Joshua Tree National Park Turns 25. But what is a Joshua tree?

Joshua Tree National Park celebrates 25 years as a national park

It should come as no surprise that 3 million people visit Joshua Tree National Park each year. California’s High Desert is a veritable wonderland of unique desert plant life, beautifully bizarre rock formations, and dreamy views, after all.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the Greater Palm Springs area, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Diego, the park is best known for the oddly shaped Joshua trees which actually aren’t trees at all; they’re yucca plants.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve been itching to visit, now’s a great time. The park recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. According to the National Park Service, on October 31, 1994, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to national park status as part of the Desert Protection Bill. The bill also added 234,000 acres to the park, bringing the total acreage of the park to nearly 800,000. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees are rock stars in the plant world when it comes to their ability to survive in scorching heat, freezing cold, and environments with little water. They can be found in the Mojave Desert at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet.

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Technically, Joshua trees are not trees, but plants. In 2011, The American Journal of Botany published a report confirming that there are two distinct varieties of Joshua trees: brevifolia and a smaller plant, jaegeriana McKelvey. The plant is a member of the agave family.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s uncertain how the Joshua tree got its name though it is thought to have originated with the Mormon pioneers heading west. The strange, contorted branches, it is said, made the sojourners think of the Biblical figure Joshua pointing westward to the “promised land”. Native Americans call them “humwichawa,” among other names. They are also referred to as yucca palms, and in Spanish they are called izote de desierto, “desert dagger.”

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native Americans used the plants’ tough leaves to make baskets and sandals. They used flower buds and raw or roasted seeds for food.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the trees there’s so much to see including incredible sunsets and stellar views of the Milky Way. There are rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths. Huge, rounded boulders pile up on top of each other and rectangular blocks thrust up from the ground at sloping angles, forming steep precipices.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hiking is fantastic! There is a variety of self-guided nature trails and longer hikes that offer different perspectives of the park. The aptly named Jumbo Rocks has a half-mile nature walk to Skull Rock and the Barker Dam walk (1.1 mile loop) is interesting in terms of the cultural history of the area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, there’s no shortage of desert critters including 3-foot-long lizards called chuckwallas, bighorn sheep, leaf-nosed bats, and red-tailed hawks. Also keep an eye out for American kestrels, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, and black-tailed jack rabbits. It’s not uncommon to see coyotes, rattlesnakes (five types of them make their home in the desert), and tarantulas, too. If you’re really lucky, you may spot a desert tortoise or a bobcat.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With eight different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Worth Pondering…

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

name, where the streets have no name…

—Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

Cumberland Island: Wild, Pristine Seashore

Public beaches are often crowded, noisy places. But less popular areas can be incredibly peaceful.

Are you ready to hit the beach without the crowds? Where you can find a piece of the coast to call your own?

Epoch Times recently named Cumberland Island as one of the top three off the beaten path and secluded beaches in the world. That’s high praise when you’re only bested by Hawaii and Spain.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Published in 21 languages in 35 countries across five continents, Epoch Times said, “Roughly the size of Manhattan, Cumberland Island is Georgia’s southern-most island and a place where you can truly get away from the modern world. With no bridge to come to Cumberland island the travelers have to use ferry or private boat to get to this beautiful place which is manage by the national park service. “

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island also appears on lists as one of America’s Most Beautiful Beaches and Best Wilderness Beach in the Southeast.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In naming Cumberland Island one of America’s best wild beaches, the Wilderness Society stated, “Glistening white beaches with sand dunes, freshwater lakes and saltwater marshes fill this 16-mile-long island, the northern portion of which is designated Wilderness. Visitors can access the beach at designated dune crossings. Wildlife include alligators, loggerhead turtles and pelicans, as well as many fish that make this a prime place for surf fishing.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket list destination.

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

Before the National Park Service acquired most of the island for a national seashore, 90 percent of it was the private domain of Lucy and Thomas Carnegie (brother of Andrew) and their descendants. The Carnegies bought the island in the 1880s and built five mansions on it during the next two decades. The most superb house was the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness on the island’s south end.

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

Dungeness burned nearly to the ground in 1959 from a fire suspected as arson, but its ruins are a must-see for visitors.

We stopped during our visit to the island in early December 2007 to gaze at the tall chimneys, solid brick walls, and other stark remains of the old mansion.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After pausing at an old cemetery where war hero, “Light Horse” Harry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) was interred following his death on the island in 1818, we further explored the island. Continuing the 3 ½-mile Dungeness Trail as it loops around the island’s southern tip, we walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach, alive with crabs and shorebirds including the American Oystercatcher and Least Tern.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On several occasions we encountered many of the 250 feral horses that roam the island, descendants of steeds the Carnegies released during their heyday. Beloved by visitors, they are perhaps the most popular feature to the island.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We saw in Cumberland what the Native American inhabitants glimpsed thousands of years ago, as they roamed the densely wooded, 18-mile-long isle of land hunting and fishing.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We saw what enchanted Spanish missionaries saw in 1566. And what endeared the British, who built forts in the early 1700s to protect their fledgling Georgia colony. And what captivated industrialist Thomas Carnegie and his wife, Lucy, who purchased large swaths of the island in the 1880s and built lavish winter retreats.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And what bewitched John F. Kennedy Jr., who married Carolyn Bessette at a tiny African-American church near the island’s north end. He had personally painted and worked on the chapel himself through the years when visiting friend Gogo Ferguson, a Carnegie descendant, and swore he’d wed there one day. And so he did.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After meandering lazily along the wide, sandy, shell-flecked beach, we slowly made our way to Sea Camp dock where we re-boarded the passenger ferry for a sunset cruise back to the mainland (St. Marys, Georgia).

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be late for that last ferry or you’ll have to spend the night on the porch of the visitors’ center.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer is high season, both for tourists and insects, so be sure to reserve your spot on the ferry and the tour well in advance. There are refreshments on the ferry, but nothing on the island, so be prepared!

Worth Pondering…

The beach is the draw—

17 miles of hard packed blonde sands.

You can walk forever and seldom meet a soul

—Esquire

Place of the Great Rock: El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument is a fascinating mixture of both human and natural history

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country.

At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This massive mesa point forms a striking landmark. In fact, El Morro means “the headland.” From its summit, rain and melted snow drain into a natural basin at the foot of the cliff, creating a constant and dependable supply of water. The pool also attracts birds, coyotes, deer, and other wild creatures.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A pre-Columbian route from Acoma and the Rio Grande valley to the Zuni pueblos led directly past El Morro, probably marking it as a favored camping site for prehistoric travelers.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the late 1500s Spanish, and later, Americans passed by El Morro. While they rested in its shade and drank from the pool, many carved their signatures, dates, and messages. Before the Spanish, petroglyphs were inscribed by Ancestral Puebloans living on top of the bluff over 700 years ago.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The softness of the light-colored sandstone made it easy to carve pictures, names, dates, and messages. Ironically, that is also the reason that the famous inscriptions are slowly disappearing.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, El Morro is one of New Mexico’s smaller national monuments, hidden away in forested, high elevation (7,219 feet), little-traveled land towards the northwest of the state. Some of the surroundings are volcanic, including nearby El Malpais National Monument on the far side of the continental divide, and other parts are featureless grassy plains.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro reads, “Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not the first Spaniard to see the mesa, Diego Pérez de Luxan, chronicler of an exploring expedition led by Antonio de Espejo, recorded in his journal that the party had camped in March 1583 at a location he called El Estanque de Peñol (The Place at the Great Rock). However, no record of the expedition’s passing has been found on the mesa.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Spanish reigned in New Mexico for nearly 200 years. After being driven out by the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, they took back control twelve years later and ruled for generations.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General de Vargas recorded his victory in this way: “Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final inscription in Spanish was dated 1774. The Spanish lost control of their North American territories to the Mexicans who in turn lost them to the United States during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico became a U.S. territory, and the arrival of the Americans opened a new chapter in El Moro’s long history.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, Lt. James Simpson, an Army topographical engineer, and Richard Kern, an artist, were the first Americans to carve their names on El Morro. More significantly, however, Kern sketched many of the inscriptions and brought them to national attention.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Simpson and Kern, many American wagon trains carrying emigrants to California passed and, as the Anasaziand Spaniards did before them, they left a record of their presence.

The main thing to see is Inscription Loop Trail, a half mile walk past numerous Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as pre–historic petroglyphs.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before venturing out be sure to view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist you in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions.

You can continue your walk up to the top of the mesa for some great views and to see the partially-excavated ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all can be seen in just a couple of hours, El Morro is an unusual and evocative place, well worth a detour to visit.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

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

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

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

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

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

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

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

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

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

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

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

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

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

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

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

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

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

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

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

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

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

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

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

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

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

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

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

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

Otherworldly National Parks

National parks come in many different sizes and features. Some parks make one feel as if they’re on another planet.

A trip to a national park can make for a great fall vacation. In fact, it makes for a great vacation any time of the year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, if you plan on going to some of the most popular national parks in the U.S., like the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you might end up fighting the crowds. And, while all of the 421 park sites (including 61 official national parks) in the National Park Service system are unique in their own way, there are a few underrated parks that deserve some attention for their particularly strange or peculiar features that you can’t find anywhere else.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, did you know it was possible to travel to another planet in your RV? Otherworldly national parks like Carlsbad Canyon in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Petrified Forest in Arizona all feature unique landscapes that you wouldn’t expect to find in America.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are thousands of incredible hiking trails, campgrounds, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and mountain peaks throughout the country, but only at these national park sites can you find something fascinating, something unique, or even something downright weird.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for interesting red and pink rocks, you can’t do better than Bryce Canyon. The national park is known for its fascinating rock formations and hoodoos, as well as its gorgeous, starry skies at night. Some of the best places to visit in the park include Sunrise and Sunset Point and Fairyland Canyon where you can get eye-level with hoodoos.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk among the flat-topped mesas and sculpted buttes of the Petrified Forest National Park and you’ll surely feel like you’ve been transported to another world—or perhaps to the moon. This ancient forest in the middle of the desert became fossilized over time as minerals like quartz slowly replaced the wood remains. The park’s Blue Mesa Trail takes hikers into the heart of the otherworldly badlands—an eerie landscape dotted with mounds of multi-colored petrified wood.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The otherworldly subterranean landscape of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is—justifiably—New Mexico’s most famous attraction. Take the self-guided audio tours of the Natural Entrance and Big Room. Then sign up for a 1.5-hour ranger-led tour through the four Kings Palace chambers, which lie some 830 feet beneath the park’s surface and contain hundreds of eerie geological formations. A “bat show” takes place at Carlsbad Caverns every evening from Memorial Day through October.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

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

Drive the long stretches of highway that cut through the Colorado Plateau to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and it will be hard to miss the colorful bluffs, mesas, buttes, and canyons that dominate the landscape. Glen Canyon lies in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, an area that can be characterized by its high elevation and arid to semi-arid climate. Take some time to explore this vast landscape, and you will find traces of dinosaurs that roamed this area millions of years ago during the Mesozoic Era.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of Moab rises a kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons. Baked by time, Canyonlands features an eerie landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts and elongated fault blocks, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids. There’s the red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, and tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name some of the geologic layers. Stacked like pancakes, they help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest.

Worth Pondering…

Nature was here a series of wonders and a fund of delight.

—Daniel Boone

Tips for Photographing National Parks

National parks, along with being natural treasures, are a gift to photographers of all levels

Home to inspiring sights, like the rugged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, the big trees of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and the natural stone arches and other landforms of Arches National Park, national parks offer some of the most captivating locations around the world for photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before heading to a national park, consider the following tips to ensure your photos are as striking as America’s breathtaking backdrops.

Few places across the U.S. and Canada can rival the picturesque combination of majestic wildlife and dramatic landscapes found in national parks.

Ask a Park Ranger for Ideal Vantage Points

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

When it comes to finding the perfect angles inside the national parks, a park ranger can be your greatest friend. Not only do rangers know where to find scenic spots, they know where and when the animals are most active and the location of the best vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos. This information is particularly beneficial when visiting the mountain parks of the West.

Park rangers can also offer insider tips on the park’s lesser known hidden treasures, which will provide you with unique perspectives.

Start Early: Get Out Before Sunrise

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is when most people are still sleeping, and the animals are up and out. The morning mist still lingers, and, if lucky, some ground fog may add to the atmosphere. In addition, the wind is usually calm at this time, making for easy great reflections macro shooting.

Plus, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful natural light and gorgeous colors.

Stay Out Late

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

The same applies for shooting at sunset. The best light for photography can be found as the sun is low along the horizon (golden hour) when the light is like butter and everything looks great.

At this time, abundant wildlife can often be found roaming and grazing.

Stay Until Dark for Low-Light Scenes

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the new digital cameras, we can just about shoot in the dark. Animals come out as darkness approaches, and we can get these shots of them by turning our ISO up, making the cameras more sensitive to light.

Enjoy Your Surroundings

Canyon de Chelly Nationa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved l Monument

Take time to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the park. During the middle part of the day, when the quality of light is poor, put your camera away, and get out and hike. Keep in mind future compositions, but mostly enjoy your majestic surroundings.

Stray off the Beaten Path

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of staying in your toad or tow vehicle or on a ranger guided tour, hit the trails on your own. The countries’ national parks offer thousands of miles of maintained hiking trails that take you into the mountains, forests, valleys, and canyons that make each one unique. You’ll not only get away from hordes of visitors, but will also have a better travel experience— and in turn, will take better photos.

Try a Polarizing Filter

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A polarizing filter increases contrast, takes haze out of the atmosphere, and takes reflections off water surfaces. The filter needs to be turned while you look through the camera to see the effects. It takes away almost two stops of light, but you can always turn up the ISO to compensate.

Be Creative

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks contain some of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. and Canada which can be both a blessing and a curse. With a myriad of impressive photos capturing iconic landscapes, it’s easy to find inspiration. However, it also becomes difficult to find distinctive angles when shooting the same scenes as millions of other photographers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When photographing, turn around, your best picture might be behind you.

—David Huffines

Gettysburg National Military Park: A New Birth of Freedom

Gettysburg National Military Park offers a variety of experiences including opportunities to explore the battlefield

The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s largest battle. It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line. It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The cemetery contains more than 7,000 interments including over 3,500 from the Civil War. 

The National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center is the place to begin your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. Here visitors will find information on how to visit the park and what to see around Gettysburg.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, with 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, features relics of the Battle of Gettysburg and personalities who served in the Civil War, inter-active exhibits, and multi-media presentations that cover the conflict from beginning to end as well as describe the Battle of Gettysburg and its terrible aftermath.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The center also hosts the film, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by award winning actor Morgan Freeman and the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts the final fury of Gettysburg―”Pickett’s Charge”.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center is owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation in cooperation with the National Park Service. Entry to the center is free. There is a fee for the film experience, cyclorama program, and access to the museum exhibit hall. The center hosts a massive book and gift store operated by Events Network as well as a “Soldier’s Rest” saloon that offers a full menu throughout the day.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Battlefield tours on your own, on a bus, or with a Licensed Battlefield Guide can be arranged at the Center.

The Soldier’s National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery), the final resting place of the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address, is also located in the park and is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Battle of Gettysburg

Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the “Army of Northern Virginia”, led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, bringing the war directly into northern territory.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Union “Army of the Potomac”, commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade, met the Confederate invasion near the Pennsylvania crossroads town of Gettysburg, and what began as a chance encounter quickly turned into a desperate, ferocious battle. Despite initial Confederate successes, the battle turned against Lee on July 3rd, and with few options remaining, he ordered his army to return to Virginia.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain―that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

―Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges

Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef’s sense of expansiveness, of broad, sweeping vistas, of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape or of limitless sky and desert rock.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Bryce and Zion are like enveloped fantasy lands of colored stone and soaring cliffs, the less-visited Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park is an expressive world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion in a less crowded park that offers a more relaxing experience than either of those more-traveled Utah attractions.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface with colorful canyons, tortured desert, and numerous bridges and arches (“waterpocket” refers to the potholes that dot the sandstone and fill with rainwater). The park’s name combines the popular term for an uplifted landmass, “reef,” with a visual resemblance of the park’s many white Navajo Sandstone domes to that of the nation’s Capitol Building.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some parks you really need to get away from the road to find the best scenery, but in Capitol Reef there is a plentitude of beauty that can be accessed by vehicle. Views in Capitol Reef are considerably more “open” than those in Zion, which is rather confined by the narrow canyons.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A logical place to start is the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, a 25-mile round trip paved road that is lined with pullouts that allow you to stop and take it all in. One highly recommended stop is the Panorama Point/ Goosenecks view area on the park’s west end.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From this scenic drive several short side drives on well-maintained dirt/gravel roads can be negotiated in virtually any vehicle. The first of these, Grand Wash, is sort of like taking a Disneyland ride in your own car. The hike through the Narrows, from the trailhead at the end of the Grand Wash drive is recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take the entire 2.5-mile walk which ends at Highway 24, or just go about 0.25 mile to a cutback trail (somewhat steep) on the left to visit Cassidy Arch, where Butch is said to have hung out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You should definitely drive out to the end of the unpaved but well-maintained 2.2-mile Capitol Gorge spur, a few miles farther along the scenic drive. It is hard to imagine a more unusual driving experience: The gorge ends in a narrow channel carved between sheer cliffs.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a visit to Capitol Reef’s rocky wilderness, the green groves and fruit orchards around the intersection of Highway 24 and the park scenic drive are a cool and welcome sight. Just after the turn of the century, the Mormon community of Fruita, nestled in the shaded canyon formed by the Fremont River, was a lively, vibrant town of nearly 50. Though most of Fruita’s residents gradually moved away after Capitol Reef’s establishment as a national monument, the fields and orchards remained.

Visitors may even pick small quantities of fruit: cherries in June, apricots in July, pears in August, and apples in September. Look for U-Pick signs and be prepared to pay a small donation for any fruit you take with you. The money, collected on an honor system, goes to maintain the orchards—a very worthy cause.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in the Fruita area check out other historic attractions including the Fruita Schoolhouse, old Blacksmith Shop, the Fremont petroglyphs, and the Gifford Homestead, which in addition to offering a snapshot of pioneer life, bakes the harvest of the season into incredible pies. The one-room schoolhouse built in 1896 remained in use until 1941.

Past the old schoolhouse the petroglyph trail continues for a mile to to Hickman Natural Bridge. This is perhaps one of the best park walks in all of Utah with scenic views and glimpses of Fremont Culture ruins. In this lightly traveled part of the world you will probably have this highly recommended walk mostly to yourself.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

6 National Parks to Visit & Instagram This Summer

With summer in full swing, you might be planning an RV getaway. Here’s a suggestion: visit a national park—because the great outdoors is always a good idea.

Summertime is in full swing and that means barbecues, relaxation, and of course camping. What better way to experience the summer season than by enjoying the great outdoors in an RV.

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

National Park Service offers an extensive array of experiences across the country for young and old. In 2016, National Park Service locations topped over 330 million visitors. Looking specifically at the 59 National Parks, attendance is expected to be well over 60 million in 2017.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the advent of social media, these locations have offered awesome photo opportunities to share with friends and family. With all this in mind, we bring you the six national parks you should visit and Instagram this summer.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is world-famous for its vibrant red rock spires that shoot hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem pole-like formations are collected in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters that are easily accessible and provide breathtaking views.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most visitors experience the scenery by car, Bryce Canyon’s magical beauty is best seen on foot. With eight marked trails, most of which can be hiked in less than a day, there are plenty of areas to explore from within.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

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

Established in 1934 and featuring 522,427 acres of land, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great spot to camp. With over 11 million visitors annually, it is the most visited national park and for good reason, too. One hundred unique waterfalls and cascades, over 800 miles of hiking trails, and the designation of being the salamander capital of North America make this park a must-visit.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine you’re walking through a gorge 20 feet wide with natural rock walls as high as 1,000 feet. Underneath you lies the Virgin River. At Zion National Park, this isn’t an outdoor fantasy, it’s reality. The Narrows remains one of Zion’s peak attractions driving nearly four million visitors each year. Campers beware, most campgrounds are full by mid-morning and are full in peak months most every night. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a list featuring some of America’s greatest national parks and camping spots within, how could we not include the Grand Canyon. Clocking in at 18 miles wide, 277 river miles long, and a mile deep, its size is sure to overwhelm park-goers.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With regards to camping, it is split between the South and North Rims. The southern side is easier to access and by far the most popular, however, during the summer months its popularity causes the canyon to be reserved to capacity. Meanwhile, the North Rim requires more driving and because of higher elevation and heavier snowfall has a very short season.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone formations such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. Natural arches abound and come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff from the visitors center and winds along the arid terrain providing amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road passes the Park Avenue area, Courthouse Towers, the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rounding our list is Joshua Tree National Park. Two deserts converge in this stunning locale situated in Southern California. While there is no shortage of hiking trails, the best activity to take part in happens at night. As the sun fades and the cool desert air fills the atmosphere, dozens of stars, meteors and planets shine bright in the desert night sky. What better way to cap off a long day than to watch the Milky Way from one of several campsites.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

Alternatives to the Most Crowded National Parks

Many of America’s national parks are overflowing with visitors. To get away from the crowds, seek an alternate route.

Summer is one of the best times for RV travel, which is why many of our best places are horribly overcrowded during the warmer months.

Fear not, we’ve scoured America to find alternatives that are as spectacular as their more popular cousins.

Skip: Grand Canyon National Park

Go Here Instead: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

Drive four hours east of the Grand Canyon (and its 6,254,238 annual visitors) and explore the considerably quieter (just 825,660 visitors) Canyon de Chelly National Monument. As a bonus, park access is free, and so are the ranger-led tours that introduce you to the canyon’s remarkable history and the indigenous tribes that have called it home for centuries.

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

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

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

You cannot hike into the canyon (except for the White House Trail) without a park ranger or a licensed Navajo guide, but even if you come without a plan, the North and South Rim drives offer ample turnouts at viewpoints that are arguably more dramatic than what you can see of the Grand. Spider Rock, an 800-foot spire on the South Rim road, is one of the most popular in the park, but there’s still ample of parking.

Skip: Yosemite National Park

Go Here Instead: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps John Muir summed up Yosemite best when he said, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” While it is undeniably awe inspiring, Muir’s opinion may have changed had he visited the area 150 years later and shared the temple with 4,336,890 other visitors.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to avoid getting hit by a SUV hammering through the Valley floor, head about 110 miles south to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Take the Generals Highway between Sequoia and Kings Canyon for both a deep-woods feel and wide-open vistas.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to amble? Check out the mind-bogglingly large trees in the Sequoia Groves. For a moderate day hike, head out 4.2 miles to Monarch Lakes at the base of 12,343-foot Sawtooth Peak.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will feel tiny, as you gaze upward at the largest trees in the world. You’ll want to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, standing 275 feet tall with a base more than 36 feet in diameter. You can also round out your visit with caves, hiking, and in the right season, even snowshoeing.

Skip: Zion National Park

Go Here Instead: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You only have to travel 45 miles east to dodge Zion’s crowds. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is by no means deserted, but the numbers of visitors are measured in hundreds of thousands rather than millions, and entrance is totally free and without long lines to enter the park.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Staircase–Escalante is huge and wild, so stop at one of the visitor centers on the monument’s two main paved highways to get oriented. You’ll find them in the towns of Kanab and Big Water (Highway 89) and in Escalante and Cannonville (Highway 12). Just driving these highways is astoundingly scenic.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can wander in and wonder at the last place in continental United States to be mapped. Check out Devil’s Staircase and its myriad hoodoos and rock formations that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Dr. Seuss book.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers and backpackers will want to check out some of the monument’s gorgeous slot canyons. Several spectacular ones are accessible from Hole in the Rock Road. Bring paper maps—your phone won’t help you here and your GSP may lead you astray.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im