4 Ecosystems Meet at Coronado National Memorial

The park was established to commemorate the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and the lasting legacies of the first interaction between American Indians and Europeans in the American Southwest and northwest Mexico

Take Montezuma Canyon Road to the scenic Montezuma Pass Overlook where you can reflect of the impact of the European arrival in this region.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four major ecosystems meet in Southeastern Arizona: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Madre. This is a beautiful natural area with an unlimited supply of interesting sights to visit.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro River valley attracts hikers and birders because of the variety of species that live there. Bisbee is a friendly, funky place to wander and explore. Tombstone trades on a Wild West image. And there are the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that gather each winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Arizona is an incredible blend of sky mountains and grasslands and desert, hot and cold, and Coronado National Memorial is a great place to learn about it. Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the significance of Coronado’s expedition and the resulting cultural influences of 16th century Spanish colonial exploration in the Americas.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the early 1500s, Spain established a rich colonial empire in the New World. From Mexico to Peru, gold poured into her treasury and new lands were opened for settlement. The northern frontier lay only a few hundred miles north of Mexico City; and beyond that was a land unknown. Tales of unimaginable riches in this land had fired the Spanish imagination ever since Spain’s discovery of the “New World”.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 6, 1540, the Spanish government commissioned Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (1510-1554) to command an expedition to find the rumored seven “large cities, with streets lined with goldsmith shops, houses of many stories, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise!”

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have no way of knowing Coronado’s exact route, but historians believe he followed the San Pedro River when he passed through southeastern Arizona in 1540 with about 2,000 men, an army of 336 Spanish soldiers, and hundreds of Mexican-Indian allies. The journey was fueled by more than 1,500 stock animals and blind ambition.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was a fool’s errand. Coronado died in relative obscurity, his mission a failure. But as we look back his journey seems remarkable, if only because it was so long. He traveled from Mexico City to what is now Kansas on horseback, and was one of the first Europeans to see this part of the country.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The location was chosen for the panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, the route believed to have been taken by Coronado. The creation of the Memorial was not to protect any tangible artifacts related to the expedition, but rather to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect upon the impact the Coronado Expedition had in shaping the history, culture, and environment of the southwestern United States and its ties to Mexico and Spain.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated in oak woodlands on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains, the 4,750-acre park offers a visitors center, Coronado Cave, hiking trails, and a scenic drive that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) with breathtaking views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast and the San Raphael Valley to the west. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short trail leads to the top of Coronado Peak (6,864 feet) with even better views, including south to distant mountains in Mexico. The panoramic view is breathtaking.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass the unpaved and often rough forestry road leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles) and on to Patagonia or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters,
the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

America’s Most Popular National Parks

The National Park Service has released data on its most visited parks in America in 2019 and the most popular parks are…

Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracted 12.5 million visitors last year topping the 2019 list of most popular national parks, the National Park Service (NPS) recently reported. Straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the most popular national park in the United States covers 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and is home to diverse flora and fauna and a large section of the Appalachian Trail.

Great Smoky National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 327 million people visited NPS sites last year, a 2.9 percent increase from 2018, and the third highest number since record keeping began in 1904.

“The numbers once again affirm that Americans and visitors from around the world love the natural, cultural, and historic experience provided by our nation’s national parks,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in a news release.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among those 419 sites covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories, only 62 are national parks. The park service also released rankings on all the sites it oversees which include monuments, parkways, seashores, lakeshores, battlefields, and memorials.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 15 million visitors in 2019, Golden Gate National Recreation Area took the park service’s overall top spot for the second year in a row, beating out second place Blue Ridge Parkway. The two park sites have been swapping first and second place rankings since 1979, the park service said.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the 62 national parks, first place Great Smoky Mountains National Park was followed by Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, and Yosemite National Park which nudged Yellowstone National Park out of fifth place. Yellowstone dropped to sixth place, followed by Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, and Glacier National Park. Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon have held the top two spots since 1990, the park service said.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the national park sites spent an estimated $20.2 billion in local gateway regions in 2018, according to a May 2019 report by the park service which translated into 329,000 jobs, $13.6 billion in labor income, $23.4 billion in value added, and $40.1 billion in economic output. The lodging sector saw the biggest benefits with $6.8 billion in economic output while restaurants saw $4 billion in economic output.

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

Visitation to the national park sites rebounded from the most recent shutdown, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019. In some previous shutdowns, the park service had closed many of the sites due to lack of funding for staffing. In the most recent shutdown, the gates mostly remained opened but often without sufficient staffing. In several states, a combination of funds from park user fees; state and local governments; non-profits and businesses helped keep some NPS sites open.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service which doesn’t charge an entrance fee at most of its 419 sites already faced $11 billion in deferred maintenance across the national park system.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every fourth-grader around the country can get a free one-year national parks pass for the student and their family under a program started by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.

The “Every Kid in a Park” program which attracted more than 350,000 fourth graders in its first two years of operations was reauthorized last year for seven more years, the park service said.

Most popular National Park Service Sites

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California):15 million visits

2. Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina/Virginia): 14.9 million visits

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee): 12.5 million visits

4. Gateway National Recreation Area (New York/New Jersey): 9.4 million visits

5. Lincoln Memorial (District of Columbia): 7.8 million visits

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7.5 million visits

7. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona/Nevada): 7.5 million visits

8. Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee): 6.3 million visits

9. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 5.97 million visits

10. Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida/Mississippi): 5.6 million visits

Most popular National Parks

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

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee): 12.5 million visits

2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 5.97 million visits

3. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): 4.7 million visits

4. Zion National Park (Utah) 4.5 million visits

5. Yosemite National Park (California): 4.4 million

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Yellowstone National Park: (Idaho/Montana/Wyoming)

7. Acadia National Park (Maine): 3.4 million visits

8. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming): 3.4 million visits

9. Olympic National Park (Washington): 3.2 million visits

10. Glacier National Park (Montana): 3 million visits

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

The country’s largest dune field has been a national monument since 1933 and now it’s America’s 62nd national park

After half a decade of legislative holdups, New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument has officially been designated a national park.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located 50 miles northeast of Las Cruces, White Sands is the largest dune field in the world and is so expansive that it can be seen from space. It was established on January 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover to preserve “the white sands and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interest.” According to the statement, White Sands contains not only the world’s largest gypsum dunefield including gypsum hearthmounds found nowhere else but also is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice Age fossilized footprints.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Legislation to re-designate White Sands was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The US House of Representatives passed the act on December 11 with the Senate following on December 16. President Donald Trump signed the bill on December 20.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, more than any other national park service site in New Mexico. In 2017, White Sands logged more than 600,000 visits and spurred more than $31 million in spending for the local economy.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This is a pretty prestigious recognition of White Sands, one of New Mexico’s most remarkable natural wonders,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who introduced the bill to Congress with U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small in March 2019. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting this spring, visitors to the 275-square-mile stretch of rolling dunes will now be able to hike and camp in its backcountry, sled down sandy hills, and stargaze—without the interruptions of missile tests. The designation was included as a provision in Congress’s defense bill because the former monument shares land with the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), a U.S. military weapons testing area and the site of the first atomic bomb detonation.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the 1970s, the U.S. Army has been trying to secure land within the national monument’s boundaries in order to more easily access its missile testing site. The new legislation gives the military 2,826 acres of land within the monument’s former boundaries to allow for this access. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In exchange, the National Parks Service has been granted 5,766 acres of formerly Army-owned land on the eastern side of the park. Not only does this mean that White Sands will expand by 2,030 acres, but visitors will no longer have to plan around the Range’s weapon testing drills. Previously, on a random day or two of the week, the monument would close to visitors as a safety protocol.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new designation will also have positive impacts on the surrounding community: a 2018 study found that turning monuments to national parks could increase visitation by 21 percent (about 100,000 more visitors) in the first five years and result in a $7.5 million increase in the local economy, mainly due to increased visibility. According to the legislation, all funding for the current monument will be directly transferred to the national park. Additional funding is dependent on an increase in the park’s visitors, which would help White Sands compete for National Park Service resources.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those who’ve visited White Sands won’t be surprised by its new status while others who are less familiar are in for a real treat. Beyond the surreal beauty of its endless dunes, the park is full of wildlife and has a long cultural history, including evidence of hunter gatherers going back 10,000 years.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The desert could not be claimed or owned–it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names.

—Michael Ondaatje

Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

The past and the present meld together as one at Tumacácori National Historical Park

As English colonists were arriving at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock on the east coast of North America, the southwestern Native Americans were starting to see visitors from the south. Catholic missionaries traveled north from Mexico to establish missions in the Southwest region that is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission life became impossible because of the Mexican-American War cutting off supply routes, an increase in Apache raids, and a severe winter. The community made the difficult decision to leave Tumacácori, taking their valuables with them to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Closed completely following the end of the war in 1848, Tumacácori became US property in 1853 when land south of the Gila River was transferred to Arizona (the Gadsden Purchase).

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After sixty years of deterioration, President Theodore Roosevelt established Tumacácori National Monument in 1908, protecting the mission’s remains. Times were not always easy; there were revolts, devastating epidemics, an expulsion of Jesuit priests, and influxes of people from outside the region. Tubac, a Spanish soldier garrison, was established nearby and offered protection from some Apaches who had formed raiding parties.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1775, a Spanish-sponsored 1,200-mile expedition composed of 240 colonists and 1,000 head of livestock passed through the mission. Organized and led by a Tubac captain, Juan Bautista de Anza II, they were en route to settle an outpost in California that resulted in the founding of the City of San Francisco in 1776. Even though they had to traverse an unforgiving desert sparsely populated with sometimes hostile Indians, all of the colonists arrived safe, a testament to Anza’s leadership.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The expedition’s route, now the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, passes through the park, providing opportunities for walkers, bird watchers, and horseback riders. A 4.5 mile stretch of the Anza Trail, extends from Tumacácori to the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The trail follows the Santa Cruz River in the shade of mesquite, hackberry, elderberry, cottonwood, and willow trees providing shelter for more than 200 species of birds.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Mission View RV Resort off San Xavier Road in southern Tucson as our home base, we recently visited this historic place, toured the mission church, cemetery, and grounds.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entry is through a large wooden door set into the wall, which opens directly into the visitor center. The center has a good selection of local-interest books, a museum, park store, and an auditorium for video presentations about the history of the mission.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staffed by National Park Service employees and volunteers, the museum and park store provide orientation and a wealth of information. The museum offers dioramas, artifacts, and exhibits about the Native American and Spanish colonial cultures. Ranger-led tours, living history, craft presentations, and even full-moon tours of the church and riverside are available seasonally.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guiding tour booklet for the Tumacácori Mission grounds can be purchased or borrowed. The walking tour of the site leads through several interlinked rooms with open doorways, and to the enclosed courtyard garden, filled by mature trees and Sonoran desert plants.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The church is a 200-foot walk away across the main quadrangle, much of which is bare soil though other parts have trees and lesser buildings such as residential quarters. The main chamber has a nave, altar, and remains of a choir loft, with links to smaller rooms including a baptistery, sacristy, and sanctuary. Behind the church are a granary, mortuary, and a cemetery with original graves marked by simple wooden crosses.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the past and the present meld together as one at Tumacácori National Historical Park. Come experience it!

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Now that I’m here, where am I?

—Janis Joplin

Padre Island National Seashore: World’s Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island

Come explore the 70 miles of uninterrupted national seashore taking in the gulf’s breeze, sandy beaches, and marine wildlife

Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline (meaning saltier than the ocean) ecosystem unique to only six known lagoons in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life.  It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species.  It also has a rich history, including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing 130,434 acres, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier islands in the world. Visitors will find a variety of outdoor things to do including surf fishing, RV and tent camping, world class flat water windsurfing, wade fishing, surfing, birding, kayaking, and of course relaxing the beautiful white sand beaches of Malaquite Beach. The undeveloped, preserved beaches, coastal grasslands, and wetlands of the Padre Island National Seashore are one of the most scenic coastal areas of the sub-tropical Texas coast.

Bird Island Basin at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions to Padre Island long before its designation as a national seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach, in the Laguna Madre, and at Yarborough Pass and Bird Island Basin. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp, which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.

Grassland Nature Trail at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon arrival to the Padre Island National Seashore be sure to take notice of current warnings, precautions, or bans at the Park Ranger check-in station. Visitors go through this station when entering the National Seashore. Additionally, more information may be obtained at the Visitors Center.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Malaquite Visitors Center houses a gift shop, small museum, educational auditorium, covered deck, two viewing platforms, and a small snack shop. Year round events, talks, and guided walks are held at the Malaquite Beach Pavilion.  Evening talks about the stars and constellations are held periodically along with Friday night viewings of the moon. Rangers are on hand at the Malaquite Pavilion to explain various aspects of the wildlife and dynamic beach system of North Padre Island.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Visitor Center is the entrance to Malaquite Beach, one of only a few beaches on North Padre Island that is closed to vehicles. A paved parking lot is available for visitors. A short walk down the Malaquite Visitors Center boardwalk or one of two paved walkways (north and south of the Visitor Center) puts you right on the white sand beach at Malaquite Beach.

Kemp Ridley’s turtle display, Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Malaquite Beach is 4-5 miles of unspoiled Padre Island beach. It is a great location to spend the entire day. Come prepared with chairs (or rent them on the beach in the summer), coolers, and sunscreen.

Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather conditions are constantly changing in the winter months as cold fronts move into the area. During summer months the heat of South Texas is ever present and visitors can be sure to have plenty of sun most of the time.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive down the beach until civilization fades away and camp along the shore. Padre Island National Seashore is one of the last undeveloped shorelines in the world and is one of the only beaches of its kind that is open to driving on 60 of the 70 miles that it protects.

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue to the end of the paved road (Park Road 22) and you will be driving on the beach in no time. Remember that in Texas all beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply including seat belt regulations. All vehicles traveling on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed. Please note that, with rare exception, Texas will not license all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) for use on highways (The National Seashore has one of the few exceptions because it uses ATVs to patrol for nesting sea turtles.).

Driving on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The driving conditions at the beach are constantly changing due to the currents, winds, and tides. To best prepare for your trip down island check with the Malaquite Visitor Center for current driving and weather conditions. Changing conditions and marine debris washed ashore by the currents can sometimes make for hazardous driving.

Camping at Malaquite Campground, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Nature, it seems, has a way of returning things to how they should be.

— Fennel Hudson

National Parks that are Beautiful & Empty in Winter

National parks are always breathtaking—no matter the time of year—but there’s a particular serenity and beauty you can only experience when visiting these gems in the wintertime

Between 2016 and 2017, 331 million people (almost the entire population of America itself) visited a U.S. national park. This was the highest number ever recorded and most came in summer.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avoid the selfie-sticks, lone line-ups, and peak-season prices by visiting during the winter months. Here are 10 National Park Service sites worthy of a winter visit.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter months, Bryce Canyon‘s pièce de résistance is its natural amphitheatre, where pink-hued hoodoo rock formations clash against the dazzlingly bright snow. The shelter provided by these geological masterpieces also makes this a great spot to escape the icy winds of the high country. Bryce is an International Dark Sky Park and between now and March you can sign up for ranger-led full moon snowshoe hikes.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

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

One hundred fifty years ago, John Wesley Powell described Glen Canyon as a “land of beauty and glory” and named it for its many glens and alcoves near the river. About 100 years later the canyon was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River forming a lake named for the one-armed explorer. With 2,000 miles of shoreline, Lake Powell offers boating, kayaking, and fishing amid rugged red rock canyons and mesas.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon‘s residents are a hardy bunch—visit in winter and you’ll spot Abert’s squirrels on nut-foraging expeditions, bald eagles soaring above snow-dusted ridges, and mule deer making their way through the ponderosa pines. Many animals develop additional finery during these colder months. One example is Abert’s squirrels, which grow extra tufts of fur on their ears to keep out the cold. Furry-eared rodents aside, there are lots of other reasons to visit in winter, including hikes along the park’s beautiful low-elevation trails (which have less snow and ice) such as the South Rim’s Hermit Trail.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park is named after a stretch of 118 miles of Rio Grande River, part of which forms a large bend in the river. Big Bend offers a variety of activities for the outdoor enthusiasts including backpacking, river trips, horseback riding, biking, and camping. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus live here including the giant saguaro and the park’s namesake. This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild.

Pinnacles National Park, California

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley. The park covers more than 26,000 acres and hosted 230,000 visitors in 2018. By comparison, its neighbor Yosemite National Park welcomed more than four million visitors.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 2,000 natural arches dot east-central Utah, an impressive number unequalled anywhere in the world. But if you’ve been to Arches National Park years ago, you haven’t seen it as it is today; the forces that shaped the landscape continue carving, elongating, and widening each formation until its inevitable collapse. Notable landmarks include Landscape Arch, the North and South Windows, and Balanced Rock.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park preserves the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. In addition to being a designated Wilderness Area, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area, and a National Natural Landmark, Congaree is home to a exhibit area within the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, a 2.4 mile boardwalk loop trail, and canoe paddling trails.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Fort Davis National Historic Site: Frontier Military Post

A key post in the defense system of western Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest

Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and to control activities on the southern stem of the Great Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and in the frontier military; the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, all-black regiments established after the Civil War, were stationed at the post. When not chasing renegade bands of Apache or bandits, the soldiers helped build roads and telegraph lines.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soldiers, most of whom were former slaves from southern plantations, worked long, hard hours for little pay and marginal living conditions, yet they had excellent morale. The black regiments had fewer problems with alcoholism and desertion than the army did overall. They took part in most of the major military expeditions on the Texas frontier and earned a reputation as good soldiers among whites and Native Americans.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apaches and Comanches called them Buffalo Soldiers because of their skin color. Despite their notable military accomplishments on the Texas frontier, black soldiers didn’t serve alongside white soldiers again until the Second World War. 

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis doesn’t look like the Western forts depicted in Western movies. Instead of log walls, it was surrounded by the cliffs of a box canyon on three sides. Fort Davis National Historic Site on the edge of Fort Davis looks pretty impressive from the heights of the Scenic Overlook Trail. From this advantage, you can hear the recorded bugle call from the visitor center in the valley below while Sleeping Lion Mountain stands guard on the horizon.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soldiers occupied the fort from 1854 to 1891. From 1867 to 1885, Fort Davis was Regimental Head­quar­ters for the four Buffalo Soldier regiments serving in the West. After the military left, civilians moved into many of the buildings. The new occupants helped preserve the officers’ quarters, hospital, and enlisted men’s barracks.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Lyndon Johnson turned Fort Davis into a 460-acre national historic site administered by the National Park Service in 1963.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, twenty-four roofed buildings and over 100 ruins and foundations are part of Fort Davis National Historic Site. The site is well maintained and thoughtfully restored with interpretive and historical displays, an excellent book shop, and a museum. Five of the historic buildings have been refurnished to the 1880s, making it easy for visitors to envision themselves being at the fort at the height of its development. 

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three hiking trails climb from the Fort, with two links to the hiking trail at Davis Mountains State Park. Small plaques explain natural features and their value to the Fort when it was active.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis National Historic Site symbolizes the era of westward migration and the essence of the late 19th century U. S. Army. It is a vivid reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis National Historic Site is situated at the eastern side of the rugged Davis Mountains at an elevation that ranges from approximately 4,880 feet at the fort to approximately 5,220 feet in the Davis Mountains. Annual rainfall averages 19 inches.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis National Historic Site is on the northern edge of the town of Fort Davis. The site opens daily from 8am to 5pm. The $10 per person (or $20 per vehicle) admission fee helps maintain the interpretative programs and four miles of hiking trails.

Fort Davis National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

Visiting National Parks in Retirement

When picking your next national park adventure, consider what you love to do, hope to see, and what’s most important to you

Retirement! What does that word mean to you? For us, it means RV travel and the freedom to visit places we’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time.

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

National parks are amazing places to visit for people of all ages. Whether it’s to walk the trail, hike, or camp these parks are national treasures that should be seen and enjoyed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks are an ideal destination for retirees not only because of the distinct natural beauty. But also because anyone over 62 visiting these protected lands can purchase a senior pass.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Senior Pass is a ticket that covers entrance fees to 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees to national parks and wildlife refuge as well as day use fees at national forests and grasslands. This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If you are visiting a location that changes per person, the pass will also cover the entrance fee for up to four adults. If you are visiting a location that charges per vehicle, the pass covers the non-commercial vehicle and its passengers.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can either buy an annual pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80. You have to be a U.S. citizen age 62 and over in order to be eligible to buy one. You also need to have proof of residency and age before the pass is issued.

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

Over half a million senior passes are sold each year to retirees who want to explore both the big-name parks as well as the smaller, more obscure (but still stunning) sites. To help narrow down the choices, here are 10 of our favorite federal recreation sites for retirees to hit. Though technically not a national park, this list includes national wildlife refuges, national seashores, national monuments, and national military sites.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee is the largest intact freshwater wetland in North America. The Refuge is made up of a variety of habitats, and includes over 40,000 acres of pine uplands that are managed for longleaf pine around the swamp perimeter and on interior islands. Other habitats include open prairies, forested wetlands, scrub shrub, and open water (lakes).

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm in the canyon.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

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

Bosque del Apache supports one of the most diverse and unique assemblages of habitat and wildlife within the Southwest. Eleven miles of the Rio Grande bisects the Refuge. The extraordinary diversity and concentration of wildlife in a desert environment draws people from around the world to observe and photograph wildlife.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is called Arches for a very good reason. There are roughly 2,000 arches within the park — delicate, natural sculptures varying from three to over 300 feet high. Arches is also full of towers, spires, hoodoos, and ochre-colored sand.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A park that will please history buffs as well as nature lovers, Gettysburg is famous for the major Civil War battle that took place on its grounds in 1863. History struck again when it became the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address later that year.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. The Tucson Mountain District (West) has many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana is a great place to visit for birding and draws in people from all to look for birds like the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, and Altamira Orioles. There are 12 miles of trails, visitor center, suspension bridge, and 40 foot tower for visitors to explore.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles protecting a diversity of plants and animals.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts.

Worth Pondering…

On being retired…we woke up this morning with nothing to do and by evening we had not completed it!

7 National Parks You Should Have on Your Radar This Winter

The best national parks to visit this winter

There are 62 national parks across America. That’s not counting the hundreds of national monuments, historical sites, battlefields, memorials, trails, and more. When you count all of them together, the number of protected sites that fall under the US National Park Service is well over 400.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So it should not surprise anyone when I say that there are scores of incredible sites worth exploring in America—from sea to shining sea.

Whether you’re looking to explore waterfalls or rivers, volcanoes or deserts, canyons or mountaintops, there’s a national park to discover this winter.

Saguaro National Park in Arizona

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located just outside of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is divided into two units separated by 30 miles: Rincon Mountain District (East Unit) and Tucson Mountain District (West Unit).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The busiest time of the year is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the high-70s. Starting in late February and March, the park begins to get a variety of cactus and wildflower blooms. In late April, the iconic Saguaro begins to bloom. Come June, the fruits are beginning to ripen.

There are many activities to partake in at Saguaro, no matter the season.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon‘s residents are a hardy bunch—visit in winter and you’ll spot Abert’s squirrels on nut-foraging expeditions, bald eagles soaring above snow-dusted ridges, and mule deer making their way through the ponderosa pines.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many animals develop additional finery during these colder months. One example is Abert’s squirrels, which grow extra tufts of fur on their ears to keep out the cold. Furry-eared rodents aside, there are lots of other reasons to visit in winter, including hikes along the park’s beautiful low-elevation trails (which have less snow and ice) such as the South Rim’s Hermit Trail.

Big Bend National Park in Texas

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park is named after a stretch of 118 miles of Rio Grande River, part of which forms a large bend in the river. Big Bend offers a variety of activities for the outdoor enthusiasts including backpacking, river trips, horseback riding, biking, and camping. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles.

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is a diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The park is home to two deserts: the Colorado which offers low desert formations and plant life, such as ocotillo and teddy bear cholla cactus; and the Mojave. This higher, cooler, wetter region is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The different elevation throughout the park cause flowers to bloom at different times, with the low elevation flowers blooming earlier than higher elevation flowers.

Zion National Park in Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is a park that you have to see to believe. It is a true desert oasis and an American icon. The surrounding area looks desolate, dry, and barren, but when you drive into Zion Canyon, a massive formation, miles wide, with sheer rock walls that rise thousands of feet, await you. There is something so incredible about seeing the oranges and yellows of sandstone mixed with the greens of the Virgin River and the vegetation that grows so easily there.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona

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

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

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

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on hiking trails and the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is also one of the most diverse in the country—with dense forests giving way to massive expanses of swamplands. The forests are some of the biggest and oldest old-growth in America and offer great opportunities for recreation of all kinds.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson

The 10 Best National Parks and Monuments in Arizona

A guide to the best, the famous, and the lesser-known national parks and monuments in the Grand Canyon State

Arizona’s nickname may be the Grand Canyon State and that namesake national park may draw more than six million visitors a year and rank as the second most popular in the country. But the canyon is just one of many natural wonders in a state unusually rich in them. Here, a guide to 10 of the best, both the world-famous and those undiscovered by the masses.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It took millions of years for the Colorado to wear down the surrounding landscape and create the Grand Canyon.

Why: It’s one of the natural wonders of the world

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon lives up to its name; it’s the biggest canyon in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Numbers don’t do the place justice—its sheer size is awe-inspiring, but it’s also a stunning record of time. Over millions of years, the Colorado River sliced the landscape into sheer rock walls, revealing many layered colors, each marking a different geologic era.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The slow process of fossilization transformed ancient trees into solid quartz.

Why: There aren’t many places you can reach out and touch 225-million-year-old fossilized trees

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors to Petrified Forest come to see the ancient tree trunks which are preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged in a riverbed nearly 200 million years ago. And they’re quite a sight: Over time, the huge logs turned to solid, sparkling quartz in a rainbow of colors. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts. Don’t neglect the pastel-hued badlands of Blue Mesa, where a paved hiking trail loops around the blue-white rock.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The iconic, long-armed cacti at Saguaro National Park only grow in the Sonoran desert.

Why: See the tallest and oldest saguaro cacti in the country

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is divided into two segments, one on either side of Tucson. On the west side, in the Tucson Mountain District, you’ll find the densest stands of saguaro and sweeping views from the Valley View Overlook Trail. The Rincon Mountain District, on the east side, features Cactus Forest Loop drive and dramatic mountain silhouettes.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

This labyrinth of three narrow canyons has sheltered indigenous peoples for 5,000 years.

Why: It’s one of world’s most sacred places

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

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads, but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Would your house look this good 800 years from now?

Why: It’s one of the continent’s largest and best-preserved cliff dwellings

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carved into a cliff 1,500 feet above the ground and featuring more than 20 rooms constructed in multiple stories, it’s a remarkably example of Sinaguan architecture. Today a short trail takes you to a viewing spot below the ruins, and museum exhibits help you imagine what life was like in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert

Why: This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Thirty-One species of cactus have mastered living in this place, including the park’s namesake.

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Wonderland of Rocks” is waiting for you to explore.

Why: Explore a magical landscape of sculpted rock

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites including a four-story earthen structure.

Why: For more than 650 years the Casa Grande has stood as a meeting place and landmark

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has starred in so many Hollywood movies that its silhouette is known all over the world.

Why: You’ve seen it in movies, and it’s much better in person

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no landscape in the United States as associated with the Wild West as Monument Valley. It’s both supremely foreign and eerily familiar. John Wayne rode out from between the park’s famous red rock buttes, The Mittens, in Stagecoach and The Searchers.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowning a desert hilltop is an ancient pueblo built by the Sinagua people.

Why: Witness the legacy of a people who lived in the Verde Valley 1,000 years ago

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by a culture known as the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, beauty is below me, beauty is above me. I walk in beauty.

—ancient Navajo poem