President’s Day: 46 Surprising Facts about 46 Presidents

Below are 46 strange and fascinating facts about all of America’s Presidents

Today is President’s Day! In addition to indicating a day off work or school for many, President’s Day is among the oldest federal holidays and it was the first to celebrate the life of an individual American. It was originally signed into law in 1879 in honor of George Washington’s birthday (February 22) but eventually moved to the third Monday of the month in a bid to create more three-day weekends for workers. Today, the holiday also recognizes the presidents past and present who have served since Washington.

From a 19th-century president who killed a man in a duel to a 20th-century leader who once worked as a lifeguard, learn surprising facts about each U.S. president. In some ways, all 46 U.S. presidents have been very much alike. Not lacking in ambition or charisma, each had a certain knack for self-promotion and networking.

At the same time, each commander in chief is unique. Read facts about every president in order of their service from a 19th-century hotshot with a taste for dueling to a 20th-century veteran who nearly died after being hit by anti-aircraft fire in World War II.

George Washington carved in stone at Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. George Washington (1789-1797): The first U.S. president and Revolutionary War hero was an enthusiastic dog breeder, particularly of hunting hounds to which he gave names like Sweet Lips and Drunkard.

2. John Adams (1797-1801): Adams and his wife, Abigail, exchanged more than 1,100 letters throughout their lengthy relationship.

3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809): Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4, in 1826 within hours of John Adams. 

4. James Madison (1809-1817): Madison was the shortest president at 5 feet 4 inches and weighed barely over 100 pounds. James Madison and his wife, Dolley, helped popularize ice cream in America. Tastes in the treat, however, would be considered questionable today: chestnut, asparagus, and parmesan were all on the menu. Dolley’s favorite flavor was oyster.

5. James Monroe (1817-1825): Other than Washington, Monroe was the only president to ever run essentially unopposed, coasting to re-election in the 1820 race.

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829): Years after leaving the White House, Quincy Adams argued a famous Supreme Court case that freed the captive Africans who had rebelled aboard the Amistad slave ship. The election of 1824 saw four viable candidates, none of whom won an outright majority of electoral votes. Andrew Jackson nabbed 99, John Quincy Adams won 84, William H. Crawford earned 41, and Henry Clay claimed 37. Despite having neither the highest number of electoral or total popular votes, Adams was chosen as President by the U.S. House of Representatives.

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837): Jackson once killed a man in a duel. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841): Van Buren was the first president to be born an American. All previous presidents were originally British subjects, having been born prior to 1776. 

9. William Henry Harrison (1841): Harrison died just 31 days after his inauguration in 1841, the shortest presidency in United States history.

10. John Tyler (1841-1845): Tyler fathered 15 children, the most of any president.

11. James K. Polk (1845-1849): During his term, Polk secretly purchased a number of enslaved children for his Mississippi cotton plantation.

12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850): Old Rough and Ready never voted in an election prior to being on the ballot himself. 

13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853): Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party imploded soon after he left office. 

14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857): The only president from New Hampshire also attended college in New England—Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. 

15. James Buchanan (1857-1861): In 1853, while serving as minister to Great Britain, Buchanan helped draft the 1854 Ostend Manifesto which advocated for an American invasion of Cuba.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): Honest Abe, the tallest president at 6 feet 4 inches may have had Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes people to be very tall, thin, and long limbed. 

17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869): Though one of the few presidents without a pet, Johnson apparently cared for a family of White House mice which he called the little fellows.

18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877): Civil War General Grant was invited to join Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865 but was forced to decline after he and his wife made plans to visit their children in New Jersey. 

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881): Hayes was the first president to have a telephone in the White House. 

20. James A. Garfield (1881): Garfield (who was the first known left-handed president) was elected to the U.S. Senate but never served as Ohio senator because he then won the Republican nomination for president. In 1880, Garfield attended the Republican National Convention with no intention of running for President. But when the convention stalled, a delegate nominated Garfield as a compromise candidate, and a stream of unexpected votes flooded in. “This honor comes to me unsought,” Garfield said. “I have never had the presidential fever, not even for a day … I have no feeling of elation given the position I am called upon to fill.”

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885): Arthur was named in honor of Chester Abell, the doctor who delivered him.

22. and 24. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897): No president except Cleveland has ever served non-consecutive terms: He defeated James G. Blaine in 1884, lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 (despite winning the popular vote), and then came back to defeat Harrison in 1892.

23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893): Harrison was the first president to hire a female White House staffer. Under Harrison’s watch, electricity was installed at the White House in 1891. The newfangled invention utterly terrified him. Harrison and his wife, Caroline, refused to operate the light switches. He was so afraid of pressing the knobs that, sometimes, he’d sleep with the lights on.

25. William McKinley (1897-1901): McKinley’s likeness appears on the $500 bill which was discontinued in 1969. 

26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): Roosevelt was the youngest president, taking office at age 42.

27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913): Famous for his corpulence, Taft was the first president to hurl the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. 

28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): In a 1914 proclamation, Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923): Prior to taking office, Harding wrote a series of lurid love letters to his mistress, the wife of one of his best friends. 

30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929): A quiet man, Coolidge purportedly replied, “You lose,” to a visitor who bet she could get at least three words out of him. 

31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933): An Iowa native who spent part of his boyhood in Oregon, Hoover was the first president to hail from west of the Mississippi River. Despite humble origins, Hoover was a self-made multimillionaire. He was orphaned at the age of 9 and was raised by various relatives, eventually graduating from Stanford’s inaugural class with a degree in geology. Working for a British mine, he traveled the world looking for pricey mineral deposits and made millions doing 

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): The longest-serving commander-in-chief claimed to be distantly related to 11 other presidents including his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt.

33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): The “S” in Harry S. Truman was just an initial; it didn’t stand for any name. (The “S” in Ulysses S. Grant didn’t stand for anything either.) 

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): World War II hero Ike was the first president to ride in a helicopter. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): After being injured and honorably discharged in World War II, Kennedy was briefly employed as a journalist during the waning weeks of the war. 

36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Johnson’s first career was as a teacher. He worked at a school near the U.S.-Mexico border for four years before launching a career in politics.

37. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974): Nixon became such a skillful poker player while stationed in the Solomon Islands during World War II that his winnings helped launch his political career upon his return to the U.S.

38: Gerald Ford (1974-1977): A star football player at the University of Michigan, Ford turned down offers from both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. 

39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): When his father died in 1953, Carter gave up his successful military career to move back to Georgia and work on their family’s peanut farm.

George Washington carved in stone at Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Reagan worked as a lifeguard and sportscaster before becoming an actor and, later, a politician. 

41. George H. Bush (1989-1993): As a student at Yale, Bush was captain of the baseball team and a member of Skull and Bones, an elite secret student society.

42. Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Clinton played the saxophone and performed on the Arsenio Hall Show when he was a candidate for president. 

43. George W. Bush (2001-2009): Post-presidency, Bush took up oil painting, exhibiting his work at the Museum of the Southwest in Texas. 

44. Barack Obama (2009-2017): Prior to becoming the first African American president, Obama won two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album.

45. Donald J. Trump (2017-2021): Before becoming president, Trump was a real estate developer, entrepreneur, and host of the NBC reality show, The Apprentice.

46: Joe Biden (2021-present): Biden overcame a debilitating childhood stutter after enduring bullying over the condition in grade school. 

Worth Pondering…

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

—John F. Kennedy

Creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Began 96 Years Ago TODAY

American landmark took 14 years to complete, meant to commemorate the nation ‘until the end of time’

A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated.

— Gutzon Borglum

The creation of Mount Rushmore which set the images of four American presidents in towering monumental relief in the Black Hills of South Dakota began on this day in history, October 4, 1927. 

“Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement,” writes the National Park Service (NPS) which assumed management of the landmark by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.  

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument immortalizes presidents George Washington (1789-97), Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), and Abraham Lincoln (1861-65). 

Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum led the effort which employed about 400 men and women before it was completed on October 31, 1941.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open year-round, seven days a week, and is located 23 miles from Rapid City. The memorial offers a variety of activities so plan to spend at least four to five hours there. Visitors can leave and return to the memorial the same day for the evening lighting ceremony. Mount Rushmore also features a gift shop, an information center, and an award-winning audio tour. 

“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated,” Borghlum said of his majestic relief in which the face of each president stands about 60 feet in height. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.”

When Texas Sen. Tom Connolly questioned the project, Borglum responded fiercely, “Mount Rushmore is eternal. It will stand until the end of time.”

The artist never saw his vision to completion. 

He died of a heart attack in March 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum oversaw the project in its final months. 

The face of each president was slowly revealed over years of work: first Washington (1930), then Jefferson (1936), then Lincoln (1937), and finally Roosevelt (1939). 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington’s faith in the new republic in its darkest hours earned him the title Father of His Country.

Jefferson gave humanity the belief that “all men are created equal.” 

Roosevelt was one of the world’s leading reformers and environmentalists and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

And Lincoln emancipated from slavery nearly 4 million Americans and inspired the nation through the tragedy of the Civil War. 

Yet those achievements are not good enough for some Americans today—as Mount Rushmore has come under attack in recent years by “woke” pundits.

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Can we retire using Mount Rushmore? That should be offensive to all of us especially Native Americans—indigenous people who were the first people here before Christopher Columbus,” former NBA star and basketball analyst Jalen Rose said in a video tweet. “That land was stolen from them when it was discovered that it contained gold,” he also said. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., responded days later by introducing the Mount Rushmore Protection Act.

The act prohibits the use of federal funds “to alter, change, destroy, or remove the likeness, the name of or any of the faces on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial,” Johnson’s office said in a press release. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The process for carving the monument from a mountain face of granite and sandstone was ambitious, daring, and dangerous.

Rock was first blown off the mountain with the use of targeted explosives before the process got increasingly more precise.

“Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface,” writes the NPS. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.”

NPS also said, “After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.”

The work “was exciting, but dangerous”—yet not one person died in the 14 years of construction despite the explosives, heights and daunting conditions, the NPS reports.

Worth Pondering…

The noble countenances emerge from Rushmore as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2023

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

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller

Throughout her life as an author and social reformer, Helen Keller motivated people around the world to overcome obstacles even in the most difficult circumstances. Despite losing both her sight and hearing when she was just 19 months old, she went on to become a prolific writer, lecturer, and disability rights advocate, helping found the American Civil Liberties Union and authoring hundreds of essays. Keller wrote these words of encouragement in her 1940 book Let Us Have Faith, calling upon us to take chances in life and trust in the path of discovery.

Glacial Skyway, Icefields Parkway, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to July! While the sun and warmth may be reason enough to celebrate, there’s even more cause for jubilation in America’s neighbor to the north. Today is Canada Day, a holiday marking the Great White North’s independence from Britain. On July 1, 1867, a Dominion was formed through the British North America Act as approved by the British Parliament. It consisted of territories then called Upper and Lower Canada and of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The act divided Canada into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and it included provisions for other colonies and territories to join in the future which made possible the growth of Canada into its present form. The act served as Canada’s constitution until 1982.

By terms of the Canada Act of 1982, the British North America Act was repatriated from the British to the Canadian Parliament and Canada became a fully independent country. At the same time, the name of the national holiday was changed to Canada Day. It is celebrated with parades, displays of the flag, the singing of the national anthem, O Canada, and fireworks. When July 1 falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following day.

July 1 is now commemorated annually nationwide from Halifax to Vancouver and everywhere in between. In honor of this historic occasion, today’s roundup touches on a variety of cultural histories in Canada and the United States.

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

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

Travel to southern Alberta and you’ll uncover unique landscapes like badlands and hoodoos around lush green river valleys and literal writings on the stone around you. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park offers the natural scenery of the Milk River and the badlands but also significant cultural history.

The Visitor Centre trail is about 0.3 mile with great hoodoo views and information on upcoming events or tours. The park offers guided experiences throughout summer but you can visit for a hike or picnic any time of year. The Milk River is also a wonderful spot for a paddle.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. American History, Alive in Stone

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.  Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles site because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from environmentalists and Native American groups. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled on the Mount Rushmore location which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain.

After securing federal funding construction on the memorial began in 1927 and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941 his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

The National Park Service (NPS) took control of the memorial in 1933 while it was still under construction and has managed the memorial to the present day. It attracts nearly three million people annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Best of the Rockies

When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want.

Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named in honor of a British nurse who saved the lives of many soldiers during the First World War, Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most recognizable mountaintops in Jasper National Park. Here, you can hike along different trails that lead you to some fantastic panoramic views.

If scenic road trips are your thing, you’re definitely going to want to drive the Icefields Parkway. Named after the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers that reside there, this enchanting stretch of highway passes through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and is one of the most remarkable routes in Canada.

So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, and bighorn sheep and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where nature and history meet

If you should know one thing about Cumberland Island, know this: The southernmost barrier island in Georgia with its 18 miles of unspoiled beach and acres of breathtaking natural beauty is more than sand and sea.

People obviously appreciate Cumberland for the peace and quiet, the recreation, the beaches, the camping, and whatnot. But they might not know—unless they’ve either done some reading or taken a ranger-led tour—that there’s history here. This place has been an integral part of practically every era in American history—and pre-American history.

Dungeness ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can walk the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and tour the 22,000-square-foot Plum Orchard Mansion, two early 20th-century Carnegie family estates.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands Astronomy Festival

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16.

Per the National Park Service, “Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomers (and their telescopes) from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, and the University of Utah will be on hand throughout the festival to lead guests in for day and night observations.

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Ocmulgee Mounds

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. NPS manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. But national parks are created through congressional legislation and there are many considerations including available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

The verdant human-made knolls here are a vivid window into more than 17,000 years of Indigenous habitation. The ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is a leading contender for the next national park slot thanks to a robust community initiative and bipartisan support in Congress. “We know that our ancestors are buried in this land and national park status would establish protections,” says Tracie Reevis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Exploring Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are tons of guided tours available. Tour guides point out particularly interesting features, teach you about \the formation and history of the area, and help you stay safe as you explore these naturally formed caves.

The visitor center is also quite impressive. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’ll love the 16-minute Hidden World video presentation that they play every 30 minutes. This will give you additional information about the caverns so you can more fully enjoy your experience once you’re in them. The center also has exhibits about the native plant and animal species as well as hands-on learning experiences about the geology and history of the area. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and buy some fun souvenirs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Black’s BBQ, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel to Texas for beef brisket 

Travel to Texas and you’ll quickly learn something important about the locals: they know their barbecued meats. So when they line up for four or more hours to get some, it has to be special. That’s the situation at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue six days a week. Through the Franklin’s menu includes pulled pork, ribs, sausage, and more, the main attraction is its smoked beef brisket.

The team here keeps it simple rubbing the meat with a mix of salt and black pepper then cooking it low and slow in oakwood smoke until it’s fall-apart tender and encased in a thin, salty crust. It’s a juicy, smoky Texas classic, judged best-in-class by Texans themselves. 

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could drive to Lockhart, the state-legislated Barbecue Capital of Texas and be back in the time it takes to get into Franklin’s. But the queue is good fun; you can have a beer and meet some friendly Texans while you wait—and damn, that brisket is good.

Franklin Barbecue can now be shipped to your home anywhere in the United States. Get the best brisket in the known universe without standing in line. 

Learn to smoke meat like a pro! Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.

>> Get more tips on the best of Texas BBQ

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park

The construction is complete on the Gateway to the Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park. The park is part of the Alabama Birding Trails Coastal Trail Series making the boardwalk a great place to bird watch.

The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different bird species within each region.

Stop number 26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding Trail, Meaher State Park’s 1,327-acres are situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a multi-use scenic park with picnic areas, 61 RV camping sites, 10 improved tent sites all with full hook-ups and a shower house with laundry facilities for overnight visitors. A boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at the gate house to pay a nominal $3 entrance fee and then drive to the shell road which runs a quarter mile to the aforementioned boardwalk. Park here (there is a chain across the shell road at this point) and walk on toward the boardwalk that extends out into Mobile Bay.

In winter, watch for Swamp and White-throated Sparrows as you approach the boardwalk. Herons, egrets, and gulls can be seen from the boardwalk and Least Bittern (summer) and Clapper Rail. In winter, American White Pelicans find this a favorite spot as do large rafts of waterfowl.

In summer, this is a great place for terns including Gull-billed Tern. In addition, Least Terns often gather on the railings of the boardwalk offering excellent views. On the south side of the island looking west into the bay there are often White Ibis. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be frequently seen near the entrance eating crabs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico considers roasted chile as official state aroma

The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.

Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile.

Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to proudly have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.

“It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chile. “I have tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that is that distinctive statewide, and I can’t think of any.”

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For New Mexico, chile is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the center of the official state question—Red or green?—and is one of the state’s official vegetables.

New Mexico produced more than 60 percent of the U.S. chile pepper crop in 2021 and is home to Hatch, an agricultural village known as the Chile Capital of the World for the unique red and green peppers it has turned out for generations. The famous crop also is used in powders, sauces, and salsas that are shipped worldwide.

>> Learn more about New Mexico’s famed chiles

Worth Pondering…

If I had my way, I’d remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.

—Roald Dahl

The 14 Most Beautiful U.S. Landmarks to Visit This Fourth of July

When you can go to the beach all summer why not try something new and more meaningful on Independence Day?

The Fourth of July holiday is rapidly approaching promising crowded beaches, sunburns, and lots of travel traffic. Take your weekend in a new direction and visit American landmarks on the anniversary of its birth. Celebrate the natural, industrial, and historic wonders of the US by visiting these iconic sites. From the Grand Canyon to the Alamo, this list of 14 American landmarks proves America has much to offer.

So many great places—so little time. 

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World alongside the likes of the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest, the spectacular gorge stands alone as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the stunning beauty of American. The Grand Canyon encompasses a 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River about the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. It is up to 18 miles wide and more than 1 mile deep standing as the world’s greatest example of the erosive power of water. 

“The extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding,” wrote U.S. Army explorer Joseph Christmas Ives, the first European American to explore the canyon in 1857-58. The Grand Canyon still astounds visitors today. 

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Historic District, Georgia

The colonial south lives today amid the verdant squares of Savannah, a nearly 300-year-old city that enjoyed a rebirth following its haunting, captivating portrayal in the 1994 bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Visitors love Savannah for its charming thoroughfares including the iconic cobblestones of River Street, delicious restaurants highlighting the best of southern fare such as Paula Deen’s flagship eatery The Lady and Sons, and its historic squares such as Chippewa Square featured in Forrest Gump.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The centerpiece of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is nothing less than the tallest peak in the northeast (6,288 feet). More famously Mount Washington habitually witnesses the globe’s most severe weather—due to its elevation and its location at the convergence of several major storm patterns. 

Mount Washington’s brutal wind and cold is proclaimed locally as a testament to the hearty nature of Live Free or Die state residents. The summit held the record for highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) for several decades and reached a record low temperate of -50 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1885. The Mount Washington Observatory recorded a wind chill of -103 degrees as recently as 2004. The mountain today is a popular attraction for tourists who ascend the top via hiking trail, precarious auto road, or popular cog railway.  

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

This geological oddity is an American wonder for its natural beauty and sobering role in the history of modern warfare. White Sands National Park includes 275 square miles of glistening gypsum sand—the largest dune field of its kind on Earth surrounded by the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. The park today offers spectacular vistas and touring by automobile, hiking, biking, or pack animals.

It was on this site in July 1945 that American scientists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer first unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, a victory of American ingenuity and industrial power amid World War II. The achievement also had lingering ramifications for mankind. The Trinity test at White Sands was a prelude to the atomic attacks the following month on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that ended World War II.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The rugged and wild parkland is celebrated for its rugged badlands, free-roaming bison, and its namesake’s Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River. Stargazing is a popular activity in the isolated park hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, with weekly events and viewing parties highlighted by the August annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The stunning human cost of preserving the nation is best seen in this sprawling battlefield in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg pitted about 160,000 men in a pitched three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. Some 50,000 soldiers of both sides were killed or wounded. It remains the largest battle in North American history. 

Visitors today can stand where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top to save the southern end of the Union line or walk in the footsteps of brave Confederates slaughtered during Pickett’s charge on the decisive day of battle or tour the vast battlefield by exploring the hundreds of haunting monuments that dot the landscape today. 

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by the United States Congress in 1934 and formally dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. It was the first national park to be endowed with land and other expenses paid in part with federal money; previous parks had been entirely funded by state or private donors. The park is divided between the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a subdivision of the broader Appalachian Mountain chain and the Great Smoky Mountains part of the larger Southern Appalachians.

The national park is notable for its mountains, waterfalls, biodiversity, and spruce-fir forests. The park also houses several historical buildings that were part of early European-American settlers’ settlements in the area. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo, Texas

Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it is a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried without success to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 190 years and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Rhode Island

The wealth of the Gilded Age springs to life in Newport where the nation’s titans of 19th-century industry built ostentatious summer homes on the cliffs where scenic Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II is probably the most spectacular built of limestone in the ornate style of an Italian palazzo.

Newport’s legacy as a playground of wealthy lives on today, amid its charming and busy downtown waterfront. The city is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and hosted the America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing race, for decades. 

Middleton Place, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston plantations and gardens, South Carolina

The antebellum South both its beauty and the disturbing legacy of human bondage live on today and its vast collection of some 2,000 plantations many of which are centered around historic Charleston and open to visitors. 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens features what it calls “America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden”.  Middleton Place, named for Declaration of Independence signatory Arthur Middleton claims “America’s oldest landscaped gardens” across 65 acres. Boone Hall dates back to 1681 and is famed for its Avenue of the Oaks with its moss-covered limbs forming a photogenic canopy along with an array of brick homes that housed slave families. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

This monumental sculpture of four U.S. presidents, each of their faces an amazing 60-feet tall, turned a remote area of a remote state into a beloved symbol of the national narrative. Law school student William Andrew Burkett summed up the purpose of the monument in 1934 in a winning essay he submitted to a contest hosted by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. 

“Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone the American people render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent,” Burkett wrote, his essay immortalized in bronze at the park. Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year and is a prominent place in the nation’s cultural lexicon with its images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln staring stoically across the American continent.  

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona and Utah

The spectacular images of eroded sandstone buttes rising from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau along the Arizona-Utah state line are firmly ingrained in America’s natural and cultural landscapes. Monument Valley was forged by tectonic forces some 250 million years ago. It was inhabited by Navajo for centuries who set aside the land as a park within the Navajo Nation in 1958. 

Its stunning landscape has reached audiences around the world as the backdrop of classic western movies such as Stagecoach, the 1939 John Ford flick that made John Wayne a star. More recently its jagged cathedrals of stone framed war hero and shrimp tycoon Forrest Gump as he abruptly ended his famous silver-screen jog across America on U.S. Route 163 hear Mexican Hat, Utah.

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain, New York and Vermont

The “Sixth Great Lake” has loomed large in both Native and European American history. Lake Champlain divided the Mohawks to the west and Abenaki to the east while British and continental forces fought for control of the 107 mile-long lake throughout the American Revolution. 

Lake Champlain today is a perfect place to enjoy the pristine wilderness and especially the fall foliage of northern New England or search for Champy. The mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature was first known to the Abenaki allegedly witnessed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain himself and reported by dozens of other witnesses in the centuries since. 

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

America’s newest national park has long been a symbol of an Appalachian Mountain state so beautiful it’s known around the world as Almost Heaven. New River Gorge achieved its federal designation in December 2020. The park is celebrated most notably for its spectacular New River Gorge Bridge. It was both the world’s highest auto bridge and longest single-span arch bridge when it opened in 1977 though it has been surpassed in both global superlatives since. 

The park offers many recreational opportunities along with insight and exhibits exploring West Virginia’s coal mining history and culture. Among the figures celebrated: coal miner and son of slaves Carter Woodson who recorded the stories he heard digging ore and turned them into a published legacy as the “Father of Black History.” 

Worth Pondering…

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.

—Albert Einstein

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2023

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 mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.

—Bill Watterson

Every day, for 10 years, cartoonist Bill Watterson delighted readers with a new story in his beloved syndicated comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. But that kind of round-the-clock ingenuity is no easy feat. His secret? Recharging the mind by letting it play. “I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness,” Watterson said in the same 1990 commencement speech at Kenyon College where he gave the quote above. “A playful mind is inquisitive and learning is fun.”

In other words, creative ideas come when the mind is encouraged to wander into new areas, exploring wherever your natural curiosity may lead. Instead of shutting off your brain at the end of a long day, reinvigorate it by indulging your innate sense of wonder. If you follow what makes learning fun, it’s bound to lead you to new ideas.

With a chill in the air we head into February literally and figuratively cold with no idea what those rodents we trust as meteorologists will predict. Will it be six more weeks of a holed-up winter? Or will it be an early, forgiving spring? Like pretty much every single day of the last three years, the answer is: Who knows! Certainly not our friend Punxsutawney Phil whose accuracy rate is a whopping 39 percent! You’d be better off flipping a coin.

We do know, however, that we’re gonna embrace the here and now. This month we do have ostrich races at the Indio Date Festival and another reason to visit Charleston. We also have desert warmth and wildflowers along the Pinal Parkway and places to celebrate President’s Day.

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 2022 and March 2022.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Pinal Pioneer Parkway

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway connected Tucson and Phoenix in the years before Interstate 10 was built. Now a little-traveled back road, it’s a much more picturesque route than the main highway especially in wildflower season. The parkway itself is a 42 mile-long stretch of Arizona State Highway 79, beginning in the desert uplands on the north slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains at about 3,500 feet and wending northward to just above 1,500 feet outside the little town of Florence.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spring, the parkway is lined with desert verbena, lupine, Mexican poppies, globemallow, chuparosa, penstemon, and daisies. Even in dry years when other parts of the desert aren’t flowering, the Pinal Pioneer Parkway always seems to manage a good show.

The parkway is marked with signs pointing out some of the characteristic desert vegetation such as saguaro and mesquite. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the many roadside tables. Stop at the Tom Mix Memorial, 23.5 miles north of Oracle Junction at milepost 116, to pay your respects to the late movie cowboy.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

2. Visit the Presidents (and other things) in South Dakota

As always, Presidents’ Day lands in February. So maybe it’s time to get extra presidential by firing up the RV for a jaunt to South Dakota. After your patriotic tour of Mount Rushmore, you’ll have free reign of one of the least-visited states at its emptiest time. Hike a frozen waterfall, hang out on a frozen lake, or get to know the land’s first people.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or dig deep into the western part of the state: Not far from Rushmore, you can pretend you’re on an alien planet in the Badlands, kick up your spurs with some ghosts in Deadwood, hop on a jackalope while stuffed with homemade donuts at Wall Drug, and gaze upon the wonders of the Corn Palace. Visit the stunning lakes and spires of Custer State Park and see where the thrilling buffalo roundup happens in September. Just give your new fuzzy friends lots of room.

>> Get more tips for visiting South Dakota

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. A place apart

Considered a place apart, this quaint seaside town has been named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel and was also recognized as a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine. From friendly folks to historic buildings, this unique city embraces the heritage of the Coastal Mississippi region.

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.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Don’t miss the French Potager, an antique store and flower shop.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where Life is Rice & Easy

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

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

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Crowley

Sculptures of Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Beyond the Sculptures of Borrego

Nestled between the historic gold mining town of Julian and The Salton Sea, Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offer several exceptional experiences. Located two hours from San Diego, there are activities and natural attractions suited for many types of RVers. With 500 miles of dirt roads, a dozen wilderness areas, and miles of hiking trails you would expect some great adventures, and you won’t be disappointed.

Christmas Circles in Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking downtown Borrego Springs is a fun experience. Start at Christmas Circle—the main attraction—and poke your head into some exciting shops or visit The Borrego Art Institute. This is where you can observe potters and en plein air artists complete their current artworks.

Hiking is popular in the Anza-Borrego Desert and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The desert trails are not for the faint of heart but rather ideal for those with a sense of adventure. Remember, hydration is vital in this arid region and be sure to bring along plenty of water. The routes are not always well marked and cell service is almost non-existent.

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

Borrego Springs isn’t known for its nightlife or at least not the club kind.  However, it is an area that should be explored well after the sun sets. Borrego is an International Dark Sky Community that was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Stargazing is encouraged.

There is no need for a telescope and the brilliantly lit skies will awe anyone who hasn’t been out of the dome of a city glow. Billions of stars make themselves known and form many prominent constellations.

>> Get more tips for visiting Borrego Springs

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Beauty and History Combine

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Ruins of Dungeness, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Texas Whitehouse

Those who have ascended to the presidency of the United States are products of the environments in which they were born, raised, and educated. Their early experiences usually have a significant effect on how they manage their presidency and the subsequent policy and programs developed under their watch. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon Baines Johnson is a fitting example of that.  His presidency was guided in full measure by his upbringing, his personal experiences with poverty and shame, and his observation of racism and hate. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a staggering impact on the United States during his time as president. Much of his approach to government was instilled during his early life in Texas. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wild now. Wild forever.

Since 1983, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) has celebrated the finest in wildlife art and the sporting lifestyle. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle.

Whether you’re browsing for your next piece of fine art, searching for distinctive hand-made creations, looking for family-friendly entertainment, or you just need an excuse for visiting Charleston and the Lowcountry, there’s something for everyone at SEWE, February 17-19, 2023. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Riverside County Fairgrounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. It’s a Date!

Originating as a festival to celebrate the end of the annual date harvest, the annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival welcomes over 250,000 guests each February. The 75th Annual Date Festival will be held February 17-26, 2023 featuring 10 days of family fun and world-class entertainment. 

Dates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio Date Festival and Riverside County Fair celebrate the desert’s favorite crop, dates. You’ll also see llamas, dairy goats, poultry, camel and ostrich races, WGAS Motorsports Monster Trucks, concerts, contests, games, food, and a carnival with midway action. It’s one of the best fairs in California because of its location and date.

The Riverside County Fairgrounds hosts a variety of community-focused events all year long, ranging from multi-day festivals to private events. The Fairgrounds are located on Highway 111 in Indio.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bourbon bonanza

Buffalo Trace is ringing in the New Year in record-breaking good spirits. The whiskey distillery officially filled its eight millionth barrel of bourbon since Prohibition. The major milestone occurred only four years after the seven millionth barrel was filled due to the distillery’s recent $1.2 billion expansion. 

To celebrate the major achievement, Buffalo Trace announced its Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest offering a $10,000 trip for two. After running (or walking) one mile, entrants have the chance to win a fully paid, two-night trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This includes first-class, roundtrip airfare, car service, and a one-night stay at Buffalo Trace’s exclusive Stagg Lodge. The invite-only lodge has never been open to the public before. Built adjacent to the distillery in 2020, the 4,000-square-foot log cabin overlooks the Kentucky River and the city of Frankfort. The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, gorgeous great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a double-sided fireplace, and a wrap-around deck. The experience includes a dinner for two prepared by a private chef at the lodge as well as private tours of the grounds and distillery.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The second-night stay will be in Louisville, Kentucky.

Winners will also be awarded an $800 Buffalo Trace Distillery gift card, plus Buffalo Trace will donate bourbon to a mutually agreed upon charity of the winner’s choice.

Interested participants in the Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest can enter at willrunforbuffalotracebourbon.com.

>> Get more tips for visiting Frankfort

Worth Pondering…

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

―Charles M. Schulz

4 Wild Dakotas Destinations to Explore this Summer

See what great places are waiting for you on your Dakota road trip

Early experiences in the Dakotas provided valuable inspiration for the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. That inspiration drove his desire to form the National Park Service and you can easily imagine why he took up the cause at several national parks in the Dakotas. 

Three parks are within two hours of each other in South Dakota. The fourth—Theodore Roosevelt National Park—is roughly five hours away in North Dakota. So you can reasonably hit all four on your next RV trip through the Dakotas. 

Here’s your guide to these four parks in the Dakotas, three national parks and one state park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The park named after the 26th President is a great location to start or end your national park road trip in the Dakotas. Because it’s a little separated from the others, hit it on your way to South Dakota or on your way back.

The park is broken into northern and southern units. The southern unit is much more popular and easily accessed off Interstate 94 in the town of Medora. The northern unit is a good option for boondockers and those seeking a more remote experience as it’s about an hour north and closer to Watford City. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A healthy grazing population of bison— the largest land mammal in North America—is a major attraction at Teddy’s park. They tend to graze in roadside meadows and occasionally halt traffic as they cross. 

The park is also home to feral horses, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, white-tail and mule deer, and more than 186 types of birds. Whether you just enjoy the 36 Mile Scenic Drive or come for the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival (September 16-18, 2022), this park offers plenty to do and see. 

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

If you somehow miss the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll get another chance to spot one in the Badlands. Along with bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn can regularly be spotted from the park’s many roadside overlooks. 

The park’s multi-colored landscape is especially attractive to photographers at sunrise and sunset. But there are many pull-outs along the main park road for you to capture the landscape from a unique perspective. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to visit the Badlands are spring and fall. Summer temperatures in the park can be sweltering and winter weather can be quite cold on the Dakota plains. There’s plenty of RV camping in the park but there’s also a large boondocking area for free RV and tent camping just outside the north entrance station. 

Be sure to check out the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Fossil Preparation Lab. The Badlands has been an epicenter for fossil discovery for decades and there’s a lot to learn about the area’s prehistoric inhabitants from scientists still conducting research at the lab.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Your Dakotas national park trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing Mount Rushmore in person. While the rest of the parks are a testament to nature’s creation, Mount Rushmore offers an ode to human engineering and persistence. 

If it’s your first visit, you can quiz yourself on facts surrounding the four presidents enshrined on the hillside before you step into the information center. Enjoy the short hiking trail from the visitor center along the base of the monument to see the carvings from multiple angles. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you do go inside, there’s a lot to learn about how this miracle of human engineering and construction came to be. From the many hurdles that had to be overcome to the techniques used to create the memorial, the informational exhibits are truly fascinating. 

If you want to pick the brain of a park ranger there are five unique guided tours to choose from. All of these guided programs are free of charge and last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. You can also rent a multimedia device to learn the history of Mount Rushmore on a self-guided tour.

Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.

The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorns, bighorn sheep, elk, wild burros, wild turkeys, coyotes, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along this road.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park offers nine campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.

Get more tips for visiting Custer State Park

Planning a national and state park RV road trip takes a lot of preparation. But if you target these four parks, you can check four amazing parks off your bucket list without a ton of driving in between.

Worth Pondering…

It was here that the romance of my life began.

—Theodore Roosevelt

11 National Park Service Sites I Love

National parks get a lot of attention but there’s so much more to the National Park Service

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” creating the National Park Service (NPS), a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for maintaining national parks and monuments that were then managed by the department. The National Park System has since expanded to 423 units (often referred to as parks) including 63 national parks, more than 150 related areas, and numerous programs that assist in conserving the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of current and future generations.

There’s never a bad time to visit America’s amazing national parks, but the decision of which ones to visit can feel overwhelming. To make it easier, I’ve handpicked 11 of my favorite parks that are must-visits. Start planning your next outdoor adventure today!

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

I wonder if Mount Rushmore was the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams. I’m sure it’s not, but follow along with me. If building a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield seemed crazy, sculpting a mountain into a national treasure in the middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota must have seemed off-the-charts insane.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But both the baseball field of the movie and the patriotic landmark were works of those people following their passions. And both were great successes. Two million people a year visit Mount Rushmore. Although they come to see patriotism-inspiring 60-foot-tall busts of four presidents carved into granite, they’re also inspired by the natural treasures of the Black Hills.

Was that the plan of the creators of the memorial—“if we build it, they’ll come” to South Dakota and see the Black Hills?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That was one of their good calls. However, not all of their visions came to fruition. For example, behind Lincoln’s head is the Hall of Records. It was originally envisioned as a massive chamber hundreds of feet into the mountain to hold the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents. They got 70 feet in when cooler heads prevailed, so to speak.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Unlike many national parks, Blue Ridge Parkway is a designer park. I mean that the park wasn’t developed based on a specific landmark or feature (e.g. the Grand Canyon or Badlands). The plan was to build a parkway—but the route wasn’t pre-determined. Instead, landscape architects and engineers were given creative freedom and chose and designed a route that plays out like a symphony. Or a musical, or a story! Pick your metaphor of something that’s crafted to change pace, change feeling, and change perspective.

Related Article: From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parkway is 469 miles of views, history, nature, Appalachia, and America. It’s not a highway, designed for speed. It’s a parkway, designed for savoring the journey.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona

If you’ve been to a national park site, you may have heard one of the rangers say something like “this is your park, it’s owned by all Americans.” This one is not. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. Travel in many areas is restricted so read the signs and follow the rules.

Yes, you can go on a hike with a ranger, but here, for the most memorable experience, take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Perched high above the Colorado River, Arches National Park is carved and shaped by weathering and erosion. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. It contains the highest density of natural arches in the world.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 300 million years ago an inland sea covered what is now Arches National Park. The sea evaporated and re-formed 29 times in all leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick. Later, sand and boulders carried down by streams from the uplands eventually buried the salt beds beneath thick layers of stone. Because the salt layer is less dense than the overlying blanket of rock, it rises through it, forming it into domes and ridges with valleys in between.

Colonial National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia

Want to go way back in American history? Then you’ll head to some of the first colonies in the New World. The Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia covers Historic Jamestowne (the first permanent English settlement in North America) and Yorktown Battlefield (site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War).

Related Article: America the Beautiful: The National Parks

Fan of battlefields or not, Jamestowne is pretty cool. And, while you’re in the area, you can hit up the rest of the Historic Triangle and visit Colonial Williamsburg, too.

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the “forests” of Saguaro (another species of cactus native to the area).

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

Make sure you pack plenty of water and layers. Though temps can get dangerously hot in the daytime, desert temps drop dramatically when the sun goes down, even in the summer. And you’ll definitely want to stick around for the night sky here—the desert climate lends itself to clear evenings. In the winter months, rangers offer stargazing activities with telescopes.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Within striking distance of the famous Bears Ears Buttes, Natural Bridges National Monument is home to stunning, gravity-defying rock formations including Sipapu Bridge, a 31-foot-wide bridge spanning 268 feet. The park was the first-ever Dark Sky Park to be certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the famed stargazing, the area is rich in opportunities to learn more about ancient and modern-day Native American culture. Make sure to take time to hike to the park’s well-preserved petroglyphs. Always be respectful by sticking to the trails and leaving any artifacts you may stumble upon exactly where you found them.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Everyone needs to add Joshua Tree National Park to their travel list. Located in Southern California, this national park has unique landscapes—large boulders, Mojave and Colorado deserts, and Joshua trees and yucca trees. The desert is beautiful with the various cacti and wildflowers scattered through the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied for several days. Stop by one of the park’s Visitor Centers to hear recommendations on things to do. Some of the popular activities include camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and stargazing. The pitch-black skies are beautiful in the evenings. Visit the Sky’s The Limit Observatory which is next to the park and observe the stars.

Related Article: What to Expect at the National Parks this Summer 2022

Hiking is the major highlight as there are over two dozen trails from easy to challenging routes. It’s best to hike early in the morning and avoid the summer’s brutal heat. Favorite hiking trails include 49 Palms Oasis (3 miles) and the Lost Palms Oasis (7.5 miles). Both of these trails lead to an oasis of palm trees in the desert. You’ll have an awesome time visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah and Arizona

Hidden among the curves and canyons of the southwest is an artificial oasis. The man-made Lake Powell offers opportunities to swim, fish, kayak, and boat straight through the desert. Glen Canyon is known for Horseshoe Bend, that perfect blue curve of the Colorado River through Navajo Sandstone canyon walls. The canyon rim is usually crowded with tourists aiming for the perfect Instagram shot but it is indeed worth seeing in person, especially at sunset.

For a road less traveled, drive the Burr Trail from Bullfrog to Boulder, which will take you through unspoiled vistas of Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Check the weather before you hit the trail—flash floods can make the roads impassable and dangerous.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of the pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket-list destination.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure starts on the ferry from St. Mary’s, the only way to get to the island which offers a wonderful view of the diverse habitats. Rent a bike, book a tour with park rangers, or bring a pair of good hiking shoes as the island is a wonderful place to explore. You can spot wild horses roaming freely, raccoons, wild boars, alligators, white-tailed deer, and many birds. Stop by the ruins of Carnegie Dungeness mansion which was built in 1884 by Thomas Carnegie and burned in the 1950s.

Related Article: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The American Southwest is full of otherworldly places but White Sands National Park, a massive field of pale dunes in southern New Mexico is about as good as it gets for austere, alien majesty. Wander long enough through the endless hillocks of gypsum crystals and you will start to feel like you’re in an altered state (though hopefully not because you’re dehydrated; be sure to bring lots of water). It’s easy to imagine one of the sandworms from Dune bursting up from below or a UFO from nearby Roswell drifting across the shimmering sky.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Independence Day: 12 Must-see Landmarks to Celebrate on 4th of July

Celebrate the natural, industrial, and historic wonders of the US by visiting these iconic sites

So many great places—so little time. 

Skyrocketing gas prices have consumers looking twice at their fuel budget, yet Americans are determined to hit the road. Experts say that fuel costs may actually boost domestic tourism and the 4th of July holiday travel plans. 

Car and RV travel “will set a new record despite historically high gas prices with 42 million people hitting the road” this week for Independence Day vacations, according to AAA. 

The Deloitte summer travel survey reports that 84 percent of American travelers will take an overnight trip, 57 percent will enjoy a road trip and just 15 percent will travel internationally partially due to uncertainty over ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Given all of this, here’s a look at 12 fabulous spots across the country with each location in a different state. Taken together, these selections reveal America’s heroic history, industrial achievement, and natural beauty that, woven together, tell the story of America.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World alongside the likes of the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest, the spectacular gorge stands alone as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the stunning beauty of the American continent. The Grand Canyon encompasses a 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River, about the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. It is up to 18 miles wide and more than 1 mile deep, standing as the world’s greatest example of the erosive power of water. 

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Historic District, Georgia

The colonial south lives today amid the verdant squares of Savannah, a nearly 300-year-old city that enjoyed a rebirth following its haunting, captivating portrayal in the 1994 bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors love Savannah for its charming thoroughfares including the iconic cobblestones of River Street, delicious restaurants highlighting the best of southern fare such as Paula Deen’s flagship eatery The Lady and Sons, its historic squares such as Chippewa Square featured in Forrest Gump, and one of the nation’s biggest and best St. Patrick’s Day bashes.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The centerpiece of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is nothing less than the tallest peak in the northeast (6,288 feet). More famously, Mount Washington habitually witnesses the globe’s most severe weather—due to its elevation and its location at the convergence of several major storm patterns. 

Mount Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington’s brutal wind and cold are proclaimed locally as a testament to the hearty nature of Live Free or Die state residents. The summit held the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) for several decades and reached a record low temperate of -50 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1885. The Mount Washington Observatory recorded a wind chill of -103 degrees as recently as 2004. The mountain today is a popular attraction for visitors who ascend the top via hiking trail, precarious auto road, or popular cog railway.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

This geological oddity is an American wonder for its natural beauty and sobering role in the history of modern warfare. White Sands National Park includes 275 square miles of glistening gypsum sand—the largest dune field of its kind on Earth surrounded by the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was on this site in July 1945 that American scientists, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, first unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, a victory of American ingenuity and industrial power amid World War II. The achievement also had lingering ramifications for mankind. The Trinity test at White Sands was a prelude to the atomic attacks the following month on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that ended World War II. The park today offers spectacular vistas and touring by automobile, hiking, biking, or pack animals.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The rugged and wild parkland is celebrated for its aptly named badlands, free-roaming bison, and its namesake’s Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River. 

The park recently had one of its busiest years ever attracting 800,000 visitors in 2021. Stargazing is a popular activity in the isolated park hundreds of miles from the nearest major city with weekly events and viewing parties highlighted by the annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. Typically held on Labor Day weekend, date of the 2022 event is still pending. 

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The stunning human cost of preserving the nation is best seen in this sprawling battlefield in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg pitted about 160,000 men in a pitched three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. Some 50,000 soldiers from both sides were killed or wounded. It remains the largest battle in North American history. 

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors today can stand where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top to save the southern end of the Union line, walk in the footsteps of brave Confederates slaughtered during Pickett’s charge on the decisive day of battle, or tour the vast battlefield by car exploring the hundreds of haunting monuments that dot the landscape today. 

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Rhode Island

The wealth of the Gilded Age springs to life in Newport where the nation’s titans of 19th-century industry built ostentatious summer homes on the cliffs where scenic Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. 

International Tennis Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers, owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is probably the most spectacular built of limestone in the ornate style of an Italian palazzo. Newport’s legacy as a playground of the wealthy lives on today around its charming and busy New England downtown waterfront. The city is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and hosted America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing race, for decades. 

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston plantations and gardens, South Carolina 

The antebellum South, both its beauty and the disturbing legacy of human bondage, live on today, and its vast collection of some 2,000 plantations many of which are centered around historic Charleston and open to visitors. 

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features what it calls “America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden” while offering 45-minute tours of its slave cabins. Middleton Place, named for Declaration of Independence signatory Arthur Middleton, claims “America’s oldest landscaped garden” across 65 acres. Boone Hall dates back to 1681 and is famed for its Avenue of the Oaks with its moss-covered limbs forming a photogenic canopy along with an array of brick homes that housed slave families. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial , South Dakota

This monumental sculpture of four U.S. presidents, each of their faces 60 feet tall, turned a remote area of a remote state into a beloved symbol of the national narrative. Law school student William Andrew Burkett summed up the purpose of the monument in 1934 in a winning essay he submitted to a contest hosted by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. 

Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone the American people render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent,” Burkett wrote, his essay immortalized in bronze at the park. Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year and is a prominent place in the nation’s cultural lexicon with its images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln staring stoically across the American continent.  

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah

The spectacular images of eroded sandstone buttes rising from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau, hard by the Arizona border, are firmly ingrained in America’s natural and cultural landscapes. Monument Valley was forged by tectonic forces some 250 million years ago. It was inhabited by Navajo for centuries who set aside the land as a park within the Navajo Nation in 1958. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its stunning landscape has reached audiences around the world as the backdrop of classic western movies such as Stagecoach, the 1939 John Ford flick that made John Wayne a star. More recently, its jagged cathedrals of stone framed war hero and shrimp tycoon Forrest Gump as he abruptly ended his famous silver-screen jog across America on U.S. Route 163 near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain, Vermont

The “Sixth Great Lake” sits on the border of New York and is best explored from the quintessential New England college town of Burlington. It has loomed large in both Native and European American history. Lake Champlain divided the Mohawks to the west and Abenaki to the east while British and continental forces fought for control of the 107-mile-long lake throughout the American Revolution. 

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain today is a perfect location to enjoy the pristine wilderness and especially the autumn foliage of northern New England, or search for Champy. The mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature was first known to the Abenaki, allegedly witnessed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain himself, and reported by dozens of other witnesses in the centuries since. 

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

America’s newest national park has long been a symbol of an Appalachian Mountain state so beautiful it’s known around the world as “almost heaven.” New River Gorge achieved its federal designation in December 2020. The park is celebrated most notably for its spectacular New River Gorge Bridge. It was both the world’s highest auto bridge and longest single-span arch bridge when it opened in 1977 though it has been surpassed in both global superlatives since. 

The park offers many recreational opportunities, along with insight and exhibits exploring West Virginia’s coal mining history and culture.

Worth Pondering…

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

—Albert Einstein

Your Next Adventure Is Set In Stone

There is more than gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Above dense forests and pristine streams, Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a national treasure. Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln and their invaluable contributions to the United States.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents not only the past, but also a promise for the future. It is a place surrounded by American history where the names of Gutzon Borglum and Crazy Horse are still heard, buffalo once again run free in Custer State Park, and the vision of the Keystone miners still cast a shadow on long deserted claims.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom, justice, hope—South Dakota‘s beloved national memorial, Mount Rushmore, is a testament to these deeply cherished American values. The quartet of presidential busts carved into a granite peak in the Black Hills is one of the most iconic symbols of the United States.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, the colossal, 60-foot profiles of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt are so instantly recognizable, they’ve been spoofed in commercials, used as film backdrops, and reproduced in all sizes and forms including a 3 million-piece construction at Legoland. But for all of Mount Rushmore’s widespread fame (and 3 million annual visitors), it’s also a place with a deep history and plenty of little-known facts.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, 30 minutes from Rapid City, this colossal monument was the brainchild of state historian Doane Robinson, who conceived of the mountain carving in 1924 as a way to draw people from all over America to his state.

Whether a lifelong destination or a stop on a road trip, your visit to Mount Rushmore will be one you will tuck in your memory book forever.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in Keystone, South Dakota. It is surrounded by the lands of the Black Hills National Forest. It offers a unique experience year-round for outdoor adventures, sightseeing, and opportunities to soak up the history that surrounds the area.

Get there early for the best lighting conditions, or exercise your low-light skills with photos of the nightly lighting ceremony. Regardless of your timing, make sure to explore the many photo opportunities from different vantage points along the half-mile-long Presidential Trail.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chad Coppess, staff photographer for Travel South Dakota, recommends a spot right off the trail, which takes you down a little spur between two giant boulders. Look through a big crack between them to frame the Presidential faces from a vantage point often overlooked by most visitors.

Enjoy the works of genius by touring the various exhibits at the Sculptor’s Studio or Lincoln Borglum Museum. Both self- and ranger-guided tours are available.

Stroll the Avenue of Flags with flags representing 56 states and territories lining the walkway. View the memorial against the evening sky each night at the amphitheater (May through September) during the Evening Sculpture Lighting Ceremony. A sense of awe will come over you as the Memorial lights up the sky.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short stroll along the Presidential Trail will provide close access to the sculpture. More intimate views of the artwork are available along the way as either a self- guided or ranger-guided walk.

Two other trails lead to Borglum View Terrace and the Sculptor’s Studio: One is a nature trail that starts from the main entryway; the other is a steep trail with uneven steps that starts from Grandview Terrace.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now.

You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right.

If you’re using Google Maps to locate this national landmark, be very, very specific. Apparently, general searches for Mount Rushmore often send travelers astray. If you find yourself at a Methodist campground called Storm Mountain Center, you’re about 12 miles away from the memorial.

Worth Pondering…

Great Faces, Great Places. Find your great place.

Into the Hills: Can’t Miss Spots for Your Black Hills Tour

With tourism being South Dakota’s second-largest industry, you can bet there is a lot of sightseeing to do here. The Black Hills, especially, is packed with picturesque, travel hot spots.

We remain optimistic about this year’s RV travel season despite its rough start due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re cautiously hoping that as this starts to pass, there’ll be enough cabin-fever to make people want to pack up the RV and head out on a road trip.

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the travel season starts up once again which places in the Black Hills are worth a visit or even a revisit?

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No sightseeing tour of the Black Hills is complete without Mount Rushmore. The monument is recommended by nearly everyone, and for good reason. Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore is a cornerstone in South Dakota tourism. Towering at 5,725 feet with each head being the size of a six-story building, this goliath of a monument is truly a sight to behold.

Mount Rushmore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to visit this memorial before noon. Mount Rushmore was carved with the intent of viewing it in the morning. Facing the eastern sun the light hits the mountain perfectly in the morning hours.

Mount Rushmore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viewing the Shrine of Democracy is only one of the many things you can do while visiting Mount Rushmore. Take your time and hike multiple trails available on the property and visit the sculptor’s studio and museum where you can learn all about the monument.

Iron Mountain Road

Iron Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you are going to Mount Rushmore, be sure to take the scenic Iron Mountain Road on the way there. This winding road is full of magnificent Black Hills scenery, pigtail bridges, and gorgeous tunnels that perfectly frame Mount Rushmore as you approach the monument. Constructed in 1933 and designed to do the scenery justice, it’s suggested that you take this road at no more than 20 mph to really take in everything the Black Hills has to offer.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A can’t miss destination on your list should be Custer State Park. The 71,000 acres of the Black Hills offers a home to lots of including a chance to see the famous South Dakotan bison, just be sure to remain in your vehicle or stay back at least 100 yards from them!

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park has a little bit of adventure for everyone, from camping and hiking to fishing and swimming, there isn’t a more picturesque place to visit for a good time.

Needles Highway

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1922, this National Scenic Byway was deemed impossible to construct. The roadway was planned out by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck who marked the entire course on foot and horseback. This extreme highway offers 14 miles of sharp turns, narrow tunnels, and granite spires that are sure to leave you in awe.

Crazy Horse Memorial

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often clumped together with Mount Rushmore, this memorial deserves a place all its own. Sculpted to resemble Tasunke Witco (Crazy Horse) of the Oglala Lakota, this monument is the largest in-progress mountain carving in the world. Much more than just a colossal mountain carving, the Crazy Horse Memorial is home to several museums dedicated to not only the development of the monument but also the diverse histories and cultures of the American Indian people. Additionally, the monument is host to multiple programs and fellowships meant to honor artists, performers, and culture bearers as well as University programs for the next generation of young native people.

Pronghorns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now!

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right.

Worth Pondering…

Great Faces, Great Places. Find your great place.