epiphany.
  • Moonpie: MoonPies are dessert sandwiches that come in multiple different flavors and sizes. These are very popular to use as parade throws.
  • Doubloon: There are large coins that are made out of aluminum and used as Mardi Gras throws.
  • Throws: These are the material goods that krewes throw from floats during the parades.
Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And last but not least:

Laissez les bons temps rouler: This is a popular Cajun-French saying during the carnival season that means Let the good times roll.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

The Top Hidden Gems for Snowbirds: Find Your New Winter Escape

This study identifies a collection of hidden gem cities—warm places waiting to be discovered by those keen on avoiding the cold and the crowds. Architectural Digest ranked 75 U.S. cities based on various factors to guide you to these notable locales.

Snow and chilly weather aren’t for everyone. Many choose to head to warmer climates during the colder months. If you’re a snowbird seeking a retreat outside popular sun-soaked places this winter, you’ve landed in the right place.

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • The number one hidden gem destination for snowbirds is New Orleans
  • The snowbird destination with the greatest selection of activities is Sedona
  • Mobile, Alabama, has the highest-rated light-traffic outdoor trails
  • Ajo, Arizona, has the most affordable homes on Zillow with an average cost of $161,048; Santa Barbara, California has the most expensive at more than $3.7 million
  • Maui has the best weather score with average daily winter temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranking the best winter escapes

Architectural Digest ranked cities based on housing and lodging availability, Yelp ratings for activities and eateries, home sale prices, and winter weather conditions to determine the best cities for snowbirds. To ensure these destinations are hidden gems, each location boasts establishments with high ratings—between four and five stars on Yelp—but only six to 75 reviews indicating that they are still relatively undiscovered.

Considering these factors, they assigned each of the 75 cities in this study a national ranking from 1 to 75.

Their research uncovered common traits among the top-ranked winter escape cities: pleasant weather throughout the winter months, unique experiences, and highly rated yet lesser-known establishments. These locations also had many homes for sale on Zillow or lodging options on Yelp catering to both seasonal tourists and those seeking a more permanent residence. Below, I explore the distinct qualities that set each of the top five cities apart from one another.

New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Overall rank: First
  • Housing and lodging availability: First
  • Activities and dining: Third

New Orleans scored 86.9 out of 100 points securing the top spot overall and for housing and lodging availability. The city’s blend of French, Spanish, and African cultural heritage coupled with its many festivals, dining, and entertainment options make it a top choice for a winter escape.

Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples, Florida

  • Overall rank: Second
  • Housing and lodging availability: Second
  • Activities and dining: Fourteenth

Nestled within the Sunshine State, Naples boasts pristine beaches and an upscale way of life establishing itself as an ideal haven for a sun-soaked seasonal getaway. With a commendable 10th place in the weather category and beautiful Floridian homes widely available, its appeal is undeniable.

Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Overall rank: Third
  • Housing and lodging availability: Eighth
  • Activities and dining: Second

Honolulu is the vibrant heart of Hawaii offering more than just postcard-perfect beaches and swaying palm trees. Located on the southern shore of the island of Oahu, this tropical paradise provides a harmonious blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication. With a high rank in housing and lodging availability, you’ll likely be able to find a luxurious island home here for the winter.

Palm Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

  • Overall Rank: Fourth
  • Housing and lodging availability: Fourth
  • Activities and dining: Fifth

This Sonoran Desert jewel is a hidden gem in the Coachella Valley offering a unique blend of relaxation and midcentury-modern charm. Despite its property costs and weather rankings at 48th and 43rd, respectively, Palm Springs still holds allure as an under-the-radar winter escape with many housing, activity, and dining options.

Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gilbert, Arizona

  • Overall Rank: Fifth
  • Housing and lodging availability: 38th
  • Activities and dining: First

Located southeast of Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, Gilbert is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered. While its 38th position in housing and lodging might suggest limited availability, it shines brilliantly as the number-one location for activities and dining.

The study as a whole has limited use for RV snowbirds since a key focus of the researchers was housing and lodging availability and cost. As a result, I will focus the remaining portion of this article on factors relevant to RV snowbirds: eateries and walking trails.

Average winter daily temperatures and UV index were of limited use since the top three locations were Maui, Honolulu, and Key West. But how practical is it to get your RV there?

I’ve identified hidden gem cities for snowbirds based on several key factors all determining whether a city is an ideal escape during the winter months. I’ve spotlighted each category below to further explain how cities fared across the rankings. The key factors/categories I’ve selected—eateries, activities, and trails—are relevant for most RV snowbirds.

Number of highly-rated hidden gem eateries and bars:

  • Gilbert, Arizona (150)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (107)
  • Palm Springs, California (86)

Number of highly-rated hidden gem activies:

  • Sedona, Arizona (109)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii (97)
  • Santa Barbara, California (29)

Percentage of total walking trails with high ratings and low traffic on AllTrails

  • Mobile, Alabama (68 percent)
  • Yuma, Arizona (62 percent)
  • Idyllwild, California (60 percent)

Other categories including the number of homes for sale in Zillow and the number of highly rated hidden gem lodging options were also included in the rating but unrelated to RV snowbirds and thus omitted  in this article,

Where to Go to Escape the Snow

Planning for a future RV snowbird road trip? Need to know where it doesn’t snow? Here are the top six states with the least snow to get you started on your plans.

Keep reading…

The Best RV Driving Routes for Snowbirds

Snowbirds migrate from the northern reaches of the continent to the Sun Belt when the weather starts to get cold and snowy just like millions of actual birds that migrate back and forth every year. And just like the flocks of birds that follow familiar routes, RV snowbirds tend to make this journey on a few well-traveled arterials.

Keep reading…

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

Keep reading…

Worth Pondering…

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida but they turned sixty and that’s the law.

—Jerry Steinfeld

10 Amazing Places to RV in December 2023

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

Children see magic because they look for it.

—Christopher Moore

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.

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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).

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Swim with the manatees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

 Worth Pondering…

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

8 of the Oldest Cities in America

For history lovers, nothing beats the old-time charm and architectural wonder of America’s oldest towns

The United States officially gained independence in 1776; but, of course, Indigenous populations and colonial settlers were here long before then. That means some cities in the country were founded well before 1776 giving them a long, rich history that predates the country by more than a century. Here are eight of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the United States that you can still visit today.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

Aside from being one of the country’s oldest cities, Newport is special because its settlement was led by a woman. Boston resident Anne Hutchinson was driven out of the city because of her Antinomianism religious views and a group of followers accompanied her to resettle on Aquidneck Island—after permission was received by the local Indigenous people—in 1636. The Indigenous population had a thriving community there with sophisticated fishing practices and land management strategies.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hutchinson and her followers settled on the north of the island in an area called Pocasett. By 1639, half of Hutchinson’s group left with William Coddington and Nicholas Easton who took their followers to the southern end of the island to found present-day Newport, now known for its Gilded Age mansions, shopping, and seaside views.

Get more tips for visiting Newport

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg, Virginia

In 1633, the Virginia Assembly ordered the founding of a town called Middle Plantation in the center of the Virginia Peninsula. Unlike other towns at the time, the settlement was not located along the James River. Nonetheless, the town had a hand in a number of historic events like Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when Nathaniel Bacon challenged Virginia’s governor. Bacon and his followers had burned down many of the buildings in Jamestown and those displaced settlers relocated to Middle Plantation.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The College of William and Mary (the country’s second-oldest college) opened in 1693 and shortly thereafter, Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg, after King William. The country’s first mental health hospital was established in Williamsburg in 1773 and in 1781 George Washington assembled his troops there to siege Yorktown and win the Revolutionary War.

Today, visitors can stop in and explore Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest outdoor living history museum, educating guests on what it was like living in colonial America.

Get more tips for visiting Williamsburg

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was officially founded in 1630 but by the time Puritan colonists arrived on the Shawmut Peninsula where the city started it was already occupied by a recluse named Reverend William Blackstone. Blackstone had left England seven years earlier hunting down his own sense of peace and quiet and found it on the peninsula.

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blackstone welcomed the Puritan colonists and showed them where the natural spring was—and then they took over his land. They then granted him back 50 acres of his own property. Four years later, he sold it back to them and left.

Meanwhile, the colonists had built a church, cemetery, tavern, and inn. In 1635, they opened Boston Latin School, the first American public school. Boston took center stage in the fight against British rule with the infamous Boston Tea Party protest of 1773.

Get more tips for visiting Boston

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe—the oldest state capital still in existence—was officially founded in 1607 but it has actually been in existence since around 1050 when it was home to the Pueblo Native Americans. The Spanish arrived in 1607 and the Pueblo peoples gathered together and attempted to overthrow them toward the end of the 1600s. Their attempts were unsuccessful and the Spanish took control of the city.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe remained a Spanish city until 1821 when Mexico declared its independence. Santa Fe was briefly a part of the Texas Republic in 1836 and was eventually conquered from Mexico during the Mexican-American War in 1848 after which it officially became a part of the United States.

Santa Fe residents seemingly embrace all aspects of their long and contentious history and tourists can learn more about it by visiting their fascinating history museums, and art galleries.

Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown, Virginia

The second-oldest European-established city in the U.S. is Jamestown, Virginia, founded on April 26, 1607. The first permanent English colony in North America had many ups, downs, and false starts before it became the city it is today. It was originally called James Fort, named after James I of England but the settlement was abandoned just three years later after the colonists faced starving conditions and conflict with the Indigenous population.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fourteen years later; however, in 1624, Virginia became an official British colony and more order was brought to the city which had slowly been reinhabited. Its name was changed to Jamestown and the city became the capital of the British colonies. By the mid-19th century, the city was declining and concerned citizens began campaigns to preserve this original U.S. city in the early 1900s. These efforts were successful and the city celebrated its 400th year of existence in 2007.

Today, you can visit the Jamestown Settlement and see what life was like back in the city’s first years.

Get more tips for visiting Jamestown

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas

The first inhabitants in Galveston history were the Karankawa Indians in the 16th century. Galveston Island’s first noted visitor was Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who landed in 1528. Its first European settler was French privateer Jean Lafitte. The city was chartered in 1839.

Moody Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston encompasses more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. At 32 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide, the island is surrounded with incredible history and unique beauty. Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, visitors can tour its popular historic mansions.

Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

The French established a permanent presence in the Mobile Bay Area in 1702 and by 1706 there were at least four permanently established sites in the area including the current site of the City of Mobile. Mobile is the oldest permanent settlement in the original Colony of French Louisiana and was its first capitol. The first five governors of Louisiana resided in Mobile and governed an area twice the size of the thirteen English colonies extending from Canada to the Gulf and from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile has a rich past spanning centuries. French, Spanish, British, Creole, Catholic, Greek, and African legacies have influenced everything from architecture to cuisine. No matter where you turn, history is right around the corner. Visit the History Museum of Mobile, explore the battlegrounds of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Condé or simply walk the streets of historic downtown.

Get more tips for visiting Mobile

The Alamo, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

On June 13, 1691, Spanish missionaries named an area of south-central Texas for St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest, and friar. San Antonio was officially settled 25 years later. Then, in 1836, Mexican troops initiated a 13-day siege at the Alamo Mission and the settlers were brutally slaughtered. While San Antonio was further decimated by the Mexican-American War, it rebounded as the center of the cattle industry after the Civil War.

Riverwalk, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of around 1.3 million people, San Antonio is now the second-largest city in Texas. Visitors flock to the Alamo historic site and the popular River Walk which is lined with shops, restaurants, and public art.

Get more tips for visiting San Antonio

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

The History of Mardi Gras Traditions

What was Mardi Gras like in 1898?

Fat Tuesday, last day before Lent’s forty day fast;
Mardi Gras magic exudes from every pore,
Elaborately costumed krewes toss beads off floats,
Give rise to fanciful celebrations of the dead,
Historic carnival steeped in Catholic doctrine.

—Sterling Warner

Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday and popular cultural phenomenon that dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival or Carnaval, it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, mainly ones with large Roman Catholic populations. Mardi Gras is traditionally celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. This year Mardi Gras is February 21 which means the season will last a little more than six weeks.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras is one of the many worldwide celebrations that recognize Fat Tuesday—the last day before Lent which historically was characterized by giving up meat, sweets, and other delicacies. Originating in medieval Europe, by the 17th and 18th centuries the festivities had become an annual event for the French House of the Bourbons.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it Pointe du Mardi Gras when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established Fort Louis de la Louisiane (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1704, Mobile established Masque de la Mobile, a secret society similar to those that form the current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the Boeuf Gras Society was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed along on wheels by 16 men. Later, Rex, The King of Carnival, would parade with an actual bull draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

King cakes at Ambrosia Bakery, Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras Carnival appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches or flambeaux lit the way for the krewe’s members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed. This is also the first recorded account of Mardi Gras throws.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance and they even printed Carnival Edition lithographs of parades’ fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course, themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small and details could not be clearly seen. But beginning in 1886 with Proteus’ parade Visions of Other Worlds these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color, doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton, and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers’ work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache artist Georges Soulie who for 40 years was responsible for creating all of Carnival’s floats and processional outfits.

Mardi Gras arts and crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green, and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, If Ever I Cease to Love, was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France culminating with Comus’ magnificent The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species in which exotic paper-mache animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin’s theory and local officials including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana which it still is.

Madre Gras display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies.

What was Mardi Gras like in 1898? Arthur Hardy who publishes an annual guide to the New Orleans celebration searched for decades to find out, looking for a film of the parade that year that was only rumored to exist. He finally found it nearly 5,000 miles away at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The footage which was recently shown at the Louisiana State Museum is the oldest-ever film of New Orleans. “This probably, in Louisiana film history, is the most important find,” said Louisiana film historian Ed Poole.

Mardi Gras arts and crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Footage from the 1899 Mardi Gras shows that while Mardi Gras parades from over a century ago are in many ways similar to today’s, the festival has certainly evolved. For instance, while modern revelers often dress casually (and sometimes wear very little clothing at all), parade-goers in 1898 donned formal attire and carried parasols. People riding on floats were not throwing beads or coins into the crowd and no police or barricades were present for crowd control.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the flipside, one tradition from 1898 has since disappeared: The traditional revelry of boeuf gras or fatted ox was once a live bull. The film shows an actual bovine perched atop one of the floats. This tradition ended in the early 20th century when officials decided it was “no longer tasteful.” Today’s parades opt instead for a papier-maché version.

It’s certainly grown and changed a bit but at its core, Mardi Gras is the same.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Future Mardi Gras Dates

February 13, 2024

March 4, 2025

February 17, 2026

February 9, 2027

February 29, 2028

February 13, 2029

March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

Alabama: 15 Road Trips Ideas for Every Interest

No matter what your interest is, Alabama has a trail for that

Take a journey back in time, explore Alabama’s rich cultural heritage, see the wonder of the spring or fall bird migration, or just enjoy a peaceful drive through a blend of brilliant autumn foliage. Alabama has great adventures for every interest on the many tours and trails just waiting to be discovered.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what your interest is, Alabama has a trail for that. I’m not talking about hiking, biking, or walking trails. I’m talking about road trips that wind their way across the state and highlight the state’s diversity and history. There is a trail for every interest. Are you into art? There is a trail for that. History? There is a trail for that.

The Alabama Department of Tourism has established 19 different trails that take visitors to incredible history, natural wonders, dining, and more. Let me introduce you to the fabulous trails of exploration in Alabama.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dolphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature Trails 

We’ll begin with a collection of stops that highlight Alabama’s incredible beauty and wildlife.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A Circle of Colors Trail

As the greens of summer surrender to glittering yellow poplars, scarlet dogwoods, orange maples, and golden hickories, Alabama unfolds its patchwork quilt of color. Fall colors begin showing in the mountains of North Alabama in early October and then sweep across the region. Colors will be at their peak from late October to early November.

The Circle of Colors Trail is a winding circuitous route that takes you across the northern half of the state from Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham to the Bankhead National Forest near Huntsville and points in between to experience glorious fall colors in the Southern Appalachians.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Alabama Birding Trail 

Alabama is a birding paradise with forests, mountains, meadows, swamps, and beaches creating a plethora of avian habitats. Even if you aren’t a diehard birder, you will love visiting one of the 280 stops along the Alabama Birding Trail that takes you to some breathtaking landscapes and of course, opportunities to spot over 430 species of birds—bald eagles, osprey, a variety of tanagers, well, you get the idea. 

The birding trail has been divided up into eight separate geologic regions: the Appalachian Highlands, Black Belt, Coastal, North Alabama, Piedmont Plateau, Piney Woods, West Alabama, and Wiregrass Regions.

Flower Trails

Alabama is dotted with gorgeous botanical gardens that brighten every season with brilliantly colored and fragrant blooms. And there is a trail for that.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Alabama Garden Trail

Gorgeous, immaculately-maintained landscapes are on display all across the state, and thanks to the wide range of climates and types of soil in Alabama, you will find a variety of stunning settings as you travel.

The Alabama Garden Trail takes you to six spectacular gardens from Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile where over 300 species of azaleas light up the 35-acre estate and rows of live oak bring a Southern charm to the grounds of the Huntsville Botanical Garden in the north where limestone columns from the old historic courthouse act as the focal point for the expansive grounds.

The trail also makes stops at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Mobile Botanical Gardens, and Dothan Botanical Gardens as well as Aldridge Gardens in Hoover near Birmingham.

Art and Antique Trails 

Whether you are looking to purchase antiques, collectibles, or an inspiring work of art, travel the backroads of Alabama on these aptly named trails.

Alabama mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Alabama Mural Trail

Towns and cities big and small across Alabama have embraced mural art to grace the sides of buildings and bring a sense of community to the town.

The Alabama Mural Trail leads you to a diverse set of detailed mural art that brings to life moving moments in the town’s history like a depiction of the Freedom Rider’s bus from the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Anniston, historical figures like the almost photo-like mural of the Temptations lead singer Eddie Kendricks who was born in Union Springs, or the dazzling nightlife of Mobile brought to life in the Bar Light mural along the city’s Dauphin Street.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama Antique Trail

From upscale galleries to multivendor malls, the Alabama Antique Trail provides a mixture of antiques and vintage collectibles throughout the state. Discover items from Alabama family estates, original pieces from antebellum homes, and European and Oriental imports selected from abroad by antique dealers or brought by early settlers. The trail offers glassware, pottery, silver, porcelain, military items, books, art, signs, historical papers, and American, French, Japanese, Chinese and English furnishings from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

Stop highlights include visits to the Antique Mall of Memories in Alexander City, rummaging through the aisles in the historic 1935 Bank of Dadeville at Old Bank Antiques, and Winter Valley Antiques in Cullman that spans two buildings, one of which was once a chicken coop.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History Trails 

Alabama’s many history trails lead to spectacular ornate antebellum homes, sites from the Civil Rights Movement, Native American historical sites, and more, all with helpful and knowledgeable guides.

Mobile walking tour© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. April Walking Tours

Many of the towns across the state hold annual historic walking tours annually in April where you will visit historic antebellum mansions such as the Oakleigh and Conde-Charlotte mansions in Mobile, centuries-old cemeteries including the Florence City Cemetery that was established in 1819, and sites of the Civil Rights Movement such as the Rosa Parks bus stop and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Community leaders will guide these free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns. The hour-long tours start at 10:00 a.m. on April 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30.

Creek Indian houses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Civil War Trail 

The Alabama Civil War Trail not only includes battlefields but also many other historic locations that bring the story of those tumultuous years to life.

Stops along the route include visits to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery where Jeff Davis was sworn in as the president of the Confederacy, the Winter Building (also in Montgomery) where the order to fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina was sent by telegraph thus beginning the war, and Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla where the enormous stone furnace that once made munitions for the Confederacy has been completely rebuilt.

Along the coast, the Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail spotlights Fort Morgan and historic Fort Gaines.

Jasmine Hill Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Native American Trail 

For thousands of years before white settlement, the place that is today called Alabama was home to many different cultural groups of Native Americans.

The history of Native Americans in Alabama is bittersweet. The Native American Trail allows us to explore their bittersweet history in the state from its earliest residents 10,000 years ago at Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport and Mound Island in Mobile to the tragedies that led to the Creek Indian War at Fort Mims in Stockton and the eventual start of the Trail of Tears with the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Covered Bridge Trail 

Along the dusty backroads of Alabama, you will be treated to a rare sight. The state once had many covered bridges that took horses and pedestrians across narrow gorges. Today, the number has dwindled but these bridges are still exciting pieces of history to view.

Some have been moved to historic locations like the oldest bridge, the 1850 Coldwater Creek Covered Bridge in Calhoun County while others remain in place where they have stood the test of time including the longest remaining in the state, the 324-foot Swann Bridge over the Black Warrior River in Blount County.

The Covered Bridge Trail takes you to these and several other bridges in the northern half of the state. Be sure to make plans to attend the annual Covered Bridge Festival (October 8, 2022) where the three bridges of Blount County are celebrated—Swann, Easily, and Old Horton—with a good old-fashioned fall festival featuring plenty of music, arts, and crafts, and food.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. U.S. Civil Rights Trail

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail spans the country but is primarily centered in the Southeast where marchers and activists challenged segregation and social injustice in the 50s and 60s, often facing violence and death in the process as they tried to make the country live up to its promises.

Wetumpa Historical District

11. Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail

The Alabama Civil Rights Trail is part of the larger, nationwide trail, leading you to a collection of historic sites from that period including the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the incredibly moving National Memorial for Peace and Justice that honors the over 4,000 blacks who were murdered across the South. The memorial features giant steel columns hanging from the ceiling with the names of victims listed by county.

Auburn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sports Trails

There is more to sports in Alabama than football. These sport trails show you what I mean.

Fishing at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Alabama’s Hunting and Fishing Trail for People with Disabilities 

The state has made it possible for people with physical disabilities to hunt and fish by joining together state and private landowners to establish this string of outdoor locations called the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Trail where they can enjoy their favorite sports just like everyone else.

Each location has special ramps and access points and when it comes to hunting, days are restricted to only allow those with disabilities to participate. Hunting and fishing licenses are required.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail     

A golf trail is just that—a collection of courses that together promote a certain state to the world as a golf destination. Just about every state has them from California to New York, from Wisconsin to Florida, and every state in between. But there had to be a first—the granddaddy of them all—Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail!

The trail features 26 courses and 468 incredible holes across the state with each course designed by the famous course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. to fit that particular region’s stunning landscape.

Jim ‘Nick’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dining Trails

College football and barbecue are probably the first things that come to mind when Alabama is mentioned. But there’s so much more to the local food scene. In a state that is home to rich farmland and game hunting and is also bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, food and mealtime are a semi-sacred part of life.

Lambert’s Cafe in Foley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Food and Wine Trail

Any way you slice it—be it the fried green tomatoes at the Irondale Cafe in Irondale, crawfish pie at Ca-John’s Bar and Grill in Faunsdale, or meatloaf at G’s in Huntsville—Alabama has culinary boasting rights to some of the most distinctive cuisine in the country.

Dreamland in Tuscaloosa and Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur top Alabama’s list of award-winning barbecue joints where you will never get tired of licking your fingers. When it comes to deliciously different you’ve got choices ranging from freshly squeezed lemonade at Toomer’s Drugs in Auburn, key-lime milkshakes from Stacey’s Old Tyme Soda Fountain in Foley, and orange rolls at All Steak in Cullman.

Music

Fusing the sounds of Rock, Country, Blues, and other genres, Alabama possesses a distinctive musical identity all its own.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Hank Williams Trail

Hank Williams was born in Mount Olive on September 17, 1923. By the time of his death 29 years later, he had left behind a monumental legacy of such hits as “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “I Saw the Light,” “Jambalaya” and “Cold, Cold Heart.”

With his band the Drifting Cowboys, he played engagements across the South. Hank became country music’s first superstar selling 10 million records from 1947 to 1953.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more on Alabama, check out these articles:

Worth Pondering…
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

—Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

The Ultimate Coastal South Road Trip: From New Orleans to Savannah

Discover the sights, sounds, and tastes along this Coastal South road trip

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah.

Cajun cuisine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast—balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic, and breweries—as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through America’s warmest (both in climate and culture) region awaits.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and with deep French, Spanish, and African roots culturally distinctive cities. As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street—the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music, and local characters.

Related article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Dine at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants—perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, or Galatoire’s.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. I recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Interstate 10.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the revelry of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Muddy Waters. The current owner, Rachel Dangermond continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars, and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis. Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious “royal reds,” deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Be sure to start the morning with a coffee and plate of biscuits at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner.

Related article: The Underrated Coast

Boasting a dozen well-known casinos, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biloxi, Mississippi

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters, and crabs of its warm waters Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking. If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists’ colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee, and nightlife. It’s sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and the old French influence is palpable.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark. Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don’t leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90—it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Interstate 10 as noted previously.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with New Orleans, Biloxi, and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that’s already garnering national awards.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a sports fan be sure to pay homage to one of the great ones at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour southeast of Mobile. With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently. What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries, and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns. As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries, and youthful verve.

Amelia Island near Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2½ hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It’s also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the characteristic form of the Florida beach—that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water—is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville’s beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach near downtown Jacksonville.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South. Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches—some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy. Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact as the Historic District—with its stately fountains, mansions, and lush public parks—is a national treasure.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

St. Marys, Georgia (just north of the Florida/Georgia state line) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine, or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida, and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Second only to the Mississippi River Delta in size, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is an environmental showplace that is 45 miles long and over eight miles wide

“It is arguably the biologically richest place,” scientist E.O. Wilson said, describing the importance of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta on a global scale. “The delta floodplain forest and swamp, and the area immediately around it including the Red Hills to the north has more species of plants and animals than any comparable area anywhere in North America … it is a place yet completely unexplored, sort of like the upper Amazon.”

Fishing in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Delta proper is a vast jungle wilderness where dozens of river channels braid together and twist apart creating hundreds of islands large and small. Those islands and channels are populated with numerous creatures capable of killing a grown man: bears, alligators, bull sharks, bobcats, feral hogs, and five species of venomous snakes.

There are 300 bird species and an untold variety of insects, amphibians, and reptiles. But more than anything, the Delta is the place where all the water running downhill from the rest of the state meets the sea.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is Alabama’s largest wetland ecosystem and the nation’s second-largest river delta. It is approximately 45 miles long, averages eight miles wide, and contains over 400 square miles of wetland and associated upland ecosystems. The Delta is characterized by a large number of tributary rivers, streams, bayous, and creeks which form a maze of waterways including the waters of the Tensaw, Mobile, Tombigbee, and Alabama rivers.

Related: Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park

A 1,327-acre state park is situated in these wetlands and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish which makes Meaher State Park an angler’s dream. And, you might also see an alligator or two.

The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” for your fishing pleasure. Access to the pier is included in the park admission fee. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required. The most common freshwater and saltwater fish are abundant in the area.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a boat ramp with access to Blakeley River located on the east end of the park. Entry is $4 per boat. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

You may also choose to walk the park with your camera, binoculars, or even your favorite pet. There is a second boardwalk for walking only where you might see some of the delta’s most unique flora and fauna.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites. Each site is paved, roughly 65 feet in length with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. You have a grill and picnic table at your site and plenty of space between you and the next camper.

Related: Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

The campground features an air-conditioned/heated main shower house equipped with laundry facilities and a smaller bathhouse equipped with restrooms only.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. All of the tent sites have a grill/fire pit and picnic table available. Primitive camping is also offered (group and individual).

The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay.

Meaher State Park is stop #26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding trail guide. This trail will take you on over 200 miles that loop around Mobile and Baldwin counties.

There is a $2 per person park entry fee to enter Meaher State Park for day use only. You might choose to go fishing, hiking, picture taking, birding, etc. If you choose to go boating there is a $4 per boat entry fee. Camping fees vary.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile-Tensaw Delta Wildlife Management Area

The Mobile-Tensaw Delta Wildlife Management Area is comprised of a variety of habitats-from flooded hardwood bottoms to freshwater marshes. The area has a variety of habitats for birders to explore.  Located along the east bank of the Tensaw River is an 850- acre parcel comprised of flooded hardwood bottoms along the river to upland hardwoods and pines. Additionally, there is a lake and peripheral freshwater marsh. During the breeding season, common species include a red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, red-eyed vireo, prothonotary warbler, and northern parula. In the summer months, swallow-tailed kites may be spotted flying along the river banks just above the tree line.

Related: Sweet Home Alabama: Mobile

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center’s name recognizes the five rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which include the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers (from west to east) that flow into Mobile Bay. The Center itself sits on the banks of one of the canals of this vast delta. These drainages encompass over 250,000 acres of meandering waterways, floodplain forests, and extensive wetlands. The center features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, Delta boat tours, canoe and kayak rentals, hiking trails, and picnic areas.

USS Alabama Memorial Park on Mobile Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the ultimate place to begin your adventure into over 250,000 acres of scenic waterways, woods, and wetlands. Or, simply soak up the natural beauty and history of the region with plenty to do and see at the facility itself.

USS Alabama Memorial Park on Mobile Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decks of the Delta Hall and the perimeter trail around the facility provide excellent vantage points to observe birds that are representative of the lower Mobile- Tensaw Delta marsh and waterways. In spring and summer, look for brown pelican, osprey, king rail, marsh wren, and several species of herons and egrets. Occasionally, the least bittern and purple gallinule may be encountered along the margins of the emergent marsh. Painted bunting may also be possible in the thickets near the buildings. In fall, you may see rafts of American white pelicans foraging. In winter, the vegetation along the water’s edge is good habitat for gray catbirds and a variety of sparrows. Across from the Delta Hall are hiking trails that meander through a grove of live oaks.

Related: Going Mobile

Mobile-Tensaw Delta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Tensaw River Delta Facts

  • Habitats include: Bogs, bottomland hardwoods, freshwater and hardwood swamps, freshwater wetlands, maritime forests, mesic flood plains, pine savanna, riparian buffers, submerged aquatic vegetation, and tidal brackish water marshes
  • It contains one of the most extensive and significant wetlands in the United States and represents one of Alabama’s most intact preserved areas
  • It is one of the few breeding localities in the state for the mottled duck and purple gallinule
  • The Delta plays a vital role in maintaining the area’s ecological balance by filtering impurities from up to approximately 15 percent of the nation’s fresh water
  • The Tensaw and Mobile rivers are named after local tribes that once inhabited the area, the Taensas and the Mauvillas
Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Delta was also the site of the initial settlement of the town of Mobile, established in 1702 by a French expedition led by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville

Worth Pondering…

In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Senegalese poet