Stephen C. Foster State Park: Rich in History and Isolation

This remote park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Though the park is only about 120 acres, it is a prime access point to the 700 square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and its most famous island―Billy’s Island. The name “Billy’s Island” has a bit of a legendary history. Some claim that it came from the famous Native American chief―Chief Billy Bowlegs―of the Seminole Indian wars. Others claim there was a man named “Indian Billy” that lived there in the early 1800s and was murdered by some cattleman.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That aside, the most famous residents of the island, which then and now is only accessible by boat, were the Lee’s. James Lee started living a self-sufficient lifestyle with his family in the 1860s. His family had livestock and crops and they hunted, fished, and had everything they needed.

As is the case in most American stories, modern technology comes in and completely uproots, literally in this case, the frontier way of life. In 1907, a logging company moved in and introduced modern society to this contented family. In the next two decades, the company would clear 425 million board feet, the vast majority being old growth cypress trees, all the while setting up a movie theater, a cafe, a whole little town on Billy’s Island to support the operation.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think about what it was like being the Lee’s. You are living with nature, utilizing its resources and all of a sudden this company brings other people from other places and destroys your way of life. As most adaptable families do, sons and grandsons of James Lee worked for the logging company, helping the swamp-foreigners to navigate and survive in the hostile environment of the swamp.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the logging company left, so did the town and the rest of civilization. As with all things in the swamp―the water, roots, and mud overtook the town and all that remains of its past is some rusty fences and a few gravestones. Descendants of the Lee’s still remain in the area, along with other swamp families.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Billy’s Island, along with the swamp, is the way it has been for thousands of years―a black water reservoir, filled with islands, black bears, alligators, waterways, and little remnants of the people who try to survive there. As it is, what most would call, an undesirable place to live, there have always been outsiders and people seeking refuge from whatever is haunting or hunting them.  

Escaped slaves have passed through as it is a great place to hide. Native Americans―the Seminole tribes―have made the swamp home at various times throughout history, most recently in an effort to escape forced exile in the 1800s.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surely a place so rich in history and isolation has its share of ghost stories. There are various reports of mystical hazes, ghosts, bigfoot, and alien abductions that are easy to find and hard to substantiate, but there is an interesting story that come out of the swamp that, at least, comes from reliable resources.

The story is relatively recent and returns us to Billy’s Island. In 1996, a former park ranger from New York was visiting the swamp and disappeared. A search party looked for him for several days and weeks. Then, 41 days later, the ranger was found leaning against a tree with tattered clothes and bug bites everywhere. He claimed he got lost and survived on what the island gave him.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some folks are skeptical of his story, due to Billy’s Island only being 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and there was no evidence of him trying to get help, however the facts of him being discovered 41 days after disappearing are true and the story was widely published at the time of it happening.  

All the historical richness and vastness of the swamp is at the fingertips of Stephen C. Foster State Park. They have all sorts of activities―star-watching (and alligator watching!) at night, canoeing, hiking, movies, and more. Stephen C. Foster is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851

Ultimate Road Trip of Discovery to Uncover Unique National Natural Landmarks

Discover 16 awe-inspiring natural wonders

Planning your RV road trip routes for the year already? You may want to consider squeezing in at least one natural landmark into the itinerary. In January, Former Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt named three new sites as national natural landmarks. Their addition brings the number of national natural landmarks in the United States and Territories to 602, a milestone for the National Park Service’s National Natural Landmarks Program. These sites are located in West Virginia, Colorado, and California:

  • Bear Rocks and Allegheny Front Preserve, West Virginia: The most distinctive feature of the preserve is the rocky, high-altitude plateau. The landscape includes wind-swept and stunted spruce trees, low-lying heath shrubs, rocky outcrops, and bogs. 
  • Sulphur Cave and Spring, Colorado: Amazingly, this highly toxic environment of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide gases is home to a flourishing ecological community. People cannot enter the cave due to its toxic air but visitors can learn more about the landmark at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.
  • Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes, California: Located west of Arcata the coastal dunes are seemingly untouched keeping much of the features that once thrived on the west coast. Besides dunes, the site includes beaches, dune forest islands, salt marshes, deflation plain swales, freshwater marshes, and brackish wetlands.

We’ve explored America by RV and found these 13 national natural landmarks you’re sure to enjoy.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary, Arizona

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary is a good example of a cottonwood-willow riparian forest and is one of the last permanent stream-bottom habitat areas in southern Arizona. The site retains a substantial part of the indigenous aquatic biota including the endangered Gila topminnow. The birdlife includes several Mexican species and is the only known nesting site in the country for the rare rose-throated becard.

Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Ramsey Canyon is a stream-cut, vertical-sided gorge. Cold air drainage from the upper canyon results in a well-defined microclimatic habitat that supports Mexican flora and fauna and plants that normally occur only at higher elevations. The site is also frequented by more species of hummingbirds than any other area in the United States.

Sandhill cranes on Willcox Playa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox Playa, Arizona

Willcox Playa, the largest “dry lake” in Arizona is a remnant of the pluvial Lake Cochise. Unlike similar dry lakes, the black mud below the surface contains a rich fossil pollen record of the pluvial periods of the Pleistocene. The site has become a night-time roosting area for 4,000-8,000 sandhill cranes and contains the greatest diversity of tiger beetles in the United States.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary contains a wide variety of habitats including pond cypress, wet prairie, pineland, and the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress in North America. The sanctuary supports the largest wood stork rookery in the United States and is important for several other endangered species.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

Okefenokee Swamp, located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the largest and most primitive swamps in the country. It contains a diversity of ecosystems and is a refuge for native flora and fauna including many uncommon, threatened, and endangered species.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake Group, New Mexico

Located within the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Bitter Lake Group contains more than 30 natural sinkhole depressions formed by solution of gypsum-bearing rocks. The highly saline artesian lakes provide habitat for the only inland occurrence of a marine alga and two rare fish species. The site offers one of the best examples of undisturbed shrub-grassland and the process of succession and restoration to natural conditions following a disturbance.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree River Swamp, South Carolina

The Congaree River Swamp is the most extensive, mature cypress-gum swamp and bottomland hardwood forest complex in South Carolina. Located within Congaree National Park, the site provides a sanctuary for wildlife.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

The Francis Beidler Forest harbors one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare, unusual or range extensions for plants and animals occurs in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species.

Cathedral Spires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area, South Dakota

Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area, located within Custer State Park, is an excellent, rare example of joint-controlled weathering of granite. The site also supports a disjunct relict stand of limber pine. Commonly referred to as the Needles, it is a popular area for rock climbers.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Sonora, Texas

The Caverns of Sonora contains unusual formations such as bladed helictites and coralloid growths and is internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful show caves on the planet. The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, Texas

Enchanted Rock, located within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest rock mountains in the United States. It is a classic illustration of a batholith and of the exfoliation process. The coarse-grained pink granite is massive and uniform in composition and texture and is some of the oldest igneous rock known in North America. The massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas has drawn people for thousands of years. But there’s more at Enchanted Rock than just the dome. The scenery, rock formations, and legends are magical, too!

Blanco River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Blanco River Bluff, Texas

Little Blanco River Bluff is an unspoiled example of the natural assemblage of flora characterizing the limestone bluff communities of the Edwards Plateau. The site supports diverse flora, including an estimated 250 species in 25 families.

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

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Spanish moss drapes from trees and noisy chachalacas welcome the morning dawn as a malachite butterfly floats out from the shadows. Step into a rare tropical world at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a living museum of the lowland forested area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The refuge’s jungle-like vegetation provides habitat for over 400 species of birds and about one half of all butterfly species found in the United States.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

With all there is to see and do, you’ll want to make sure that Georgia is on your mind

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Georgia. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Gorgeous Georgia is mostly known for being home to charming historic cities filled with leafy squares and oak-lined streets, sprawling farmlands, towering mountains, and Southern charm. That’s not forgetting the amazing beaches and coastline, sleepy rural settlements, roaring rivers, jaw-dropping parks, and clear sparkling lakes—to say this southeastern state is diverse would be an understatement. It sure is a tough task, but we’ve managed to narrow done to eight of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Georgia…

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles

Along the incredible 100 miles of Georgia’s coastline lies the magical seaside retreat of the Golden Isles. Nestled along stretches of sand dunes and salt marshes, the mainland city of Brunswick and its four beloved barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Islands—offer breathtaking landscapes, a variety of recreational pursuits, and inherent tranquility.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Constantly ranked amongst one of the “friendliest cities in the world”, Savannah’s colorful history attracts millions of visitors every year. Situated along the bubbling Savannah River, this strategic port city is Georgia’s fifth-largest city. With a history of almost 300 years, the cobbled and oak-lined streets, beautiful parks, and archaic buildings, the historic city retains its essence.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the 22 park-like squares in downtown Savannah or get intrigued with the Telfair’s Academy of Arts and Sciences, the South’s first public museum. A pretty and sophisticated city with delicious food, this place exudes natural beauty and beautiful locales.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park near Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lookout Mountain

One of the most beautiful places to visit in Georgia, Lookout Mountain is a wonderful and striking mountain ridge located at the northwest corner of the state. As well as offering truly stunning views and beautiful surroundings it’s also the place where you can view the most states at once. Located 25 miles from three different states, when the skies are clear (and with a good set of binoculars handy) you can see up to seven different states if you try hard enough—visit and see for yourself! 

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon

Located about 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, Macon is the perfect destination for Southern adventure. A pretty city with a rich history, incredible architecture, and music heritage, Macon is “Where Soul Lives”. Hike to the area’s 17,000 years of heritage at Ocmulgee National Monument which includes a reconstructed earthen lodge or stroll the streets and discover the state’s largest collection of African-American art in Tubman Museum. At every landmark, you’ll discover the untold stories of the Civil War. Pay tribute to Macon’s native son, Otis Redding, at his life-size statue.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide a much-needed escape from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, the Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the Blood Mountain. Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters, along with a seasonal swimming beach available.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Also referred to as Appalachian Trail or A.T., this marked hiking trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Extending about 2,200 miles, the trail traverses scenic woods, pastoral, and wild lands of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Established in 1937, today the trail is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and numerous state agencies. Passing through 14 states and 8 national forests, hiking the entire trail takes five to seven months.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

A ferry ride of about 45 minutes from St. Mary’s and you’ll head to Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. The Cumberland Island covers approximately 36,000 acres of land with unspoiled beaches, wide marshes and white sands with a variety of wildlife is a national seashore. With a deep history of the inhabitants and settlements you can have a glimpse of the Ruins of Dungeness and Greyfield Inn. It’s also a great place to visit in Georgia if you’re an animal lover—the island is home to a band of beautiful feral horses living and wandering free. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee

The Okefenokee is an area of swampland in southern Georgia, covering more than 770 square miles. It is a maze of watercourses, cypress swamps, and swamp grassland. Interesting features are the “floating islands” which quake under foot but nevertheless support whole forests and in the past provided protection for Indian settlements. The swamp is home to many endangered species as well as an estimated 10,000 alligators. From the little town of Waycross there are boat trips into the swamp.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park offers a large campground, golf course, and Sportsman’s Cabins as well as kayak rentals, playgrounds, and trails. The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. It surrounds Laura S. Walker Lake and sits just to the north of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours.

Keep Georgia on your mind as you plan your next RV trip.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

A Creepy, Spooky, Ghostly, Haunted Road Trip

Three locations with spooky histories and a mystical atmosphere

As the poet Sheryl Crow once said, “Everyday is a winding road.” While it feels the world is flipped upside-down, I am trying to keep Sheryl’s words alive in these times. I’m going for daily walks, finding new things to feel paranoid about, and I think I believe in aliens now.

Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing with Rex wants to keep your day feeling like a winding road. Today, it’s Halloween and everything ghostly! Just for today, look away from the Earth and into the ghost world clad in a white nightgown, holding a candle, and dragging chains through the moors of the mind.

Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween and initiates the season of Allhallowtide which lasts three days and concludes with All Souls’ Day. Over time, Halloween became largely nonreligious as it evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes, and eating treats.

Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for a safe yet totally creepy way of ringing in Halloween why not try an out-of-the-box idea like a haunted road trip? Eerie drives through roads known for ghosts, apparitions, and mysterious disappearances aren’t exactly for the faint of heart but they could make for the most memorable Halloween ever. From a road that’s said to be home to a vanished Boy Scout troop to the street adjacent to Area 51 that’s known as “Extraterrestrial Highway,” America is full of winding highways and dark back roads that are spine-tingling and hair-raising.

Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’re not so sure about actually hitting the road and getting close to a few spirits, you can keep reading and live vicariously through three of the most haunted haunts in America. And if you do venture to any of these spots, just know it’s a surefire way of getting in the All Hallows’ Eve spirit.

Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the Halloween season, celebrate the spooky environments that make both a great location for a ghost story and an excellent place to go camping. Nearly every horror film or scary book depends highly on a spooky environment. Pick out your favorite scary story and it likely takes place on a foggy coast, a dark lake, a swamp, a territorial prison, a ghost town, or in the dense woods.

Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are reasons why these places fill us with fear or dread, they can actually be pretty cool locations to camp. In addition, the folklore and spooky mythology surrounding these locations make for even better campfire stories.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Swamp folklore runs the gamut from voodoo practices to the Swamp Thing. This type of landscape is so difficult to maneuver through and contains creatures such as owls and alligators, so there is no wonder that they make great spooky stories. The Okefenokee Swamp between Georgia and Florida has inspired stories such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and is said to be a hotbed for UFOs and ghosts. What some people may not realize is that these swamplands are really beautiful.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can see the beauty at the Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins, RV Park & Campground in Folkston, Georgia. The park offers historic-style cabins for rent, pull-through sites with full hookups, private tent sites, and a day-use dog kennel. The campground even has a Starfield for their Saturday night stargazing events.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Yuma Territorial Prison

Arizona’s Wild West past and haunted history gives us reason to go hide under the covers. Ask yourself if you’d want to be locked up in anything called a “territorial prison” and then jump ahead a hundred years to haunting the hell out of the place—like 100+ inmates, you died inside those walls. Not one to shy from a locking people into hot, dark places, Arizona has designated Yuma Territorial Prison a state historical park—easily one of the creepiest in the nation, and one of the most haunted spots in Arizona.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guides report feeling chills when they pass Cell 14, where an inmate doing time for “crimes against nature” killed himself. In the so-called dark cell, prisoners in pitch-black solitary went mad chained to ring-bolts in the walls.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Its whiskey spirits with a side of ghostly spirits at Buffalo Trace Distillery’s ghost tours. One of the biggest and best-known distilleries in Kentucky bourbon country, most visitors are unaware that Buffalo Trace has ghostly ties, let alone nighttime tours through the Stony Point Mansion.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost tours are an hour long and take place at 7 p.m., led by guides who wax poetic on supernatural spirits said to frequent the grounds. The most notable is Colonel Blanton who died in the on-site Stony Point Mansion which feels like a real life version of the Clue board game. At the end of the ghostly portion of the tour, guests will get to taste a series of Buffalo Trace’s potable spirits.

Stay strong, be brave, and listen to Sheryl Crow, who also said, “I’m gonna soak up the sun/I got my 45 on/So I can rock on…” Is this relevant?

Have a great weekend!!

Worth Pondering…

Werewolves howl. Phantoms prowl. Halloween’s upon us now

—Richelle E. Goodrich

Visual Marvels: America’s Seven Natural Wonders

The Seven Natural Wonders of America are a list of the most astonishing natural attractions

Ever since the list of the Seven Wonders of the World was first inked by either Antipater of Sidon (second half of the 2nd century BC), Philo of Byzantium (c. 280–220 BC, Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), or Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 305–240 BC)—depending upon which ancient historian you believe—all manner of “Seven Wonders” lists pop up from time to time including the New Seven Wonders of the World, of the Natural World, of the Modern World, of the Architectural World. Well, this could go on for a while.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it is that original collection of wonders, now referred to as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Great Pyramids of Giza (the only one that still exists), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis (at Ephesus near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey), the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in present-day Turkey), the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandra—that sparks the imagination, stirs the soul, and stokes the curiosity. These are the finest creations of the ancient world and at the very least inspire wonder in their sheer archaeological greatness.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That much can be said of any wonder, whether natural or manmade, and then add into the mix the almost obsessive need for the world to categorize and break down everything into parts. That’s how these types of lists came to be in the first place. Often for reasons to promote tourism, numerous countries have tallied their own wonders as have almost all the United States.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

One of the world’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon is a true marvel of nature. John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million years ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. The park is of exceptional natural beauty with scenic vistas of characteristic mist-shrouded (“smoky”) mountains, vast stretches of virgin timber, and clear running streams.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

The horseshoe-shaped, russet rock hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park are a true sight to behold. This is one of the world’s highest concentrations of hoodoos and their colors alternate between shades of purple, red, orange, and white.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration and Bryce viewpoints are the spots to hit for the best views in the shortest amount of time. There are several easy trails located near the rim of Bryce Canyon to hike as well as ranger programs that take you on guided hikes through the park.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee, whose name means “Land of the Trembling Earth” in the Creek language, is now part national wildlife refuge, part privately-owned park (Okefenokee Swamp Park) that is widely known for harboring an incredible cache of biological and ecological wonders. The swamp’s dark, coffee-colored tannic water is the base for a living jumble of pine, cypress, swamp, palmetto, peat bog, marsh, island, and sand ridge.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hodgepodge of animal and bird life, among the hundreds of species are black bear, alligators galore, snakes galore, deer, anhinga, osprey, and sandhill crane call the swamp home.

Arches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches

Arches contains the world’s largest concentration of, yes, sandstone arches. There are more than 2,000, all of which took millions of years to form via erosion. And the arches are just one of an infinite number of absolutely jaw-dropping formations within the 120-square-mile park—Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace, Landscape Rock, The Windows, it goes on.

Arches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches is one of the most distinctive, alien-looking landscapes in America, and you should take advantage of the hiking trails like Devil’s Garden to really get the full experience.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills

Driving through the Black Hills takes you through some of the most rugged, distinctive, and beautiful land in America. It’s hard to stick to the main road in this rugged land of canyons, cliffs, and caves.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills are home to some of the most majestic scenery you can imagine from the winding Spearfish Canyon to the mountain lakes that surround Mount Rushmore—rivers, mountains, caves, and more make it ideal for hikers and climbers and everybody in between.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 limestone caves that are outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.

Worth Pondering…

We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.

—Thomas Browne

Stephen Foster State Park: Land of Trembling Earth

What better way to begin a winter southern adventure than a stop at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Stephen C. Foster State Park, named after the popular Southern songwriter, is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.  Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Inhabiting the lush vegetation of the Okefenokee are 223 species of birds, 41 of mammals, 54 of reptiles, and 60 of amphibians.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post we explored the East (main) Entrance to Okefenokee, located 11 miles southwest of Folkston. Using Okefenokee RV Park in Folkston as our home base we continued our exploration of Okefenokee with a day trip to Suwannee River Visitor Center at Fargo and Stephen C. Foster State Park (West Entrance), a distance of 160 miles return. Both entrances to Okefenokee are located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park is located on Jones Island, 18 miles northeast of Fargo on State Highway 177. The Suwannee River, which flows past this park, is the main outlet of Okefenokee Swamp. Stephen Foster, who wrote the song “Way Down Upon The Suwannee River,” is the namesake for this preserve.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the only entry point to Okefenokee Swamp with overnight RV accommodations. The campground at Stephen Foster State Park offers 64 campsites with water, electrical, and cable TV hookups. Amenities include rest rooms with hot showers, laundry facilities, fire rings, picnic tables, and a small store. There are numerous sites suitable for large rigs; however, extreme care is required when navigating the interior roads. The park offers nine overnight cabins for your non-RVing friends as well as a marina with rental boats and a trading post that supplies fishing and picnic paraphernalia.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A half-mile wheelchair-accessible nature trail includes a boardwalk and a sampling of the trembling earth so characteristic of the Okenfenokee. A visitors center has interpretive exhibits. But the best way to see the swamp is by water. There are 25 miles of well-marked water trails within the swamp. A horsepower limit applies to water craft.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take a guided tour of the swamp or rent a powered johnboat to see Billy’s Island, once the site of the Okefenokee’s largest settlement during the cypress-logging era. It is estimated that more than 431 million board feet of timber was taken from the area between 1909 and 1927. The only remnants of the logging today are rusted and ruined equipment. But the swamp is still alive.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also a popular fishing area, anglers try for jack fish, bream. and catfish.

A water trail also leads to Minnie’s Lake, another popular fishing area amid the towering cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure to stop by the Suwannee River Visitor Center, where you can learn about the area wildlife. Located in Fargo, southwest of Stephen Foster State Park and backed by Spanish-moss draped trees, the Suwannee River Visitor Center overlooks a bend in the black-water river where people can fish and launch boats.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside, visitors learn that tannic acid produced by decaying vegetation is what gives the river its tea color, and that unlike other reptiles, mother alligators actively care for their babies. Animal displays include a black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish, and numerous birds, including a wood stork.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short film takes visitors on a leisurely trip through the river and swamp, highlighting flowers, insects, misty morning fog, and the many creatures that call the waters home. The center also includes exhibits on the timber industry, local history, and energy efficiency.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Suwannee River Visitor Center is operated by Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851

Black-Water Country: Okefenokee Swamp

Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface

Imagine a place where unusual creatures swim through mirror-top waters and exotic plants sprout from floating islands. A place where thousands of creatures serenade the setting of the sun each day.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picture waters so dark and still that the surface seems to reflect images from another world, another time. It is a world more peaceful and more beautiful than any other place on earth. Almost a half-million acres of wetland, uninhabited by mankind, and still as it was thousands of years ago.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now imagine that this place, this natural wonderland is just a road trip away, a place just off the main road, but light years away from this time. It is black-water country, the Okefenokee Swamp.

The Okefenokee offers so much, one could spend a lifetime and still not see and do everything. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alligators, turtles, raccoons, black bears, deer, egrets, ibis, herons, wood storks, owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and numerous other creatures make their homes in the 402,000-acre refuge (that’s roughly 300,000 football fields in size).

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As many as 20,000 alligators consider this spongy peat bog home, so the odds of spotting the reptiles during a visit are high, though there’s no guarantee. To safely view these creatures, visitors should admire them from a distance and keep hands and feet inside boats. Pets are not allowed in boats, even privately owned vessels.  

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From white water lilies to red holly berries, more than 600 plant species reside in Okefenokee and reflect the season. Buds and blossoms burst each spring for the biggest annual display. Bugs are thickest in hot summer months, though the early hours of the day are generally comfortable. Fall brings subtle color changes, like the cypress needles’ transformation to burnt orange and the appearance of the delicate yellow tickseed sunflower.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Migratory birds visit in winter months, which happen to be the best season for serious bird-watching.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now this place, where earth, air, fire, and water continuously reform the landscape, is preserved within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1936 to protect wildlife and for you and future generations to explore.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenokee Swamp can be explored in many different ways. There are scenic drives, boat tours, hiking trails, canoe and kayak trails, interpretive centers, guided walks, and more. The various parks and recreation areas feature amenities ranging from boat, canoe and kayak rentals to camping, cabins, and picnicking.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided boat tours take visitors through cypress forests, historic canals, and open prairies. Water trails and platforms allow people to canoe for the day or stay overnight deep within the 354,000 acre wilderness. Winding boardwalks and trails lead through unique habitats to observation towers and viewing platforms.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for nature photography, hunting, and fishing are readily available. One can even drive a car or ride a bike to a restored homestead to discover how “swampers” once made their home here.
So come and explore the world renowned Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is yours to visit. You’ll be glad you did. 

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Way down south in Okefenokee
The sun goes down
And the air is cool

Okefenokee, Okefenokee
Choowa, choowa, choowa

Come on, Georgia

—Freddy Cannon

Overtourism and Undertourism in 2019

Celebrating the “Undertouristed” places for RV travel in 2019

If there was a competition for the Word of the Year in tourism, a serious contender would be “overtourism”.

From Barcelona to Bali, the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic, 2018 was the year that people in the world’s most coveted, visited, and Instagrammed places said enough was enough.

There were protests in Barcelona and Mallorca. And the New Year began with Venice vowing to charge tourists for entry.

Let’s celebrate the alternatives in 2019—the undertouristed places that deserve more visitors and where the locals won’t take to the streets and forums to protest.

Let’s hear it for undertourism in America. From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, the RV traveler has it all.

Overtouristed: Charleston, South Carolina and Ashville, North Carolina and Zion National Park, Utah

Undertouristed: A sampling follows

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef received its name from the great white rock formations resembling the U.S. Capitol building and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers.

However, it is the park’s multi-colored sandstone that earned it the nickname, “land of the sleeping rainbow”. The park runs along a huge buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. This noteworthy geologic feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Layer upon layer of rock folded over each other.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

The Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont (about 30 miles south of Louisville) includes 15,625 acres of fields and forests, as well as over 40 miles of hiking trails that weave their way through the forest and a bike route that winds along Long Lick Creek.

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking advantage of one of the many informative programs, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature.

New River Gorge, West Virginia

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.

Hiking along the many park trails or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery. There are opportunities for extreme sports as well as a more relaxing experience.

Holmes County, Ohio

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Entrepreneurial businesses owned by the Amish add to the friendly atmosphere along the byway while creating a welcome distance from the superstores of commercial America. The Swiss and German heritage of the early settlers in the county is evident in the many specialty cheese and meat products and delicious Swiss/Amish restaurants.

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. Wetlands provide a critical habitat for abundant wildlife and migratory birds. Take a walk on the 4,000-foot boardwalk and view the prairie from the observation tower. Visitor center offers displays and film. TAKE THE GUIDED BOAT TOUR. From the open, wet “prairies” of the east side to the forested cypress swamps on the west, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden