Why Stop At Visitor Centers?

RV friendly visitor centers are your one stop shop

Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to orient, inform, and update yourself on key features, suitable hikes, and current conditions before visiting a National Park. That being the case, does it still make sense to enter these indoor welcoming centers or should you head straight for the outdoor landscapes that are being preserved?

No amount of web-based planning can replace a stop at the visitor center for a local’s perspective, pro tips, and the most up-to-date information on seasonal experiences and day-to-day changes within the park. You may miss a natural phenomenon that’s occurring because it wasn’t part of previously published materials.

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

On top of that, visitor centers offer the most up-to-date information on animal sightings and current locations which can change faster than a web administrator or social media manager can update online. In other words, nobody knows a National Park better than on-site rangers. 

While the internet can give you ideas ahead of time and Instagram can show you the most stunning views, neither can tell you the actual conditions of a park as well as a ranger. Even in the least visited parks, the rangers are incredibly passionate about their park which is invaluable to those arriving with a set amount of time and physical abilities.

On top of that, visitor centers can give you proper context that is often lost or easily overlooked in the information overload of the internet. 

I always have a more fulfilling experience after learning about the uniqueness and justification for a park from a visitor center or on-site museum. For me, no National Parks visit is complete without the interesting exhibits found in the visitor’s center.

Cowpens National Battlefield Visitor Center, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual states and cities also build and maintain visitor centers but many wonder if these buildings serve a necessary function, especially in urban areas. Or are destinations just running them out of habit?

The original idea was to provide visitors with helpful information so they could find something they’d like to do and perhaps even stay a little longer. The concept started as a brochure rack and grew to an enclosed, weatherproof shack, sometimes with an attached restroom.

In the last several decades, we’ve witnessed the birth of multi-million-dollar architectural masterpieces. They’re nice to look at and welcoming for visitors with washrooms plus a touch of regional museum and gift shop.

In that same span, we’ve also witnessed the birth of the internet, Wi-Fi, and smartphones.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which puts more information at the visitors’ fingertips than ever: digital guidebooks, newspaper travel sections, online travel magazines with the latest what to do lists, dozens (or hundreds) of travel blogs and apps for each region and if that weren’t enough the destination typically has their own website filled with everything from their tourist office.

All a visitor has to do is ask their phone’s voice-activated digital assistant. It works well for most things, especially the hard facts. Try asking Siri when Phoenix’s Botanical Gardens opens or what the entry fee is for the Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

In spite of the changes in ways information is dispensed and received you will enhance your road trip and travel adventure better by stopping at state welcome centers and regional and city visitor information centers.

Most states offer RV friendly Welcome Centers along Interstates and other major highways.

Alabama Gulf Coast Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Friendly, informative staff and dedicated volunteers provide area-specific brochures, detailed maps, and face-to-face travel consultation and advice, free of charge.

The Visitor Center is your one stop shop. You’ll find a variety of tourism/travel related services including a vast assortment of local and statewide publications, maps, and other travel information promoting all that the state has to offer.

Highway Welcome Centers also provide clean, well-maintained restroom facilities, free Wi-Fi, vending machines, and designated parking areas for RVs.

In addition to free information, visitor centers often offer a reservation service and discounts on selected products such as attractions admission, adventure products, and sightseeing tours.

Need a map? Want any suggestions for dinner? Looking for a farmers market or swap meet in the area? Wondering about roads to take and roads to avoid, roadside attractions, hiking trails, nature centers, museums, scenic roads, or weather-related information? Need help planning activities or booking a tour?

Also, begin your exploration of national parks and state parks at the visitor center. Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, view a film, tour the museum and displays, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many parks offer guided tours and ranger talks. For the children there is a fun and educational Junior Ranger Program.
Regional and city visitor’s centers help identify interesting and worthwhile activities with which to fill your visit to the area, nature trails, museums, hidden parks, quiet little exhibits, and interesting free things to do.

Even in towns where you might expect to find a fair amount of interesting history or things to visit, a stop at a visitor’s center can uncover many things you never expected to find.

Visitor centers are great for directions but also getting information from locals.

Visitor’s centers can also be a great resource for people who want to discover more about their own community. First, check the visitor’s center in the city or town where you live as well as the center in nearby communities. Unless you’re incredibly well-grounded in your home community, you’ll be amazed at the gems you uncover—parks, walking trails, historical exhibits, cultural attractions, museums, nature centers, and more.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our many years of RV travel we regularly stop at state Welcome Centers as we enter the state. While each is unique in its offerings and services, several stand out as exemplary.

Texas Travel Information Centers

Texas Travel Information Centers create a positive first impression of the Lone Star State. Their 12 Travel Information Centers are staffed by professional travel counselors who welcome visitors to Texas, help with routings, and provide information on points of interest, events, and road conditions.

Florida Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida Welcome Centers

Florida Welcome Centers provide incoming visitors with a variety of information on travel, highways, sports, climate, accommodations, cities, outdoor recreation, and attractions.

Kentucky Welcome Centers

Kentucky Welcome Centers are staffed by friendly travel consultants who offer Kentucky maps and brochures, answer questions, and suggest itineraries to enjoy during your stay. Eight welcome centers are located on the four major interstates in Kentucky.

South Carolina Welcome Centers

No matter where you’re headed in the Palmetto State, you’ll find everything you need to know and more at one of nine South Carolina Welcome Centers. Travel counselors are available to assist visitors with tourist and attraction information, free reservation services, maps, trail guides, discount coupons, and much more.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Information Centers

Georgia‘s 12 official state visitor information centers provide a warm welcome to more than 13 million guests each year. Pick up travel brochures, travel tips, and find friendly trip-planning assistance when you stop by. In addition to state visitor centers, you’ll also find local and regional visitor information centers all over Georgia.

Alabama Information Centers

As the first points of contact with more than 6 million visitors each year, eight Alabama Welcome Centers greet travelers with true hospitality. The mission of Alabama Welcome Centers is to achieve a positive impression of Alabama by assisting and informing the traveling public knowledgeably and courteously to enhance and extend their visit.

Tennessee Information Centers

Get the most out of your Tennessee travels by taking in the sights with no worries about where to stop for information, snacks, and breaks. Tennessee operates 14 Welcome Centers and maintains brochures in 18 Rest Areas across the state. Both sets of facilities are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year except for I-40 Shelby County (Memphis) Welcome Center which is closed every evening.

Savannah Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi Welcome Centers

The Welcome Centers in Mississippi are attractions unto themselves, each built to resemble the antebellum structures for which the state is famous. Each is beautifully decorated with fine antique furnishings from the period. Neatly manicured grounds feature picnic tables and grills, telephones, RV waste disposal facilities, 24-hour security, restrooms, and weather information. Motor coach parking is available, as well as complimentary refreshments. Regular hours at all Welcome Centers are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

Do you ever stop in visitor centers while road-tripping? If not, you’re missing a great travel resource.

Worth Pondering…

We often live for those unusual landmarks and off-the-beaten-path places that make RVing so extraordinary. And we all know that sometimes getting there is all the fun.

Best in Travel 2023: 30 Places to Inspire the RV Traveler

30 destinations that are sorted by five of the best types of experiences you can have there: eating, journeys, connecting, learning, and unwinding

My Best in Travel 2023 provides a diverse range of destinations to sate any RV traveler’s sense of wanderlust. From Amish Country to St. Marys, my list includes 30 destinations across the United States and Canada and each location comes with a curated guide and itinerary.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers considering where to travel in 2023 ask yourself one important question: What are the things that your heart will not rest until you see and experience them?

There’s a sense of looking deep into yourself to understand the things that you really want to see—that you know will restore you, that will give you a greater sense of connection and appreciation to the life that you live every day—that you can take something from that experience back with you that gives you a sense of calm to our fast-paced world.

Texas BBQ in Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What moves you? Itineraries that will get you doing the things you love.

To help whittle down the infinite litany of experiences in the world, my Best in RV Travel 2023 has sorted its top 30 destinations by five types of experiences that would be most meaningful for travelers: eating, journeys, unwinding, connecting, and learning.

Eat

This category is for the foodies. It features destinations that offer a wide range of activities centered on culinary exploration. 

Dining in Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the destinations is Las Cruces, New Mexico where travelers can experience everything chile. Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

St. Marys, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey

Travelers can experience intrepid journeys—be they by car, recreational vehicle, or hiking trails—by visiting the locations on this list.

For example, historic St. Marys, Georgia offers culture, heritage, and outdoor activities that will ensure a relaxing visit. Imagine meandering through the park-style setting of the St. Marys History Walk’s 600-foot looping trail. Learn about the old shipbuilding industry and arrange a ferry ride to Cumberland Island. Even during the shortest of stays, you will assuredly get a taste of the coastal, small-town lifestyles.

Amish Country Heritage Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unwind

These destinations are where you will relax and rebalance.

Travelers can help find their center in Northwest Indiana and live life in the slow lane. Taking a leisurely road trip through small towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail feels a bit like time travel. Horse-drawn carriages move slowly along country roads and what those roads lack in conveniences like gas stations or fast food they more than provide serene views.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect

Immerse yourself in the local culture and community by checking out the destinations in the Connect category.

One of those destinations is Greenville, South Carolina, a community that has grown but still retains its small town feel.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn

If visiting museums, historical landmarks, and ancient sites is how you most enjoy experiencing new places then these destinations may be just for you.

Santa Fe is known as the City Different; within one visit, you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art.

Worth Pondering…

Got a dream, a long-held wish of traveling to a special place you hope to see—someday? If so, you’re like many of us, waiting for mañana; for tomorrow or next month or next year—always waiting for the right time. Question is, will there ever be a time that’s right?

Tips for Finding Free or Low-Cost Activities While RVing

Fun, free, and cheap

You can save a substantial amount of money by finding cheap or free things to do wherever you travel in your RV. And, it’s easier than you think. Several go-to activities and strategies will help you tighten your purse strings.

Every dollar you save is a dollar you can put toward your next road trip. Granted, you still want to enjoy your current trip to the fullest. 

But, thankfully, most free activities are worth good money. Here are ways you can find inexpensive or free things to do on your next RV road trip.

Jekyll Island (Georgia) Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Head to the local visitor center

Make the visitor center or chamber of commerce your first stop. They’ll be happy to tell you about their city and give you an event schedule and suggest things to do in the area. Concerts, craft shows, farmers’ markets, fairs, and other events are fun, interesting, and often free.

Arkansas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m a BIG FAN of visitor centers. They are packed with useful information including brochures and self-guided tour maps. Plus, there is always a helpful docent itching to tell you about their local knowledge and wisdom. If anyone is going to know about the best free and cheap things to do, it’s the visitor center staff.

Superstition Mountain Museum, Apache Junction, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit museums

Both the United States and Canada take pride in making history and knowledge available to the public. The U. S. is packed with FREE museums that are operated at the city, county, or federal level.

Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smithsonian Institute is the best example with incredible museums, galleries, and a zoo. While it is surely the grandest, it is by no means the only one. 

Most cities and even small towns have a public museum you can enjoy, often for free. Many do ask for a donation but in most cases, you’ll be more than happy to give it.

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

3. Use reciprocal memberships

If you don’t know what reciprocal memberships are, you’re not alone. Reciprocity programs offer access to many places to visit including historical museums, zoos and aquariums, and science and technology centers.

So what is reciprocity? It’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations; they typically span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in some international locations.

Corning Museum of Art, Corning, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five great examples of reciprocal memberships for travelers are:

  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
  • North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)
  • American Horticultural Society
  • Time Travelers (reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the US)
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. National and state parks

National Parks and Monuments offer wonderful visitor centers, free ranger-led tours, and informative talks. You can purchase an annual America the Beautiful pass for $80 which offers entrance access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. This includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Memorials, National Historic Sites, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and the Bureau of Land Management. You can learn about medicinal plants in the Arizona desert, birds in Florida, and the gold rush in Alaska—all free at National Parks.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks are also fun to explore. If you’re going to visit several parks in one state, it might make sense to purchase a state parks pass for that state as that covers entrance fees for all parks in that state.

5. Google “free things to do in…”

Include your destination and the search engine will take care of the rest. You’ll get plenty of lists to explore. 

Another great search resource is Tripadvisor. Users rank the best things to do in any place which you can easily skim through.

Cape Cod Potato Chips Factory Tour, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Check for local factory tours

Local business or factory tours provide not only a unique experience but also a great way to connect with a local community. It gives you a real insight into the area and often a glimpse into the local history. Many of these tours are free with the unspoken expectation that you make a purchase. For instance, many local breweries offer a free tour and end it with a sales pitch to buy their brews. Some wineries waive their tasting fee with a purchase.

If not free, most factory tours are reasonably priced. In many cases, you can take the tour for less than $10 each.

Walking tour of murals in historic Denham Springs, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Free walking tours

Many cities across the U.S. have guided or self-guided walking tours for free or cheap. You can simply google “walking tours in…” and fill in the space with your destination.

There are also a few apps and websites dedicated to walking tours. A popular one for U.S. destinations is GPSMyCity. It has thousands of self-guided walking tours.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Hiking

Go for hikes on the nature trails of wildlife refuges and BLM land. National Wildlife Refuges are wonderful places to see migrating birds and learn about native animal species. There are often loop drives with stops along the way where you can photograph wildlife from a safe distance. Many state and county parks have great hiking trails too. Visiting alltrails.com can show you all the hiking trails in the area. Not only is hiking usually free but it’s great exercise and a great way to see the area from a different point of view.

Galt Farmers Market, Galt, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals

Local flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals are wonderful ways to check out local produce and crafts. Some farmer’s markets also have entertainment, places to picnic, and a variety of fresh foods to try. In the Northeast, you’ll find Maple Festivals, Apple Festivals, and Lilac Festivals. Or look for the Potato Festival, Rattlesnake Hunts, and Chili Cookoffs in the south and west.

Placerville Historical Society, Placerville, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Visit the local historical society website

Most cities, big or small, have some kind of historical society. If you visit their website, you’ll often find visitor guides to historical sites in the area. In many cases, you can visit these historical sites for free, with a donation, or a small entry fee.

Simply google your destination with “historical society” and see what pops up in search results.

I hope these tips for finding cheap or free things to do while RVing has helped. I have one more recommendation for you.

The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus tip

RVing with Rex has posted a series of Ultimate Guides to…

These resources were written for RVers who wish to explore a location in depth and often highlight cheap and free things to do while traveling in the area. Having a tried-and-true itinerary can save you from wasting time and throwing money at something, anything to do. Selected guides include:

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More cheap travel tips

To save even more while RVing consider these final three tips:

  • Eat in: Have a meal plan and stick to it. Cook in your RV kitchen, pack lunches if you’ll be out, and avoid spending tons of money on fast food.
  • Stay close to home: RVs are fuel guzzlers. Save on the cost of gas or diesel by choosing a destination close to home.
  • Set a strict budget: Before you start planning, decide on a budget and stick to it. You may be surprised how far you can make your money stretch using the above tips.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase

Plan an RV Trip to a Museum: How to Save with Reciprocal Memberships

Reciprocal museum memberships allow you to visit other participating museums which grant free or heavily discounted entry to members

Did you know that museum memberships at one museum could get you into hundreds of others for free? Museums, zoos, aquariums, science and technology centers, and more participate in reciprocity programs that let you do just that.

So what is reciprocity? Basically, it’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations but span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in Canada.

Following is more information about these programs, where you can buy them, what benefits they provide, and how to use them.

Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benefits of buying museum memberships

Paying for visits to museums, zoos, and science centers individually gets expensive fast so this is a great way to save money. Reciprocity programs give you access to many more places to visit as you travel in your RV. And also a great way to supplement the learning programs of homeschoolers and road schoolers.

Museum reciprocity organizations

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is an organization of zoos and aquariums and dedicated to conservation, education, science, and recreation.

In reciprocity programs including the AZA, you can get free or discounted admission to participating parks. The list of participating zoos and aquariums indicates which locations are participating and what their reciprocity is (50 percent discount in most cases). The list of zoos and aquariums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the AZA Reciprocal Network.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participating zoos and aquariums include:

  • Birmingham Zoo
  • Phoenix Zoo
  • The Living Desert (Palm Desert, California)
  • Mote Aquarium (Sarasota, Florida)
  • San Antonio Zoo
  • Gladys Porter Zoo (Brownsville, Texas)
  • Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  • Memphis Zoo
The Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science and technology centers and museums that fosters understanding and engagement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In reciprocity programs including the ASTC, you can get free entry into ASTC locations that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program. The list of science and technology centers participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ASTC Reciprocal Network.

Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
  • Turtle Bay Exploration Park (Redding, California)
  • Saint Louis Science Center, Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, Montana)
  • Fleishmann Planterium and Science Center (Reno, Nevada)
  • The Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, New York)
  • Space Center Houston
  • Witte Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
The Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is an organization of museums specifically geared towards children and their learning through play and exploration.

The ACM Reciprocal Network is a voluntary group of ACM member museums open across the U.S. and Canada that reciprocate discounted admission to each other’s members. Two hundred museums participate in the network and reciprocate 50 percent off general admission for up to six people. The list of museums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ACM Reciprocal Network.

Armstrong Air & Space Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participanting children’s museums include:

  • Miami Children’s Museum
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • I.D.E.A. Museum (Tempe, Arizona)
  • Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
  • The Children’s Museum of Cleveland
  • Children’s Science Center Lab (Fairfax, Virginia)
  • Sacramento Science Center
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburg
Sharlot Hall Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)

The North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) is a mosaic of 1,244 art museums and galleries, historical museums and societies, botanical gardens, children’s museums, and zoos.

In reciprocity programs including the NARM, you can get free entry into participating locations. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.

Sharlot Hall Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, Arizona)
  • The Dali Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida)
  • Auburn Cord Dusenberg Automobile Museum (Auburn, Indiana)
  • National Corvette Museum (Bowling Green, Kentucky)
  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
  • Will Rogers Memorial Museum (Claremore, Oklahoma)
  • Bullock Texas State History Museum (Austin, Texas)
  • Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta)
Armstrong Air & Space Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Travelers

Time Travelers is a free reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the United States.

Currently, the Time Travelers program includes 472 organizations in more than 45 states. Members of these organizations can receive a variety of exclusive benefits and privileges such as free admission and gift shop discounts. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participating locations include:

  • Edison & Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers, Florida)
  • World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum (St. Augustine, Florida)
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, Illinois)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Oak Park, Illinois)
  • Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • Studebaker National Museum (South Bend, Indiana)
  • Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home (Abeline, Kansas)
  • Armstrong Air & Space Museum (Wapakoneta, Ohio)
  • National Museum of the Pacific War (Fredericksburg, Texas)
Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American Horticultural Society (AHS)

The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is a national gardening organization providing gardening and horticultural information. A current membership card from the American Horticultural Society or a garden participating in their Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP) entitles you to special admission privileges and discounts at 345+ gardens throughout North America.

Some gardens have exclusions for special events or exhibits. Each garden has its own distinct admissions policies and hours of operation which is also why it’s best to check ahead of time to get the most up-to-date information.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • Tohono Chul (Tucson, Arizona)
  • United States Botanical Garden (Washington, D.C.)
  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Sarasota, Florida)
  • Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Clermont, Kentucky)
  • Frekerik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
  • Hoyt Arboretum (Portland, Oregon)
  • Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, Texas)
Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC)

The Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) is an association of museums focused on the Southeastern United States including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program (SERM) is a way for museums to offer their members an opportunity to visit participating museums in the Southeastern region. Reciprocity is for general admission only. A participating museum membership card with “Southeastern Reciprocal” or acronym, “SERM” must be shown to receive admission.

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida)
  • Andrew Lowe House (Savannah, Georgia)
  • Tubman Museum (Macon, Georgia)
  • Kentucky Artisan Center (Berea, Kentucky)
  • Cheekwood Estate & Gardens (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Burritt on the Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama)
  • Beauregard-Keys House (New Orleans, Louisiana
Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP)

The Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP) is similar to NARM, mentioned above but with fewer participants.

Participating institutions include:

  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
  • The Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut)
  • The Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach, Florida)
  • National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)
  • Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM)

The Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM) program includes art and history museums, gardens, and various other types of museums. Reciprocal membership with ROAM provides free admission to participating ROAM locations as well as other benefits determined by each location individually. ROAM was created in February 2013 and currently has 447 participating museums.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Participating institutions include:

  • Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (Scottsdale, Arizona)
  • Charles Schultz Museum (Santa Rosa, California)
  • Rosemount Museum (Pueblo, Colorado)
  • Oldest House Museum and Garden (Key West, Florida)
  • Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
  • Henry Ford Estate (Dearborn, Michigan)
  • Georgia O’Keefe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
  • McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Museum of Glass (Tacoma, Washington)
  • Buffalo Bill Center of the West (Cody, Wyoming)
  • Tom Thompson Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario)
  • Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta)

Museum memberships

Various museum memberships will get you reciprocity at locations in one or more of the above organizations. Once you know the type of reciprocal membership you’d like, look for museum memberships that offer those specific programs and provide the best price. There are lots of options.

Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to know about museum memberships

Reciprocity percentage

In addition to the benefits offered and the price, there are a few things of note as you’re picking out your museum memberships for reciprocity benefits. For AZA benefits, you want your membership to be from a place that offers 100 percent/50 percent reciprocity. You will then receive 100 percent discounted admission to other zoos and aquariums listed at 100 percent/50 percent in the reciprocity program list and 50 percent off of those listed as 50 percent. If your home museum is listed only as 50 percent you will only receive a 50 percent discount regardless.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location

Also, consider the location of the place you are buying a membership from. This is not only for the ability to visit that location but because it affects which other locations you can get into for free or a discount. They may check your ID and your membership and may refuse admission if you are trying to use it somewhere that is either within 90 miles (as the crow flies) from your home address or your membership institution.

Number of people covered

Check the type of membership you desire based on the number of adults and children you want covered. The options can include single, dual, or family memberships up to a certain number of children/grandchildren for example, or family plus for additional guests among other potential options.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep up to date

Before you go, double-check the most current participant lists for the membership and museum you are hoping to get reciprocal admission to. These are updated and published periodically and there can be changes. Consider calling to double-check as well as not all locations participate in these reciprocal admission programs.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to bring

Bring your driver’s license or another form of ID to confirm you are the membership holder and if they ask to confirm your address. Bring your membership card as well. You can use an app in which to load your virtual membership card. Use the eMembership Card app to download your membership cards and reduce one more plastic/paper card you have to carry. Features of the app are that you can quickly look up your membership card to show, see your benefits, how many people are covered, and when the membership expires. Additionally, you can find nearby institutions you may want to visit and read some information about them.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few visits will make up for the cost of the museum memberships outlined above. You’ll have access to all sorts of fun for yourself and your family. So if you’re looking for fun things to do, ways to save some money, and great learning opportunities for your kids, consider these memberships. And whether you choose one of the memberships listed above or are looking into another, make sure to see what reciprocal benefits are included and make sure you use them.

Worth Pondering…

A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.

—Maira Kalman

Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

Here are my favorite weird and wonderful reasons to RV to Santa Fe

Santa Fe is known as the City Different; within one visit, you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe never goes out of style but with an ever-growing adventure travel scene, a slew of special events, and restaurants and spas that nurture the body and soul it should be on your travel radar.

Authenticity continues to resonate as a hallmark of experiences in Santa Fe from walking trails once trod by the ancestral Pueblo people to the red chile peppers of Chimayo cooked up at James Beard Award-winning Rancho de Chimayó.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe has its Native American community to thank for its distinct look. The sun-dried earth and straw homes of the Tanoan peoples proved ingenious, enduring, and hugely influential to the city today. The low-slung architecture—characterized by flat roofs, rounded walls, corner fireplaces, and covered porches—is so integral to Santa Fe’s aesthetic that city law mandates any new construction in historic districts adhere to the style.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe is a cultural hub providing visitors the opportunity to learn about and explore Native American culture and New Mexican culture as well as art, entertainment, history, and cuisine. Those factors, combined with an incredible outdoor adventure opportunity have made Santa Fe a repeat destination for many RV travelers who come to visit and fall in love with the area’s rich culture, outdoor activities, and community.

Related article: Wake Up In New Mexico

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Santa Fe area can not only enjoy the world-class art for which Santa Fe is widely known (designated as a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art as well as a City of Design) but also an incredible immersion into culture with visits to explore ancient pathways to ruins of northern New Mexico’s ancestral Pueblo people—discovering national monuments, national historical parks, and famous landmarks, museums, and trading posts.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Just off the plaza, Back at the Ranch is a go-to for hand-crafted cowboy boots in vibrant colors, funky patterns, and high-quality leather. Peruse hundreds of pairs in the shop including boots decorated with songbirds and Dia de Los Muertos imagery.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the corner, satisfy your taste for turquoise at Wind River Trading Company, the largest Native American jewelry store in town. The shop biographically lists out the craftsmen who make the goods so you know who you’re supporting. They carry minerals, chunky bracelets, pendants, bolo ties, and money clips.

Related article: Uncover Your Different in The City Different

If your idea of shopping is more culinary, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market hosts more than 150 local farmers who sling wool, goat milk, preserves, produce, organic meat, and herbs. It’s held on Saturdays year-round in the Railyard and on Tuesdays from May through November.

La Fonda on the Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe is renowned for its farm-fresh restaurants, tequila-soaked watering holes, and bakeries wafting with aromas of blue corn and chile. Unless you straight-up move there, it’s hard to put a dent in your Santa Fe food bucket list but a few standouts include brisket breakfast burritos from Betterday Coffee, green chile cheeseburgers from Shake Foundation, cheesy enchiladas from old-school Tia Sophia’s, blue corn doughnuts from Whoo’s Donuts, and al pastor tacos from the casual Coyote Cantina rooftop.

La Plazuela © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of La Fonda on the Plaza, La Plazuela offers an innovative approach to Santa Fe dining and New Mexican cuisine cooking up traditional recipes with enticing new twists.

For pastries, Dolina Cafe & Bakery offers New Mexican and Eastern European flavors from crumbly Mexican wedding cookies and apple-walnut strudel to makos Dios, a Hungarian cake made from ground poppy seeds, walnuts, and raspberries.

New Mexico Museum of Art © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to four world-class museums, as well as the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens, Museum Hill, is a must-experience for any visit to The City Different. Here you can explore The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, The International Folk Art Museum, The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. You’ll need a day or two to partake of the art, history, and culture of the Native American Southwest, the Spanish colonial past, and folk traditions from around the world that Museum Hill offers.

Museum of Contemporary Native Arts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is a premier repository of Native art and material culture and tells the stories of the people of the Southwest from pre-history through contemporary art. The museum serves a diverse, multicultural audience through changing exhibitions, public lectures, field trips, artist residencies, and other educational programs.

The Museum of International Folk Art offers the largest collection of handmade folk art on earth from glasswork to pandemic-inspired face mask creations. The museum holds the largest collection of international folk art in the world numbering more than 130,000 objects from more than 100 countries.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1937, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is New Mexico’s oldest non-profit, independent museum. The Wheelwright offers unique exhibitions of contemporary and historic Native American art with a focus on little-known genres and solo shows by living Native American artists. It is the home of the Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry, the most comprehensive collection of Navajo and Pueblo jewelry in the world.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art exhibits works focused on the Spanish Colonial period of New Mexico’s history. Visitors will find scores of bultos, retablos, paintings, and fiber arts on display—all housed in the Spanish Colonial architecture for which Santa Fe is famous. In the  Curtin-Paloheimo Gallery, the display of artwork by Youth Artists in Spanish Market continues include santos, tinwork, straw appliqué, colcha embroidery, precious metals, and pottery by youth artists, ranging in age from seven to eighteen years old.

Related article: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

The Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill is a learning landscape of traditional and native plants, sustainable land- and water-use practices, educational activities for all ages, and an outdoor showcase for presenting music, sculpture, and theatrical performances.

The classic Georgia O’Keeffe Museum contains nine galleries and 700 drawings from the woman nicknamed the Mother of American Modernism. Her abstract nature paintings and sweeping desert landscapes are clear love letters to the region that came to define her career.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

The largest example of non-adobe style architecture in the city, the Romanesque St. Francis Cathedral dominates the downtown cityscape.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Related article: Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Worth Pondering…

I’m in love with Santa Fe;

Like it better every day;

But I wonder, every minute

How the folks who aren’t in it

Ever stand it, anyway.

Not to be in Santa Fe.

—Mae Peregine, 1915

Route 66: The Road to Adventure

In its glory years, Route 66 proved an escape for drivers seeking freedom and adventure on the open road. It provides the same today for those willing to get off the interstates to traverse what’s left of it.

Michael Wallis, author of the 1990 book Route 66: The Mother Road, describes what became known as “The Main Street of American”:

“A thread looping together a giant patchwork of Americana, this fabled road represents much more than just another American highway. Route 66 means motion and excitement. It’s the mythology of the open road. Migrants traveled its length; so did desperadoes and vacationers. Few highways provoke such an overwhelming response. When people think of Route 66, they picture a road to adventure.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northwestern Arizona is home to the longest uninterrupted portion of the historic highway, the 159-mile span from Seligman to Kingman. A great starting point for those wishing to explore this stretch is the Arizona Route 66 Museum and Visitor Center in Kingman where travelers can add context to their journey into a storied past.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formally established in 1926, Route 66 was “a 2,448-mile journey to the heart of America,” the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona pamphlet reads. “Contrasted with the other highways of its day, Route 66 did not follow a traditionally linear course. Its diagonal path linked hundreds of communities across eight states and became the principal east-west artery.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first, much of Route 66 was dirt. It was not paved in its entirety until 1938. It was on this dirt road that one significant group of people traveled from the Midwest seeking a better life. The combination of economic depression, ill-advised farming practices, and severe drought led to the “Dust Bowl” in the 1930s when extreme storms literally carried the topsoil of farmland hundreds of miles away.

Related Article: Route 66 across Arizona

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Dust clouds several miles high blew across the plains covering everything with fine, dry silt,” a museum interpretive plaque states. “Crops would not grow and animals and humans were actually driven mad by the wind and the dust.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These harsh conditions inspired farmers who became known as “Okies” because they were centered along the panhandle of Oklahoma to travel west to find their greener pastures. Their principal route became known as the “Mother Road” because of John Steinbeck’s description of it as such in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which chronicled the travails of a fictional Dust Bowl family.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Chapter 12 of Steinbeck’s masterpiece, he wrote: “66 is the path of people in flight . . . they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from wagon tracks, and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interestingly, according to the museum’s interpretation materials, more than 200,000 people fled west to California during the era but less than 16,000 actually stayed there. “Prosperity was supposed to be just around the corner but some made the long trek to California in dilapidated ‘tin lizzies’ only to turn back after finding more poverty and despair,” one museum plaque reads.

Related Article: Get Your Kicks (And Burros) On Route 66

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The completion of paving the route on the eve of World War II became significant to the war effort. Improved highways were key to rapid mobilization during the conflict. The military chose numerous locations in the West as training bases because of their geographic isolation and good weather. Many were located on or near Route 66 including the Kingman Army Airfield Gunnery School. It was not uncommon to see mile-long convoys of trucks along the road transporting troops and equipment.

Wigwam Motel along Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is from the post-war years that most of the nostalgia for Route 66 stems. This was the era when the motor-going public decided to go out and explore the country in droves spawning a dramatic increase in roadside commerce. The development of gas stations, motels, and diners mushroomed in the 1950s and 60s and with them creative landmarks to draw tourists in, from twin arrows in the middle of the stretch between Flagstaff and Winslow to motel rooms that resembled Indian teepees at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving Route 66 was literally an adventure and Los Angeles resident Jack D. Rittenhouse wrote the adventure guide in 1946, titled A Guide Book to Highway 66. It became a bible to travelers of the open road. In it, Rittenhouse provided some important advice, including:

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to have your auto jack. A short piece of wide, flat board on which to rest the jack in sandy soil is a sweat preventer . . . Carry a container of drinking water which becomes a vital necessity as you enter the deserts . . . An auto altimeter and auto compass add to the fun of driving, although they are not essential.

Related Article: King of the Road: America the Road Trip Capital of the World

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same year Rittenhouse’s guide hit shelves, Americans also heard Bobby Troup’s ode to the highway song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66, which has been covered by numerous musical groups since.

According to Tom Snyder, founder of the California Route 66 Association, Route 66 was for travelers, not tourists. To Snyder, tourists are all about rushing to the next popular place and finding the right souvenirs, but travelers are not in a hurry, want to explore, and want to find the souvenir makers, not just the souvenirs.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1956, however, just as Route 66 was experiencing its heyday, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the Federal Highway Act of 1956 which would authorize the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways across the country and eventually signal the death knell of the “Mother Road” which it replaced with five interstates. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, formerly vibrant towns in Arizona such as Seligman, Peach Springs, and Hackberry were bypassed by Interstate 40 and in a way taken off the map and out of the motoring public’s consciousness.

One of the museum’s plaques explained the end result in less than glowing terms:

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rest stops were no longer dictated by the unique and enticing attractions along the road but by large signs that said so. Today, food, gas, and lodging facilities are nearly identical from state to state and the blandness of driving an unremarkable stretch of highway takes its toll.

Like many towns along Route 66, Seligman in Arizona depended on the traffic along the highway to sustain its businesses. In 1978, when Interstate 40 replaced Route 66 and rerouted traffic two miles south of town and away from its downtown, businesses suffered, some closed and buildings were abandoned.

Old Powerhouse building along Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The old Powerhouse building became a visitor center in 1997 and the association started the museum on the second floor of the building in 2001, fittingly using money earned from the raffle of a 1964 Corvette Stingray donated to the organization. At first, the association operated the museum but then the Mohave County Historical Society which also runs the Mohave Museum and Bonelli House took it over.

Route 66 Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The museum features exhibits portraying three epochs of history along the route: the pioneer era, the Dust Bowl era and, of course, Route 66’s golden age as America’s Main Street with vehicles of each time period as each display’s centerpiece. The museum gives younger visitors the chance to complete a scavenger hunt, looking for specific items on a list within the exhibits, and if they find all the items, museum staff rewards them with a souvenir coin.

Route 66 and Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the Arizona Route 66 Museum, the Powerhouse Building is home to a visitor center and gift shop as well as an electric car museum. Admission to the museum also allows visitors to visit the Mojave Museum of History and Arts just a block away and the Bonelli House, the restored home of a Kingman pioneer. 

Route 66 Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Well, if you ever plan to motor west
Jack, take my way, it’s the highway, that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than two-thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66.

—Bobby Troup

Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Every destination has a story, no matter how small

Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, the city of St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s idyllic seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, wild horses, and dining venues.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to recreation, the bulk of activities are centered around the city’s namesake: the St. Marys River. Measuring 126 miles long, this waterway stretches from the depths of Okefenokee Swamp into the Atlantic Ocean serving as a prominent recreation site for those who live along its banks. Upon arrival, visitors should take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Waterfront Park

Also called Howard Gilman Memorial Park, it’s the ideal spot to watch the shrimp boats come in, take a stroll along the boardwalks and piers, have a picnic, or witness a stunning sunset. Community activities take place throughout the year in the park.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys History Walk

The city of St. Marys was officially founded in 1787. Due to its strategic location, St. Marys has played a prominent role in Georgia’s development over the centuries making it a fascinating destination for history buffs. For some insight into the city’s storied past visit the St. Marys History Walk, a 600-foot walking trail where 24 interpretive panels outline the history of the area. The History Walk highlights a wealth of bygone eras ranging from the development of St. Marys’ shipbuilding industry to its role in the War of 1812. The History Walk is located at the corner of Bartlett Street and West St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Self-Guided History Tour

Pick up a Self-Guided Tour brochure at the welcome center and experience the St. Marys Historic District through fun and historical facts about its various locations. It’s a great way to soak in the small-town atmosphere.  

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Submarine Museum

For those interested in the city’s maritime history the St. Marys Submarine Museum is home to a plethora of educational exhibits related to the US Navy. It is the largest museum of its kind in the south and the fifth largest in the country with nearly 5,000 square feet of space with exhibits and displays on two floors. Use the working periscope, view uniforms, and models, and watch a movie on submarines. The Submarine Museum is located on the waterfront at 102 St. Marys Street West. Adult admission is $5 and seniors $4.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland)

The nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland) houses a collection of artifacts from Cumberland Island including remembrances of the famed Carnegie lifestyle and remnants of the Timucuan Indians who once inhabited the island. A moving exhibit of the “Forgotten Battle” demonstrates the dramatic events from one of the last battles of the War of 1812 that was fought at St. Marys’ Point Peter area.   

Ferry to Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland)

The Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland) is the primary information point for the National Seashore and where visitors come to check-in for their ferry reservations. It is a replica of Miller’s Dock, an old St. Marys Landmark. The center features an exhibit depicting glimpses back in time to the Carnegie family life at the turn of the century. Other exhibits tell a story of the Timucuan Indians, the life of saltwater marshes, the primary and secondary dune systems, and the barrier ecosystem of the island. 

The return ferry ride to St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is home to pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island offers a rustic getaway with over 50 miles of trails and roads and 18 miles of undeveloped beaches. You may find yourself hiking, biking, tent camping, and beachcombing after disembarking from the ferry.

Preserved and protected for future generations, Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated wilderness area, historic sites, cultural ruins, undeveloped beaches, critical habitat, and nesting areas as well as numerous plant and animal communities.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Ferry

Cumberland Island is only accessible by boat and is located seven miles east of St. Marys. The 45-minute ferry ride makes for a scenic and pleasant form of transportation to the island. The concession-operated passenger ferry departs from downtown St. Marys throughout the day and provides round-trip transportation services to Cumberland Island year-round. 

Note: Construction is completed on the ferry dock adjacent to the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor Center in Saint Marys. Ferry operation to and from the dock has resumed. The ferry will no longer be located two blocks east of the visitor center at the end of St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Coastal Railway

Depart from Historic St. Marys and ride the rails through scenic woodlands and marshlands. The 1 hour and 15-minute excursion bring you face to face with yesteryear, nature, and some great entertainment. Grab the opportunity to sit in the locomotive or try your hand at running it with special ticket options. Ride on the open-air rail cars or back in the caboose. You never know what you’ll discover along the way. Special themes also available include Murder Mystery Express, Great Gatsby Getaway, Pizza Express, and Halloween Train. The depot is located at 1000 Osborne Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Tabby Trail (Bike & Multi-use Path)

An 11-mile bike and multi-use path from St. Marys Waterfront Park to Crooked River State Park. Comfort stations are located at Sweetwater Park on Pt. Peter Road and at the McIntosh Sugar Mill Ruins on Georgia Spur 40 (across from the Stimson Gate of NSB Kings Bay). Restrooms and a Bike Repair Station are located at St. Marys Waterfront Park. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crooked River State Park

Located 7 miles north of St. Marys, Crooked River State Park is the perfect spot for enjoying the Intracoastal Waterway and maritime forest. The park offers cozy facilities in a beautiful setting. Campsites are surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oaks while most cottages overlook the river. 63 camping sites with water and 30/50 amp electric hookups are available for RV camping. Hikers can explore the nature trails which wind through maritime forests and salt marsh. A boat ramp is popular with anglers who often take to the water before sunrise. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Culinary Scene

St. Marys’ seaside location has fostered a booming seafood scene though that’s far from the only cuisine available around town. For a waterfront restaurant head to 401 West, a venue that offers an amazing view of the downtown waterfront and a menu that focuses on fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors with some staple favorites. If your craving seafood served in a casual setting, nearby Lang’s Marina Restaurant is an ideal destination for shrimp and grits, crab cakes, calamari, and other shellfish dishes.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adorned with license plates from across the nation, Brackish Beer Company’s cozy microbrewery is a must-visit for any beer enthusiasts visiting coastal Georgia. While the Brackyard Ale is a local favorite, Brackish Beer’s draft menu rotates throughout the year offering visitors brews that range from pecan porter to pineapple sour ale. This endearing venue is roughly one mile north of the riverfront in an unassuming abode on the edge of Dilworth Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though small in stature, what St. Marys lacks in size it makes up for in rustic charm and beautiful riverside views. Planning a trip along the South Atlantic coast? Be sure to save a spot on the itinerary for St. Marys and neighboring Cumberland Island. Whether you’re heading south or driving north, this underrated gem of the Georgia coast should not be missed.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Museum of Appalachia: Let the Past Touch Your Soul

A living mountain village

After setting up camp at Clinton/Knoxville North KOA, we drove less than a mile to the Museum of Appalachia, a recreated Appalachian community. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine we’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear, cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The log cabins are outfitted much as their original residents would have done, and to complete the picture, we often found a group of musicians sitting on the front porch picking out a tune together.

John Rice Irwin founded the Museum in 1969 with one log cabin. The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century by Irwin. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village, with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Irwin began his collection in 1962 when he was shocked to hear what buyers at an auction of an old farmstead near Norris planned to do with the items—changing a cedar churn, for example, into a lamp.

He traveled the back roads, amassing thousands of everyday implements from the colorful Southern Appalachian mountain folk. The stories of these folk are told in their own words through the Museum of Appalachia and through the artifacts left behind by them. Cabins appear as though the family just left to work in the fields or to go to Sunday meetings.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What started as a one-man effort to preserve Appalachian history has evolved into a huge collection of over 250,000 items displayed in the restored buildings and an exhibit barn.

Irwin also collected stories about the various artifacts, like a meal barrel that belonged to John Sallings, who some claim was the last veteran of the Civil War.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Appalachia also features the Appalachian Hall of Fame, which is housed in a separate three-story brick building. It contains exhibits, handmade and unusual musical instruments, and a large Indian collection.

There are artifacts from some of the personalities of East Tennessee, including Howard Baker and Dolly Parton. An impressive variety of handmade musical instruments demonstrates the ingenuity of these mountain folk. Other exhibits give you a glimpse into how they handled illness and death.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Display Barn, we found an extensive collection of pioneer artifacts, including everyday items and folk art. Carving walking sticks into intricate designs seemed to have been a favorite pastime.

A large craft and gift shop at the Museum features locally-made handiwork from regional artisans. From locally-made honey to hand-made pottery, the Shop at The Museum of Appalachia spotlights the talents of artisans throughout the region.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pull up a chair and enjoy a meal as they’ve been fixed in country kitchens for generations. The Restaurant at Museum of Appalachia’s Southern Appalachian-style country cooking offers delicious casseroles, hearty entrees, tantalizing sides, and homemade desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. Specializing in Southern Appalachian country cooking, the restaurant offers hot lunches, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, and home-style desserts.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities are available for weddings, reunions, corporate meetings, and other events.

In a generation, the Museum of Appalachia has become East Tennessee’s most popular cultural institutions and its amazing collections have been featured in national travel magazines, the Smithsonian magazine, and in national and international newspapers.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum is 16 miles north of Knoxville, near Norris, Tennessee. Take I-75 to Exit 122. 

Admission is $18 a person; $15 for seniors and the military.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

A Great Place to Crash a UFO

Roswell has been at the heart of the UFO scene since July 1947 when the military announced it had found the remains of a crashed UFO in the desert nearby

Seventy two years ago, a rancher named W.W. Mack Brazel checked his sheep after a thunderstorm and found debris made of a strange metal scattered in many directions. He noticed a shallow trench cut into the desert floor.

As the story goes, Mac Brazel drove his rusty pickup down to the county seat of Roswell, New Mexico to inform authorities that something had crashed and scattered metallic debris across his ranch land.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Figuring it must have come from the nearby Army airfield, officers accompanied him back to the ranch, and what they witnessed in the desert has, in the decades since, mushroomed to become the most widely publicized event in UFO lore.

There had been 16 reported unidentified flying object sightings reported that year during the several months preceding what would be known as the Roswell Incident.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Air Force issued a press release stating that a UFO had been found. That statement was quickly rescinded and another was issued indicating that the debris came from a top-secret weather balloon test.

Adding to the mystery, the Air Force ordered sealed coffins from a Roswell undertaker, fueling speculation that aliens had been recovered.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell Army Air Field became Walker Air Force Base two years after the flying saucer flap. In 1967, the military vacated altogether, leaving what would eventually be developed into an industrial air center.

It’s also home of the notorious Hangar 84 where, legend has it, the Roswell wreckage and bodies were stored before shipment to their new digs at the even more notorious Hanger 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has wisely embraced its extraterrestrial past. Once-empty storefronts in downtown Roswell overflow with E.T. and UFO everything. Cornerstone of it all is an old movie house converted into the world’s foremost center for UFO information and study.

Roswell, however, boasts much more, historically.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cattle industry brought settlement to the Pecos Valley when John Chisum founded the Jinglebob Ranch in 1878. Growth was slow at first.

Added to the usual frontier lawlessness, hostile Comanches east of the Pecos and Apaches to the west was the violence erupting from the Lincoln County War.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has been famous in agricultural circles for its high-quality alfalfa, in scientific circles for the rocket experimentation of Robert H. Goddard between 1930 and 1941, and in academic circles for New Mexico Military Institute.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has a varied economy based on agriculture, shipping, manufacturing, and oil production. Large artesian water supplies have enabled farmers to grow alfalfa, cotton, chilli peppers, corn, and pecans, while cattle, sheep, and goats thrive on local ranch lands.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell’s food processing industries include the nation’s largest producer of mozzarella cheese, and a lollipop factory.

According to Will Rogers, Roswell was the prettiest little town in the west. Money magazine has called it one of the 10 most peaceful places to retire. Hugh Bayless, in his book, The Best Towns in America, listed Roswell as one of the 50 most desirable communities in which to live.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell now is becoming known for its Downtown Historic District, which was created by the Historic Society for Southeast New Mexico. It was named to the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1985, along with the campus of New Mexico Military Institute, several outlying ranches, and Chihuahuita, probably the oldest settlement in the Roswell area.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Downtown Historic District covers approximately 40 city blocks and contains homes of more than 22 architectural styles. Roswell’s early history explains this unusual architectural style mix. Many styles—Prairie-style, Bungalow, Mediterranean, California Mission, Pueblo Revival, Simplified Anne, Period, Federal, Colonial Revival, Southwest Vernacular, Italiante, and Southwest Vernacular—dot the historic district eclectically.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So—what is the truth? Well, visit Roswell and judge for yourself.

Worth Pondering…

Well, at least my mom knows what species I am.